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i have a thing for chevre. a love. a passion. a zest. i remember when my mom came back from a trip to san francisco– a mom and dad and no kids trip– enlightened with the discovery of this soft, creamy cheese.  she would make us omelets and the eggs would wrap their arms warmly around that cheese, squeezing it ever so slightly, creating a lovely goopy mess. it did not take long for chevre to win my undying devotion.


well i also have a thing for french salads with that tangy red-wine vinegar dressing and crusty bread smeared with the goat cheese. HEAVEN, i tell you. the smooth, low flavor of that cheese cuts the tang of the vinegar while the crusty bread crunches and crisps crumbs all over the plate (the table, my shirt, but it doesn’t even matter). 


i don’t even know definitively if my romantic vision of a french lunch salad is accurate at all. it stems from a restaurant in des moines called la mie. in the roosevelt district, i remember exploring this place with my mom, too. i remember tasting my first pureed carrot soup and being floored that carrot soup could be so orange, so sweet, so independent. it was life changing. here is where i remember so fondly my little french salad with the crusty bread and massive smear of goat cheese. i haven’t been there in a long time, and it looks like it’s changed since i’ve last ate here, so it’s hard to say if they are still doing this (and i do hope they are!).


i had it again, where my mouth excitedly savored each bite, at a french cafe in chicago, near the university of chicago. i have no idea what it was called. the rest of the food we ate was mediocre (the soup was super salty) but that salad stirred within me joyous recollections of la mie. my mouth, so very happy.


well, this past weekend i attempted my own. and, just as i am not fully sure it’s french, i have to admit i had to look up how to say “in the cafe of la grande” on freetranslation.com. i mean, i did create this meal in my house kitchen, the house my roommates and i donned la grande. and how could i give my beloved perception of french salad more validity than naming the post in french? ha! so, i am exposed: my knowledge of all things french is below par to be sure. 


but oh, oh how i love this salad. i made it with fresh spinach and chunks of the fresh goat cheese and cow’s cheese from zingerman’s creamery. (i’ve mentioned them before.) and, because of financial limits, i cannot smear my bread as full or lovely as la mie once did. but my mouth smiles and my stomach softly rumbles as i imagine my saturday lunch dans le cafe de la grande. served with a grinning side of leftover tomato soup.


i didn’t write down how i made it, but i’ll explain it like this:


red wine vinaigrette for a french salad 
(serve with crispy bread smeared with soft, fresh cheese, goat or cow)


red wine vinegar
a wedge of lemon
a squirt of dijon mustard
olive oil
salt
pepper


put all of these ingredients in a bowl and whisk together with a fork. i use a ratio of probably 2:1 vinegar to oil (i really like the tang, it needs the tang for the cheese to cut). 


serve on fresh greens.

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well folks, it’s official. as 23 said goodbye, 24 welcomed me graciously on this past thursday. i must admit, i am very excited and comfortable about 24– 23 was hard for me, i think, because it was such an odd number. it’s the OCD in me. i love round, warm, even numbers. they feel so much more welcoming and loving. my roommate, john, did suggest the benefits of 23 as a prime number, unique in that way. i say bahh to that, and even though 23 was a lovely year, i eagerly ushered in the big 2 – 4.


surprising as it may seem, the theme of the day was food. tara woke up super early (for her!) and made her famous banana cream pie. 

it was really remarkable. usually, i spend the mornings alone, just me, my old fashion oats, and some tea, bracing myself for the day. this day, though, alanna and tara joined me, glimpsing my morning ritual (revised, of course, with the added company). i was really excited that tara used my great grandma meyer’s rolling pin for her beautifully rustic pie crust.

work was work. what i was most excited about (and indecisive about) was the meal to follow my day of labor. the possibilities totally overwhelmed me. already somewhat uncomfortable about it being my birthday (so much attention! so much pressure! me, the food addict, unable to decide a proper meal– too fancy? too picky? too gwen? but wasn’t this, also, my day? but i don’t like to be self-centered! blah blah blah it went on and on in my head), i really wanted to eat delicious food, made together with amazing roommates. solution? grilled cheese and tomato soup, of course!

