Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Chili Con Carne (recipe in the comments)
Southern-style company corn bread
Carrots and celery

Iced and/or sugared spice cookies
Oh yeah, CANDY!
It should have been obvious from the beginning that M and I were destined to be married. Both our families served chili for Halloween dinner every year. We departed menu there (J had French bread and salad, M had corn bread with carrots and celery), but the entree unites us and we have eaten chili every Halloween that we have lived together (going on 12 years now!). We solve the menu diversions by making J's mom's chili and M's mom's sides (somehow we added the margaritas ourselves - smart, eh?).

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Moderate
Chopping: Onion, garlic, pepper
Time: About an hour (we made the cookies yesterday)
Make ahead: You can make everything ahead and reheat. I often make the chili to the point of adding the beans and do that part last minute.

J: "Is there a more Halloween-y meal?"
M: "The best chili in the universe and you can trust me because I've been ALL OVER the universe."
Mn: "A tradition waiting to happen."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What foods are safest? What foods are most nutritious? What foods are best for the environment? Are the foods that answer these questions affordable? The questions I find myself considering in the produce section, as well as the rest of the grocery store, can lead me down an endless series of decision trees, leaving me pretty sure that, no matter what I choose, I'm making the wrong choices for someone/something/somewhere. It's maddening. Like everyone, I do my best, I pick my battles, and I try to stay informed. Here's an article I found helpful and gave me some new perspectives on the issue of organics.
Tuesday - Delivery from Cottage Inn

Pizza with artichoke hearts, bell peppers, onion, black olives, and fresh tomatoes
Pizza with bacon, spinach, and fresh tomatoes (B.S.T.)
Greek salad

Halloween oreos
Hot tea
Tonight was our annual pumpkin carving night, so cooking was dispensed with to make time for this important holiday activity. Halloween is pretty serious in this household and allowances have to be made. We partook of the fabulous local pizza chain, Cottage Inn. The original Cottage Inn was opened by two undergrads at the University of Michigan, who were hoping to one day open a restaurant. They realized that a college town desperately needed delivery pizza and a local legend was born. Due to their unexpected and widespread success, the brothers put off their dream of opening a more upscale establishment, but about four years ago they fulfilled that part of the dream, opening The Quarter.

Prep Notes
Delivery can really be your friend

J: "Boy do we have a cool looking jack-o-lantern!"
M: "Why yes, Cottage Inn is all that and a bag of chips. B.S.T. is my new favorite pizza."
Mn: "Sometimes you just need a break from cooking."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Visiting (or living in) Ann Arbor, Michigan? There's a new destination on the map - Cafe Habana on Washington Street. As former residents of southern California, the Latin cuisine scene in Michigan has been dire. When we saw the sign for Cafe Habana, we felt a glimmer of hope. Was an authentic Cuban restaurant going to open here? After looking at the menu online pre-opening we were even more excited, finding reasonable prices and a vast array of authentic sounding food that covered Cuban cuisine and more. They were planning to serve all three meals and have a late night bar (not so much our style right now with Mr. T, but promising anyway!). Well, today the team went for lunch and we were very excited by the results. Everything was enjoyed by all. My only complaint is that my sandwich would have been better with a more interesting side than pappas fritas (french fries), though the fries in question were very good. Perhaps we can relax about where to get our south of the border fix?

Goat cheese and salsa with house made tortillas

Mn: Arepas (corn cakes with goat cheese, mashed yucca, and spinach)
J: Vegetarian cuban (fantastic grilled vegetables pressed into tasty toasty bread)
M: Arroz con pollo

We thought we might despair without a steady diet of authentic Mexican fare, but Cafe Habana may just soothe our yearning and expand our horizons!

Chicken with creamy tarragon sauce and peas (recipe in the comments)
Rice pilaf
Sauteed grape tomatoes with garlic

The rest of the orange chocolate cake
Hot tea (variety of flavors for various participants)
This was a new recipe that we decided to make for M's mom. We chose it because we haven't had chicken in a long time and the nighttime lows are beginning to drop below freezing, making our abundant fresh tarragon supply look endangered. It was a wonderful dish and everyone enjoyed it a lot. I think the final verdict, however, was that it wasn't good enough to warrant the amount of effort. With three people cooking, it took us about 45 minutes. Since we don't usually have a staff, I doubt it will get made very often. That said, it's a great tarragon recipe (an under-appreciated herb (along with marjoram) from my perspective) and definitely company worthy.

