0119 Fishcakes with broccoli horseradish cole slaw

I had to make certain modifications to this recipe based on strongly held beliefs in our household.  For one, sweet relish is an abomination.  I honestly didn’t realize the stuff existed until I started dating my ex and grossed him out by putting DILL relish in my tuna salad.  He was unaware of the existence of anything but the sweet kind.  Second, Shane has a thing against dill.  Some dill is OK – like in relish – but dill in and of itself is offensive to him.

Those modifications aside, the two of us put dinner together in about 35 minutes, in the process dirtying the last of our plates and every work surface in the kitchen.  The horseradish in the cole slaw was a bit overwhelming on its own, but once paired with the fishcakes (we split the recipe into 7 instead of 4), the bite of the horseradish mellowed and proved to be a nice complement to the crispy, flaky, fried goodness of fish.  When we’d finished and were sitting at the table listening to records, Shane kept poking at the remaining cakes, as if daring one to jump onto his plate.  Fortunately for me, the savory little cakes made their way not into his belly but into our lunch bags, where we’ll enjoy them no less tomorrow than we did tonight.

0119 Fish cakes with broccoli horseradish cole slaw

Recipe:
Fish Cakes with Coleslaw and Horseradish-Dill Sauce from Bon Appetit

0118 Pita pizzas with an assortment of leftovers

In the early fall, we got into a bit of a rut with roasting chickens. I’d roast a chicken and make some veg Sunday night, we’d have the leftovers on Monday, and then by Tuesday neither of us would want to eat any more chicken. Anticipating this same problem, I planned to use up most of the leftovers in tonight’s dinner – simple individual pizzas made with shredded chicken and whatever else we had on hand.

After preheating the oven to 425, we topped halved pitas with chicken, spinach, red onions softened in a bit of butter, roasted garlic, and herbed goat cheese.  Into the oven they went for about 5 minutes, then we drizzled on a bit of the balsamic syrup, folded the pizzas up New York style, and wolfed them down while the second batch baked.  Shane was so pleased that he was moved to swear over his pizzas, proclaiming them a damned satisfying meal.  I couldn’t agree more.

Eating my way into 30

One of the things I learned shortly before my birthday is that in Ann Arbor, there are a number of businesses that give away free things on your birthday.  While this may be the case elsewhere, it is so prevalent here that there’s a whole page on the ArborWiki dedicated to free birthday items, and organized in such a way as to maximize your freebies.  After some consultation and careful planning, and in the absence of any other significant birthday plans, we decided to rack up as many free things in 24 hours as we could.

Let me preface this truly ridiculous list by saying that Shane and I split almost every single thing on this list, and some of the items went straight into our freezer for later consumption.  Still, I think I could not eat desserts for a month and be OK.

1. We started the morning off with a free ridiculous coffee beverage at Caribou Coffee – a sugar-free turtle latte with whipped cream and Snickers bits, to be precise.

2. Up next, free aero-press coffee at Zingerman’s Coffee Company, obtained while picking up beans.

3. And then, free “John-do-ya” gelato at Zingerman’s Creamery. We tried many flavors, but this was literally like frozen Nutella – therefore the obvious winner.  The gelato guy congratulated me on having a birthday in the best month of the year. His is next week, I think. We ate about 1/3 of the gelato before moving on to the next stop.

4. A free 1/2 dozen bagels at Zingerman’s Bakehouse! The bakehouse folks made sure to remind me to get the other 1/2 dozen at the Deli later.

At this point we took a break from the free stuff to enjoy a very lovely brunch, complete with croquembouche, at our friend Shana’s. More on this later!
5. On our way home from Shana’s, we stopped for the second free 1/2 dozen bagels at Zingerman’s Deli – it was too busy and crowded for photos, so one from home will have to suffice.

6. Having rested up and returned a few phone calls, we moved on to get a free chocolate-covered strawberry cupcake at Cake Nouveau. It was tasty, but had nothing on any of Buzz’s cupcakes. I miss you, Buzz Bakery.

7. Next door, I picked out my free tea at Tea Haus – a cup of the Vietnam Yen Bai.  The woman who made my tea recommended that we check out the birthday deal at Weber’s, where she very nearly got a free lobster on her son’s 2nd birthday.

8. We’re not huge fans of Arbor Brewing Company, but they offer a free appetizer, so we stopped in for dinner. We had free nachos, played some shufflepuck, and drank a couple of beers before rolling on.

Several restaurants offered a free dessert, free logo pint glass, and free $10 gift card for birthday people – however when we tried both Grizzly Peak and Cafe Habana, we were told that the purchase of an entree was necessary. After all of this free stuff, though, neither of us were hungry enough for an entree, so we made a mental note to edit the ArborWiki page and moved on.
9. …to The Arena, where you get a free shot with purchase. Any purchase. I have no idea what my shot was called, but I know it had Bailey’s and I know it was on fire. Shane took one for the team and purchased a beer for our required purchase.