last sunday, tara and i ventured to ann arbor, with all its intellectual might, and participated in zingerman’s creamery’s inaugural cheese tasting. two hours of dairy delight. my goodness, who wouldn’t be totally giddy over six varieties of cheese that ended with fresh vanilla bean gelato topped with a fromage blanc with macerated michigan strawberries?!

well, following our tasting, we bought two rounds of cheese: the sharon hallow, a cow’s milk cheese with chives and garlic, and the citi goat, a traditional chevre. DELICIOUS. 

cheese? check.

next: bread. earlier that day, i picked up compost from the amazing detroit bakery avalon. they are very generous in saving their coffee grounds and veggie and fruit scraps for the earthworks‘ compost pile (which is growing HUGE). a well-timed trip for compost also allowed me to pick up their farnsworth family farmer’s bread, a tangy, chewy sourdough bread perfect for grilled cheese.

bread? check.

arriving home around 4:30, john and i discussed the evening’s plan and firmed up our menu. originally, tomato soup (while the logical accompaniment to grilled cheese) was not on the list. we quickly agreed that homemade tomato soup would be the perfect partner for the evening’s meal, along with a growler of voodoo vator from atwater block brewery, where i also pick up compost (spent grain makes for a beautiful compost!).  dinner was set!


the smooth creaminess of that soft, melty fresh cheese between the tangy sourdough, drunk from delightful pools of melted butter… the sandwich was killer. even better when dipped in the tomato soup. and so local! tomatoes canned in the height of our summer’s glory (which was not super glorious, as far as tomatoes go, such a cool season in detroit this past year) and carrots, onions, celery, etc from our favorite vendors at eastern market. oh, the pleasures of making food with other people! and the memories and stories within those foods: the fun and delight of canning with janelle and heather, the love and labor of mother earth and our friendly farmers, the joy and care of the cooks in the kitchen. everyone sharing, everyone eating, our tongues smiling with satisfied glee. such a lovely meal!

afterwards, we ventured to the oh-so-swanky coach insignia for after dinner drinks and dessert.

we met up with friends and enjoyed the gorgeous views of the vast, wagon wheel of detroit as well as the river and windsor, canada. many thanks to all for a day of celebration, love, sharing, and palatable decadence.

there is something so warm, welcome, homey about a home made pizza. the nostalgia sets in and i think of the great pizzas i’ve made throughout the years. from the chef boyardee box we used to get when i was a kid to the amazing whole wheat pizzas made in vancouver, bc with my dear auntie l to the entertaining pizzas crafted for various new years occasions…i have no bad associations with a little pizza pie. i feel sorry for anyone who does.


over the holiday, my family went on the first-ever meyer family bar crawl. never thought i’d see that day. but i did, and what a glorious time we had! wausau, wisconsin was not ready for the meyer clan. how could it be? one of our stops was at the red eye, where we enjoyed some delicious beers and perhaps even more impressive pizza. my mom and i shared the special of the evening: a pie topped with butternut squash, prosciutto, caramelized onions, and goat cheese. and what a pizza it was. glorious! no red sauce: instead, the toppings rested atop a pillow of airy squash puree. while i picked off my prosciutto (i have a thing about not eating meet unless i know how that meat was raised), my taste buds, impatient and mutinous at the delay, could not get enough of that earthy, sweet, creamy, crispy goodness. 


afterwards, my mom and i spent a good week passionately reliving each bite. worse, two weeks after we kept tempting each other, talking about how we were going to try to make our own version. finally, i followed through with my claim (i had enough pink banana puree to be sure) and the results? splendid! 


the dough, frozen leftovers from a pizza night a month back, thawed out beautifully– nice crispy, thin, whole wheat.  i coated the pan with a little oil and sprinkled it with cornmeal, which gave the bottom of the crust a really lovely texture that suited the squash toppings perfectly. while orange sauce may not sound the most appealing, the colors of this pie were gorgeous, the texture smooth, and the community at la grande was yet again palatably pleased.


whole wheat pizza with orange sauce
pizza crust (recipe follows, or use your favorite!)
squash puree
1 red onion 
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil (or more)
white wine (a splash)
1/4 cup chopped kale
goat cheese
parmesan cheese