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Simple, but lengthy
Chopping: Tarragon
Time: About an hour, without staff
Make ahead: You can prep the ingredients and toast the rice for the pilaf ahead, but everything else should be done last minute.

J: "I wish we ate more tarragon."
M: "Gourmet product, but not worth the effort."
Mn: "Not your grandmother's chicken and peas."

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Chipotle macaroni and cheese (recipe in the comments)
Salad with balsamic and bacon dressing

Orange chocolate cake (leftover from breakfast!)
Hot tea (variety of flavors for various participants)
Michael and I both love comfort food and homemade macaroni and cheese is a favorite. That said, we are pretty health conscious. This recipe ranks as one of two macaroni and cheese recipes that we have adapted from Cooking Light magazine to become regular parts of our repertoire. Both are wonderfully delicious, a bit of a twist on the classic mac and cheese, and moderately good for you. I have to admit that we don't use reduced fat cheese (seems icky), so they're not as good for you as the magazine intended.

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Moderate
Chopping: Onion, bell pepper, chipotle peppers, garlic
Time: About 30 minutes + 30 minutes to cook
Make ahead: You can prep ingredients, but you should put them all together right before you bake.

J: "Spicy cheese and pasta - does life get any better?"
Mn: "Comfort food with zip!"
M: "Chipotle mac : mac 'n' cheese :: a real bagel : Lenders OR
Chipotle mac : mac 'n' cheese :: Starbucks : that bitter brown water my office calls "coffee" * OR
Chipotle mac : mac 'n' cheese :: Ben'n'Jerry's : Walmart brand ice cream **

*noting, of course, that there are many better kinds of coffee than
Starbucks, but you get it...
**does Walmart have their own ice cream? I don't know, but I wouldn't
be surprised. And I bet it's not good. Not good at all."
Saturday - Out to dinner at Terry B's in Dexter
Mn: Corn Chowder with red pepper coulis
J: House salad with balsamic vinegarette
M: The Dexter Plate (a seasonal mix of terrines, charcuteries, and house made mustards)

Mn: Lamb porterhouse with potato stack, asparagus, roasted mushrooms and onions, with port demi glace
J: Thai style scallops with sweet soy Jasmine rice, coconut peanut sauce, pea shoot salad, and baby corn
M: Duck breast and leg with duck confit, lentil risotto, currant demi glace, and braised cabbage

Mn: Chocolate raspberry gateau with raspberry sauce and creme anglaise
J: Individual cheesecake with blueberry sauce, whipped cream column and blackberries
M: Aztec tart (chocolate and chili tart filling with cinnamon gelato, and chocolate/creme anglaise)
In case you haven't noticed our family likes to eat. We love to eat. In fact, dining out is one of our favorite pleasures. We take all opportunities to celebrate by heading out to a new or beloved restaurant. Since M, T and I moved here in fall 2006, we have, sad to say, generally been disappointed in fine dining in Ann Arbor. The food can be mediocre and the prices are exorbitant (I say this having lived in both Washington, DC and Orange County, CA). It is not uncommon to find yourself in a restaurant with average entree prices in the $30s - uh oh, no, no. We have found some gems - see future posts, I'm sure - but nowhere that was extraordinary. Until last night. Terry B's in Dexter is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in. There was not one (yes, you read that correctly) food misstep, excellent service, amazing ambiance, and perfect company. Who could ask for a better dining experience? James Beard, where are you?

Prep Notes
Isn't eating out always easy?

J: "This is our new celebration destination."
M: "The best fine dining in Michigan."
Mn: "Even an engagement at the next table couldn't upstage the food."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dare I even get into the local versus organic debate? Yes, I dare. It's a big issue in our house, balancing food miles and pesticide use. Lately, we're tending to come down more on the local side of the question. Many local farmers use limited or no pesticides, but can't afford the organic certification, meaning we don't always have to choose. As pointed out in this recap of some of the big issues, our Whole Foods has really risen to the challenge of promoting local farmers. I know the names of most of the farms where our in season produce from Whole Foods comes from, and the rest typically comes from the farmers' market, where I actually meet the farmers. I'd say about 50% of them are certified organic. It gets harder in the winter though - especially the long winter here in Michigan. In February, I bet I'll be asking myself, "is an organic cucumber from Chile better than a conventional one from California?" Hmmmm.

