Christmas Trees and Pizza Papalis

Pizza Papalis-WEBAs my sweetheart had recently taken a job in Downtown Detroit – with a big, not-to-be-named company whose offices happen to be facing Campus Martius –  we decided to go to the annual tree lighting festivities.  We dragged the kids through the marketplace, looking through all the wonderful offerings from Detroit area artisans, shops, and food vendors.  The little ones wanted something to nibble, so we hopped into the Holiday Cheer Garden and had some macaroni and cheese and bratwurst from the E.G. Nick’s Winter Magic Eaterie.

But, I’m not here to talk about E.G. Nick’s…

After traipsing through the crowded streets, checking out the magnificent Compuware building, and seeing the massive, 55 foot spruce tree light up, we decided to visit Pizza Papalis in Greektown.  My brother insisted.  He said it was the best pizza on the planet.  How could I say no?

Let me preface this story with a tip…when the young lady at the hostess stand says, “go ahead and place your pizza order while you wait,” DO IT!  I had no idea it would take over an hour to cook our pizzas.  But, don’t let this warning turn you away from the place.  Eat here.  DO IT!

I’m hard-pressed to say the best part of eating here was the food.  Not because it was forgettable.  We were seated at a booth right against the front window, and I have to say that we were well-entertained by the people walking by on the streets while we waited.  It wasn’t just dinner, it was a show.  My middle daughter kept saying, “I love Detroit, it’s so interesting!”  Yes my love, it sure is.

The kids had a simple cheese pizza as they are still uninterested in complicated food combinations.  Poor things.  We adults unapologetically loaded it up with a heart-stopping amount of meats. The crust was buttery, tender, and flaky, not to mention the most necessary piece of the pie.  Without it, there would be no way to hold in all the toppings.  The cheese was gooey and luscious with just the right amount of sauce.  It’s built in reverse, with the toppings underneath the cheese and sauce on the very top.  It keeps the integrity of the delicious dough intact.

Our server was a good spirited guy, even though he got the loudest group in the place.  Our drinks were always full and he constantly smiled.

You will need a fork to eat one one of their slices, and most likely a box to take left over pieces, too.

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Caesar-Marinated Grilled Chicken Salad

The ubiquitous Chicken Caesar Salad…I love it because it’s a delicious and light meal.  I hate it because it is on nearly every menu I’ve seen.  I refuse to pay for one at a restaurant because they are just too overpriced.  This dish is not difficult, nor is it expensive to make.

My take on it was to marinade the chicken in classic Caesar flavors – lemon, garlic, Dijon, anchovy – then grill it.  The croutons, rather than being hard little bites impossible to stab with a fork, would be big pieces used to help scoop the salad.  For simplicity sake, I used a bottled Caesar to dress the greens.

When preparing your salad greens, fill a large bowl with fresh, cool water.  You can use a sharp knife to cut thin strips of sturdy lettuces like Romaine without bruising (oxidizing causes the darkening of some fruits and vegetables) them, if you put them right into water.  Soak the cut lettuce, swishing them lightly a few times, to remove any trapped dirt.  Remove the lettuce from the top of the bowl gently, not disturbing any dirt that will fall to the bottom of the bowl, and strain.  I use a salad spinner and lift the lettuce out with the colander that goes inside, then spin it as dry as I can.

This salad is perfect for making ahead for summer parties, showers, or work lunches.  Just dress the greens right before serving.  Everyone loves a good Chicken Caesar Salad!

Caesar-Marinated Grilled Chicken Salad

Chicken

4 – 4 ounce chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

3 anchovy fillets, minced

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

Combine marinade ingredients in a shallow dish.  Add chicken breasts and turn to coat.  Let chicken sit in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.

When done marinating, remove the chicken and pat them dry.  Grill on a grill pan, panini grill, or outside until the chicken reaches 160 degrees in the thickest part.  Set aside for 5 minutes before cutting.

Croutons

4 slices sourdough bread, cut into large triangle-shaped pieces

olive oil

cayenne pepper, to taste

black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  On a baking sheet, lightly drizzle the bread slices with olive oil, dust with a little cayenne and black pepper, and top with Parmesan.  Bake until the bottoms are golden brown and the Parmesan is melted and crispy.

Salad

2 heads Romaine lettuce, small hearts, cut and washed

1 head red baby Romaine lettuce, cut and washed

2 cups grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/3 cup prepared Caesar dressing, whichever you prefer

Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved, for garnish

Toss the Romaine, tomatoes, and dressing in a large bowl to coat all pieces of vegetables.

To serve: Divide the dressed salad on the plates, top with Parmesan and sliced chicken breast.  Serve with croutons on the side.

