A funny thing happened on the way to caffeine-free.

As I mentioned last week, I’m doing this detox diet program as recommended by my doctor. The first, I eliminated caffeine, artificial sweeteners and flavorings, gluten containing starches and a few other things.

That was working fabulous until Friday night. Friday, I arrived in Chesaning, MI for a weekend scrapbooking retreat with my friend Amy. Essentially, it was a weekend of scrapbooking (aka cropping) and eating. The place is like a bed & breakfast except they provide all your meals and snacks. And its not crappy food.

I missed the pre-dinner appetizers which was okay since they were mini veggie-sandwiches and didn’t look that great to me. Dinner was wonderful and pretty much within my restrictions: chicken Marsala with a rice pilaf plus a side salad with homemade vinaigrette and avocado slices. The pilaf had cheese in it but I didn’t eat much of it anyway since I concentrated on the salad first.

Then came dessert: a homemade, gigantic cream-puff filled with ice cream and topped with whipped cream and Saunders Hot Fudge Sauce. I didn’t much care for the cream puff but once she put the bowl in front of me, I had to have some Saunders! Later on, they served a late-night snack of pizza and peanut butter fritos. I passed on both of those but I did have some diet coke. If you are going to stay up until 1:30 AM croppin’, caffeine is in a must.

Saturday, oh boy.

<ul><li> Breakfast: belgian waffles with fresh fruit (3 kinds of berries and bananas) and homemade whipped cream, yogurt and turkey sausage links.

<li>Lunch: Italian grilled cheese with tomato and fresh basil, sweet-potato chips and tangy (not creamy) coleslaw). Dessert (at lunch!) was sherbet with Lime Shortbread cookies (homemade!).

<li>Dinner: For most, a beef roulade but for me: Grilled salmon with dill sauce, carrots and green beans plus red skin potatoes. More salad with raspberry tarragon vinagrette (homemade, again). Dessert was a banana cake that I did try but didn’t <i>love</i>

Snacks were veggies and dip in the afternoon and S’mores plus strawberries plus phyllo cups filled with goat cheese, walnuts and dried cranberries for midnight snack.

Sunday breakfast for most was a Scotch Egg. If I liked hardboiled eggs, I might have eaten this thing- its a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage and cooked somehow. But I don’t so they made Amy (a vegetarian) and me plus a few others who requested it, pumpkin pancakes.

I stayed up until 3:30 on Saturday night working so of course, more diet coke too.

I really did try to limit my intake of the “forbidden” foods. For example, I just ate one of the 3 pancakes I was served. But all in all, I was way off the plan so I am taking a few extra days in Phase I and will move on to Phase II on Wednesday (when I go all vegetarian and only eat rice as a starch). And re-withdrawal from the caffeine.

Funny thing I noticed though- that one can I had after dinner on Friday night made a huge impact. Just in 2 days without the stuff, I can feel what it does when I do have it.

Of all the foods they offered, I really liked the pancakes and the coleslaw plus the homemade dressings. I got the pancake recipe (buy pancake mix that you just add water to, mix it up and add 1 can of pumpkin puree- voila!) and I’m going to try to get the coleslaw recipe. The rest of the stuff, even if I loved it, I’m probably better off not knowing how to make it.

HotDish

Sitting around eating some amazingly good cinnamon raisin bread from Great Harvest (the one on W. Saginaw) this morning, Chris starting ranting about how he’s wanted some Hot Dish all week and he’s going to make it right now. Hot dish? What on earth on you talking about?

He was (and probably still is) stunned that I’d never heard of this apparently ubiquitous Midwestern dish. As it turns out, he doesn’t actually know how to make it either so a short phone call to the family yielded not one but two recipes that qualify as Hot Dish.

One uses wild rice and mushrooms which I would have preferred to make but he really wanted the other, a tomato sauce and ground meat one.

So here it is, Aunt Harriet’s HotDish with some changes:

Ingredients

The recipe as given: My changes:
1 1/2 lbs ground beef/chuck 1.25 ground turkey, 92% lean
1/2 tub cream cheese, softened 1/2 tub cream cheese, softened
4-5 bunches scallions 2 bunches scallions
2 cans Campbell’s Tomato Soup 1 18oz package Campbell’s select tomato soup with basil & garlic
1 package wide egg noodles about 1/3 package extra wide egg noodles (Yoders)
Corn Flakes Corn Flakes
Splash of Worcestershire A little more than a splash
1/2 yellow onion finely chopped, 2 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
smoked parpika, oregano
parmesan cheese

Directions:

The directions from Aunt Harriet were pretty easy: brown the meat, drain then season with salt and pepper plus a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Mix meat with the tomato soup, green onions (which should be microwaved 3 minutes first), noodles and cream cheese in a casserole dish. Microwave 6 minutes then top with corn flakes and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. There was something about mixing sliced almonds in too but I missed that part of the conversation and Chris didn’t want them anyway.