Rosemary merlot flank steak (recipe in the comments)
Roasted new potatoes
Haricot verts, wax beans, and baby carrots in a Dijon vinaigrette

Baked apples
Hot tea (variety of flavors for various participants)
M's mom (Mn) came for a visit this weekend and will be staying through Halloween, so there will be a new "reactor" for a couple days. Rosemary merlot flank steak is a great meal to make for company, especially if you're on a budget. The cut of meat is less expensive than many and the presentation is very elegant, without much fuss. We had the last of the potatoes from our farmers' market and are (again) amazed at how much better fresh organic potatoes are than what you normally get at the store (potatoes are an important organic switch!).

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Easy
Chopping: Onion chopped, potatoes halved, beans trimmed, apples cored
Time: About 50 minutes
Make ahead: The marinade can be made ahead and refrigerated. The spice mixture for the apples can be made a week ahead and stored in an airtight container.

J: "The scent of rosemary perfumed our whole house - mmm."
M: "Easy restaurant quality."
Mn: "A colorful blend of flavors."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mimi Sheraton and I agree - lying to your kids isn't good for them. We are blessed that T eats an amazingly wide variety of food for a 16-month-old - everything from mussels to eggplant to Kraft macaroni and cheese (hey, my time in the kitchen is finite too!). We're not sure that will be true forever, but we're very sold on the wisdom that you just have to keep presenting your kids with a variety of healthy foods and let them come to like them.

Creamed eggs and curried rice (recipe in the comments)
Steamed spinach

More of those yummy almond biscotti
Decaf Constant Comment Tea
Creamed eggs and curried rice was one of my favorite meals growing up. My mother made this for my stepfather and I every Easter (to use the dyed eggs!), but it's good fall, winter, or early spring. Interestingly, my father remembers a recipe he thinks was called creamed eggs with curried rice, which was bright red and incredibly spicy (read: AWFUL), from their travels to England. This is not that, simply creamy goodness with a subtle curry flavor to set it off.

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Easy
Chopping: Onion
Time: About 45 minutes
Make ahead: This is easiest if you hard boil the eggs ahead of time so they're cold when you peel them. The rice can be prepped ahead as well, just add the water to cook last minute.

J: "I am transported to the idylls of my youth."
M: "Classic comfort."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some of you know that I have more than a passing interest in environmental issues, BUT I also understand that lifestyle choices need to be practical. Here's a neat article M sent me from the NY Times about how switching from conventional to organic versions of five foods can dramatically increase the amount of organic food the average American family eats. Sadly, we eat very few potatoes and almost no ketchup or peanut butter. Maybe as T ages?

Update: After reading this, a friend emailed me that she and her family had enjoyed making many of these changes, but that they had a hard time with organic peanut butters. We don't eat much peanut butter, but I remembered reading an article rating various natural peanut butters. Let me know if you agree with the article or have other favorite brands. As T gets older, I expect our peanut butter consumption may increase.

Cous cous burritos (recipe in the comments)
Peas and corn with fresh mint and oregano

Vanilla ice cream (for M)
This is one of those recipes that one of us (J) likes and the other (M) doesn't. M was supposed to be at a work-related dinner tonight, and I was planning to have this without him. Sadly M is sick and so had to suffer through. I was going to just have fresh fruit as an easy side dish, but to have enough for two we created a side out of frozen vegetable remnants and the last of our herb garden.

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Incredibly easy
Chopping: Bell pepper and tomato, herbs for the peas and corn
Time: About 15 minutes
Make ahead: You can make the cous cous ahead and just warm it when you fill the burritos. I've even been known to eat them room temperature for camping.

J: "True comfort food wrapped in a warm tortilla."
M: "Vaguely unsatisfying."
Black bean and goat cheese quesadillas (recipe in the comments)
Avocado halves with spicy red sauce

Spicy cocoa
Almond biscotti (not homemade ;)
We've been making these for a long time and love them - the avocados are a new side dish innovation. We used to make a vinegar coleslaw (not creamy) instead.

Prep Notes
Difficulty: Easy
Chopping: Onion, garlic, cilantro
Time: About 40 minutes (including make ahead)
Make ahead: I prepped all the ingredients and made the red sauce about an hour before we began officially cooking.

J: "These taste sinfully good."
M: "I think this is one of the best things we make."
As you probably already have read, I've heard that the average American family rotates through an endless cycle of the same ten dinners. This seems depressing to me and I really can't imagine that it's true. I propose to post what my husband (M), our toddler (T), and I (J) are eating each day in hopes that we'll be above average! Also, though, it's most important to hear from you. What are you eating? If we all share maybe we can up the national average by inspiring one another.