Family Traditions

Paczkis Galore!

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Today is Paczki Day!  While other folks may be celebrating Mardi Gras or Carnivale, here in the Midwest we have Paczki Day.  Well, it might not be particular to the Midwest, because if you live anywhere with a large Polish population, you probably know about Paczkis.  But here in SE Michigan, we can’t get enough.  According to AnnArbor.com, we here are crazy about paczkis and lead the nation in Google searches about Paczki Day.  Personally, I never even heard of a paczki until I started living in Michigan.  And thanks to the large Polish population in Hamtramck, MI (which is a city within Detroit), I am hooked!

What's in the box?

But, let me back up a little bit.  Some of y’all might not know what a Paczki is.  First of all, it’s pronounced POONCH-key or PUNCH-key.  These are Polish jelly-filled donuts which are traditionally served the day before Lent, which is the 40 days of sacrifice and penance before Easter.  They came about as a way to use up all the lard, butter, sugar, and eggs in the pantry, because if you do celebrate Lent, you won’t be using any of those ingredients for the next 5 1/2 weeks.  So, much like Mardi Gras, paczkis are one last indulgence before 40 days of fasting.

Surprise! It's Paczkis!

In the Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti area, probably all over Michigan, you can find local big box grocery stores stocked with them.  I even found them as early as the first week of February.  At places like these, you can find fillings like strawberry, lemon, or custard, but you probably won’t find the traditional flavors like prune or rosehip.  Prune you’re more likely to find, but you have to work to find rosehip.  Again, if you don’t know, rosehips are the fruit of the rose.   When you leave the rose on the bush (particularly Rugosa roses) and allow it to wither, what eventually develops is a rosehip.  They kinda look like those tiny tomatoes you find at the grocery, but on a rose bush.  And in case you were wondering, they are very, very, very high in vitamin C.

Paczkis!!!

There are several places around here where you can find some paczkis.  All the big grocery stores have them — Kroger, Meijer, and Busch’s — and some other specialty establishments like Plum Market and the renowned Zingerman’s.  Normally, I go to Copernicus Deli (where you can find some rosehip), but this year I got my first sampling of the goods from Ypsilanti’s Dom Bakeries.  They were already my favorite donut shop in town (their apple fritters are ridiculously good!), but I never thought to stop in for some paczkis.  But I’ll be heading to Copernicus this morning anyway to get some rose ones due to a special request from a Michigan ex-pat down in Key West.

Strawberry filling for days

So, if you have a Polish neighborhood in town, be sure to go on a hunt for paczkis today.  Better yet, make a trip down to Hamtramck, MI and participate in the festivities throughout the day (I really should work for the Michigan tourist board).  Don’t deprive yourself of this yearly event of sweet, deep-fried culture.  And be sure to visit me on Facebook — I’m up to 7 likes now!

That's like a bushel of apples in there

Slow’s BBQ and the North American International Auto Show

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Although I love the new production and concept cars, my favorites are the classics like this 1934 Model 40. My other favorite was the 1952 Mercedes 300 SL. Both are gorgeous cars.

I was hoping to post this sooner, but I was having some problems with editing.  For whatever reason none of my revisions were saved and I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.  Eventually I figured it out so I apologize for being behind on posts.  But I digress. . . On to my story. . .

I am a car nut.  Not a gear head, mind you, because I can barely change a tire.  I can do stuff like switch out headlamps, but adding some forced induction to boost performance is way, way, way over my head.  I just love driving them (one of my favorite pastimes [I think that’s spelled wrong] is going out for test drives of new cars).  I like seeing what’s new and improved, seeing what sexy concepts are coming, and following all the latest automotive news.  And one of the great things about living in SE Michigan is that the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is held every January right in downtown Detroit.  Luckily I got a chance to go on the last day of the 2012 show on Sunday, January 22nd.  Now if you love cars, this is one of the best shows in the country, if not THE best.  Over the past couple of years, the NAIAS saw a drop which coincided with the economic downturn.  Automotive companies withdrew from the show, major debuts and premieres were shifted to places like Chicago, New York, or Geneva, and attendance dropped.  But from the looks of everything, the show has come back in a big way.

