History

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

February Foodie Holidays

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Punxy Phil is so friendly!

So this is a little late, and I apologize.  As I said in my last post, I’ve been having issues with the editing software on here.  I did a little adjusting of the settings here and there and I think I’m set.

No pictures of Daisy or Cooper this time.  But since Groundhog Day is February 2, I did include some pics from Punxsutawney, PA.  We made a stop there on the way moving from Maine back to Michigan.  It was a little bit out of the way (well a lot out of the way, and it was especially difficult driving a moving truck on those twisty mountain roads), but I couldn’t resist meeting the famous groundhog!

In addition to Groundhog Day, we celebrate National Cherry Month, National Grapefruit Month, National Hot Breakfast Month, National Macadamia Nut Month, and National Snack Food Month.  Plus we get National Pancake Week during the last week of the month!  Here are some of the fun holidays (along with some links, as always) we have this month:

The origins of Groundhog Day

1 – Baked Alaska Day

3 – Carrot Cake Day

4 – Stuffed Mushroom Day

7 – Fettuccine Alfredo Day

8 – Molasses Bar Day

9 – Bagels and Lox Day

10 – Cream Cheese Brownie Day

11 – Peppermint Patty Day

12 – Plum Pudding Day

13 – Tortellini Day

14 – Cream-filled Chocolates Day, Valentine’s Day

15 – Gumdrop Day

16 – Almond Day

We knocked, but Phil wasn't home. As you can see, this was no where near Groundhog Day when we stopped by.

17 – Indian Pudding Day

19 – Chocolate Mint Day

20 – Cherry Pie Day

21 – Sticky Bun Day

22 – Cook a Sweet Potato Day, Margarita Day

23 – Banana Bread Day

24 – Tortilla Chip Day

25 – Chocolate-Covered Peanuts Day, Clam Chowder Day

26 – World Pistachio Day

27 – Strawberry Day, Kahlua Day!

Have some German Chocolate Cake on Michigan’s 175th Birthday

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Happy 175th Birthday to the State of Michigan!  So in honor of Michigan’s birthday today and tomorrow’s National Chocolate Cake Day, I present this German Chocolate Cake.  Of course, from what I can discern, the (un)official state cake of Michigan is a German Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake.  It’s listed in Warren Brown’s book, United Cakes of America.  Now these two cakes are very close — one uses pickled cabbage, the other uses some sweetened coconut.  Those two ingredients are readily interchanged in any number of recipes, like kielbasa for example 🙂  See?  Virtually the same!

Did you know that German Chocolate Cake isn’t actually German?  It was named after Sam German, who developed a type of sweet, dark chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate.  This recipe was developed in his honor, using the chocolate that he created.  Originally, it was called German’s Chocolate Cake, but that was changed along the way, as things are wont to do.  Now this cake wasn’t in my normal rotation, but after a couple of special requests for it, I’ve decided to add it.  I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I used a chiffon cake for the base.  Chiffon is an oil-based cake that was really popular in the ’40s and people loved it because it stayed so moist.  The actual recipe was closely guarded secret until it was sold in the mid or late ’40s and later popularized in those box cake mixes you can find in the grocery store today.  So if you ever make one of those cakes from a box mix (ugh!), you will be making a chiffon cake.

So since National Chocolate Cake Day is on the 27th, I’ll be posting on my Orange Devil Cake and my Chocolate Ice cake in the next few days.  Stay tuned!

By the way, I got that Michigan birthday cake pic from the State of Michigan website.  I’m not sure if they found the image or developed it themselves, but I just wanted to give them a shout out.  Happy Birthday Michigan!

January Foodie Holidays

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Here's Cooper and Daisy with the monthly holiday announcements!

It’s good to be back after taking a little bit of time off for the holidays.  So I do apologize that this is a day late.  Hopefully all the hangovers and “bad-decision juice” has been worked out of everyone’s systems.  But with all the focus on physical recovery and recuperation, let’s not forget all those National Holidays that are taking place this month (there is another “National Pie Day” this month on the 23rd; the other one was last month).  I know when we think of January, New Year’s Day is always on everyone’s mind.  It is also National Hot Tea Month, National Oatmeal Month, National Slow Cooking Month, and National Soup Month.  Here are some of the National Holidays that we should be celebrating this month:

Buffet Day, Cream Puff Day

Chocolate Covered Cherry Day

Spaghetti Day

5  Whipped Cream Day

Shortbread Day

Tempura Day

8  English Toffee Day

Apricot Day

It's obvious these two don't get along! At least they're cute when they're trying to stay warm

10  Bittersweet Chocolate Day

12  Marzipan Day

13  Peach Melba Day

14  Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day

15  Strawberry Ice Cream Day

16  Fig Newton Day

18  Peking Duck Day (yum!)

20  Buttercrunch Day, Cheese Lover’s Day

21  Granola Bar Day

22  Blonde Brownie Day

24  Peanut Butter Day

25  Irish Coffee Day

26  Peanut Brittle Day

27  Chocolate Cake Day!

28  Blueberry Pancake Day

29  Cornchip Day

30  Croissant Day

31  Popcorn Day

Christmas Biscotti (with boozy cranberries and pepitas)

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Happy Boxing Day everyone!  Alright so I’m a little bit behind schedule with a “Christmas cookie”, but I know folks that have holiday celebrations for several weeks after Christmas.  These days with multiple-family households, and in-laws, and friends, it seems like we have this party and that party and an open house here and a potluck there.  At all these get-togethers, all kinds of cookies come out of hiding.  And for whatever reason, biscotti really makes a big appearance during the holidays.  So I offer up this for those that still have some Christmas obligations coming up.

