Saturday, May 2, 2015

Maybe it was Just a Bad Dream

Maybe it was Just a Bad Dream

The birds woke me this morning, chattering in the kwanzan cherry tree outside my bedroom window. I would have gone back to sleep, but for the incessant nudging from my feline bed partner.

Just another Saturday morning in Southeast Michigan. A beautiful Spring day to be spent working in the yard, going for a bike ride and then late afternoon grocery shopping, wandering the aisles of my favorite grocery store until I found something fresh and unusual for dinner. And then it hit me.

I won't have too many more Saturdays like that.

Hiller's Markets announced yesterday that they were selling all 7 of their stores to Kroger.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that I spent an inordinate amount of my food budget at this family-owned, Detroit-based supermarket chain.  When you consider there are 2 other stores closer to my house and that I also, like many Hiller's shoppers, shopped at other stores for some basic items, I still spent the majority of my food budget on my weekend visit to Hiller's.

And that's not because it's expensive.  Hiller's prices were competitive on many items...and not so much on others. Sometimes it costs a little more to "buy locally" and I always felt good about sliding my debit card there.  I'll miss the premium meats (hamburger meat ground fresh every day and sourced from their own herd), the unparalleled selection in the deli and best fish and seafood of any grocer in town.

Sorry, Kroger, no matter how much you attempt to up your game, your meats are still mediocre, your chicken isn't what you claim it is, and I wouldn't eat fish from your store if it was free.  Your produce doesn't turn over fast enough for my taste, and I am pretty sure I couldn't find juicy frozen duck breasts, bison meat, rattlesnake and 40 kinds of pickles in your store.

Foodie life as I know it is over. I woke up this morning thinking, "maybe this is all a bad dream."  And I almost believed it until I checked social media this morning.  It's hard to imagine that the closing of a few grocery stores could cause such a media frenzy in any other city. Or rather, I can't imagine any other community so distraught over it.

Indeed, there are bigger problems in the world and right here in our own community than the closing of a grocery store.  But when the announcement was made, my inbox was flooded with emails and there was a steady stream of people stopping by my desk at the office, mostly asking if it was really true. "Say it isn't so," seemed to be a recurring theme.

There's nothing I'd love more than to be able to say it isn't so.  Jim Hiller is a good man, one of the best men I know.  Philanthropic, warm, funny and damn smart. It's my pleasure to consider him a friend, and I worked for him on a free lance basis for a short time. He was generous and fun to work with.  He put his heart and soul into the business, and wanted nothing more than for his stores to thrive and to be able to continue to employ the best people in town.

The Jim I know and love would not have taken this decision lightly, nor would he have sold the stores if it wasn't best for the people in the community, including the 800 or so people he employs here in Oakland and northwestern Wayne counties. This I know for a fact.

Part of me doesn't want to go to Hiller's today. Let it go, move on. Find a new place to shop.

But the way I figure it, I have about 6 more Saturdays in life that I can spend marveling at 30 kinds of extra virgin olive oil.  Six more Saturdays that I can spend wandering aimlessly through a world of food and ingredients that the folks at Kroger have never heard of and can't pronounce.

When those six Saturdays are in my rear view mirror, I'll probably just do what most other grocery shoppers do.  Make a list, run into some boring, pedestrian grocery store, toss everything in my cart, and pay at the U-Scan.  No familiar face greeting me by name.  No new discovery from the produce department in my bags.  No adventure had. Nothing special to talk about.

But I bet my grocery bill will be a few bucks less than it would have been at Hiller's.  Bittersweet savings, this.  And what will I do with that money I save every week?  I'll do what Jim would do....I'll donate it to charity.

Sara Pomish

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Deck the halls with lox and bagels....

Food, Family and Tradition

Lately I've been wondering about the origins of Food Snobbery. Genetic or environmental? I wonder if anyone's studied this? Hmmm. Something to explore in a future post, perhaps.

I've also been thinking a lot about the food in my household when I was growing up. Both my parents were excellent cooks, although I suspect my father taught my mother a thing or two after they were married. He was 22 years older than she, and he was a bachelor for many years before they met, and had traveled fairly extensively. His tastes were far more sophisticated than hers, but she was a quick study.

And they were from diverse food backgrounds, as well, my mother favoring the comforting food of her Pennsylvania Dutch family and my father bringing to our table the flavors of his travels and of his Eastern European, Jewish heritage.

