Tag Archives: Detroit

schnäck!

Menus for Schnack German pop-up restaurant

Sundays just don’t get much better than yesterday. I started off the day with a greasy-spoon breakfast at the Steak Hut on Lafayette, where my friends and former band-mates Steve and James were playing an acoustic set of country classics… I even got to sit in on vocals on a few tunes. After that, I sat outside reading books  in the record-breakingly warm sunshine. And to top it all off, I had dinner with the husband and friends at a pop-up German restaurant called Schnäck.

schnack window table menus

Our friends at Porktown Sausage set up Schnäck in Supino Pizza (temporarily closed while owner Dave Mancini takes a well-deserved vacation in Argentina), and it was just the right size for a first-time venture such as this. We got there shortly after it opened at 5pm and it was already over half full; it didn’t take long for a wait to form at the door. But the small number of seats (about 30) and limited menu allowed them to manage the flow and keep from getting too slammed.

diners at Schnack, a pop-up at Supino Detroit
Charcuterie plate by Porktown Sausage at Schnack German restaurant Detroit

Herring and Knackwurst at Schnack, Detroit

The menu offered two appetizers, two mains, a few sides and a dessert. Unlike some pop-ups, which favor the prix fixe model, this was à la carte, which we preferred. James and I shared a pickled herring appetizer, while Marvin went for the charcuterie plate. I ordered a knackwurst with two sides (braised sauerkraut and a homemade pretzel) and Marvin got some potato salad with bacon. Kitchen at Schnack, aka Supino PizzaAll of the meats were made/ cured by the Porktown boys and were out of this world… the liverwurst and knackwurst were especially impressive. I’ve shied away from making any emulsified sausages because the emulsification is tricky and if you get it wrong, it’s apparently inedible, but they nailed it. A spicy mustard (also house-made) tied it all together, and we washed it down with kölsch and riesling. Tables were communal, so we got to dine with some old friends and new acquaintances. After dinner, we abandoned our seats to allow room for newcomers, and congregated around the picnic tables outdoors to finish our drinks. Predictably, several of us decided to head over to the Sugar House for after-dinner cocktails… you know, just a little something to help digest all that meat.

schnack guest checks

I’ve often thought about doing a pop-up restaurant, and in addition to being great food and a fun time, this was instructive. There were a few things that needed tweaking (timing of food, portions, and a couple other small details) but overall, for a bunch of guys who don’t work in restaurants and were doing this for the first time, it was pretty impressive. I’m hoping that they make it a semi-regular thing, or else I just might have to try my hand at homemade pretzels and emulsified sausage, and I’m still not sure I’m ready for that. A pop-up of my own, though… who knows, maybe soon!

For more schnäcking, check out this post on Gourmet Underground Detroit.

in the red {les culinettes}

After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.

I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later.

Sarah had a couple visitors in town from Chicago who were couch-surfing for the weekend, so she asked if she could bring them. Of course with that much food, it was almost a relief to have extra mouths to help us eat it. I was seated next to Romain, a visitor from Berlin who is spending a few months in Chicago. We chatted about European vs. American schools, travel, and how cheap cities facilitate art and musical creativity and entrepreneurship (he’s originally from an industrial town that also has suffered from lost jobs and subsequently abandoned areas of town). It’s always interesting to see Detroit through a first-time visitor’s eyes, especially one from another country; the point of view around here can verge on myopic (tending to eternal pessimism on the one side and relentless boosterism on the other) and it’s great to get some perspective.

Dessert was served with some exciting news from one of the guests, which I won’t divulge here but which had us all toasting and cheering. Ending the evening on that high note, we bundled up and headed to our cars with the warm glow of contentment.

If you can’t wait for tart cherry season (and who could blame you), try to hunt down some frozen tart cherries for this. You could use sweet cherries, but I’ve always found them rather insipid for cooking, and the tartness of the sour cherries pairs so well with the buttermilk. I used this ice cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Claudia Fleming’s book The Last Course, using 6 egg yolks and adding about a half teaspoon salt, and a recipe for shortcake biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

Tart Cherry Sauce for Ice Cream
printer-friendly version

1 lb pitted tart cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of cinnamon

If using fresh cherries, place them in a bowl with the sugar, mash lightly with a fork, and allow to macerate 30 minutes or so, until they begin to release their juices.

