Monthly Archives: October 2010

Halloween Plush Food

OK. What can I say. I am a fan of plush food. Being so close to Halloween, I figure I would post a few plush foods in the spirit of the night of spirits.

Zombie Cupcake and Pop Tart

Angry Candy Corn

Happy Candy Corn

Zombie Candy Corn

Halloween Felt Cake 1

Halloween Felt Sugar Cookies

Day of the Dead Plush Cookies

Undead Bread

Zombie Tea Bag

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Two Angry Moms

Angry mothers are on the march to improve school lunch programs.

About 25 people were in attendance at the Ann Arbor Public Library on Sept. 26 for a screening of the documentary film, “Two Angry Moms.”

Rachel Hilliker, an angry mom from Lansing, has been touring the state and hosting screenings of the film.

“I was becoming increasingly frustrated because I came across a school in Michigan that served fast food five days a week,” said Hilliker.

“A lot of the moms that come to my screenings say, ‘That’s great, that’s great,’” she said, referring to her work advocating healthier school lunch programs. “Let me know what you are doing. But what I need is a coalition of other moms.”

The film opens with a lunch lady preparing a typical school lunch of French fries topped with fried cheese sticks. A side of marinara sauce, and an unnaturally blue slushy completes the meal. The movie also shows how candy, snack foods and sugar sodas are now made available to kids on cafeteria lunch lines and in vending machines.

In the 1970s, public schools began experiencing revenue shortfalls. To increase revenue, some schools started looking at areas like lunch programs, according to the film.

“The food service part of the school budget for a school needs to be a moneymaker,” said Hilliker. “Switching over to healthier food…there is a lot of start up costs.

Fund raising is required. You will be met with resistance because schools are getting funds cut for their programs.

“It is a big fight.”

One avenue for change for an angry mom is to form a “wellness committee.” These groups set the rules for the food standards in a school lunch programs. Once new rules are set, the school has to follow them.

The film follows one such wellness committee that successfully petitioned its school board to change the school lunch program. These revised, healthier school programs are often met with resistance, as shown in the film.

Students typically rebel against the healthier food choices, and the sales come down. But usually after a few months, sales return to normal and the kids, who are the loudest critics, are won over, as shown in the film.

The lack of basic education about food is part of the problem, said Hilliker.

We treat school food as a service at a school like custodial services or mowing the lawn, but not as education, said Amy Kalafa, the director of “Two Angry Moms.”

“I found it interesting in Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ when he held up a potato to a group of students, and no one knew what it was. But most probably ate French fries for lunch that day,” said Hilliker. “I think it is important that kids know where food comes from. It is important to teach them about nutrition.

“Food marketing companies have taken over teaching our kids about food. They’re brainwashing our kids. We’re battling the big food industry. Their cool packaging… they’re tying themselves to popular children’s movies. We have created a society where we do not need to know how to cook because everything comes in a package. I think that home economics would empower kids.”

School gardens were featured in the film as a popular program to help educate children about food. Kids feel connected and excited to gardening because of the popularity of the White House garden started by First Lady Michelle Obama, Kalafa said. But starting a learning garden at a school has its own set of problems.

“Who is going to take care of it during the summer?” Hilliker asked.

One of the solutions for managing school gardens when class is not in session comes from the FoodCorps program, a new part of Americorps. Starting next fall, FoodCorps will provide manpower to create, manage and maintain school gardens in the summer months.

Then there is The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill, which allocates funds for school lunch programs. The bill is updated every five years and was expected to be signed into law by the Sept. 30 deadline. But controversy surrounding the bill caused a delay.

Advocates for the bill, which included Michelle Obama, were happy for the allocated six-cent increase per meals for the school lunch program, the first increase since 1973.

“Unfortunately, those funds were taken from the federal food stamp program,” said Hilliker.

It is expected to be signed in law after the midterm election.

Meanwhile, Hilliker keeps herself busy as a healthy school lunch advocate by attending other Ann Arbor events like “School Lunches: What Our Kids are Eating and What You Can Do About It” – a panel discussion held on Oct. 6.

“I have to stay optimistic in order keep doing this,” she said. “I’m not going to give up
“Yes I am angry, but I think you have to focus your anger in a positive way to get anything done,” she added.

Fun, Food and Funk: Bona Sera Secret Super Club

Ann Arbor Food

Bona Sera, Ann Arbor’s secret supper club, provides great food and fun for charity.
But do not tell anyone. It really is a secret.

About 40 people gathered under a tent on a cool September night in Ann Arbor for a clandestine dinner party. The theme of the party was “Fairy Tales Under the Sea.” Guests dined on an elegant six-course meal featuring seafood and were entertained by a sea of drag queens.

This was not an ordinary dinner party. This was a Secret Supper Club.

Secret supper clubs, or underground restaurants, are food gatherings that are held in secret. They are run by passionate home cooks, local food advocates or rogue chefs looking to create adventurous food. They range greatly in size from intimate dinner parties for six to large events held in warehouses. Guests of these events are “foodies” who seek out unique food experiences.

