Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Iron Giant of Ann Arbor window display

There is a store in Ann Arbor that has — hands down — the best window displays in town. I make a point of walking a particular way just to see their window whenever I can. Every time it changes, I am freshly awed. Bergdorf's got nothing. These windows rock. The store: Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair. This display is a perfect example of the level of detail: family photos and embroidered portraits on the wall, the mother knitting and father with can in hand. The movie playing on the tv? The Iron Giant. Brilliant. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I went in to see what it's all about. Now I love it even more.

The Robot Supply & Repair is a store front for 826Michigan, a non-profit helping students with their writing skills. They offer tutoring, workshops, inspiration… the list goes on. They even have a publishing arm. It is a chapter of the larger national organization, 826national, started by writer and personality extraordinaire, Dave Eggers. Check out their web site to find out more:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Herbs and spice and everything nice

My brother Michael gave me the extraordinary gift of a boatload of amazing herbs, spices and whatnot from Penzeys Spices. I can't wait to try Lebanese flatbread with zatar, homemade cinnamon rolls and all the other endless possibilities with: Double strength pure Vanilla Extract, Extra Fancy (that's what it says!) Vietnamese Cinnamon, Ceylon Cinnamon, Spanish Saffron, Chili Piquin, Chinese Powdered Ginger, Bouquet Garni, Shallot Salt and Aleppo Pepper. Goodness!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

It's still winter: Make a Braciole!

I know. Everyone else is making light, healthy meals after extensive periods of holiday gorging. But really. Come on. It's winter, people. There's snow on the ground. I'm still thinking hearty, warming foods. Like braciole. We learned this version from my friend John who learned it from his friend Mary Kay who learned it from her mother who learned it from … you get the idea. Oh, and a little bit of Giada thrown in for structure.

The Begeny Braciole

• 1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs

• 1 garlic clove, minced

• 2/3 cup or more grated Pecorino Romano

• 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
• 1/2 cup pancetta, chopped
• 1 onion, chopped
• 8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
• 6 tablespoons olive oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak

• 1 cup dry white wine

• 3 1/4 cups marinara sauce

After several days of talking about making this braciole, we went to the store about five minutes before we wanted to start cooking. They were out of flank steak. Oh well. We went with skirt steaks and made little individual ones. I pounded them out to make them a bit more uniform in size and shape.
And then…

Combine the first four ingredients to blend. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 1 tb of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add pancetta and continue to cook until lightly browned and starting to crisp. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.

Lay the flank steak flat on the work surface. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the steak to cover the top evenly. Top with the pancetta and onion mixture. Starting at the short end, securely roll up the steak to enclose the filling completely. Using butcher's twine, tie up the roll. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 Tb of olive oil in saute pan (we used the same one the pancetta and onion had been in) over medium heat and add mushrooms. Saute until they release their moisture, about 8 minutes and cook off the liquid.

Preheat oven to 350ยบ.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the braciole and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and wine to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the marinara sauce. Cover partially with foil and bake until the meat is almost tender, turning the braciole and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes. After 1 hour, uncover and continue baking until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes longer. The total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 hours, less for skirt steaks.

Remove the braciole from the sauce. Snip the strings holding it together and cut the braciole crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. We served this over cavatappi pasta sprinkled with olive oil and all the leftover bits: the extra bread crumb mixture, pancetta and onion and extra cheese — and of course more sauce spooned over.

The beauty of this recipe is the multitude of possibilities: use pork or even chicken, add egg or other meats to the filling, do it with no sauce, or a different kind of sauce. Try it!

Monday, January 04, 2010

From the aquarium to agnolotti

As promised, here are a few highlights from our trip. We did a whole lot of visiting in kitchens it seems — one of my favorite ways to spend time with friends. I was getting the hang of a new camera, so have a look…

A day at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

The secret to our traditional Christmas morning waffles?

Bacon! Both to grease the iron and inside the waffles. With syrup, there's nothing like that deliciously sweet and salty flavor.

Christmas filet and the biggest twice-baked potatoes ever.

My brother's dog, Casey, wondering when she gets hers?!

On to Virginia and appetizers with my pal, John, at the helm.

More filet — this time wrapped around gorgonzola.

Lemony shrimp goat cheese wonder-duo in mini puff pastry shells.

John taught us how to make what was my first braciole ever.

Spectacular visit with my Dad — the best tour guide we could have asked for — to the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Air and Space Museum at Dulles — including a real, full-size Concorde and Space Shuttle among hundreds of other planes. Wow! Then on to the Jersey portion of our tour for a visit in my brother's kitchen while he prepped for New Year's Eve…

Huge bowl of mushrooms transformed into mushroom-thyme filling for agnolotti.

Homemade pasta, of course! Shaping the agnolotti…

I think you can tell from the photos that we ate, drank and were quite merry throughout the trip. I can't wait to recreate it all at home — and to do it again!