Thursday, January 28, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
My greatest asset, the thing that makes me feel like a very rich man, is my fortune of wonderful friends. Spending time with people you love is one of the greatest gifts I've been given. Time is the one thing I have the least of, but when I can spend it with friends, as I did last night, it's always a treat.
Invitations to people's homes don't always include requests for something baked - but who wants to show up at the door empty-handed? When Gerald and Liz invited Ralph and I over for a casual evening of pizza and Monopoly, I wanted to contribute something (Ralph brought a bottle of this off-the-hook "un-oaked" Chardonnay).
Since our host and hostess have some allergies, I generally like to whip up some sort of sweet that is built around fruit flavors. And, for reasons I can't explain, I have had pineapple on my mind for the past couple of weeks. I can't seem to get enough of it!
I wanted to make a variation a pineapple upside down cake that was a double-layer cake. I made the pineapple cake using pineapple juice instead of water (gives more flavor and moisture, I think) and baked the batter in two 8 inch rounds. People don't make a lot of 8 inch layer cakes anymore. Fifty years ago this size was pretty standard, but now it's even getting hard to find 8 inch pans (I pick them up in thrift stores and garage sales).
For the frosting I whipped up some whipping cream with sugar and vanilla until it was nice and stiff. Then I folded in crushed pineapple (I drained a 20 oz. can for the juice and then put the fruit in the fridge until frosting time) along with eight finely diced maraschino cherries. What resulted was this dreamy pineapple-cherry fluff that spread easy on the cooled cake and made for a beautiful frosting.
So, while I didn't rule the Monopoly board (Collette dominated by sending the rest of us into bankruptcy - where was our bail-out package?!?) - the light pineapple cake with the fruity whipped cream frosting was enjoyed by all!
Monday, January 11, 2010
And, on one, or even sometimes, two Mondays a month, my answer is usually, "I had a church dinner."
Yesterday was the first church dinner of the year. My family has been cooking dinners at St. Josaphat Church for years. It's something that started a long time ago when the parish was trying to come up with some fundraising ideas and decided to have regular dinners in the church hall, which was once the parish convent. (pictured left: folks making their way through the buffet line)
The first few courses of the Oplatek dinner are served at the table. We had 15 tables to serve and the first course of rye bread and butter and herring and cream went out. The herring you either love or hate. For the record, most of the bowls came back empty - so there were plenty of takers!
After the bread and herring, beet soup was served with ushki ("ears") noodles. On such a cold day, the hot soup was a welcome addition to the table. There are two first-floor dining rooms in the hall, so cauldrons of soup go on carts and we serve it table by table.
pierogi are eaten and the plates are cleared off the table, then people get up and get more food from the buffet! Here's what the spread consisted of: polish meatballs in mushroom gravy, fresh and smoked kielbasa, kapusta (sauerkraut cooked for 10+ hours with onions, seasoning, pork neck bones), boiled potatoes with fried onions, butter and dill, peas and carrots, pickled beets, olives, dill pickles and tossed salad. This buffet represents a "typical" St. Josaphat parish dinner - if anyone leaves hungry it's their own fault! (pictured left: I have the best kitchen helpers - among them are Ken and "Busia" who are cutting up 50 lbs of potatoes)
Thursday, January 7, 2010
We arrived there Wednesday night at about 6pm. There wasn't much happening downtown, and things were pretty quiet. Although Angelina's does offer valet service ($5 on weekdays/$10 weekends) we found a spot on Madison across from the Opera House box office and parked there. We entered and were seated immediately. In fact, there was only one other occupied table and a couple folks at the bar.
A basket of warm bread came to the table right away along with a tray of "bread friends" (pictured left) that included homemade honey-butter, extra virgin olive oil and an "Italian hummus" made from white beans and other good things. Always a sucker for fresh bread of any kind, we hadn't ordered our drinks before the first basket of bread was devoured.
Unbelievably, we couldn't finish all the food (what did I expect after eating all that bread?) but we managed to save just enough room for dessert! Something light was just in order, and we got a strawberry sorbetto with two spoons. Packed with berry goodness, this sweet and light ending (pictured left) was homemade and as good as I've had
There were so many things that I liked about my experience at Angelina's. What impressed me the most is how much of the food is really and truly homemade - the pickled vegetables, the pasta, the bread, the desserts. The service was excellent and it's a beautiful dining room. I love that they are using a built space in Detroit that was vacant for decades, and have brought it to life once again with new purpose and bright light. These are the kinds of special dinners one remembers fondly for a long, long time.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
On a cold and grey January morning here in Detroit, a decision was made early on in the work day that the warming comfort of a Hamtramck lunch was just the ticket.
And from where we sit in the middle of Wayne State's campus, a trip to Hamtramck is no more fuss than taking a ride up the block. The question always is, "Which place are we going to?"