1. heat the oven to 425.  parbake the dough for 3-4 minutes before topping it (if it’s a homemade dough that is).
2. heat the oil on medium heat. add onions and garlic, sauté until they become tender, about 3-5 minutes, when they begin to release their juices. add a splash of wine and let them simmer, sucking up that flavor.
4. add kale (mine was frozen), and let the kale wilt down. 
5. while those toppings are hanging out on the stove top, spread a generous layer of squash (mine was pink banana) over the warmed dough. evenly sprinkle the onion-garlic mixture on the top.
6. glop fresh goat cheese over the onions, and sprinkle grated parmesan too. salt and pepper. 
7. put in the oven, bake 8-10 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is melty.
ENJOY!

aunt lynda’s whole wheat pizza dough 
1 packge of yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoon)
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups wheat flour
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
more oil
cornmeal


1. preheat oven to 425. dissolve yeast in warm water in a medium bowl. 
2. stir in flour, 2 tablespoons oil, and salt, beat 20 strokes.
3. cover dough and rest 20 minutes.
4. divide dough into 2 balls, roll out on 2 12″ pans greased with oil and sprinkled with cornmeal.
5. bake for 4 minutes, the pull out and cover with desired toppings. then return to oven to bake for a total of about 10 minutes, or until crust is brown.

i know what you’re thinking. you’re envisioning one of those fake pies. well, that’s how i see them. the easy bake or no bake pies. a pie shell loaded with a sweetened strawberry yogurt and sliced bananas with some whipped cream fluffed on top.  you know, the kind you see at the average church potluck. sweet and smooth, but not really exciting.


well, you should try to get excited.


because clearly, i am talking about the pink banana squash. yes, my very own take on the pumpkin sour cream pie found first in my new gourmet today cookbook from christmas.


oh the joys of pie baking. it is a composition, and a complex one at that. first, with the crust: the cold water, the beaded quality of the mixture smushing it all together, the resting in the fridge, the methodical rolling out. i used my great grandma meyer’s rolling pin. i felt really good, strong in that act.

then, the making of the soufflé. i didn’t realize how complex it all was– i guess not so much complex, but very procedure heavy. tara and i are reading east of eden out loud to each other (a really charming activity… again, it could be the english majors in us, but i don’t think so), and she read to me as i created my catastrophic cacophony: moving from double boiling the yogurt to hand whipping the squash, sugar, and egg yolks to pulling the crust out of the oven to beating the egg whites into stiff peaks.  

really, once it was in the oven, i wasn’t sure it was worth it. i doubted my ability of crust making and of  soufflé making, and was feeling really pessimistic about the whole ordeal.  with the leftover pie crust, i made this baby tart filled with the butternut marmalade, and that was so good i questioned why i hadn’t just made individual tartlets (another good idea…). but, the pie was in, tara read on, and that was that. and tara read on.

the pie came out 40 minutes later, the pie crust golden, a kiss of brown on the far side of the pie. i was shocked at how much height this baby got in that oven.  those egg whites had worked their magic and created quite the visual in the pie’s exit from the oven.  but we couldn’t try it yet: the recipe requires it to col for 2 hours. well, folks, at this time it was already 11:30pm. and while i love to stay up and and eat, i was not quite in for that late of a night.  so the pie waited on our dining room table till morning.

and OH the morning treat it was! i am not even a squash-filled, soufflé crazy kind of girl, and this was just delightful! all my roommates (some of them fellow non-squash pie-eaters) agreed. the squashy earthiness just tangible in the back of the tongue. the gentle warmth of the ginger and nutmeg. the light, sweet, custard melting in your mouth. and the crust, i must say, was pretty great. not my mother’s (i am still nervous to ever make my own crust because hers is SO GOOD), but solid.

so try your very own pink banana yogurt pie. you won’t soon forget it.

pink banana pumpkin pie
adapted from Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie in Gourmet Today