There was no greater example of this blending of culinary traditions than our holiday meals. It quickly became a tradition in our home to include matzo kugel along with the ham at our Easter dinners (since Easter usually falls around Passover, this was highly least to my parents) and blintzes with our Christmas day brunch.

Making the home-made cheese blintzes became a Christmas Eve tradition at our house. While most families partook of their blintzes from a box in the frozen section, dad always made them from scratch, a labor intensive process that involved the entire family and took the better part of Christmas eve.

As we got older we continued the tradition, later adding champagne or cocktails as my sister and I became of age (actually, I believe it was a few years before we were actually legal...). Sadly, the tradition died when dad passed away; it just wasn't the same without him standing at the stove, 3 perfectly seasoned skillets on the burners (no non-stick surfaces for dad, he was a purist), turning out crepes faster than we could fill and roll them.

The blintzes have since been replaced with two other Christmas classics: Chinese food and lox and bagels. All Jews know that the ONLY places open on Christmas day are Chinese restaurants. On Christmas Day, whether you're in New York or Boca, you are eating Chinese food and going to the movies. Well, we take a little twist on that and usually have Chinese food on Christmas eve (in deference to the more traditional Christmas dinner we enjoy later in the day). And lox and bagels on Christmas morning. As dad used to sing (off-key) while flipping crepes for blintzes, "Deck the halls with lox and bagels...fa la la la la...."

But our crazy, mixed-up food traditions weren't limited to holidays. On the weekends, when breakfast was an event, not just a meal eaten to start the day, my sister and I were as apt to request "matzo brei" (an egg and matzo dish that resembles french toast, and is sometimes called "fried matzo") as we were to request cornmeal mush--the PA Dutch-country version of polenta; sliced, griddle-fried crispy and served with real maple syrup.

Mom was raised with simple, comfort foods, and the Pennsylvania Dutch influences were apparent in much of her family's fare. My grandmother was famous for her "sticky buns," "schnitz und knepp" (dumplings stewed with ham and dried apples), apple pies (the PA dutch are credited with inventing the 2-crust fruit pie as we now know it. Hey, if Alton Brown says so, it must be true). Edna's crust was home made. With lard. Flaky and tender, it had no equal.

Another favorite meal in my house was a classic Pennsylvania Dutch combination; pork roast, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and apple sauce. True comfort food. Mom would roast the pork on a rack in a roasting pan and, toward the end of its time in the oven, she would add the sauerkraut to the drippings in the pan. Another 1/2 hour in the oven while she mashed the potatoes with melted butter and hot milk.

And while the meal itself was a treat, we knew this dinner often promised an even greater treat: "fashnachts". Home made donuts made with mashed potato in the dough. We usually started lobbying for them about halfway through dinner, and mom usually relented. Rolling the dough, cutting the little circles and watching them turn golden brown in the frying pan is one of my fondest childhood memories. Sometimes we sprinkled them with powdered sugar, or sugar and cinnamon, but I liked them best plain, still warm, dunked in a glass of cold milk.

Dad's been gone for 30 years now (wow), and we lost mom in 2004. Even after ten years,  I miss her every day. But I am grateful for the many family traditions she continued or created. Some of which I can carry on...and others she took with her.  I hope, wherever she is, she's standing over a big Viking stove with a spoon in one hand and a martini in the other.

As we move into the holiday season, I contemplate the traditions that I have created for my own family...and wonder whether I have honored those of my mother and father.  I think I have.

But maybe now is a good time to start thinking about the culinary legacy we leave...the tastes and smells that will be remembered long after we're gone and that will always--instantly--evoke a memory of a bygone holiday or loved one.

And I wonder...what would my son or daughter write in this same space, 30 years from now?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Scrapple....Just Don't Ask What's In It.

When it comes to scrapple, people fall into one of three camps: 

1. Never heard of it. (You clearly didn’t grow up anywhere near the Philadelphia/New Jersey/Deleware tri-state area.)
2. I’ve heard of it but would never eat it…do you have any idea what’s in that stuff?
3. Can’t get enough! 
And then there is the “syrup” vs. “ketchup” debate, and the great brand divide (Rapa vs. Habersett's) which creates factious battles resembling the Hatfields and the McCoys.

As for me, I fall into the "can't get enough" camp.  

But you’re probably reading this and wondering why you should care about any of this, or maybe you’re wondering “what the hell is scrapple?”

