Although it’s been quite some time since my last post (um, several months! my screen saver should be tumbleweeds…), I’m not quite ready to give up blogging. Perhaps I’m in denial, but after spending all that time to transfer to a new domain earlier this year, getting a new masthead, etc, it seems a shame to let it slowly die. Although this fall and holiday season were our busiest yet for Beau Bien Fine Foods (selling at Eastern Market; getting our retail license to sell in stores) and the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar was the biggest so far, you’d think my fairly flexible schedule would allow for some blogging time… I suppose my priorities just shifted towards activities that could potentially earn me some income, such as freelance writing and selling vintage clothing on my Etsy shop. But since January through April is a pretty slow season in the jam business, I’m hoping to get back into posting more regularly.
In spite of the lack of posts, I’ve been cooking just as much as ever. Lots of trout during the very hot summer and early fall; lacto-fermented pickle experiments with sauerkraut, kimchi and root vegetables (see below); some slow cooker experiments with pork ribs; dough for bread and pizza when it wasn’t too ungodly hot to turn on the oven. Some days, I’d even come home from a 10 or 11-hour day at the kitchen and prepare a meal for Marvin and myself. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few takeout meals and rotisserie chickens in the mix, but I tried to get into a groove of having enough groceries and pantry staples on hand to rustle up some simple healthy meals after a long day’s work.
A few weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance posted something about how she “doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving”. I replied asking why on earth one would abstain from Thanksgiving- it has all the fun aspects of Christmas (family, food, leisure, more food…) with none of the frantic, harried running around. I don’t think I’ve ever had to set foot in a mall to buy anything for Thanksgiving. And it’s always a four-day weekend… not even Christmas can guarantee that!
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gift-giving tradition of the Christmas holiday, but sometimes it seems to eclipse everything else. As long as I can nave a nice meal and a lot of lazing around afterward, I’m pretty content. This Thanksgiving was exactly that- outstanding culinary contributions from the whole family (I really think it gets better every year), great company, and a little Dance Dance Revolution after our food had settled and everyone had had enough wine not to care if they looked silly.
My mom surprised me with an early birthday cake and gift since she won’t be here on my birthday. She made a scrapbook with tons of old childhood photos, all with clever captions that must have taken her many, many hours to put together. Looking through it, and looking around me, I couldn’t help but be a bit melancholy that this would probably be one of the last holidays we’d all celebrate with the entire family. With siblings getting married and being pulled in different directions, we’ll have to start taking turns with what in-laws to visit and inevitably not everyone will be able to come to each gathering. I know it’s just a fact of growing older but for a close knit family like ours, it will be a difficult transition.
That said, I am ready to embrace life’s changes rather than dwell on what has passed. Marvin and I will be moving into our new home in the next month if all goes according to plan, and we hope to host next year’s Thanksgiving celebration (or maybe even Easter, who knows!). Although change can be stressful at times, I look forward to all the new joys and challenges that will come with combining our households.
One thing I definitely look forward to with having our new house is not having to travel for every get-together if we get to host! This year, I had to work Wednesday and get up early Thanksgiving day to drive, so in lieu of cooking something I made a big fancy salad. I combined wintry flavors of radicchio and pear, with pistachios to give extra color and crunch. Like any composed salad, I think it looks prettiest and is easiest to serve on a platter so that you can distribute the ingredients more equitably and don’t end up with, say, all the nuts at the bottom of the bowl.
I stuffed myself silly on homemade bacon-wrapped “poppers” (see below) for an appetizer, mac and cheese, the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted, and the usual suspects like stuffing, potatoes, turkey and gravy. I know I’m forgetting some items but it’s been two weeks already (when you read my next couple posts you’ll understand why it’s taken me that long to finish this)! To top it all off, my brother made a pecan pie, a pear and almond galette, and pumpkin empanadas. My mom also made a pineapple upside down cake, which was a childhood favorite of mine, for my birthday.
If you feel full just reading that, this salad makes a nice light supper to help balance out any holiday indulgences.
