The Minimalist Agrees!

In Friday’s Choice Tables column, Bittman mentions having coffee at Caffe Trieste, the North Beach neighborhood spot where we enjoyed pastries on the second morning of our honeymoon.  We didn’t get to any of the other spots on his list, and I’m sure now that he’s recommended them, we won’t ever be able to.  I’d  be happy to get to Caffe Trieste again.

Caffe Trieste

Half a half

I am writing this post from the warmth and coziness of my own bed, which is where one should be on a Sunday afternoon when it is below freezing. Shane is napping next to me, Basil is asleep on my feet, and Mina is nestled into a comfy spot atop Shane. I think I’ve finally taken the edge off of the cold from this:

Dexter Ann Arbor Road

Dexter Ann Arbor Road

6.5 miles today – half a mile further than my longest run ever, much less this year, much less in the winter. The weather this week was less punishing – it was sunny! and 26! – but the run was more difficult, with more hills, more residual soreness from the week’s workouts, and no magic cinnamon rolls for fuel.

I walked a little at the apex of the hills on the way home. I neglected to bring water or gel, and so broke off an icicle to suck on for part of the run. I paused my Garmin at the 6 mile mark to buy a Powerade, the weight of which compounded my arms’ tiredness on the last half mile. I saw a snow dog:

Snow Dog

Last weekend he was wearing a cheesehead. Today he just looked pleased to see me. I came home, took a hot hot shower, and was back out in the cold within half an hour, waiting to catch the bus downtown so that I could fill my protein window* with a sandwich from Zingerman’s. I had ham, asparagus, and mozzarella on grilled sourdough, and got a little work done until the small room where I was drinking my coffee and working on my laptop became so overrun with people** that I had to leave.

I took the bus home and took a nap. These are the things I did with my day instead of course prep. These are things I did with my day because I ran 6.5 miles.

*Just kidding about the protein window. I actually have no idea about such things, but have enjoyed jokingly using the phrase since reading Microserfs more than a decade ago.
**The room had seating enough for 14: 3 4-tops, 1 2-top. I was seated at the 2-top, and the 4-top directly behind me was occupied by 3 women. When I left, there were 15 people seated at the remaining 2 4-tops, none of whom had ordered food. I think they may have thought it was a full-service restaurant, rather than a deli where you order at the counter. They brought in a birthday cake from Whole Foods. I know Zing is all about customer service, but on a busy Sunday, that’s pretty ridiculous.

25 Recipes #3: Carnitas

Or, as I referred to it, Chipotle at Home. Because seriously, it smelled like Chipotle up in our house.

Before I get to the delicious parts of this meal,I want to start with a confession.  For the first time in a while, I had difficulty working with a piece of meat.  Not technical difficulty, though it wasn’t the easiest cut to butcher – an emotional/visceral response to what I was working with.  David Lebovitz’s recipe called for a 4-5 pound boneless shoulder cut, but I opted to use a picnic shoulder since, well, that’s what we had on hand.  The picnic shoulder is a fatty bone-in cut, so there was a considerable amount of cleaning necessary – and after all of that, a clearly articulated joint.  I had to put down my knife for a second.  Thank you again, Mr. Pig, for your happy brief life, and for the many delicious and nourishing meals you have provided for us.

After that, however, making the carnitas was easy as pie.  Our four pound picnic shoulder yielded about 2 1/2 pounds of usable meat – at least for this recipe – so I tweaked the recipe a bit, and probably would make further adjustments for future preparations.  First, the meat is browned in a bit of oil in a large heavy pot.

Resting

Remove the meat to a tray lined with paper towels to blot up the excess fat.  Pour about a cup of water into the pot and scrape up the crusty bits of goodness from the bottom.  Stir in the spices:  chili powder, ground cumin, bay leaves, a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a cinnamon stick, and a diced dried chili or two.  Add the pork back to the pot, and pour in enough water to cover the meat 2/3 of the way.

Chilies

Braise uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about two hours, checking halfway.  The original recipe called for 3 1/2 hours for 4-5 pounds of meat, so I roughly halved the time, and added more liquid after an hour as it was looking pretty dry.  After two hours, the meat was cooked through and verging on dry but it wasn’t yet dinnertime, so I added another 1/4 cup water, turned the oven down to warm, and put the lid on to trap the moisture and heat.