Barbecue Turkey Meatloaf with Confetti Vegetables

My father refuses to eat meatloaf.  Period.  As the oldest of my grandmother’s six children, he has put his foot down in protest of this economical comfort food.  He claims his mother could take a pound of ground beef and make a three pound meatloaf out of it.  Well…she did have six hungry kids to feed!

I, on the other hand, am only half as kid-crazy as my grandmother was.  I have only three kids to feed.  But I still try to be frugal.  Yes, I admit, I do use coupons, and I do spend a great deal of time making grocery lists to maximize my budget.  That’s not to say that I never splurge.  But, when I have stray pieces of red onion, a just-about-to-shrivel sweet pepper, and limp herbs in my refrigerator, I feel intense guilt at the possibility of them going to waste.  A package of perfectly healthy, lean ground turkey I got last month has been whispering to me from the freezer.  The small amount of whole milk in the carton, left over from my mozzarella cheese making efforts, needs to be used.

Yep, meatloaf it shall be!

For flavoring the mixture, I decided to go with a barbecue theme.  Instead of relying just on barbecue sauce, I used a spice blend intended as a dry rub for ribs.  For tang, a little bit of prepared mustard and jalapeno-style Tabasco added a zesty kick.

One trick I like to use in meatloaf making is mixing the wet ingredients together, stirring in the breadcrumbs and spice, and letting the mixture sit while I prepare the vegetables so the flavors meld.  It will look like a thick porridge.  This ensures that the flavors get worked evenly through the meat when it is mixed in.

In honor of my grandmother, and in an attempt to use those odds and ends in my kitchen, I came up with this recipe for Barbecue Turkey Meatloaf with Confetti Vegetables.  Feel free to switch up the veggies to use whatever you have on hand.  Zucchini and carrots would be lovely, too!

Turkey Meatloaf with Confetti Vegetables

1.2 pound package ground turkey breast, lean

½ cup milk

2 large eggs

1 tbsp yellow prepared mustard

1 cup barbecue sauce, divided (½ cup in mixture, ½ cup on top)

Jalapeno Tabasco, to taste

2 tsp barbecue rub or seasoning

½ tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ cup breadcrumbs, plain dry

2 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped

Cooking oil spray

½ cup sweet bell pepper, chopped

½ cup red onion, chopped

½ cup celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp vegetable oil

½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, mustard, Tabasco, and barbecue sauce.  Stir in the breadcrumbs, spices, salt, and pepper.  Set aside while preparing the vegetables.

In a large sauté pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat.  Sweat the bell pepper, onion, and celery for five minutes.  Add the garlic and salt and cook for another two minutes.  Vegetables should be softened but not brown.  Set aside to cool.

Mix the ground turkey and cooled vegetables into the breadcrumb mixture gently.  Do not over mix.  Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the meatloaf and spread the last ½ cup barbecue sauce over the top.  Return to the oven and continue baking until the internal temperature is 165 degrees, about another 20 minutes.  Times may vary depending on the size of your loaf pan.

Remove the meatloaf from the oven and allow it to cool for half an hour before slicing and serving.

Phyllo Custard Pie with Apricots and Walnuts

Every time I visit my favorite wine shop in town, the owner’s wife chats me up about what I’m cooking lately.  The last time I was in, she told me her secret, no-fail dessert recipe for ruffled phyllo with a rich custard.   According to her, this dish is a must have with her friends and it is perfect because in the time it takes to bake the phyllo she can fix her hair.  After pouring the custard over it and putting it back in to finish baking, she manages to put on her makeup!  Perfect…two birds, one luscious dish!

I searched for the exact recipe and came up with a few variations on the “ruffled milk pie” theme.  The recipe that follows is my interpretation based on my friend’s directions, what I found in my research, and my own modifications and enhancements.

This dessert would be an interesting addition to an Easter brunch.  It is rich in flavor…orange, cinnamon, vanilla, apricot, and walnuts…but still airy and light.  The chewy, slightly tart apricots are like little jewels dotted in the crispy top of phyllo.

9 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed (I used Athens brand)

4 TBSP unsalted butter, melted

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

zest of one small orange

2 cinnamon sticks

3 eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla (or vanilla bean paste)

1/4 cup apricots, chopped

1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brush the bottom and sides of a 8×8 or 9×9 inch square pan with some of the melted butter and set aside.

Unroll the phyllo sheets.  Keep them covered with a piece of plastic wrap with a damp paper towel on top to keep the dough from drying out.  Working with one sheet at a time, brush the sheet with some of the melted butter.  Bring the sides of the sheet together in a loosely pleated/ruffled fashion.  Roll the dough into a spiral to make a rosette shape.  Repeat with remaining sheets.  Place the rosettes into the pan in rows of three.  Dust the top with the ground cinnamon.  Bake in the oven 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

Heat the milk, cream, zest, and cinnamon sticks over low heat while the phyllo is in the oven.  Whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl.  Just before the phyllo comes out, slowly add some of the heated milk mixture into the eggs and sugar while whisking to temper the eggs.  Keep adding the milk to the eggs until it is all combined into a custard mixture.  Discard the zest and cinnamon sticks.

