The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I attended the second Pop-Up Restaurant this past Friday at The Children’s Center, in Detroit.  What a wonderful time we had!

The chef was, again, Chef Brad Greenhill, and he really outdid himself this time!  He wasn’t the only one though!  The folks at the Children’s Center really stepped up!  The decorations were charming, the menu was eye catching, not to mention mouth watering and the message was compelling!

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Just look a this lovely centerpiece!

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And this creative use for marshmallows!

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It seemed, when I arrived on a very chilly evening in the D, that this was going to be a United Way reunion night.  There were many current, and several former co-workers, which kind of made the night feel like an unplanned holiday gathering!  I was truly impressed though, at how many of my fellow attendee’s were there because they worked and/or volunteered with the Center.  It does such wonderful work, I am so proud of the people I know helping out there! (More about the Center a little further down in the post!)

I don’t know if you can really see the menu so I will give it to you here.  So yummy!

Carrot Soup, with harissa, hazelnut dukka and yogurt

Charred cauliflower, with fennel, pomegranate, mint and walnut

Maltagliati, with mushrooms, melted leeks, truffle and yolk

Porchetta, with cannellini beans, arugula, lemon and horseradish

Olive oil cake, gelato, citrus and almond

Let me start from the beginning, with the carrot soup.

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Isn’t it pretty?  It was fairly surprising, the harissa, which for those of you that haven’t tried it is a Tunisian hot chilli paste, really gave it some perkiness, and the nuts were just wonderful and crunchy against the smooth sweet soup.  I think it was my favorite dish of the event.

Next up was a delicious charred cauliflower salad, with the very fresh combination of mint and pomegranate, it was sweet and savory and tart all at the same time, delicious, and pretty to boot!

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The next course puzzled some people, and my inner bossiness came out right away.  It was a pasta with what I would say was something like a carbonara sauce, except the egg yolk hadn’t been incorporated.  The hot noodles were enough to cook the yolk and make a creamy sauce, along with the cheese, but you had to stir the yolk in right away, rather than waiting for everyone to be served.  Several people were wondering, I think, why I was rushing them, but it was worth it in the end.  Very silky and tasty!

Before stirring

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And after stirring


The main course was porchetta (stuffed and roasted pork, Italian style) which I love, although some people were a bit put off by the rind.  I gobbled it up.  There was a lovely fresh parsley and garlic stuffing, and it was topped by a tart arugula salad, which set off perfectly the fatty roasted pork.  Hidden under the pork was a little gem, a lovely stew of cannellini beans, which was exactly the earthy touch the dish needed.  All in all a success!

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Last, but sincerely not least was a lovely little surprise.  Any time I have had olive oil cake, it’s always been a yellow cake flavored with orange.  This was a delicious hot chocolate cake, topped with a melted vanilla bean gelato.  It was the perfect end to the dinner, a little chocolate, a little creamy gelato.  So delicious!

After our dinner, Chef Brad came out to take a bow. Can you see him behind the marshmallows?

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The other, truly wonderful thing about the evening was that there were art pieces by the children who come to the center.  Some of it would break your heart, for example, there was a painting by a boy who had no friends, and was bullied.  It had a big red X painted over it, but he wished that one day he would have a friend!  The artwork was both eye catching and beautiful, as well as making you realize that even today, in this society, children are abused and neglected, sometimes right under our noses.

I signed up at the end of the event for a tour, and I really encourage anyone in the Metro Detroit area to do the same.  The information for The Children’s Center is below.  I hope you have it in your heart to tour the facility and get involved.

The Children’s Center
79 Alexandrine West
Detroit, Michigan 48201

M-TH: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
F: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
S: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Immediate Assistance
M-F: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

A big thank you to The Center for the invitation, and for the wonderful company, as well as the chance to see the children’s artwork.  I truly was touched!


Roasted Five Spice Pork Belly

I’ll warn you now, Vegetarians, please look away!  This one is sincerely not for you!