Since there was no way that the three of us were going to eat 2 1/2 pounds of meat, I prepared several other components to fill out the meal and provide the fixings for several lunches worth of homemade “burrito bowls”.  First, a couple of onions and a red pepper sweat slowly over low heat in a covered pan:

Slow-sauteed peppers and onions

Second, an attempt at Chipotle’s cilantro lime rice, except that I had neither cilantro nor lime.  Instead, we had white rice that was boiled, steamed, and tossed with minced green onion:

Green onion rice

And finally the pièce de résistance:

Et voila, carnitas!

Gloriously flavorful – if slightly dry – carnitas, which we devoured nestled in corn tortillas and topped with rice, veggies, salsa, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  The 2 1/2 pounds of meat yielded enough for dinner for three plus four substantial lunch portions.  We – OK, I – devoured the veggies, so we substituted corn in our subsequent lunches, along with the rest of the rice, shredded cheese (or crumbled City Goat), and salsa.  This was the first of my 25 Recipes that really knocked it out of the park, and I can NOT wait to make this again.

Recipes:
Carnitas from David Lebovitz
Cilantro Lime Rice from Chipotle Fan

Cinnamon Rolls

For our first baking brunch of the year, we took on cinnamon rolls. Ooey, gooey, sticky, nutty cinnamon rolls.

Legit cinnamon rolls

Two and a half sticks of butter cinnamon rolls.

NOM

Cinnamon perfection cinnamon rolls

Applying the frosting

Cinnamon roll recipes fit into a funny category between sweet treats and yeast breads. Since they typically use a yeast dough, at least a short rise will be required. Really, the time commitment was the main thing holding me back from trying cinnamon rolls again – the first time I made them, I used a recipe that called for a potato base and at least 8 hours between the mashing, kneading, rising, rolling, rising, and baking. But who wants to wait all that time before baking a delicious treat? Not me.

For this batch of goodies, we used this recipe, adapted by Nicole Ray, a local artist, crafter, and blogger. I started and kneaded the dough at home, and by the time we got to Shana’s, it was ready to be rolled out, buttered up, and topped with cinnamon, brown sugar, and chopped nuts. While the rolls rose, we scrambled eggs, whipped meringue for cocktails, and got caught up on gossip, football, and manicures. We pulled the rolls out of the oven just in time for dessert:

Perfection

Shannon commented that our baking gets better each time, and the proof is in these gorgeous rolls. The dough was sweet but not overwhelmingly so – and the cinnamon-sugar filling was balanced by the tang of the cream cheese frosting. I opted for no frosting, and was completely happy with my choice – just as happy as Shane was with the sticky leftovers he ate for breakfast on Sunday.

Having only made this recipe once, I can only speculate on what I might change for next time, so see my notes in text below:

Ceylon Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Whipped and reproduced with comment from Sloe Gin Fizz

Yields 15-16 medium-sized rolls

DOUGH
1 cup warm milk – warmed over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or microwaved for ~1 minute
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature – not melted, but soft enough to be pliable
2 eggs, room temperature and beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 cups bread flour
3 teaspoons instant yeast – you can buy this in packets or in bulk, but make sure it is instant, not active dry

FILLING:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted or softened? – melted will be easier to spread. Can probably reduce by half.
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar? – can probably reduce to 3/4 cup.
4-5 tablespoons ground cinnamon – we used 5 tbsp and it was a bit too much.
3/4-1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) – if you like nutty cinnamon rolls, you might consider doubling this.

FROSTING:
2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all dough ingredients in the order provided. Since you’re using instant yeast, it isn’t necessary to proof the yeast; however it is critical that your water and milk be warm so that the yeast dissolves properly. Stir with a dough hook until a soft dough forms, then turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface, and knead until elastic — about 10 minutes. The dough felt a little grainy to me – certainly less smooth than pizza dough – but don’t get too stressed out about that as long as it’s stretchy and elastic. Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, butter a 9×13×2 inch baking pan; set aside. Combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling in a separate bowl.