Okay, My Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook as directed. The Yoder noodles take 20 minutes so I did the rest of the work while they cooked.

Saute yellow onion and garlic over medium heat in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. After 5 minutes, add ground meat to the pan, cook until fully browned. Near the end of the cooking, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika. Next time I’ll double that. If necessary, drain the fat (not needed for 92% lean turkey).

While meat is cooking, slice green onions then microwave on high 2-3 minutes. Mix meat, green onions, tomato soup and softened cream cheese together with 1 teaspoon oregano and an 1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Pour in to casserole pan, stir in drained noodles and sprinkle Worcestershire sauce over pan, maybe a tablespoon worth.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, covered in foil. Remove foil and cover top with corn flakes, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for 10 more minutes. If you’d like to brown the corn flakes, you can turn the broil on briefly but watch carefully, they burn quick!


Notes & History:

Now that I’ve made this dish and Chris has been lapping it up (3 servings already), I figured I’d try to find out what a Hot Dish is or rather Hotdish.  Lo and behold, it has its own entry on Wikipedia!

Hotdish is any of a variety of casserole dishes popular in the Midwest of the United States and especially in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and northern regions of Iowa.

It consists of a starch and a protein (meat and/or a vegetable) mixed together with a binding ingredient (most often canned soup or a sauce) and a topping.

Notice that Michigan is not on that list. And that Minnesota is, which is where Chris’s parents grew up. Interestingly, northern Iowa is also listed. My dad is from North Iowa so maybe he’s heard of Hotdish. We certainly had our share of casseroles while visiting grandma and all my aunts out in Iowa but I can’t recall ever hearing this term before.

Basically, its Hamburger Helper from scratch. Besides boosting the paprika a bit next time, I think I might try topping it with potato chips or sliced almonds next time. I’m not a big fan of corn flakes and their high fructose corn syrup.

Later this week, I’ll do the wild rice and mushroom one. We’ve already decided to modernize that one a bit by using fresh mushrooms instead of a can of ‘shrooms. It used to drive me crazy that my Iowa relatives relied so heavily on canned vegetables especially corn. No wonder people think the Midwest is boring: canned food, crazy jello/whipped cream “salads” and underseasoned foods cooked to death.

A couple of examples of Midwest cuisine I don’t really ‘get’:

  • Stuffing, at grandma’s house was usually called dressing. I guess because it didn’t actually get stuffed in the bird. This stuffing/dressing, made with bread cubes, had become a formless mush of soggy bread that reminded me of paste with about the same flavor profile. Where is the sage and rosemary? Or the pieces of walnut and celery? Maybe some cranberries or mushrooms thrown in?
  • Any dessert made from a jello mixed with a can of fruit and whipped cream. Or some combination of those three. Which is not to say that some of them aren’t tasty (a certain oreo cookie one comes to mind) but a funeral dinner I attended offered not one, not two but three versions of this salad dessert. Plus potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad- gotta love mayo!
  • Corn casserole, eaten at the height of sweet corn season. In Iowa! Land of corn and pigs! I do like corn casserole when its not overly sweet. But I still recall a July visit with the family that involved a barbecue. I suggested we get some fresh corn and boil it up to go with our burgers and chicken. And my aunts were at a loss as to why one would want fresh corn when there are 4 cans of creamed corn in the pantry. (I remember this trip so well because I made a Honey Mustard-Soy marinade for the chicken that everyone was greatly impressed by. I made it with packets of Honey Mustard from McDonald’s and Soy Sauce from a Chinese take-out. I was in 9th grade.)
  • Clam Soup made with milk, pepper and canned clams. I still give props to an ex-boyfriend of mine after he willingly and with beautifully acted gusto, shared a pot of this delicacy with my 80 year old grandmother. My mean dad sat there and watched the whole thing while graciously declining, after having been subjected to the stuff once too often I guess.

There is one foodstuff in my Iowa memory bank that may be Midwestern and may not be too healthy but really was delicious: Grandma’s biscuits. More like a roll than a biscuit, they were made for jam and honey or butter or Thanksgiving turkey leftovers or Sloppy Joes (more accurately referred to as Maid-Rites, while in Iowa). Or, probably best, fresh from the oven.