All Butter Pastry Dough for a single-crust pie (below)
1 1/2 cups yogurt (i used 1/2 skim fage and 1/2 skim regular)
1 1/2 cups solid-packed pink yogurt puree
3 large eggs, separated
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round. fit into pie plate, trim edges. crimp edge decoratively. my dough sat in the fridge for a 1/2 hour before this, so the dough was firm at this point. if you make the dough and do this step immediately, refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
2. put rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375.
3. lightly prick shell all over with a fork. line shell with foil and fill with pie weights (i used dried beans).  bake until edges are pale golden and bottom is set, about 20 minutes. remove foil and weights and bake until bottom and sides are pale golden, about 10 more minutes.

meanwhile, for the filling
1. heat 1 cup yogurt in a large metal bowl set over a large wide pot of boiling water (helps to prevent curdling until warm, stirring occasionally. 
2. whisk together squash, yolks, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup yogurt in a bowl until combined.  whisk into hot yogurt and cook over simmering water, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard is thickened and registers 170  degrees fahrenheit on an instant read thermometer, about 6 minutes.
3. remove bowl from pot and cool pumpkin mixture in bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and old water, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. 
4. beat egg whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they just hold stiff peaks.  fold 1/3 of the whites into pumpkin mixture gently, but thoroughly, then fold in remaining whites.
5. pour filling into cooled shell, smoothing top. bake until filling is set, 40-50 minutes. 
6. cool pie to room temperature on rack, about 2 hours. 

ENJOY!




all butter pastry dough
1 1/ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3-4 tablespoons ice water

1. whisk together flour and salt in a a large bowl. 
2. blend butter wit your fingertips or a pastry blender or pulse in a food processor until most of the mixture resembles course meal with some small (roughly pea-sized) butter lumps.  
3. drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork or pulse with a food processor until incorporated. squeeze a small handful of dough if it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring or pulsing until just incorporated. DO NOT OVERWORK or dough will be tough.
4. turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm.

squash marmalade, you ask? yes! i respond with a gleeful and sunny enthusiasm. i think anything so bright and smooth can only put me in a gleeful and sunny disposition. it probably didn’t help that the weather on sunday was beautiful. bright sun streaming in, tickling the powdery snow that’s blanketing detroit.  oh how that winter sunlight–harsher, stoic, and somehow more guarded–can turn the white snow blue while it makes the detroit river blue pop with a ferocity i haven’t seen except in photographs of the arctic. but it could also just be that the river’s iced over a bit.

tara and i went for a walk around belle isle to enjoy the sun’s visit (brief visit, at that) and to move our bodies a bit, stretching and striding in that cold january wind that, when it’s on your side, coaxes you onward, lulling you into a comfortable cold until you turn, and then: BAM! that wind cuts through you and all those layers don’t mean a thing. it just made us walk faster. and for me, the warm sunshine of this glowing orange-hued marmalade held that wind at bay, letting me absorb the stark, steep contrast of the winter landscape. we tried, desperately, to find a word to describe the january sunlight that gushed from the sky… it is somehow more thin, more taut, more… not brittle… but what? we settled with intense, thin, and taut. oh, how the english major in both of us tussled and clucked with dissatisfaction in our inability to find the right word. how we wished we’d a larger vocabulary. perhaps this is a late new years resolution.

regardless, onto the marmalade. a super easy use of my multiple pounds of pink banana puree! hooray!

pink banana marmalade
1 cup squash puree
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 orange, juiced
water, if needed, to cook squash if it’s not pureed

throw all the ingredients into a pot on your stove top and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  cook down until you reach your desired consistency. if you’re squash is not in puree form, you can chop it into chunks and simmer with water until cooked, about 45 minutes. i cooked mine down for 20-30 minutes, until it reached the texture of apple butter (but smoother, oh this squash i so smooooth!). transfer into a glass jar, cool. smear on bread, crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, you name it! i even baked it into a sort of filling in leftover pie crust… delightfully earthy, sweet, and sunshine in a jar!

earlier this fall, i went on a work field trip to Toledo GROWs with my coworkers at Earthworks Urban Farm.  this trip was fun and exciting for me– beautiful gardens, community art, an inspiring director, engaged youth, delicious food. it was fantastic. perhaps the most exciting part was our purchase of the heirloom pink banana squash. this squash demands attention. it is HUGE. i remember feeling similarly overwhelmed and awed when i saw my first hubbard squash in live and living color last year. but something about the pink banana called to me more than the mother hubbard. i think the exotic color and oblong shape, something artistic and romantic and bizarre culminated into a lovely, charming attraction to the pink banana.