Remove the phyllo when it is golden.  Ladle the custard mixture evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the apricots and walnuts evenly over the top of the phyllo and return the pan to the oven.  Bake another 20 to 25 minutes until the custard is set.  Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Lemon-Thyme Pork Roast with Rainbow Chard and Balsamic Glaze

Lemon-Thyme Pork Roast with Rainbow Chard and Balsamic Glaze

This is what happens when a colorful bunch of rainbow chard catches my eye at the grocery store!  It ends up in the cart, then I start to do mental gymnastics in effort to come up with an idea for how to cook it.  I’m sure it looks bizarre to the other shoppers, me standing there, scratching my head, eyes rolled upward while I go over the possibilities.  Don’t most people already have an idea of what they want to cook for dinner?  Whatever I had in mind for dinner that night went out the door because of that beautiful bunch of chard.

I already knew that raisins were good friends with chard, and that pork likes to party with both of them.  Rather than cook the greens as a side dish, I thought I would satisfy my weird obsession for using big knives by opening up a pork loin roast and stuffing it with chard, raisins, wild rice, and pine nuts.   For additional depth of flavor, a tangy lemon-thyme marinade and slightly sweet balsamic glaze would round the whole thing out.

This dish is labor intensive and can be tricky if you aren’t familiar with cutting a pork roast into a flat piece.  To make it easier, a butcher can do that part for you. Good quality wine can be found in small Tetra packs which is ideal for cooking.  They can be sealed off and saved for another recipe.  Keep the big bottles of the really good stuff for drinking!

Marinade

4 to 5 pounds pork loin roast

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 TBSP Dijon mustard

1 TBSP garlic

small bunch fresh thyme

Cut the pork loin roast so that it lays flat.  Pound it between sheets of plastic wrap with a meat mallet to help flatten it, if needed.  Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, wine, Dijon, garlic, and thyme in a shallow, flat container.   Marinade the pork, covered and refrigerated, for up to 8 hours, turning the meat often to coat.

Stuffing

2 ounces wild rice

1  1/2  cup chicken stock, divided

1 ounce pine nuts

1/2 cup jumbo raisins

1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

1/2 onion, diced small

8 cups (2 bunches) rainbow or Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped

1 large egg, beaten

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

Bring  1 1/4 cups chicken stock to a boil, add the wild rice, reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid.  Cook until the rice is just tender, 40 to 45 minutes.  It should still have a slight bite to it, not mushy.  Drain excess stock and set rice aside in a mixing bowl to cool.

Soak raisins in hot water until they begin to plump, about 5 minutes.  Drain and set aside with the rice.

Toast the pine nuts in a small dry pan on the stove top over medium low heat until they turn slightly golden.  Remove from heat as soon as they are toasted and set aside with the rice.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the chard and 1/4 cup of chicken stock.  Cover the pan with a lid and cook until the chard becomes tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain the chard of any excess liquid.

Combine the cooled chard, rice, pine nuts, and raisins with the egg and balsamic vinegar.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pat the pork roast dry and lay flat on a cutting board.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Cover the pork with the stuffing mixture.  Roll up like a jelly roll and tie with butcher’s twine to secure.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sear the rolled roast on all sides in a large saute pan over medium-high heat with some olive oil.  Place the roast on a broiler pan and roast in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the roast reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees.  Cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Balsamic Glaze

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 TBSP honey

2 TBSP unsalted butter

While the roast is in the oven, deglaze the saute pan used to brown the roast over high heat with chicken stock.  Add the white wine, balsamic vinegar, and honey.  Reduce the sauce over high heat until thick.  Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter.  For additional flavor, add the pan drippings from the roast when it comes out of the oven.

Serve the sliced pork with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Sagebrush Cantina Lake Orion

Lake Orion, Michigan is a fickle town, as far as dining out is concerned.  Restaurants come and go rather quickly.  Some are good, some have been bad.  It is puzzling because the places that people rave about seem to disappear overnight, and others have remained despite not being very memorable.

One restaurant that has survived in the tiny little downtown district is Sagebrush Cantina.  When I say survived, I mean that literally.  Early one morning in March of 2004, a fire swept through the building where Sagebrush is located, gutting the place.

They rebuilt the restaurant, expanding the space and redecorating with funky beer bottle chandeliers, colorful pinatas, tall wooden tables, and a massive, long bar.  Sagebrush reopened in 2006, and has since been the place to go for monstrous portions of fresh Mexican food, tall cocktails, and even raucous nightlife on the weekends.