Scrapple is a delicious and slightly spicy loaf made with pork (and sometimes beef) and cornmeal. You slice it, fry it until it’s brown and crispy, and eat it with (depending on which camp you’re in) syrup or ketchup.  We usually ate it for breakfast but some fans like it in a sandwich. Not me. Real maple syrup, and only at breakfast!

If you live or grew up on the east coast, there’s a good chance you will have encountered scrapple at some point. You might even be a rabid fan of it, as I am. (Always Rapa, never Habersett’s...don't even go there.)

So what’s in it?  You really don’t want to know.  Let’s just say that those industrious American colonists, who are credited with its creation, don’t really like throwing away any parts of a pig.  But if it makes you feel any better, there’s probably no “part” in scrapple that isn’t found in most commercial hot dogs.  

Historians believe that scrapple is arguably the first pork food invented in America.  Wiki also tells us that the first recipes were created by Dutch colonists who settled near Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries.  That’s why scrapple is strongly associated with rural areas surrounding Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the Delmarva Peninsula. In fact, it’s so popular on the Delmarva Peninsula that they hold an annual "Apple Scrapple Festival" in Bridgeville, Delaware, where Rapa scrapple is made. (And there is no other kind worth eating, you know.)

Now you’re wondering what it tastes like.  Sadly, the best comparison the folks at Wiki could come up with is that, “In composition, preparation, and taste, scrapple is similar to the white pudding popular in Ireland, Scotland, and parts of England and the spicier Hog's pudding of the West Country of England.”  That really clears it up for you, right?

Let’s go at this another way.  In texture, it is a bit like fried polenta or cornmeal mush.  Crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside. The flavor profile is a little spicy (black pepper spicy, mostly) and has about the amount of saltiness you would expect in a breakfast meat.

But the aroma when it’s cooking?   Positively mouth-watering. Like a cross between frying bacon and making Thanksgiving dinner. Ketchup is ok, I guess, but the sweetness of real maple syrup in contrast to the salt and spice is heaven on a breakfast plate.

Of course, part of my love of scrapple comes from the strong associations with my childhood in Philadelphia, and our summer vacations on Chincoteague Island, Virginia (just off the Delmarva Peninsula).  It was almost always on the breakfast table in some rented cottage or efficiency motel kitchen. We’d get up early and eat a big breakfast of eggs and scrapple, then go crabbing with chicken necks tied to lengths of twine to catch our dinner.

This past summer I received a text from my sister, who was on vacation. It said, “I just bought scrapple and chicken necks…I must be in Chincoteague.”  Tradition is a beautiful thing.

My husband and grown kids fondly remember the smell of scrapple frying in my late mother’s big, cozy kitchen, the morning sunlight slanting through the leaded glass windows, filtered by the smoke from her cast-iron griddle.  

A few years ago, on a Sunday morning, I fried up some scrapple. We hadn’t had it in a long time, since it’s quite difficult to find in the Midwest, and that just makes it even more special.

Shortly after those thick slices of deliciousness hit the surface of the skillet, I heard my son’s size 13 feet hit the floor in his room above our kitchen.

And as he hurried down the stairs in his robe, he said, “It smells like grandma’s house in here…are you making scrapple???”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kale is the new black.  

Yes, that dark, green, leafy, good-for-you veggie is now fashionable, and being served in a fine restaurant near you, as a side dish, a salad or even as chips to accompany a well-crafted cocktail.

If you’re like most Americans, your first encounter with kale was a sloppy looking mess of soggy, dark green. And if that first experience was also your last, it’s time to give kale another chance .

I love this recipe. It uses kale raw, so it’s crunchy, not soggy.  And the dressing in this salad is light and fresh and takes full advantage of kale’s crunch and naturally nutty flavor.

This goes together quickly and can be prepared a day ahead of serving.

·         1 large bunch kale
·         One generous cup of good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs (or you can crush store-bought croutons in a plastic bag until they are the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs)
·         1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
·         ½ cup dried currants, soaked in a cup of warm water for 10 minutes and drained
·         1/2 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
·         1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus additional shredded cheese for garnish (you can substitute parmesan)
·         3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish (use the BEST oil you have!)
·         Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (just about 1/4 cup)  Tip: Squeeze your lemons into a cup through a tea strainer so you don’t have to pick out seeds.
·         1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Trim the bottom inches of the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons; this should yield about 5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl.

Mince the garlic and mix it in a small bowl with 1/4 teaspoon of salt until it looks like a paste. (You can also do this with a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board with the side of your chef’s knife). 