From farm to fork

From my bag of treasures from yesterday’s Farm Market, we made corn on the cob for dinner last night. This is, by far, the freshest corn we’ve had this season. You know its going to be good when you put a hole in a kernel and the juice is sticky like sugar.

We don’t really have room for a grill, what with the herbs, tomato and pepper plants taking up the patio,  so I opted to just boil the corn on the stove.

Since I was buying this at the special Michigan Farmer’s Market and since the signs on the stand said “picked last night!” I didn’t really have to consider how fresh this corn was. BUT, if you are out shopping and don’t know when the corn was picked, consider the color and texture of the husks. Green and pliable is best. Also, the softer and lighter the silks are, the fresher the corn. Lastly, peel back a little bit of the husk and pierce a kernel with your fingernail. If the liquid is a little cloudy, its probably fresher corn. One thing you shouldn’t do is peel all the husks off at the store. I admit that leaving the mess there is nice but your corn will like you better if you keep the husks on till you get home.
Besides, if you want to grill your corn, you can use the husks as free wrappers. There are a few variables to consider when grilling corn on the cob.

  • Husk removal: You can take them all off and wrap the corn in foil. Or you can peel off all but the innermost 2-3 layers. That is what I do. You will want to peel back all the layers enough to remove the silk before you throw them on the grill. If your husks won’t stay on, use a little piece of kitchen twine around one end or create a tie with a narrow piece of husk.
  • To soak or not to soak: SOme people soak their ears (of corn!) in water prior to grilling. I can go either way on this one depending on time and type of grill. The water will help to steam the corn which can speed cooking along. But you lose some of the “grilled” flavor. Not so important on a gas grill but with a woodfire or wood chips, you might want to consider not soaking or a minimal soak.
  • Flavor enhancement: Grill them plain or add spices, herbs, oil or butter. WHen I’m really feeling ambitious, I’ll mix up a flavored butter which I then smear on the ears (under the husks) prior to grilling. Serve with more butter at the table. Some people prefer oil on the grill then topped with butter.

Since we just boiled ours last night, it was a really simple process. Boil a big pot of water. Add salt. Toss cleaned ears in pot, let boil 5-10 minutes. Done.

On the subject of salting the water, I read something at The Sustainable Kitchen about the proper salting of food. This was a hurdle for me, when learning how to cook. I grew up in a household that minimized using salt due to blood pressure concerns. Overtime, I learned to prefer low-salt versions of some things and my palate adjusted to the point where many common processed foods were too salty. I still prefer low-salt peanut butter and I would still buy reduced sodium canned goods because I’d rather add the salt myself. BUT, I do add salt now. I had to readjust my tongue but now I understand that foods should taste better- brighter and stronger, not salty, when properly seasoned. Alton Brown once referred to salt as a flavor enhancer not a flavor in itself. And we all know that Alton is a genius.

By the way, Mr. Brown is a fan of kosher salt which I also use. But lately I’ve become enamored of sea salts. Nothing fancy although there are some gourmet sea salts available. I use the fine texture and had found that it works well to pre-season meats but also as a table salt.


We ate our corn with a cranberry-brie stuffed chicken breast from The Fresh Market. I was really not excited about the chicken- not enough stuffing, never did find the brie and it took much longer to cook than indicated on the directions. I was saved from having to cut through the ties and lose all the juices by my handy-dandy probe thermometer. Another Alton Brown referral. You set the target temp, insert the probe and set the timer to beep when your targeted temperature is reached.

Munching thru Minneapolis

Chris and I went on a little vacay over the Fourth of July week, first a few days in the Minneapolis then heading up to his family’s lake place in Wisconsin.

We arrived late on Tuesday night after a lovely delay in Chicago- can’t leave without the pilots!  During out layover in Chicago, we ate airport food which can sometimes be good food but was not, in this case.  Wolfgang Puck may be a world-renowned chef to the stars but his Pizza Express shop in O’Hare is nothing to get excited about.

We stayed with Chris’s friends, Adam and Kat, who live near Lake Calhoun, one of the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.  You can canoe on the lakes as well as enjoy bike/walking trails, marvel at the gorgeous houses surrounding the lakes (we did that) and visit a rose garden and bird sanctuary among other activities.

Due to our late arrival on Tuesday/Wednesday, we just crashed the first night.  On the drive to Adam and Kat’s house though, I did come to realize that this trip was more than just a little vacation- it was Chris’s sales pitch for moving to Minneapolis after law school.