Sagebrush is notorious for being busy.  People will wait upwards of 45 minutes for a table for a weekend dinner.  Lunch is often busy, but if you can manage to stave off your hunger and go after 1pm, waiting is not typically a problem.

Some of the menu items Sagebrush is famous for among the locals are the Chicken Rice Soup, the one-and-a-half pound Outrageous Chimichanga, and the Cabo Fish Taco.  For those who want to design their own platter, the “Create Your Own Combo” is a fun option.  Choose two or three items from a list including tamales, chile relleno, and enchiladas which are served with  Mexican rice and refried beans.  All their menu items are substantial, generous portions.

The chile relleno is tender and full of oozing cheese, topped with a chunky and fresh relleno sauce.  As for the chicken enchilada…it is disappointing.  The chicken inside is bland, there is very little seasoning and is not shredded well enough making it tough to cut through.  Filling the blank spaces on the plate, the rice and beans add no significant flavor value.  If you are looking to fill your belly, this will do the trick.  Just do not expect an explosion of Mexican-inspired tastes.  I detected no cumin, there was no lime, garlic was non-existent.

The chimichanga – not the “outrageous” one! – is a mountain of food.  It can be filled with chicken or beef and is served with pico de gallo and guacamole.   There is a freshness about the food at Sagebrush, but the flavor is so docile.  The beef inside the chimi was like the chicken, forgettable.

Sagebrush Cantina has a lot of positives; friendly and hard-working staff, welcoming atmosphere,  an extensive menu of freshly prepared food, and a nice selection of tequila-based drinks.  You will have a good time here, and leave with a full belly.  If you are expecting dishes with rich flavor, lower your expectations before coming.
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Creamy Chicken and Spinach Quiche

I am an unabashed Francophile when it comes to food and drink.  Give me anything associated with French cuisine, and I feel instantly chic.  It’s Audrey Hepburn’s fault…or rather Audrey as Sabrina.  Because of that movie, I was determined to learn how to make a perfect souffle.  Oh, and Eric Ripert!  You don’t get much better than a handsome Frenchman with a buttery voice who is a world-renowned chef.  I traveled to Grand Cayman once, in the middle of hurricane season, just to eat at Blue, his restaurant located at the Ritz-Carlton.  Okay, that’s bending the truth a little.  I did travel there, but not for the sole purpose of eating at his restaurant; and I didn’t know I was going to encounter bad weather because I didn’t do my reasearch.  Still…isn’t it much more romantic – more French – to say it the other way?

Besides souffle, which I have mastered, a food that always makes me think of the French is quiche.  Versatility being one of the best traits of this dish, I like to experiment with things I have on hand in the refrigerator and pantry to see what I can come up with.   While playing around with an existing recipe I used as a personal chef, I developed the recipe below.

When I put together quiches, I always use ready-made pie crusts.  I don’t have the patience to make it from scratch, chill it, roll it…(I’m annoyed already just typing the steps!)  I use the rolled kind and press them into a fluted tart shell with a removable bottom so when it is finished, I can remove it entirely.  It looks beautiful on a platter, tres chic!

The addition of goat cheese brought a tangy, creamy note to the custard that I thought was exceptional with the rich pancetta and earthy spinach.  All the elements of this quiche make it a complete dish.  It would be really lovely with a salad of tender greens and some lemony vinaigrette.

 

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Quiche

1 ounce pancetta, diced

1/2 small onion, sliced thin

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced

3 ounces baby spinach

2 tsp olive oil

1/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cups milk

3 large eggs

2 ounces goat cheese, log style, room temperature

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp fresh thyme

4 ounches Gruyere cheese, shredded

1 ready-made pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Unroll and place pie crust into 9″ fluted tart pan, or pie pan, and set aside.

Combine milk, cream, eggs, goat cheese, Dijon, and thyme in a bowl and whisk well to break up goat cheese.  Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and cook pancetta until it starts to brown, but not go crisp.  Add onions and saute until they soften, about 5 minutes.  Season diced chicken breast with salt and pepper. Turn heat up to medium high and add diced chicken to the saute pan.  Cook until chicken is just done and onions begin to turn golden.  Remove pancetta, onion, and chicken mixture from the pan and set aside.  Return pan to the heat and add the spinach.  Cook until the spinach wilts.  Remove the spinach and squeeze dry in paper towels.  Dry the spinach as much as possible. Rough chop the spinach so that it is easy to distribute.

Spread the Gruyere, spinach, and pancetta, onion, and chicken mixture evenly across the bottom of the pie shell.

Pour the cream and egg mixture over the ingredients.   Place tart pan on a foil-lined sheet tray and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  Quiche is done with the edges begin to puff up and the middle is set.

Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  This quiche is excellent the next day, warmed slightly in the oven or microwave.