The "Big Three" are Polish Village Cafe, Polonia and Under The Eagle. Each one has their loyalists, and for my money there's plenty to like about each one of these places. For instance, I like the golabki (stuffed cabbage) at Polish Village the best, but Polonia makes it's own kielbasa that's out of this world (it's "fresh" as opposed to "smoked"). So at one place I like to order this, and at one of the other places I prefer to order that....it's all good! During this trip to PVC, I ordered the pork chops (pictured above) and they didn't disappoint.
One of my dear co-workers, Katie, who happens to be married to a nice Polish boy, ordered up the Polish Platter (pictured left) as well as some "to-go" goodies for her hubby. Her Polish Platter came with a stuffed cabbage, piece of kielbasa, a couple pierogi, kapusta (sauerkraut) and mashed potatoes (these are the real deal - lumps and all!) and gravy.
Not only did these delicious home-cooked meals warm our hearts and bellies, the restaurant itself provided a cozy and festive backdrop for our "feel-good" lunch. The Christmas decorations were still up in full force - garland, tinsel, lights, everywhere! When we got there, the place was about one third full. By the time we left, people were waiting in line for a table! It's no coincidence that so many of us find comfort in food like this, and let's hope we will always be able to find refuge in places like this.
Craig, another co-worker of mine and no stranger to all things culinary, took delight in putting away two stuffed cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes and green beans. These stuffed cabbages, topped with a tomato soup style gravy, were tender and filled with ground meat (not sure what combination they use of pork, veal and/or beef) a little rice and seasoning. It's the cabbage that really provides the flavor. I think we should all be eating a lot more cabbage, don't you?
Craig also had a good-looking cup of beet soup that came with his meal. See the pattern here? Cabbage, beets, potatoes...sure it's not low-cal, but we got our daily allowance of vegetables, that's for certain. Pass the sour cream, please!
I don't have a photo of it, not that it would have done it justice, but the other Kevin Gerard in our office (can you believe there are two in the same place?) ordered the roast pork. It looked so succulent, just falling a part like when you can cut the meat with your fork. I said nothing to him at the table, but I had a case of "plate envy" - do you ever get that? It's when you want to eat what somebody else ordered.
We cleaned our plates, filled our tummys and enjoyed the communal pleasure of spoiling ourselves with such a treat at lunchtime.
Monday, January 4, 2010
So, while much of what I eat is that of mere convenience, I resolved that 2010 would be different. Anyone still living in the Detroit area doesn't need me to tell them how bad things are right now. We're all witnesses - most of us are living it. So, all the more reason to celebrate the simple pleasures in one's life like going places and eating things!
Last night was such an occasion. I've been a part of many conversations about "Detroit-style" pizza. All variations on the square, thick-crusted, sauce on top of cheese pizza. The most famous is probably Buddy's, with so many stores around the area (although I contend the best Buddy's pizza still comes out of the ovens at the Conant/McNichols location). Then you have Cloverleaf on the east side, Shield's, and the legendary Loui's Pizza in Hazel Park.
Ralph (pictured) and I ended up at Loui's Pizza last night in an attempt to compare and contrast their pies with others we've enjoyed. It was a cold Sunday night, and the place was packed. I had not been to Loui's since 1982, and my most vivid recollection (other than the delicious pizza) was a lot of empty Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. Walking into the dining room, there were hundreds of bottles still on display, and more had been added to the walls. Each bottle was signed by it's consumer(s) and I can't imagine how many wonderful stories must be attached to those bottles.
Our waitress was Dianne - a real hoot! We got Happy New Year hugs from her as she asked what we wanted to drink. She returned with our waters saying, "I fancied them up with TWO lemons" and then seemed to instinctively know what we wanted to order.
"So you boys want a small antipasto salad and what do you want on your pizza pie?" We ordered a large pizza (8 slices) with pepperoni and mushroom to follow our salad. The salad was out in no-time, and Ralph commented on the smoothness of the dressing. It was really good - old school Italian dressing on iceberg lettuce with chopped up ham, salami and mozzarella cheese. Ralph and I thought it was one of the best we've had anywhere.
The pizza took a while. When it came, the sight and smell made my mouth water in anticipation. We dug right in and were so involved in eating that we didn't realize we didn't get the pizza we ordered! Dianne came over to the table and asked if we got the pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Looking down at it is was clear that it had the pepperoni but no mushroom. "I screwed up, sorry!" Dianne said as she carried the pizza we should have gotten over to another table. The other party didn't seem to disappointed and neither were we. With or without the 'shrooms, it was good eatin'!
Loui's has a different sauce than Buddy's (seemed to have a more herbal taste - maybe more oregano), and the pizza was a bit cheesier, too. Ralph didn't think the crust was as "buttery" as Buddy's, but it had a good texture and a nice crunch at the edges.
Enjoying this great Detroit tradition was one of the best parts of the day.