Combine the garlic paste with the 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine.

Pour the dressing over the kale, add the pine nuts and currants, and toss very well (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves).. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the bread crumbs, additional cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

Adapted from the Raw Tuscan Kale Salad with Chiles and Pecorino recipe in Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pretty in Pink

There may be no vegetable prettier than a bunch of fresh radishes, all preppy hot pink and green and piled up in a colorful tumble at your local farmer's market. They're almost impossible to resist, so I always end up buying a bunch, cutting a few up into a salad and feeling like they really didn't live up to their looks. (Sort of like that hot guy that you lusted after for months, only to discover he was completely devoid of personality.)  I also hate that I always throw away those beautiful green tops...surely there must be some way to use those? And I wondered, could I cook the radishes? Would that mellow their flavor?

The radishes in the market this year have been particularly gorgeous...large and round and perfect, with crisp, fresh greens attached. So I've been on a quest to find new ways to prepare them, with great success, I am happy to report.

 Radish, cucumber and edamame salad with fresh mint.

This is SO simple:
 English cucumber, diced
shelled edamame, thawed
radishes, chopped
lemon juice, EVOO
fresh mint, chives chive blossoms salt/pepper to taste

 Do you really need measurements here? I think not. Just wing it. So pretty!

 Steamed radishes with sauteed greens, lemon chive butter and chive blossoms

Cut the radishes from the bunch and trim. Wash the greens well. Sautee the greens in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Steam the radishes in a covered dish in the microwave with about a cup of water, until they are just getting tender. Drain and set aside, then melt 1/4 cup of great quality butter, stir in a handful of minced chives and a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Pour over the radishes and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange greens and radishes on a plate and scatter chive blossoms over them. (If you don't have chive blossoms, you can just skip this. They look pretty but are only available for a few weeks in the spring. You could substitute other edible blossoms.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Comfort Cocktails: New Orleans Bourbon Milk Punch

Curl up with a good book and one of these creamy lovelies...

2 oz. Good Quality Bourbon (I used Bulleit)
1/2 oz. Vanilla Extract
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup (I confess, I used splenda)
1 oz. Heavy Cream
2 oz. Whole Milk
1/4 of 1 Egg White (I used the packaged pasteurized eggwhites, about 2 tbs)

Add the contents to a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake until good and frothy.

Serve in a frosted old fashioned glass. Garnish with:

Freshly Grated Nutmeg

Pear Vodka 3.0

Vodka...not my favorite drink. Not by a long-shot. But I absolutely love pear vodka. It was at the base of one of the most ethereal cocktails I have ever had; an "Orchard Pear", served at the since-closed Allison II in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Its intoxicating (no pun intended) fragrance was reminiscent of an orchard in full bloom. Pear vodka, St. Germaine, a squeeze of lime, with a float of champagne.

I've tried both Absolut Pears and Grey Goose la Poire and honestly, they don't even belong in the same league. Absolut Pears tastes like a pear Jelly Belly. Grey Goose Poire tastes like...pears. Fragrant, with just a hint of sweetness, it's crisp and delicious. But if you've priced it you know that all that quality doesn't come cheap.

So I've been on a quest to make my own pear infused vodka, with only limited success. I don't want to resort to adding extracts or flavoring, but I've been at a loss to get the true flavor of the pears to infuse the base vodka. But my last foray, my third attempt, has been my most successful to date. Here's what I did. Note: You'll need TWO WEEKS for this process.

Week 1

2 750 ml bottles of Tito's Handmade Vodka
4 large bosc pears, peeled, stems removed and cut in half lengthwise
2 oz dried pears (with no sugar added)

Put the fruit in a large jar with a lid (I used a sun tea jar with saran wrap under the lid) and pour vodka over the fruit. Cover tightly, and shake gently every day for a week.

Week 2
Drain the liquid into another jar or bowl. Dump out the spent fruit.
Add 2 more peeled, halved bosc pears.
Let steep for another week, shaking gently every day.

At the end of week do, drain the vodka into a container of some sort. Using a strainer lined with a coffee filter, strain the vodka into another vessel. You might need to replace the coffee filter halfway through the process, as the small particulate matter will coat the filter pretty quickly.

You can then pour it back into the empty vodka bottles or whatever other bottles you have handy.

I'm really happy with this batch. It has just a touch of fruity sweetness and the aroma reminds me of poached pears.

Ok, it's not Grey Goose Poire but lovely in its own way.

Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.