Another great thing about SE Michigan is Slow’s BBQ.  For the past couple of years, our new tradition has been to go to the auto show and afterwards head on down to Slow’s for some beers and a meal of barbecued deliciousness.  Slow’s has generated a big name for itself not just among locals, but across the country.  There was even a nice article in the New York Times about how Slow’s is helping to revitalize downtown Detroit.

So let’s get down to business. . . after hanging out at the auto show for a few hours, we got in around lunchtime (like around 1:00), so it was packed with an hour wait (the crowd does thin out around 3:00 so that could be a good time to go).  You could try and get a seat at the bar, but I wanted a table and didn’t mind the wait.  Besides, it gave me a chance to look over all the pics from the auto show.  Plus, I get a chance to figure out what beers I want to try — they have about 60 bottles and 20 beers on tap.

Here are today's available bottles

We started out with the Fried Catfish Appetizer and a couple of beers — specifically Bell’s Hopslam and Short’s Sour Puss.  These are two of my favorite breweries and if you come across either of these two I definitely suggest you try them.  The Hopslam is hoppy, and bright, and has strong flavor of grapefruit (especially on the aftertaste).  This is another one of the Bell’s beers that has a cult-like following, especially since it’s available for only about one month out of the year.  It is a lot stronger than your average ale, with a 10% alcohol rating.   Now, as for the Sour Puss, I was not familiar with it and I couldn’t find any info about it at all on their website.  So I had to drop the brewery a line; I haven’t heard back from Short’s so your guess is as good as mine.  But I will be scouring stores in my area to see if I can get my hands on some.  No surprise, but there is a very strong sour flavor and it was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before.  It was layered and complex, but I have no frame of reference for me to compare.  I just know that I loved it!  Unfortunately for a lot of y’all, Short’s beers are available only in Michigan, and they don’t have any plans to change that any time soon.  But hey, that’s a great reason to come and visit the state and visit Short’s Pub in Bellaire, MI.

Bell's Hopslam and Short's Sour Puss

So, on to the catfish. . . these morsels were perfectly cooked and served hot with a side of remoulade.  These were described as having a “tempura” batter, but that really wasn’t the case.  It was a lot more substantial than you would find in a tempura, but it didn’t overpower the fish.  I think that the cornmeal in the batter helped out with that.

Fried catfish morsels

Another round of beers. . . another Hopslam and this time I wanted to try the Firkin of Pineapple Ale.  Again, I don’t know much about this one and didn’t think to ask.  I’m still learning how to be a restaurant critic so I will try to remember to be more inquisitive. . . and to bring a pen and paper because using the notepad on my phone is a pain!  Now I’d say that this ale is closest to an IPA but on the sweeter side.  I didn’t quite catch flavors of pineapple, but I did get apple and citrus notes.  Since it was served closer to room temperature, the other flavors were easier to pick up.  Now this is definitely a better choice for the meal, because the Sour Puss might probably overpower the rest of the meal with its intensity.

Hopslam's in the background and the foreground is the Pineapple Ale

And now for the main course. . . we got the Longhorn sandwich with a side of waffle fries and the Big Three entrée with a side of green beans and the delicious Mac and Cheese.  The Longhorn is a sandwich with sliced beef brisket, onion marmalade, and shredded smoked Gouda.  The Big Three is pretty much a sampler platter of their barbeque offerings — pulled pork, pulled chicken, and the brisket.  Honestly, I think the brisket is the star.  You can get some of the crispy charring on the outside coupled with flavors with some of the fat on the beef (the fat is where the flavor is at!).  So not only do you get the layers of flavors, but also layers of texture which add a great deal to the experience.  I definitely think the brisket could stand on its own without any additional sauces or additions, but of course, that didn’t stop me from trying different combinations!  Don’t get me wrong — I love the pork and the chicken, but they can be a little bit on the lean side which means they are perfect vehicles for Slow’s selection of sauces.

Just a light lunch!
The Big Three
The Longhorn sandwich and some Mac and Cheese

There’s a selection of four sauces — Apple, Sweet, Spicy, and North Carolina.  In my opinion, the best all-arounders would be the smokey, sweet Apple and the vinegary North Carolina.  I think the Spicy works best with the pulled pork, and the Sweet goes well with the chicken.  Keep in mind that there are other dishes there, like the ribs, salmon, jambalaya, even vegetarian options, so these sauces could strut their stuff with other pairings.  Maybe one of these days I’ll opt for the ribs and a side of the black-eyed peas.  And maybe one of these days, I’ll remember to leave room for dessert.