Bona Sera is the brainchild of two women nicknamed “Bad Fairy” and “Wonder Woman.” Their real names, like their club, are also secret. They started Bona Sera in December 2008.

“I had worked with Clandestino in Chicago, and the Ghetto Gourmet in San Francisco,” said Wonder Woman, referring to other secret super clubs. “And when I moved to Ann Arbor, I thought starting a club would be a good way to meet people and be social.”

“The name Bona Sera is actually a typo for the Italian word buonasera, which means good evening,” Bad Fairy said with a wry smile. “Wonder Woman misspelled it, but we had already registered the Web domain name, so we stuck with it.”

To participate in a Bona Sera event, one has to first register online to be a on a mailing list. Announcements about upcoming events, which include the date, theme and menu, are posted on the website: bonaserasupperclub.com. Participants forward an e-mail to reserve a spot. The location, which is different each time, is not disclosed until a day before the event. Fans of Bona Sera generously donate their homes to host the secret suppers.

Why all the secrecy? Technically, these events are illegal. Only a licensed caterer can offer prepared food to the public for money out of a private home. Bona Sera, like most secret super clubs, does not have a license.

“We had some people who attended past events that were in a position to arrest us,” said Bad Fairy. “We could be fined.”

“And they would take our food away,” Bad Fairy said sadly.

“We use the words suggested donations,” said Wonder Woman. “And we change locations every time.” These were tricks that she picked up from Clandestino to avoid getting caught.

Guests do not have to pay any specific amount for the meal, but $50 is the suggested donation.

All of the money raised from these parties after the cost of food goes to charity. The charities for this event were Uncle Rock’s Place, an organization that provides support for patients with HIV/Aids and their families and The Ozone House Kicked Out Fund, which is a shelter for runaway gay, lesbian and transgender youth.

“We like to find organizations where a small amount of money would provide a larger impact,” said Wonder Woman. “This supper club raised about $1,200. We have raised around $10,000 for local charities.”

“Most people do this as a business,” said Wonder Woman. “We’re the only one I’ve read about who does it exclusively for charity.”

Bona Sera has an all-volunteer crew who works for free, including the entertainment. It has also established good relationships with local food suppliers like Monahan’s Seafood, which supports the club by providing discounts. These relationships mean that Bona Sera can raise more money for its charities.

The food for these events is eclectic, which mirrors both women’s food tastes and style.

One supper club featured a whole roasted pig. Another had a Mexican street food theme.

“People seem to like it. It is unique and invented,” said Bad Fairy. “A food critic commented that the squid was so tender that he thought it was pasta.”

“We try to put a twist on things,” said Wonder Woman. “We did a fried pig’s ear served with salad. And we did a Gorgonzola and burnt honey ice cream.”

“We drink wine, and it comes out of our head,” said Wonder Woman, referring to how they create a menu. “Themes come from a dish we want to do.”

Not all events go as smoothly as they would like. The grill stopped working at their largest-attended event, and on another occasion they stacked their home-made ravioli wrong, which resulted in them all sticking together. “It took us forever to get them apart and we were only able to serve one per person instead of three,” said Bad Fairy.

“The next will have a duck theme,” said Wonder Woman.

They are planning their next event sometime in early December. And there is talk of a future “mushroom theme.”

To get in on the secret, go the bonaserasupperclub.com and sign up to be on the mailing list.

No Stir Oven Risotto

If risotto sounds fancy, it’s probably because it has an Italian name. But it really is nothing more than tasty rice porridge. The key ingredient is starchy short-grain rice called arborio.

The starch in the rice is released when cooked with a good amount of stock. The result is a warm, creamy, flavorful, satisfying dish.

The second ingredient is stock. It is important to use a good quality stock, because it provides most of the flavor in this dish. Some white wine can also be used to impart flavor.

Stock can be homemade, or you can use quality store brands like Swanson. Also, Morgan and York on Packard in Ann Arbor makes chicken stocks that can be found in the freezer section.

The process for making risotto usually calls for adding a small amount of stock and stirring it into the rice until the stock is absorbed. Then more stock is added, and the stir-and-absorb procedure is repeated until the rice is cooked and all the stock is used.

This works fine, but to make the process a little easier, you can try the no-stir oven risotto method described below.

Risotto can be served plain as a simple rice porridge topped with parmesan, or meat, seafood and vegetables can be added to make it a complete meal.

Some classic combinations of risotto are wild mushroom, crab and asparagus, shrimp and peas, onion, leek or shallot, pumpkin or lobster.

Risotto cakes are another serving option. Leftover chilled risotto is shaped in round patties and coated in bread crumbs. They are then browned in a pan with oil on both sides and can be served with a spicy mayo.

A side salad accompanies a risotto meal.