Place cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Simmer gently until the cherries begin to break down and the liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and add a pinch of cinnamon to taste.

Serve warm over buttermilk ice cream and shortcakes.

a december to remember

(or, “how I attempt to fit a month’s worth of blogging into one post”…)

Vintage home goods by Hugh at the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar

Did I really let the whole month of December go by without posting a single time? I guess that’s what will happen when you decide to plan a big event in early December AND take on a few freelance jobs in addition to attempting to supply the metro area with homemade jam for their gift-giving needs.

The main room at Food Bazaar- the Beau Bien table is at lower left

At the risk of sounding like one of those end-of-year holiday letters, allow me to recap for posterity. I brought the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar back this year, dubbing it the “2nd annual”, so I guess I’m committed to making it a yearly event now! It was quite a bit bigger than last year’s, with 26 vendors (as opposed to 16) and a much larger venue, in an unfinished space above Cost Plus Wines in Eastern Market. The evening wasn’t without hitches (just ask my friend James), but considering my inexperience with event planning and the “rustic”, on-the-down-low nature of the event, I’d say it was a pretty slamming success. We added more prepared-food vendors as well as some tables (borrowed from Tashmoo– thanks Suzanne & Aaron!) where people could take in the city views from the large front windows. It will be an interesting challenge to see where things go next year- I think the Bazaar has already outgrown something that can be sustained as an underground endeavor, so I’ll likely have to figure out how to proceed “above board” (i.e. pulling permits, etc) while keeping the spirit and purpose of the original event.

A selection of chocolate truffles from Pete’s Chocolates

Naturally fermented pickles by Suddenly Sauer

Incidentally, thanks to my pal Evan over at Gourmet Underground Detroit for the food bazaar photos, since I was too busy running around to take any. If you check out this post, you can see a slideshow with more pics from the bazaar as well as the GUDetroit holiday party. The first image in the slideshow is from a fun little photo shoot we did at our house. Update: I just came across another Food Bazaar slideshow on the Drought Juice website here– nice pics, ladies!

A sampling of our jams

Seeing as how Beau Bien sold out of product at the Food Bazaar, the weeks between 12/9 and Christmas were kept busy scrambling to fill holiday orders. Big ups to my partner Molly who really kept the ship afloat while I was tied up at my desk job! We have big goals for 2012, so stay tuned on that.

A shopper browses Marvin‘s (mostly) food photos at the Bazaar

Speaking of desk jobs, as of right now I have 12 more weeks until I will officially be self-employed. Eek! I’ve always felt deep down that I’d be best suited to work for myself; I’m anxious to test that theory. I’ll continue to do freelance writing and recipe development as well as take Beau Bien to the next level… Scary but exciting!

After the blur of Food Bazaar and jam-making, the final days before Christmas were still full-steam-ahead as I got last-minute gifts and planned holiday food. Christmas Eve (or “Puerto Rican Christmas” as I call it) was spent at my mother in law’s and, like always, the food was spectacular (more about this in my next post). The next day we were off to Okemos to see my dad. We had a venison ham, which was new to me, and smoked turkey. Since we had to travel, I opted for simplicity and made a spinach salad and some brussels sprouts. I’ve been making b-sprouts this new way, in a skillet with bacon, mustard diluted with a little stock, and caraway seeds (shredded cabbage is also good with this combo). I like to think it pays homage to my German side, although I have no idea if Germans would put caraway seeds in a vegetable dish. Either way, the dish was well-received even by the brussels sprouts skeptics.

My birthday, 12/27, was 24 hours of fun (ahem… literally). I really am getting too old to celebrate like that anymore! It started off innocently enough, with a small brunch at our place with my siblings and a few friends. After a leisurely afternoon we hit Roast happy hour and didn’t look back… an obligatory trip to the Sugar House was next, followed by the Lager House to see some bands, and ending up at Northern Lights. The party carried on back at the house, where we finished up a previously started euchre game in true Lothamer style.