Biscotti” is a term that means “twice baked“.  Now here’s a cultural nugget for ya — back in ye olden days, baking something twice was just another way of preserving your baked goods.  When you bake something again, it helps to dry it out further and thus increase its self-life.  That’s important when refrigeration isn’t as readily available.

I’m pretty sure y’all have seen recipes for this out there.  They usually have either cranberries or cherries with some pistachios.  Now I was fresh out of pistachios, but I had lots of pepitas about, so those will have to do.  You still get the classic Christmas colors of red and greed, and you still get some additional nuttiness and flavor from the pepitas.  This was adapted from Giada de Laurentiis and her Chocolate Chip Anise Biscotti or maybe it was just Chocolate Biscotti.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 stick butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. pepitas
  • 2/3 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. rum

1.  Place the cranberries and the rum in a bowl.  Microwave for about 30 seconds.  Let steep for about 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or with a silpat.

2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the flour mixture and blend together.  Fold in the pepitas and the drained cranberries.

3.  Form the dough into a 16 x 3 in-wide log on the prepared sheet pan.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until slightly golden.  Cool on the rack for 30 minutes.

4.  Transfer the log to a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut into 1/3 – 1/2 inch slices.  You can cut on the diagonal if you like.  Arrange on the baking sheet cut side down.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an air-tight container.

Sugar Plums

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I love Sugar Plums!  Even though they don’t seem to be popular at my holiday gatherings, I will stand by them.  It is a nice holiday alternative to the richness and sweetness of other holiday treats; essentially these are made of dried fruits, nuts, and spices.  How healthy is that?  Sure it’s rolled in sugar, but that’s beside the point.  Now often times we associate sugar plums with Christmas (e.g. — “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads” and “the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”), but that’s not necessarily the case.  The Food Timeline website offers a little bit of information on the history of Sugar Plums, in addition to some other traditional Christmas fare.

This recipe was taken from Alton Brown’s Good Eats program; and the link is nice because there is also a video available.  Here’s what you need:

  • 6 ounces slivered almonds, toasted
  • 4 ounces dried plums
  • 4 ounces dried apricots
  • 4 ounces dried figs
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coarse sugar

1.  Coarsely chop the nuts in the bowl of a food processor.  Add the plums, apricots, and figs.  Pulse about 20 – 25 times until coarsely chopped, but before the mixture forms into a ball.

2.  Combine the powdered sugar, anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Add the nut and fruit mixture and the honey and mix using gloved hands until well combined.

3.  Scoop the mixture into 1/4-ounce portions and roll into balls.  If serving immediately, roll in the coarse sugar and serve.  If not serving immediately, put the balls on a cooling rack and leave uncovered until ready to serve.  Roll in the coarse sugar prior to serving.

Notes — The sugar plums may be stored on the cooling rack for up to a week. After a week, store in an airtight container for up to a month. . . I didn’t have almonds so I just used some walnuts as a substitute. . . I’m sure you could substitute any number of dried fruits. . . maybe add just a touch of booze?  but I’m always trying to add a touch of booze to everything.

December Foodie Holidays

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Just slowly working away at what's left of the holiday pumpkin

Happy December everybody!  Been out of commission for a while due to an increasingly packed schedule.  But it’s the first of the month and it’s time to learn about our disavowed national holidays from Mr. Squirrel (or is it Mrs?  maybe Ms.?).  It really is the holiday season, but there are other days that deserve recognition, like World AIDS Day which is on the 1st.  Of course, there are the biggies that (mostly) everyone knows (and these are in chronological order according to my Just Chocolate Labs calendar) — Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Eve.  But here are some of the other national holidays that we should incorporate into our regular rotation.

1  Pie Day

2  Fritters Day

4  Cookie Day

Sacher Torte Day

Gazpacho Day

7  Cotton Candy Day

8  Brownie Day

Pastry Day

10  Lager Day!!!

11  Noodle Ring Day

12  Ambrosia Day

13  Cocoa Day

14  Bouillabaisse Day

15  Lemon Cupcake Day

16  Chocolate Covered Anything Day

18  Roast Suckling Pig Day

21  French Fried Shrimp Day

23  Pfeffernuesse Day

24  Egg Nog Day

25  Pumpkin Pie Day

26  Candy Cane Day

27  Fruitcake Day

30  Bicarbonate of Soda Day

There are lots of links for folks to check out this month.  Personally, my favorite is “Chocolate Covered Anything Day”, but how can you not love a holiday all about Baking Soda?