Sauce selection

Slow’s BBQ is quickly becoming an Michigan culinary institution, if it isn’t one already.  I think that over hour wait that you’re likely to encounter when you get here attests to that.  But if you can wrangle up 5 of your friends, you can call ahead for a table because they take reservations for parties of 6 or more.  I love Slow’s and I recommend you checking them out.  If you’re careful, your bill doesn’t have to be exorbitant like mine tends to be.  But I get here once a year, and what can I say? —  I’m a sucker for great food and great beer!

Martha’s Eggnog

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It's got bourbon, cognac, and rum! Nothing wrong with that!

This is one of several “holiday menu” installments, so brace yourselves!  Alright, so let’s start the holidays off right with some eggnog.  The recipe that I’ve been using for the past couple of years has been adapted from Martha Stewart.  Now I was looking on her website a couple of weeks ago and I really couldn’t find the right recipe.  I found one for her “Classic Eggnog” but the amount of booze seemed a lot lower than I remember; even if you made a double batch it still didn’t sound right.  Luckily I found one on Food.com which was a lot closer to what I remember.  Of course, I changed it a little — I changed it from 1/2 c. rum to a full cup because why would you just put 1/2 c. of rum into anything?

In addition to a nice large serving bowl, here’s what you need:

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 c. superfine sugar
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 1/2 quarts heavy cream
  • 3 c. bourbon
  • 2 c. cognac
  • 1 c. dark rum
  • freshly grated nutmeg
If you drink too much, then chaos ensues!

1.  In a very large bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and pale yellow.  Gradually add sugar to the yolks, whisking to combine.  Gradually whisk in the milk and 1 qt. of the cream.  Now add your bourbon, rum, and cognac, stirring constantly.  You can make this base of the eggnog a day or so in advance.

2.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff (you can add a little bit of sugar if you like).  Gently fold that into the mixture.

3.  Whip the remaining cream to soft peaks and dollop or fold into the mixture.  Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve!

Notes  — There is a caution at the bottom of the recipes that I found stating that “raw eggs should not be used in food prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly, or anyone whose health is compromised.”  It’s probably a not to let pregnant women, babies, or young children to drink something this boozy!. . . supposedly this serves 24.

Holiday Menu Planning

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Entertaining and menu planning may seem tricky, but the execution doesn’t have to be all that intimidating.  It just takes a lot of thought and timing.  You have to take into account what the dishes are, how many people are attending, and when dinner is supposed to be served (along with a whole host of other things to consider).  But all this planning can be spread out over a whole month.  Now I just had my “Holiday Feast” the other day and here was my schedule.  The day was busy, but I still got to spend time with my guests before dinner and take part in the festivities (i.e. – drink booze).

3 weeks prior:  send out invitations.  Hopefully you will hear back relatively quickly about who can and cannot attend.

2 weeks prior:  finalize menu.  Here’s what was decided:  Roasted pork shoulder, marinated turkey breast, bread pudding with mushrooms and roasted peppers, roasted fennel and carrots, rapini with fried apples,  egg nog, cranberry cheesecake, holiday biscotti, and sugar plums.  Now that I actually see it written out, that’s a lot of food.  Even more so because it was also a potluck.  I will do posts on all this stuff soon with a focus on the more holiday-ish items first.

1 week prior:  finalize attendees, buy supplies and groceries.  Alright so it wasn’t completely finalized and it hovered anywhere between 12 -18.  It finally ended up at 13.

4 days prior:  clean house, iron table linens.  Now cleaning the house is a daily thing, but I did a major cleaning on this day.  I ironed the napkins and prepped them so that I could fold the “birds of paradise” relatively quickly.  I like this fold because it looks nice and is relatively easy to do.

3 days prior:  buy fresh ingredients (fruit and vegetables), make cranberry compote.  The cranberry compote could even be made the week before.

2 days prior:  make cranberry cheesecake, bake biscotti.  Making this now lets the cheesecake set up in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Just cover it with plastic wrap after it cools.  The biscotti should stay fresh for several days.