Gaylord, MI | photo by Marvin Shaouni

After all of that celebrating and running around, it was heavenly to spend a few relaxing days up north with friends for New Year’s (hey, at my age, partying is getting to be hard work!). It was the most down time I’ve had in ages- I actually got to read a fair bit (this and this), we cooked, made fires, went sledding, cuddled with canines, played cards, drank wine, saw a movie, and soaked in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a Michigan winter surrounded by snow-laden pine trees (pretty magical in a place with floor-to-ceiling windows).

Aaron & Riley

So now it’s back to the grind, at least until April, and then it’ll be a hustle instead of a grind. As one of my goals for 2012, I’m going to try my best to get back in the swing of regular blogging- as my friend MK likes to say, “It’s easy to start a blog; it’s hard to keep one going”. In fact, I’m working on a new layout and design and hope to launch the blog under my own URL in the next couple months (I’ve owned simmerdownfood.com for over a year but for the time being it just redirects here).  Lots of things in the works, people. I hope all of you have exciting plans and projects for this year as well, and I wish you all a happy New Year! More recipe posts coming very soon.

we got married

It’s been a month and a half since Marvin and I tied the knot on a beautiful September day in Detroit. I’ve been meaning to share, but it was such an overwhelming experience that I needed to process and digest the day first; to savor and keep it to myself for a little while. Besides, the hardest posts to write are the ones where I have the most to say… where to begin, where to end, what to edit in and out.

Challenging as it may be to distill the event into a handful of photos and words, this blog is about the role of food in all parts of my life, and there are few food-related occasions more important than a wedding feast! Sharing a meal, your first as husband and wife, with all of your closest friends and family members… quite a few of whom happen to be pretty particular in the food and drink department. Add to that our reputation as bon vivants and aficionados of good eats, and the bar was set pretty high.

I knew from the get-go that I didn’t want a standard catered meal with a choice of “chicken or beef”. Most of the reception venues around town had in-house caterers or required you to work with a certain caterer, so those were out. We wanted to do a pig roast, but where? The answer presented itself when we went to the Ford Piquette Plant (T-Plex), now a museum, to do a group photo for Gourmet Underground Detroit. I started chatting with Pat, a full-time volunteer, who told me about some of the other weddings and events they’d held. I knew right away from her attitude that this was the right place- she was pretty much willing to let us do whatever we wanted with the space, and the price was right.

We got the meat locked in- a pig roast by J&M, a farm out of Almont, MI (I’m heartbroken that no one to my knowledge took any photos of the pig- if you did, please send them my way!!), and mesquite-grilled chicken from Los Gallos in Southwest Detroit. But what to do for side dishes? I knew I didn’t want to go “barbecue” or picnic-style sides; not that I don’t like coleslaw and mac & cheese, but for this special an occasion, I wanted something a bit less ordinary. I checked with a couple caterers and the prices were ridiculous, so I approached my friend Will Branch, who owns Corridor Sausage Co. Although he doesn’t do catering on a regular basis, I knew that he had catered events here and there in the past and the food was always great. Plus, instead of picking from a set menu of items, we were able to totally customize things by meeting with him and his partner Tenley Lark a couple times to brainstorm and then refine the menu. It was really a collaborative effort, which worked out well- we wanted to contribute ideas, but trusted Will and Tenley to carry out their vision for the actual recipes. We ended up going with a slightly tropical/Latino theme, incorporating dishes like arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice made by Marvin’s family), black beans, chimichurri sauce, pineapple-jicama salad and corn on the cob with ancho-lime butter (which I was afraid to eat, not wanting to tempt fate with staining my dress!) along with a couple summery items like heirloom tomato salad and green bean salad, taking advantage of the local harvest.

Will and Tenley did a great job with the hors d’oeuvres as well as the side dishes- this is Will’s forte, as most of his catering gigs have been cocktail parties. They did mini Spanish tortillas de patatas which they cut into little circles and served with a dab of creme fraiche, dates stuffed with blue cheese and Corridor Sausage’s lamb merguez, and the classic combo of melon and prosciutto, using the ham that I cured earlier this year (which we affectionately began referring to as “the nuptial ham”).