After dough has rested, roll and stretch the dough into approximately a 15×22.5-inch rectangle. This is much larger than you’d think, so you might want to actually measure rather than eyeball it. Spread the softened butter over the top of the dough with a spatula or pastry brush. This is a LOT of butter, guys. While I have no complaints about the deliciousness of it, I think the rolls might’ve baked more evenly (and been marginally less bad for us) if we’d reduced this by 1/3 or 1/2. Sprinkle the cinnamon filling over the butter, then top with the chopped nuts (if using). We used 1 cup brown sugar, 5 tablespoons cinnamon, and a generous 3/4 cup chopped pecans, and ended up with at least 1/4 cup extra cinnamon filling and a very uneven nut distribution – hence the note about reducing the cinnamon/sugar and increasing the nuts. Starting with long edge, roll up dough jellyroll style, pinching the seam to seal.

With a serrated knife, gently mark sections of 1 1/2-inches wide, then saw into pieces and place cut side up in the prepared pan. The unbaked cinnamon rolls should not touch each other before rising and baking. If your rolls are too close together, you might consider using a second pan (or two 9x9x2 pans) to ensure even baking. Cover and let rise in a warm place for approximately 45 to 60 minutes or until doubled in size – rolls should be touching each other and the sides of the pan.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake approximately 25-30 minutes or until they are a light golden brown. SGF recommends 20-25 minutes, but the inner rolls’ dough was still gooey after 25. While the rolls are baking, prepare your frosting by combing all frosting ingredients and stirring until creamy. Remove the rolls from the oven and spread with frosting. Eat and enjoy!

Note: SGF indicates that this recipe can be made in advance. After the rolls are placed in the buttered trays, you can either refrigerate them overnight or wrap in plastic and place in the freezer. To bake the next day, resume the recipe at the preheat step. To bake from frozen, remove the rolls from the freezer the night before baking and let thaw on the counter, then resume the recipe at the preheat step.

Yelp!

For the third year in a row, I was nominated to the Yelp Elite Squad.  I’m not entirely sure how that works, but since moving to A2, we’ve attended a few Elite events which have all featured free food, drink, merriment, and Yelp swag.  Thursday night’s event at Woodruff’s was no exception.

Food: wee sandwiches, salads, soups, and OMG nanaimo bars from Beezy’s.  For some reason we’ve never been there for lunch – only for breakfast on the weekend.  Now that we’ve tried a few more of their treats, we’ll definitely have to make lunch a priority.

Drinks: Goose Island beers on the house!

Detroit Elite 2011 Karaoke Kick Off!
Photo by Yelp

Merriment: Karaoke! A photobooth! I did the former, and we took a number of silly photos (waiting to be scanned) in the latter. My karaoke song was REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Loving You.

Detroit Elite 2011 Karaoke Kick Off!
Photo by Yelp

I need a better song, but the binder needed better authority control, something which we commented on more times that was really necessary.

Detroit Elite 2011 Karaoke Kick Off!
Photo by Yelp

All told, a fun night – hopefully one of many Elite events in the coming year.

12 Degrees, M*****f*****

Yesterday I ran more miles than I have run at any one time in more than a year. In 12 degree weather. While it was snowing. True, I was fueled by magical cinnamon rolls, but still!

Ninja gear

A few people have asked what sort of gear I’m wearing to avoid freezing to death out on the streets. Here’s what I wore yesterday – not a precision kit by any means, but enough to keep me from feeling any serious cold for 50 out of 60 minutes outside:

  • Shane’s windproof hat
  • cowl that I knit in August
  • assorted sports-appropriate undergarments
  • long sleeved thermal-type shirt
  • Comet t-shirt
  • Pearl Izumi cycling jacket
  • armwarmers
  • fleece gloves
  • running tights
  • thick white hiking-type socks
  • Nike Frees

And this is what I looked like after running, then discovering that our houseguest had left, locking me out of the house.  I called Shane at the shop, then remembered that the set of keys we were sharing was locked IN the house, not with him at the shop.  And then I climbed in a window.

Post-run

None the worse for wear – certainly nothing a hot hot shower and a couple of ibuprofen couldn’t fix.  Last week I asked Shane when I became a runner.  He said “I think today”, possibly referring to the fact that I’d been super stressed after work and realized that a good run, despite the cold, would make a world of difference in my mood.  And it did.

A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.