Note: First two photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Winter Salad with Pears & Pistachios
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 large shallot
½ a head of radicchio
2 Seckel pears or 1 ripe Bosc or Anjou pear
⅓ cup unsalted pistachios
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Champagne vinegar or quality white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Notes: I prefer Seckel pears because they slice into perfect bite sized pieces, but feel free to substitute another pear variety. Because many people expect a cheese in their composed salads, I did serve some crumbled blue cheese on the sde, but the salad has a nice character without it.
Slice the shallots, not too thin. Soak them in a bowl of ice water while you prep other ingredients- this will make them nice and crunchy while also removing a bit of their sting. Wash and dry the lettuce. Toast the pistachios over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking occasionally, until fragrant; set aside to cool. Remove the core from the radicchio and slice into thin shreds. Core and slice the pears. If doing this in advance of serving, toss the pears with a little of the vinegar you are using so they don’t turn brown.
In a bowl large enough to hold the lettuce, make the dressing: Add the olive oil, then the mustard, and whisk until incorporated; then add the vinegar (you may want more or less to taste) and whisk again until emulsified. If the quantity of dressing looks too small for the amount of lettuce you have, tweak it by adding proportional amounts of oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste- don’t be shy with the salt, as you are effectively salting the whole salad, not just the dressing. Toss the lettuce in the dressing to coat.
Transfer the dressed lettuce to a platter and scatter over the radicchio, pears, shallots (drained), and pistachios. Serve immediately.
I was talking to my mom
a couple weeks ago and she mentioned that she wanted to send my blog link to a friend, but it had been “so long” since I had last posted, that she didn’t have the link anymore (she gets the feed through email). Yikes! I’m certainly far from the days where I used to post two or even three times a week, but I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad.
The silver lining is that I’ve been occupied with other new and exciting projects, including some freelance writing for these publications, making jam and other treats for my fledgling company Beau Bien Fine Foods, organizing the first-ever (and I hope annual) Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar, and rehearsing and playing shows with Scarlet Oaks. Are you tired just reading that? Combined with house-hunting (we found one! More on this later…) and a full social calendar, I have barely had time to cook lately let alone photograph it or write about it.
When my good friend and Beau Bien business partner Molly organized a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at her place, I was determined not to let the opportunity pass since I had to cook a dish to bring anyway. I had some peeled, roasted chestnuts from the shipment of goodies that Oh! Nuts sent me a few months back and I knew I wanted to incorporate those. I recalled a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Feast with brussels sprouts and chestnuts and used that as a guideline. The combination of pancetta and brussels sprouts was not new for me, but the addition of chestnuts, marsala and a generous amount of parsley intrigued me.
I got up nice and early (8am) to make sure I had plenty of time to run errands, cook, take pictures, get ready, etc, but was foiled by Michigan’s now-overturned law that you can’t purchase alcohol before noon on Sundays… ugh. That’s not the first time I’ve needed alcohol for Sunday cooking only to have to wait (I never said I was a good planner). I ended up being about an hour late to the party due to the rushing around, but my stress was soon soothed with a delicious glass of bourbon milk punch made by my friend Todd. If you’ve never had a milk punch, think eggnog-ish, but less cloying. As an added bonus, the milk was a delicious raw milk from a local cow share.
Dinner was a mix of old and new foods and friends. Molly’s sister and brother-in-law brought a turkey they smoked in their “egg”, with a subtly smoky flavor that didn’t overwhelm the other foods. The stuffing was made from wild rice and sausage, there was a green salad with fennel and orange, a fresh cranberry relish, and a great roasted cauliflower dish with capers and vinaigrette that, I’m sad to say, completely upstaged my slightly overcooked sprouts. I’m totally cribbing that for the next potluck I attend (don’t worry Evan, Ill give you your due credit!). For dessert, our friends Noah and Liz made sweet potato pie and apple pie. Where I found room for those I’ll never know, but I do know that if I ever make sweet potato pie I’m making it with graham cracker crust. Another idea to appropriate.