If the bar was set high for food, it was even more of a challenge in the beverage department- how to do drinks on a budget for that many people without serving swill? Luckily, thanks to some friend connections, we were able to get the wine and booze at near-wholesale prices, which helped immensely. We also saved money by offering two signature cocktails (a Manhattan and a Rum Swizzle, created for us by Dave at the Sugar House) rather than a full bar with standard mixers. Jarred helped out with wine suggestions that would compliment the food and please a large cross-section of palates. For beer, we went local with Bell’s Lager of the Lakes and hard cider from Motor City Brewing Works.

The evening wasn’t without hitches- we ran out of cava (3 cases- damn, people!) in less than an hour; a couple friends (Hi Evan! Hi Dave!) had to pitch in with bartending; dinner was slightly earlier than Will had planned for because people were  wandering upstairs to their tables ahead of schedule (maybe something to do with the booze running out?); but the guests didn’t seem to notice anything amiss; luckily, the unique setting was enough to distract them from any small snags. I found it really hard to just step back and enjoy myself and not go into Hostess Mode (“We’re out of cava?!” “There’s no water on the tables!”), but once I sat down, I tried to relax, mostly successfully. Given the fact that our reception venue had no kitchen or catering facilities, I think everyone did a remarkably good job!

After we were announced, we decided to cut the cake and do the first dances right away to buy Will and Tenley a little more time to set up the buffet. Dick, a volunteer at the museum, had the cool idea to wheel our cake out on the back of an antique flatbed truck. It was positioned in the back of the room and as soon as we walked in, they brought it to the center of the dance floor for us to cut. My mom had decorated the truck with “Just Married” signs and streamers… very cute! Our cake was from Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale and we did two flavors, coconut cake with lime cream (like a curd but not quite as intense), and pistachio with chocolate and dulce de leche. I told Ann, the baker, to do whatever she wanted with the design of the cake since I was suffering from decision fatigue at that point and didn’t really care what it looked like. I was pretty happy with the result- to go with our “vintage travel” theme, she created little postcards to decorate the cake- although it was kind of funny because all night I had people asking about our trip to Hawaii (we’re actually going to Spain, but Hawaii would have been nice too). I didn’t get a chance to have a piece of cake, but all of the guests were raving about it; based on our tastings prior to the wedding, I have no doubt it was fabulous.

As most married couples will probably tell you, the evening was a blur. By the time we made the rounds of all the tables, it was probably 10:00 or 10:30- time to finally let loose a bit! My sympathies go out to brides like my friend Diane, who said she was so busy talking to her guests during her reception that she never got to dance at all. I don’t think that would have even been an option for me, since people kept dragging me onto the dance floor. Even Marvin, who “doesn’t dance”, was out there most of the latter part of the evening. A couple of those Manhattans may have had something to do with it! I was happy to see our guests working up their appetites for the taco bar we put out as a snack, pairing the leftover roast pork with some salsa and guacamole from Mexicantown’s Honeybee Market.

I don’t think there’s any other event in life that you prepare for so much in proportion to its actual duration. I wish I could have slowed down time to be able to remember more details. Instead, I mostly remember a series of impressions rather than distinct moments. Luckily, the photographs (taken by our talented friend Elizabeth Conley) help to recall specific points in time. But even watching short video clips, it still seems dream-like, as if I’m watching someone else and not us.

Now that the wedding is over, I thought I would have so much more free time, but I’m just as busy as ever, mostly with planning this year’s Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar. Life marches on! I also have our honeymoon to plan, which I strategically booked for April so that I could have something else to look forward to after the wedding was over. Besides, I actually enjoy travel planning, and wanted to savor that experience without it being all mixed up with wedding stress and deadlines.