1 day prior:  blanche rapini, peel carrots, make sugar plums, assemble bread pudding.  The sugar plums need some time to dry out a little before rolling in sugar.  The bread pudding can sit and all the flavors can marry while sitting in the refrigerator.  Plus the bread can really soak up the custard.

6 hours prior:  roll the sugar plums in sugar, fold napkins, set the table.  At this point, I still didn’t know how many.  My best guess was 12, which was nice because everyone could sit at the table.

3 hours prior:  start holiday music playlist, attend to early attendees, make beer bread, drink beer.  Now we asked folks to arrive at 3:00pm with dinner to be served at 6:00.  Not everyone will show at the start which is fine.

2 hours prior:  attend to early attendees, roast fennel and carrots, drink wine, eat cheese.  Serve appetizer dishes that guests brought.

1 hour prior:  attend to attendees, bake bread pudding, make egg nog, drink egg nog.  Egg nog is usually a big draw because of all the booze 🙂  I use Martha Stewart’s recipe, which has 3 c. bourbon, 2 c. cognac, and 1 c. rum.

30 minutes prior:  light candles on the table, make rapini and fried apples, place fennel in oven to reheat, finalize drink orders, drink more egg nog.  Everything is coming together and all your hard work and planning is paying off.  Hopefully you won’t be too tipsy at this point.

I know this looks like a lot and that you’ll be in the kitchen and not enjoying anyone, but everyone always ends up in the kitchen anyway so you won’t be missing out.  You won’t really be missing out if you prep everything ahead of time.  Just pop into the kitchen to take out the bread and pop some veggies into the oven.  Then you have an hour to play with your guests before the next thing goes into the oven.

Remembering Licorice

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On this day last year, my dog Licorice passed away.  She was 16 at the time and would have turned 17 in February 2011.  Now if you remember a few months ago I had posted about having to put down my dog Moby in September of last year as well (and yes these were the saddest holidays I’ve ever experienced).  His death was from out of the blue, whereas Licorice’s passing was something for which I had been preparing for years.  Given her advanced age and some previous (and current) health scares, her death wasn’t that much of a shock.  But that didn’t make it any less painful.  After all, this was the longest relationship that I’ve had with another living thing aside from family.

I was living in Gainesville, Fl when I rescued her.  I just fell in love with her gigantic bat ears; she later grew into those.  She was black lab mix with a barrel chest, skinny legs, and pointy ears.  Definitely an odd duck for a lab.  But she was a sweetie, unless you tried to mess with her food.  Moby learned that lesson quickly.

Happy Sweet Sixteen!

Towards the end, her health started to fail.  There was a big scare when she was about 13 when she couldn’t move, spewed out fluid from both ends, and couldn’t eat a thing.  It lasted over a week and I was at the point where if I didn’t see any improvement, I would have to really consider the worst.  At the time she was on so many meds and I was up pretty much every hour administering some kind of medication.  Eventually I worked out a medication schedule that also included flipping her on her opposite side, changing / washing her bedding 3 or 4 times a day, and cleaning her as best as I could.  But she made it through and lasted a few more years.

The last few months of her life became more of a struggle.  She wasn’t able to walk around on her own; only her front legs had any kind of strength.  Also, she had started to get some skin infections and problems with discharge from her eyes.  Her weight dropped and her breathing became more labored.  Not the best quality of life.

Daisy and Licorice want some cake!

But there are lots of happy memories, with birthdays being some of those memories.  This is from her Sweet Sixteen.  I couldn’t afford to buy her a car, but she got a cake baked with love!  Thankfully Licorice, Moby, and Daisy all got a chance to take part in the celebration.  This was taken from Food, Fun, and Facts.  For a little added treat, I added a cream cheese frosting and some gummi bears.  It was her Sweet Sixteen, after all so I thought a little extra treat was in order.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. cooking oil
  • 1 c. shredded carrots
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1 egg

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a ring mold with cooking spray.

2.  In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.  In another combine the remaining ingredients.  Add the flour combination and mix quickly.