Wednesday, we got up, showered and scrounged up some breakfast then watched a Soaring video until Adam got home from his half-day at work.  We decided to go out for lunch then pick up groceries for a grilled dinner on the deck. 

First, we drove along the Minnehaha Parkway looking at many beautiful homes while the abundance of trails and eco-friendly people were pointed out to me.  Also, Adam took us through Uptown which is apparently where Chris used to hang out a lot as he pointed out his favorite bar, sushi joint, live music source, etc.

We arrived at Minnehaha Park home of a beautiful waterfall and Sea Salt, a seasonal cafe with fresh fish and seafood plus a beer & wine license.  They were quite busy; we were joined in line by customers who had ridden up on their bikes.  I haven’t quite figured this place out yet- it appears to be an independent restaurant inside a city or state owned park.  Strange.

 

The original plan was to get fish tacos which is kind of what happened.  I ordered scallop tacos, Chris went for shrimp tacos and Adam chose the crawfish po’boy.  We also shared an appetizer of shrimp cocktail.  Adam and I each went for a pint of local brew Summit Beer.  Being that the weather was just gorgeous, we looked for seats outside.  Tables were found but no chairs.  A few feet away, a man and woman were sitting at a picnic table with attached benches. The man, whose name I don’t recall but might be Tom, offered us the extra seats if we didn’t mind listening to a foreign language. As it turns out, his sister-in-law is Danish and Adam spent several years in that part of the world for work! Although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t part of the sales pitch for Minneapolis, the whole experience was pretty cool. 

 

After stuffing ourselves, we headed to the grocery store Kowalski’s, one of Chris’s two favorites.  It was a nice grocery store, for a smaller gourmet upscale type of place.   It was definitely expensive but I found a few unusual items including marcona almonds, an almond variety from Spain that is particularly tasty.  I bought some of those, along with dried Montmorency cherries and we mixed them in with our Minnesota Wild Rice.  Kowalski’s Market should not be confused, by Michiganders, with Kowalski Meats.  You know, Kowalski Kowality. If you’ve ever eaten a polish dog or a hot dog at a sporting event in this state, you’ve probably eaten a Kowalski dog, unless it was Koegel’s, of course.

After finishing up at Kowalski’s Market, we headed over to France 44, a cheese and wine shop.  A huge liquor store with a cheese shop attached, I was a bit overwhelmed at first.  I was given charge of picking out the wines for later that night.  There were a lot to choose from but not many comments or reviews posted.  After much browsing, I settled in the domestic wines section as they were all 10% off for the Fourth of July Holiday.  We bought a bottle of Cline 2005 Big Break Zinfandel, one of many in the Cline repertoire. The first time I’d had this variety but Chris and I really like their Ancient Vines Zinfandel.  We bought something else but I can’t remember the name and since we didn’t get to drink it, I can’t comment on it anyhow.  The Zin was tasty and strong- definitely a bolder taste than the Ancient Vines.  Although I didn’t have my aerator-pourer, we found a cheap substitute at the shop so we can demonstrate the magic of air to Adam.

The boys left me in the wine racks and headed over to the cheese side where Chris found the sheep’s milk cheese that he now wants more of.  The stuff I can’t find as I don’t know the name.  I’ve sent an email off to the blog writer for the shoppe and will hopefully know more soon. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed some grilled meats, corn on the cob (best of the season so far) and Minnesota wild rice along with our bottle of Cline.  The following day, we headed up to the family lake place for 3 days of typical mid-western food: is that a marshmallow dessert I see?  To be fair we also had more great corn on the cob, a delicious wild rice-cream of mushroom side dish and “mom’s” homemade chocolate chip cookies.

While in the area, we did a driving tour of Crex Meadows and spotted a few deer and acres of wild rice: 

Hoomans iz stoopid

Since I was out of town last week, I didn’t get around to reading the June 25th edition of City Pulse until today.

I came right home and wrote this post after reading this article about the street food vendors in Downtown Lansing. The Council has instructed Clinton Tarver, who sells hot dogs in front of city hall, that he must get a peddler’s license at a cost of $90. This is in addition to the other 2 permits he has (that cost $180) and the $200 monthly fee paid to the City’s Principal Shopping District (a government entity, FYI).

Sandy Allen, 2nd Ward City Councilwoman has decided to have her committee, Public Safety, look in to whether all the street vendors are properly licensed. Because, she is quoted as saying “right now we really don’t have much in the way of protecting people healthwise, and we really need to look at what is available and what needs to be done.”