In addition to menu planning/ overseeing the food and drinks, I also designed my own dress, tea-stained the lace and my shoes, made about 100 jars of jam (with help from Molly) for the favors, made the place cards and table signs (names of French streets in Detroit), got old family wedding photos together for a display, and took care of several more details I can’t even remember anymore. Although going the DIY route was more work than I could ever have imagined, in retrospect I don’t think I could have done it any other way (ahem… control freak… ahem). I’m actually glad that I didn’t realize how much work it would be when I started, because I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it! In the end, though, it was worth it for all the people who told me it was one of the most memorable and unique weddings they had ever been to. Unless you’re a super-organized Type A person and you start way ahead of time, I wouldn’t recommend doing this type of wedding or event without at least some help- I hired MeMe Design & Events to assist with some of the design and decor elements. She was mainly in charge of the room layout/ draping and put the tables together, but did so much more, coordinating vendors and taking care of lots of little details I may not have thought of. I also had help from many family members and friends- you know who you are, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart! I very literally could not have pulled it off without you.

There’s so much more I could say about the day, the planning, what worked and what didn’t, but this post is already running long- if anyone has questions or wants advice on planning a wedding or event, though, please ask away in the comments, I’m more than happy to share my trial-and-error experiences!

All photographs in this post courtesy of EGC Photography.

pop! goes the biergarten

A few months ago, my friend Suzanne started talking about how she wanted to open a biergarten in Detroit. Little did I know that what I thought at the time was small talk, in the same way you’d casually say “I want to learn how to hang glide” or “I want to visit Turkmenistan”, would turn into the coolest place to spend an autumn Sunday afternoon.  Keep in mind, I didn’t realize at first that she was talking about  a temporary pop-up operation. But had I known she was serious, I never would have doubted for a moment- when Suzanne wants to make something happen, it happens!

She and her partner Aaron assembled a crack team of friends and colleagues to work on the project, each contributing of their talents pro bono (photography, graphic design, marketing, build-out, etc).  I was in the thick of wedding planning and wasn’t able to lend any assistance until the day before opening, but Marvin was on board from day one. Even hearing tidbits from him about the development of the project, though, it was still surprising and impressive to see it come so successfully to fruition.

The biergarten was dubbed “Tashmoo“, a name that may sound strange given that they’re going for a traditional European-style vibe, but which carries a lot of local significance. It was the name of a steamboat that operated in the Detroit River from 1900 to 1936 between Detroit and Port Huron (thus the anchor in the Tashmoo logo), and supposedly means “meeting place” in some Native American language (a curious language nerd, I searched to see which one and came up empty-handed, other than a reference to an Algonquin word for a lake in Massachusetts).  Regardless of nomenclature, though, I think most people were just interested in having an excuse to drink good beer and socialize outdoors on a beautiful 70° day. And let’s admit, much as we all love Roosevelt Park and Eastern Market, it was a welcome change of scenery to hang out in a different neighborhood.

Many of the GUDetroit crew had planned to go right when they opened, at noon. I was initially shooting to be there early as well, but ended up missing all of them so I just waited until late afternoon. The second I stepped outside, I was kicking myself for not having been outdoors sooner- it was a gorgeous warm fall day the likes of which we may not see again until next year. I got down to the West Village around 5:45, just in time to beat the rush of people coming after the Lions game (and, I suspect, some who had only recently woken up from the previous night’s debauchery… or their afternoon nap?).

B

Beer in hand, I made the rounds chatting with friends while Marvin did what he does best. The crowd was a nice mix of people I knew from different circles- singles, couples, families all enjoying the great weather and cornhole (slightly monopolized by the kids, but the grownups will get their turn this Saturday). In addition to 5 Michigan beers on tap, there were two local food vendors (who will rotate in the coming weeks), Porktown Sausage and People’s Pierogi. As a meat-eater I went for the brat, beer’s natural partner, at least according to most Midwesterners. I even got the pierogi folks to spot me a bit of their sauerkraut. These are no factory-stuffed sausages- the Porktown guys make their brats by hand and perfectly season them with a nice hit of juniper and garlic.

A

Around 8pm the crowd was treated to a screening of “People Mover”, a short film featuring several musicians, poets and chefs of my acquaintance (and many others I’d heard of but not yet seen). The crowd watched with hushed attention, erupting into spontaneous cheers a few times as various familiar faces came on screen.