we brought it back to detroit where i daydreamed about what this beauty could become. and, over the coarse of a couple months, my eagerness continued to grow as i watched it sit on our work table. finally, last week or so, i was given clearance to take this giant baby home with me and work it out.

the picture above is to demonstrate the size: mikey, my friend jamila’s dog, was the guest of honor during this dinosaur egg adventure. trying to give folks a perspective of the shear size of this squash, you can see that mikey is the same size (and perhaps weight) as the Toledo GROWs pink banana! craziness.

 

as i cut the pink banana in half, i secretly believed a dinosaur baby would pop out. i knew it wouldn’t, but i guess i hoped one would– oh how creepy, sci-fi, delightfully wild that would have been! but, instead, i saw a rather clean, not-too-goopy mess of seeds and pulp which i happily removed. then, i cut the squash in quarters, rubbed it with some butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted it in a 425 degree oven for about 45-55 minutes. i put some water in the pan to steam it while roasting. below are the pre- and post-roasting photos.

from here, i scooped the soft, mushy orange sunshine into my food processor. so much squash! i pureed until smooth, and ended up with 3 full yogurt containers of the vibrant squash. it processed so smooth and so mellow and so sweet. truly delightful. watch for yellow banana-themed recipes to come…

break is over. the holidays, gone. i flew into detroit from colorado yesterday–a flight that had me up and at ’em at 3:32 am mountain time (i kept trying to tell myself that this wasn’t so bad, 5:32 am in detroit… my body didn’t really find such rationale appealing). 


so, what a better way to commence the new year at la grande than a feast for our eyes and stomachs!  tara and i decided on tomato soup and a frittata. we have so many veggies left over from our food box and so many cans of tomatoes that it seemed like the perfect time, and menu, to take action! and daring, for ms. whipkey, who overcame previous dislikes of tomato soup and eggs for this very meal.  and oh what a satisfying time we had!

we ran to honey bee market  for the goods we lacked: some cheese, milk, and red wine. after a walk in the snow and a bedroom break that gave me enough time to think about packing without actually lifting a finger, our cooking began.

the tomato soup is adapted from the barefoot contessa back to the basics by ina garten, and the frittata inspired by the moosewood restaurant new classics.  enjoy with a glass of the red you use for the soup. delicious!

scarlet tomato soup
3 tablespoons olive oil (more if needed)
2 cups chopped yellow onions
3 carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup sweet potato, diced
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 slices day old bread (i toasted mine to dry them out. i had wheat lying around.)
36 ounces tomatoes 
4 cups stock (turkey leftover from thanksgiving!)
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon dried basil (4 generous shakes)
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese (to top)

1. heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, adding the onions, carrots, sweet potato and garlic, and cook for about 10 minutes until tender.
2. add dried bread, chopped, and cook for five more minutes.
3. place tomatoes in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  add to the pot with the stock red wine, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper.
4. bring soup to a boil, lower heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes. 
5. top with parmesan cheese and enjoy!



delicata frittata
(don’t you love the way that comes off your tongue!)
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 delicata squash, seeded, halved, and sliced into crescent moons
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
3/4 cup wilted kale (should equal this after it’s been cooked down), chopped
gentle sprinkling of paprika
5 eggs
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon wheat flour
1 cup milk
about 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
a couple of dollops of chevre goat cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. preheat oven to 450. toss the first 4 items together, drizzling with oil, until lightly covered. sprinkle with paprika, salt, and pepper. spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast in the oven till tender, 20-25 minutes.
2. meanwhile, combine eggs, cream cheese, flour, milk, and a dash of salt in the food processor until pureed into a smooth custard.
3. reduce temperature to 350 after vegetables are pulled from oven. layer the vegetables in to a lightly greased baking dish (i used a deep glass pie pan).then spread kale over vegetables. pour the custard on top.  sprinkle with cheddar cheese and plop on goat cheese. lightly salt and pepper, and stick into the oven!
4. bake for about 45 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden brown. serve hot or at room temperature.