Once we were firmly wrapped up in our alcohol blankets, we wandered around downtown, stopping in at an art gallery and a record store, where Shane bought Remain in Light, before continuing on to our final destination for the night.
10. …Ashley’s, where we got a Free Tollhouse sundae – freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, ice cream, chocolate syrup, etc. Sooo good.

11. On our walk back to the car, we stopped in for my free scoop of ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s. This was, I might add, the first time all day that anyone had checked my ID to confirm that it was my birthday.

In addition, I might add that the following free things were obtained either shortly before or shortly after my actual birthday:
1. Free entree at Noodles & Company, split for lunch earlier in the week
2. Free “creation” at Cold Stone Creamery
3. Free scoop at Baskin-Robbins

All told, a pretty ridiculous way to spend one’s 30th birthday, and that’s without me describing the pastry-building process that took place just before brunch.  I was feeling pretty blue about not being able to celebrate my birthday with family and old friends – but I think we totally made up for it in fun and food.

0117 Roast chicken and braised brussels (again)

So it turns out that we like brussels sprouts. A lot. A lot as in we braised a pound of ’em tonight using the same recipe as on Thursday, and ate the whole damned thing. I think we have a winning recipe here!

The sprouts weren’t intended to be the main event, though.  Using a Nigel Slater-inspired recipe, we roasted one of the chickens procured from Back 40 Acres in the late fall.  I rubbed the bird down with salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil, then sliced a head of garlic in half horizontally and stuffed it in the cavity.  The bird roasted breast-up for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, then Shane flipped it over and roasted it another 45 minutes breast-down.  A quick (and thick) pan gravy pulled it all together, and as Mina frantically ran from one of us to the other, begging for bites, we enjoyed a really satisfying and hearty meal.

(I know, I know, I didn’t post yesterday – it was my birthday, see, and I have some pretty remarkable stuff to talk about – I’m just waiting for the pictures to make it all pop, so to speak.  Stay tuned!)

0115 Summery pasta and a beet and spinach salad

Dinner tonight at Shana‘s, pasta with pesto and a packet of summery vegetables from her winter Locavorious share.  I had good intentions of roasting squash to bring for a salad, but time got away from me after work, and instead I brought my favorite beet salad from Plum Market, a package of spinach, and some leftover herbed goat cheese.  It was such a treat to have zucchini and summer squash – and to share a meal with friends as we planned for the croquembouche.

Sometime over the holidays Olivia mentioned that she wanted to try the croquembouche, Shana expressed interest, and I offered up the occasion – my 30th birthday.  Many emails have flown back and forth this week as we discussed recipes, divided up ingredients and equipment, and planned a small brunch to go with this confectionery masterpiece.  Tonight we cracked eggs, whipped the pastry cream, piped small circles of pâte à choux – and drank wine and talked about food and life.  I’ve missed evenings like this, and I hope that there will be many more to come as I enter my 30s.

30ish

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday, and as one is wont to do on the eve of milestone dates, I’ve been thinking a lot the past.  I imagine that most people make a lot of stupid mistakes in their 20s. There’s a lot of fumbling around, and perhaps a quarterlife crisis or two, though I really hate that term.  My 20s were no different, which is one reason I have no problem with the new digit at the front of my age.  Many of my friends have already turned 30 and seem no less awesome than when they were in their 20s, and I see no reason why this won’t be the case for me!

Ten years ago I was living with my boyfriend and a roommate with whom I had a long and complicated relationship.  I was about to leave for London, where I would, in short order, meet my favorite band, hang out with them in Amsterdam, fall in love with Spain, meet my favorite author, spend hundreds of dollars on film processing and phone cards, help my friend avoid ordering 3 #3 meals at McDonald’s in Paris, and dig deep into England’s history with the most charismatic teacher I’ve ever had.  I was young, very insecure, and not at all sure what I wanted to do with my life.  I remember coming back from London and writing in my journal that a huge adventure had just ended, and I didn’t know if I’d ever experience anything like that again.

In the intervening ten years, I have:

  • graduated from college (English), then after a few years completed two graduate degrees (both in LIS).
  • got married, divorced within a year and a half, fell in love, had my heart broken, suffered through various crushes and flirtations, decided to be single for a while, met someone pretty amazing, and am now engaged to be married (details forthcoming).
  • worked as: bookseller, customer service representative (banking),  online support specialist for an internet banking service, commercial teller, barista, accounts representative (healthcare), graduate assistant (instructional technology; WISE project), practical (gyne) instructor, visiting computer assisted instruction specialist, reference/technology librarian (academic library), part-time reference librarian (law library), service star (mail order food company), and digital services assistant (business library).
  • gained and lost some weight, ultimately ending up about 20 pounds lighter thanks to running, biking, lifting, yoga, swimming, and discovering how much I really like walking instead of driving when I can. (related: broke my arm, but it’s long better now)
  • bought a house, lost a house, moved 11 times, and lived in 3 states: Illinois, Virginia, and Michigan.
  • had 5 cats and 1 rabbit.
  • went through fits of crafting, accumulating a lot of supplies and a lot of crafty friends along the way.
  • traveled all over the country and back to Spain and France, including walking a portion of the Camino Portugues.
  • experienced a crisis of faith and a gradual rediscovery (or re-exploration) of what I believe.  Also went through periods of deep depression, on and off medication, and had to get serious about my mental and emotional health in order to move forward.
  • really fell in love with cooking and dramatically expanded my palate and skill set, culminating in a breakfast for 104 this fall at SELMA.  Also became deeply committed to local food, supporting farmers’ markets, and making my own attempts at growing and preserving food for my family.
  • listened to hundreds of hours of music, danced my ass off at dozens of concerts and festivals.  Also read hundreds of books and untold millions of webpages.  Also wrote a novel thanks to NaNoWriMo!
  • met so many amazing people that I can’t even begin to name them all.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.

Tomorrow I’ll celebrate #30 with Shane and new friends and a giant croquembouche that I’ll be building tonight with two friends.  I’ll hopefully sleep in and cuddle some cats.  Maybe I’ll go for a run.  I have no idea what the next few years will bring, but looking back on where I’ve been over the last ten years, I’m confident that there will be many more adventures, heartaches, changes, and surprises to come!

0114 Stuffed chicken thighs and braised brussels sprouts

This post is brought to you by an infectious good mood, courtesy of plans that are coming together and also a healthy dose of Fela Kuti.

For dinner tonight, a riff on this recipe, which we’ve previously made by the book and really enjoyed.  Instead of breasts, though, I flattened the remaining thighs from last night, spooned in a bit of herbed goat cheese, added a couple of fresh chives, and rolled the thighs up into little packets.  Into the oven they went on parchment paper, then were relocated to the toaster oven about 10 minutes later when a mystery something started smoking.  They came out packed with delicious flavors, a perfect partner to the dish I was honestly more excited about.

A packet of brussels sprouts jumped out at me when at the coop a few weeks ago after my miserable winter walk to the (basically empty) farmers’ market.  Tonight I braised them in bacon fat with minced leeks left over from the prep for Saturday’s soup and a few good grinds of black pepper. Just before serving, I gave the whole pan a good slug of balsamic vinegar, and set it aside to reduce while plating the chicken.  A very happy dinner after a very tired day.

Recipe:
Chicken with Herbed Goat Cheese from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

0113 Chicken Piccata

Sometimes recipes are very well written. The directions are clear, the proportions correct, and the process from prep to table smooth. Other times recipes are poorly written. Ingredients are required but not used. The main ingredient to accoutrement ration is all off. The sauce is too soupy, or the protein is too dry. Tonight’s fell somewhere in the middle.

On the whole I have few complaints about the Barefoot Contessa, but tonight something seemed all off with the version of this recipe that appears in The Barefoot Contessa at Home.  A WHOLE CUP of flour to batter 4 chicken breasts, but just 1.5 cups of bread crumbs?  2 minutes on each side to cook said breasts, batter and all, over medium-low heat?  I realize that often mileage will vary on specific aspects of a recipe, but this one was just all over the map.  By the time the plates hit the table, I was frustrated and we were both starving.  After all of that, though, the chicken was crispy and flavorful, and the delicate lemon-white wine sauce paired with both the intended dish and the small spinach salad tossed on our plates at the last moment.  Chicken piccata I’ll make again, but maybe not this take on it.

Recipe:
Chicken Piccata from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

0112 Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Clementines and Chili Sauce

Shane isn’t a fan of citrus + meat, so this recipe, also from the November 2009 Bon Appetit, was a bit out on a limb for us. It also highlighted a problem with the way I approach recipes – but, in the end, everything worked out just fine. Shane is a methodical cook – in the best sense of the word. He reads recipes closely and diligently prepares his mise en place. I am much more likely to skim a recipe, estimate the time I have for each step, and only prep the first few steps before starting to cook. My approach worked fine for last night’s recipe – the halibut needed 8-10 minutes in the pan before anything else went in – but tonight I made a total mess of the kitchen, crashing around in the tiny windows between steps.

Despite my poor preparation, everything came together in the end, and in about half an hour we were filling our plates with sticky, delicious stir-fry.  The pork was perfectly cooked, and the clementines were sweet with just a hint of salt and heat.  Shane was uncertain about eating the skins, and I wished for more greens on my plate.  A solid recipe, but not as tastebud-blowing as the previous two.

Recipe:
Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Tangerines and Chili Sauce from Bon Appetit