3.  Transfer to prepared mold and bake for 30 – 40 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a serving plate.

Notes — serving suggestion is to frost it with some cottage cheese and top it with some carrot pieces. . . like I mentioned earlier, I frosted this one with a cream cheese frosting and topped it with some gummi bears.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

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The holiday season is time for cranberries.  And whenever we see some fresh cranberries, we must bake something!  Usually it’s some Cranberry Bars with a nice cream cheese frosting.  But we tried something new this time.  This recipe was taken from the Tasty Kitchen.  It’s a little bit different from what you may consider to be a “pie”.  Honestly, I think it’s closer to a cobbler than a pie, and it was made in a cake pan.  So, really it’s kind of an upside down cake.  Actually it’s closest to a buckle, which is one of the many types of cobblers (I should do a post on the different types of cobblers).  But the recipe calls itself a “pie” and who am I to make a pie conform to my definitions of what pie should be?  Well, it’s tasty, whatever the name is.  Plus it’s very simple to make so you can have a nice dessert in about an hour!

Here’s what you need:

  • Butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2 c. (heaping) cranberries
  • 3/4 c. pecans, chopped (measure, then chop)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 c. sugar, divided
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 t. almond extract
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 T. (sanding) sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Butter and 9-in. cake pan.  Add cranberries to the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle on chopped pecans, then sprinkle with 2/3 c. sugar.

3.  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 c. sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and salt.  Stir gently to combine.

4.  Pour batter slowly over the top in large “ribbons” in order to evenly cover the surface.  Spread gently if necessary.

5.  Bake for 45 – 50 minutes.  5 minutes before removing from the oven, sprinkle surface with 1 T. sugar for a little extra crunch.

6.  Let cool and slice into wedges.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Remembering Moby and celebrating Daisy

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Yes, my dogs wear sweaters. But it does get cold and snowy here.

This time last year was the start of a very sad period in the household.  After a very quick, very sudden, very severe illness, one of my dogs named Moby had to be put to sleep.  He was 10 years old, but he definitely didn’t act like a senior dog.  He was always active; he’d chase squirrels all day in the backyard if you let him.  Which made it that much more difficult.  One day, he’s running around chasing leaves, two days later he’s gone.

He was rescued from a shelter in Mason, MI where I found him sitting in his own filth.  Sitting at the front of his pen, his face was just pressed against the gate, and he was just looking down at the ground.  All the other dogs in the place were barking and yelping for attention, all except for him.  He clearly was not used to being in a place like that.  So how could I turn away the saddest puppy in the place who was covered in his own crap?  Of course, he would celebrate his new freedom by throwing up into the middle console of my truck on the drive home.

Moby didn't like Daisy at first, but they worked it out eventually.

He was a member of the family for over 10 years and I wasn’t ready for him to go.  I had spent years trying to prepare for when Licorice, who was the elder dog at the time, would pass away (Licorice died later on in the year on December 13 at the age of 16, so my holidays just plain sucked last year).  But this wasn’t supposed to happen to Moby.  That was definitely a horrible day for us.  I was at the vet for hours listening to him howl in pain; even morphine couldn’t ease his suffering.  So on September 27th of last year, we said goodbye to our little buddy.  I was a mess for months; even know I can’t help but get emotional as I’m writing this.  What made things even worse, I ended up forgetting Daisy’s 1st birthday which happened to be two days later on the 29th.

As is a tradition in this house, all the puppies get a special cake or meal on their birthday.  I know that they probably have no clue as to what’s going on, but it’s important to me to celebrate it.  So this year we’re making sure to celebrate Daisy’s 2nd birthday with one of Moby’s favorites.

This recipe for the “Very Berry Drooly Dreams” cupcakes was taken from the Three Dog Bakery cookbook.  This cookbook is actually a very good resource if you do like to bake goodies for your furry friends since it contains a nice list of non-dog-friendly ingredients.  I’m sure everyone knows about chocolate and onions being toxic to dogs, but did you know that macadamia nuts could have adverse effects on the digestive and nervous systems of your pooch?  Grapes / raisins also contain toxins that could damage the kidneys if eaten in sufficient amounts.  Just a couple of facts that might be useful for folks out there.  Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

  • "Very Berry Drooly Dreams" cupcakes

    1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

  • 1 c. quick rolled oats
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. low-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 c. skim milk
  • 1 c. berries, fresh or frozen and thawed

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Coat a standard muffin tin with cooking spray.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and honey.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and milk.  Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.  Fold in the berries.

3.  Fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake for 30 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

4.  Cool on a rack until room temperature before serving.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  You can freeze them, where they can keep for a couple of months.  Just thaw before serving.