And a piece of paper is going to stop me from getting E. coli or salmonella or listeria or any other nasty bug that sometimes lurks in food? Hot-diggity, where can I get one of those papers? I’ll just carry it around all the time and I’ll be a-okay.

The article goes on to quote Andy Bunnell of the Ingham County Health Department. According to him, all food vendors are required to take classes about food safety and they must be inspected prior to licensing.

Now that, I believe, makes sense. At least the food safety class- again, slapping a sticker on my food cart does not mean I’m the most cautious, cleanest vendor out there. But as a seller, I can only be helped by understanding that foods should be kept at certain temperatures to slow or stop bacterial growth.

The article mentions that Clinton has been selling his dogs and accompaniments for 10 years in the same spot. I venture to guess that if Clinton was selling bad dogs, he’d have gone under a long time ago, license or no license. Think back to the last time you felt a little stomach upset after dining out. I can clearly remember several incidents of food poisioning in my own history.

  1. Served bad milk in first grade. Result: stopped drinking school milk. I wouldn’t even call this food poisoning, it wasn’t contaminated just soured. Either way, I learned that lesson real quick.
  2. Entire family fell ill after dining in a Flint coney island. Result: thanked our lucky stars as being sick sent us home instead of to the movies, where a tornado struck that night. Also, didn’t go back to the restaurant for probably 10 years.
  3. Several family members got sick after eating in a Greektown restaurant in Detroit. Never went back (its since gone under).
  4. Failed to properly refrigerate dill dip from an East Lansing cafe. This was a bad experience but I correctly blamed myself for eating a dairy-based dip that had been left out on the counter. The restaurant (now gone) was hardly one to inspire confidence when you glimpsed the kitchen but in all the years we ate there, never once did I get sick from their food, directly.
  5. Ate corn on the cob that had been reheated in its original cooking water, not hot enough. Again, my fault and I paid dearly for this one.

I mention items 4 and 5 to prove a point. Most of the time, if you get food poisoning, its your own fault. Either you didn’t properly clean the cutting board when going from raw meat to fresh veggies or something wasn’t properly stored or reheated. Bet you wish you had the piece of paper promising you won’t get sick now, don’t ya?


My questions then are this:

  1. If Clinton Tarver and other street food vendors are already meeting the Health Department requirements, why do they need someone else looking over their shoulders?
  2. Am I and all the other lunchers in downtown too stupid to make up our own minds about what is safe to eat?
  3. Since when is it the city’s responsibility to take care of me? And if they really want to take care of me, how about doing it in a way that doesn’t punish small business owners but instead provides needed and wanted services to the community as a whole (i.e. shovel/plow the streets and sidewalks quickly in the winter).
  4. When did Americans become so willing to hand over their freedom of choice to the government? Do you not recognize that by asking the councils and boards and legislatures and congress and president to make laws to protect us, you are simply limiting your choice. How is that Councilperson Sandy Allen is more suited to deciding what is best for me, than me?

Unfortunately, I recently moved outside the city limits of Lansing so my powers of influence as taxpayer are reduced. Not completely gone since I still work in the city and in fact walk by Clinton’s Hot Dog cart on a regular basis. I would note that I didn’t choose Ms. Allen nor did I vote for her opposition, as I never lived in that ward even when I did reside in the city.

I, like Mr. Tarver, am no fool. This peddler’s license is not about protecting the people. Its about money, plain and simple. The city wants to get as much as it can, wherever it can. In the meantime, no one looks beyond today’s check for $90.

The price of food is going up, Clinton may have to raise his prices especially now that his taxes have gone up too (a permit fee is tax with a different name, you know it and I know it). That may put off one or two customers now but in another 3 months, he may lose 10% as less people eat downtown as budget constraints lead downtown businesses (and the government) to lay people off. Pretty soon the restaurants are down 30% and people have to start making decisions about whether or not to continue running their businesses. Next summer, Clinton realizes that after expenses for food and permits, he will not make enough to continue selling his dogs. One more small business owner out, one less person paying income taxes, one more home lost to foreclosure.

Is it going to happen this way? I don’t know. But I do know we are kidding ourselves if we think a permit will protect us from getting sick. And taxing everything to death serves no one.

One last item, the official description of the Public Safety Committee: Reviews service levels and issues related to public safety, including police, fire, ambulance, emergency services, traffic environment and the building inspection program.

Where does it say food police?!?!?