After dinner we walked across Lafayette Park (erm, there may have been a bit of stumbling along with the walking- see above) in the unseasonable 65°weather over to Supino’s in Eastern Market, where some friends had broken down a pig and were having a party of sorts. I’m regretting not taking the camera for that portion of the evening, and also regretting not having a second or third stomach to sample some of the treats that were being passed around (slices of pig kidney, anyone?). Hopefully they will feel the experience bears repeating at a later date. I still want to make blood sausage darnit! For now, though, you’ll have to settle for these brussels sprouts… (hey, at least there’s pancetta in there.)
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts & Pancetta (adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson)
2 lbs brussels sprouts
8 oz peeled roasted chestnuts
about 6 oz pancetta, diced (three medium-thick slices should yield this)
¼ cup marsala
large handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
a couple Tbs olive oil or butter
Notes: The original recipe stipulates boiling the brussels sprouts whole and then adding them to the pan for a quick sauté, but my sprouts were a little on the mature side so I opted for the “shredded” version. If you have smaller, tighter sprouts, I’d maybe go with the original version as it looks a bit prettier. However, the shredded version does have a more homey, comfort-food appeal to it.
Wash and trim the brussels sprouts. Cut in half lengthwise and cut a small notch to remove the toughest part of the stem. Chop each half crosswise into three or four sections to “shred” them.
In a large skillet, sauté the pancetta over medium heat with the olive oil or butter. (The pancetta will render some fat, but the additional fat emulsifies with the marsala later to become a “sauce” of sorts.) When the meat is starting to brown but before it dries out, add the brussels sprouts. They will release some moisture which will enable you to deglaze the pan.
Sauté, stirring frequently, until the thickest parts of the brussels sprouts are al dente. Stir in the chestnuts, breaking them up with your spoon or spatula. Raise the heat a little and add the marsala, stirring well. As soon as it bubbles away, remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
This year, I had Thanksgiving planned out well in advance: celebrate with my Dad and sisters on Thursday, and go to Marvin’s family’s on Friday. I had been assigned to bring a dessert for Friday’s meal and had been plotting it out weeks in advance- I was going to do some sort of pumpkin flan. However, things changed unexpectedly, and rather than stick around Detroit and dwell on the situation at hand, my mom offered to fly me out to Las Vegas to spend a couple days with my aunt’s family who live there. It sounded like a good plan- a change of scenery and some sunshine to take my mind off things.
Unfortunately for me, my one free day to explore turned out to be cold and rainy! We spent the day wandering around Caesar’s and the Bellagio, shopping and sightseeing, working up our appetites for the next day’s meal. I was assigned to make the pie crust, seemingly because my mom has some notion that I am a “better” cook than her (thanks mom, but just because I talk about food constantly and always have an opinion, does not make me a more experienced pie-maker!).
I had heard other food bloggers say that Martha Stewart’s paté brisée recipe is pretty foolproof, so I went with that. My aunt had some contraption to roll out the pie that consisted of a big square piece of cloth with a frame (see above); I think it belonged to my grandmother. It worked pretty well except that I wasn’t used to it and wasn’t adding enough flour, so I had some stickage. But by the third or fourth crust, I had it figured out. I was a little concerned that I had over-handled it, but it turned out just fine. I had extra dough and decided to make some decorative leaves for the top of the pumpkin pie, but we put them on a little too late so they didn’t brown. But my aunt’s stepdaughter, who said she had never had a completely homemade pie before (poor girl!), said it was the best she’d ever had.
All in all it was a very good meal, but the best part was the time spent with my mom, aunt and cousins in the kitchen before the meal, chatting, cooking and snacking (of course!). That’s a big part of the appeal of cooking for me- the time spent with family & loved ones- and why it can be get hard to my cooking mojo on when it’s just me, myself & I. Perhaps I will have to arrange some cooking sessions with my girlfriends to get back in the swing of things… any takers? : )
P.S. My cousin Rebecca is responsible for the pumpkin pie photo and the photo of me rolling out the pie crust. Check out her photography blog here.