Two Thanksgivings ago, I added 4 star anise to the turkey brining liquid.  As it turns out, although everyone loved it, I found it to be overpoweringly strong.  But, when I brined the turkey last year, I used one star anise, and it was a subtle addition.  I loved it, and no one even noticed the flavor, except for me.  So when I had cleared up last year, the day after the big feast, I still had that flavor in the back of my head (and on my tongue), so I decided that I would make the Chinese Five Spice Pork that I had made before and really loved!

My one thing I really recommend you do is to make this powder fresh.  It makes all the difference, and you can control the amount of salt that goes into it.  So this is a two recipe entry!  First, the spice powder.  You can buy it in the store much more readily these days, but why not try and make your own?  You’ll always know how fresh it is and as I said, you know exactly what’s in it.  My version of it is actually 6 things, fennel seed, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns (nothing like regular pepper corns, and highly recommended to get), cloves, and star anise.  Because I use this as a marinade of sorts, I also add Kosher salt to the mix.  It helps the meat absorb the flavors more easily.  I also would salt it anyway, and adding it to the grinder helps you get a finer powder. By the way, fennel seeds are a much overlooked spice.  Their little fat, green seeds are quite delicious, and are a great digestive aid.  Indians chew them after meals to help them digest and give their breath a sweet smell after all the garlic!

The ingredients are easy, but I take one additional step, before I grind it all up, I toast everything briefly in a dry hot pan.  It’s just a little extra step that I think makes the flavors really pop.

Five Spice Powder

6 cloves
2 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp Szechuan pepper corns
1 cinnamon stick, crushed or shattered
1 tsp kosher salt

Place all the ingredients, with the exception of the salt, in a dry pan on high, and carefully rattle the pan so the spice mixture moves around in it.  Once you begin to smell the spices, take the pan off the heat and place the spices onto a cold plate, or even a pepper towel, and let it cool off.  Once it’s cool, pop everything into a spice or coffee grinder and add the salt, then process it until it is a fine brown powder.  There should be no lumps or shards of anything.  It will make plenty of spice for many uses, I particularly like to use it in stir fry dishes.  Store it in a jar with a tight fitting lid, or a plastic zip lock bag in a coo dry place.  A note about the Szechuan peppercorns, you may not find them everywhere, but they are available at Chinese or Asian markets now.  If you don’t live near anything like that, you can order them or buy them from Dean & Deluca here or here.  They are an odd flower bud, that will, if eaten straight, make your tongue tingly and a bit numb, but they are a super addition to this spice powder.

And now on to the roasted pork:

Five Spice Roasted Pork Belly

2 lb pork belly, skin on if you can find it

2 tablespoons shao hsing wine, or if you can’t find it, mirin

2 tbsp five spice powder

1 teaspoon of salt, if you are using prepared five spice

If you’re able to get skin on pork belly, pierce the skin all over with sharp skewers, or the tip of a small sharp knife.  Don’t pierce through to the meat, just the skin.  Place the pork in a plastic zip bag, and add the wine or mirin.  Make sure the entire piece of meat is covered with the liquid, and massage it in if you can, especially to the scored skin, or the fat.  Then add the five spice powder to the bag and mash it around so all the nooks and crannies are coated in it.  When it’s all covered, secure the bag, and sit it in the fridge for an hour, or up to 12 hours.  With the fresh spice powder, the flavor really is intense, so I don’t leave it in the bag for more than a few hours.  It’s up to you and how much time you have.

Once the meat has marinated, take it out of the fridge and let it rest in the kitchen counter while you prepare the oven and roasting pan.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I usually roast this in a square glass dish, and place a roasting rack in it.  When the oven is preheated, place the meat on the rack, pour a cup of water into the base of the dish, being careful not to wet the meat, and roast it for 1 hour.  Watch carefully to be sure there isn’t any burning.   If it does start to brown too much, lightly tent the meat.  After the 60 minutes, remove it from the oven and let it rest of 10 minutes or so.  Serve this sliced with some rice and sautéed veggies.

Delish!  And again, sorry vegetarians, this one was too good not to blog!