No-stir oven risotto base recipe
serves four
Ingredients:
2 cups of arborio rice (or short grain white rice)
6 cups of low-salt chicken stock
1 onion, diced
½ cup of dry white wine
Half stick (4 tablespoons) of unsalted butter
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups of shredded parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Procedure:Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Sauté the onion for a few minutes, then stir in the rice. Make sure the rice is coated with the butter. Add the white wine and simmer until the wine is absorbed into the rice. Add all of the chicken stock and the bay leaves and simmer until the stock is warm.

Transfer the rice to a 9 by 13-inch casserole pan and cover tightly with tin foil. Place the dish into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check on the rice. If it looks too soupy, cook it for a few minutes, but note that with risotto, you are not going for dry rice like pilaf.

Take the rice out of the oven and remove the tin foil. Mix in the parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

Variations:
Pumpkin and bacon risotto:
Add one cup of pumpkin puree and three pieces of cooked and diced bacon to the risotto mixture just before placing in the oven.

Three-onion risotto
Include the white part of one leek, finely diced, and three diced shallots to the base recipe. Sauté the leeks and shallots along with the onions and follow the rest of the recipe.

Shrimp and Pea Risotto
Peel and devein a half pound of shrimp and thaw 1 ½ cups of frozen peas. Mix the raw shrimp into the risotto as soon as you take it out of the oven. The heat of the rice will cook the shrimp in about five minutes. Add the peas to the mixture and mix in the parmesan cheese.

Risotto cakes recipe
Ingredients:
Leftover risotto, at room temperature
1-2 cups of panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs), or more depending on the amount of rice
Oil for frying (Peanut oil recommended)

Spicy Mayo:
½ to 1 cup of your favorite mayonnaise
Sriracha chili sauce to taste (found in the Asian section of grocery stores)

Procedure:
Press the rice into a third cup-sized measuring cup to create evenly size cakes. Shake the pressed rice out of the cup and coat with the panko bread crumbs.

Add enough oil to come to one inch in a pan. Heat the oil to just before the smoke point and carefully add the risotto cakes. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel, let the cakes cool for a few minutes and serve with the chili mayo sauce.

Note: This recipe works with the base recipe and the variations.

Wine Cap Mushrooms: At The Westside Farmers Market 2011

Ann Arbor Food

As most know, this was my first year at the farmers market. We offered micogreens, and baked goods (pocket pies, focaccia bread, cinnamon cake, and more). With my first year under my belt, the thought is about next year. And those thoughts are on Mushrooms.

Easygrow sells a number of mushroom kits at the AA Farmers Market. The picture above shows a kit for Winecap Mushrooms, which are a large mushroom like portabella, but boost a better flavor.

Also in the works are some mushrooms grown on logs. The plan is to grow shittake. I want to offer a third, but I have not decided on the variety.

Some mushrooms like mitake can take two years to fruit. The idea is to have the mushrooms ready for sale next summer.

Easygrow also sells morrel kits, which can be hit or miss and take up top two years to fruit too, but I just have to get a few and see.

Winecap growing procedure:

1) Find fresh oak wood chips (call around to area tree services)
2) Find a shady spot, about 4 x 8 feet
3) Spread a thick layer of newspaper, and lightly wet down
4) Layer a 2-3 inch layer of wood chips on the paper
5) tare off some balls from the starter kit, and place on the wood chips every 8-12 inches apart in rows, using a diamond pattern off centering them from row to row
6) wet down, and add another layer of chips and wet down some more
7) If using two bag (kits), seed another layer
8) top again with another 2-4 inches of chips
9) spray the whole pile down
10) cover with some straw (helps with moisture)
11) Place a short fence around it to keep out critters like skunks that like to dig up the pile (optional)
12) let sit over winter or start in the early spring for a fall harvest

Enjoy the Harvest

Here are pictures of the process for growing winecaps

Ann Arbor Food

First Layer: Thick layer of Wet Newspaper and fresh oak wood chips

Ann Arbor Food

Pile of fresh oak wood chips, about 2-4 yards

Ann Arbor Food

First layer of chips

More pictures coming!!!

I got so busy hauling wheelbarrows of wood chips that I forget to take the pics of the finished bed.

Update: Here is a picture of the finished mushroom bed minus the straw.

Ann Arbor Food

Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project Update

Ann Arbor Food

Sugar Beet

Howdy folks,

Here is a picture of one of my sugar beets. Actually it is the best one of the bunch. Most are smaller than I would have liked because I got them in late this year, but I still think I will have some beets to make into sugar this year. An Omish farmer at the Westside said that he was growing sugar beets too, so the plan is to buy a sack off of him to use to test the process just in cast our sugar beet harvest craps out. This is really a tester year for next year when I hope to have a quarter acre in production.

Sugar Making Party Oct 24th

I am still looking for a location to host the event, but it will be in the Ann Arbor area. I will post the actually location on my event section of this blog. Plan on having your beets harvested, wash and ready to make into sugar. If you have a large heavy bottom pot (not a canning pot), bring it.

Please email me with any questions.

chefbrian1@yahoo.com