After the flick, we said our goodbyes and headed out to catch a short set at the Lager House by our talented friends (and fellow newlyweds) James & Melissa Rae… my final bit of vacation before starting back to work. On the bright side, at least there are four more Sundays of Tashmoo to look forward to! And they’re bringing in different beers each week, so what better excuse for return visits?

dîner en blanc, detroit style

It began with a mysterious email from James last week titled “secret dinner”. Someone in Detroit was throwing a dîner en blancdid we know about it? Were we going?  Not yet, and absolutely. James’s invite had come in the mail* from an unknown source, instructing him to invite 10 people who could also each invite 10 people. White linens, real tableware and formal all-white dress were specified. We were instructed to arrive on Belle Isle at 5pm; a Champagne toast would be provided at 6:30. We were not to discuss the event with anyone other than invited guests.

*Update 8/22/11: I picked up mail from my old house today, and can you guess what was in the pile? My very own printed invitation to the event. Still no clue who sent it, but that eliminates any close friends/ acquaintances since whomever sent it didn’t know I moved 6 months ago!

We began organizing in earnest, coordinating who would bring what food, chairs, tables, etc. Due to the last minute nature of the invitation, many of our friends were out of town or otherwise engaged. However, when our contingent assembled at Supino in the Eastern Market to make our way toward Belle Isle, we were a respectable 15 strong. The earliest to arrive sipped Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza and Domaine de la Pepière Muscadet from paper cups while we awaited the other guests. The anticipation mounted as the pizzeria became a hive of activity- James slicing up his home-cured coppa; Christina baking bread and grabbing jars of Detroit Zymology Guild’s pickled asparagus from the basement. We chatted and checked out each other’s all-white outfits, a rather strange sight in this group. We weren’t all in formal wear by a long shot (the guys actually outdid the women in this department, with three or four natty suits in the group), but our ensembles respected the spirit if not the letter of the invitation. We gazed upward at the drizzling sky, hoping the rain would abate but thankful for no thunderstorms and determined to have a party regardless.

Once all were present, our merry caravan made its way east with tables, chairs, linens and what seemed like several metric tons of food and wine. As we approached the western tip of the island, we were surprised to find that we were forced to park a good quarter mile from the site, and marveled over the number of other white-garbed picnickers (none of whom we knew) heading in the same direction. Upon arrival, a festive tableau awaited- rows of tables outfitted with white tablecloths, floral arrangements and fine china, with diners of all (adult) ages decked out in pale finery.

We began to set up our tables only to quickly discover that we had brought far too much food to be able to actually sit down and eat at the table, let alone have proper place settings. I felt a bit let down at having failed at this part of the instructions, but the feeling quickly subsided as I surveyed our generous spread. I remarked to the others that our group might be the scrappiest, eating standing up, several of us in thrift store attire, but there was no question we had the best food. It didn’t hurt that we had two of the city’s top chefs, a restaurant owner and several small food biz entrepreneurs in our gang.

As we settled in, a large man in a red shirt walked up to address the party at large, announcing himself as the head park ranger of Belle Isle. A ripple of anxiety passed through the crowd, but we needn’t have worried. He said he had been tipped off via email about the event, and wasn’t sure whether to call the cops or welcome us… so he opted for the latter. This brought a hearty round of applause. With a few words about the uniqueness of Belle Isle, he told us to enjoy our meals and was off.

With that, we were free to dig in. But where to start? A charcuterie platter with six kinds of meats, all homemade, would certainly work. Or perhaps one of the dozen or so cheeses? A trio of pâtés, so perfectly unblemished in their white ramekins, provided too much temptation to resist. And it went on- smoky grilled shrimp with fat chunks of lemon. Two colorful garden tomato salads. A bitter spoonful of radicchio sautéed with homemade guanciale. Luscious cured salmon salad with crème fraîche. Collards and artichokes in red Thai curry with a side of quinoa. A taste of my own offerings- savory zucchini bread and roasted garlic herb custards with tomato coulis (recipes to be posted soon). And despite sampling all of that and more, you best believe I left room for Christina’s rustic peach tartlets. My apologies to my friends for my temporary utter loss of vocabulary- all I could manage in between bites was “oh my God” and “this is ridiculous”, repeated like a bum vinyl record. The sky pissed weakly for almost the entire dinner, but other than a little frizzy-haired vanity it mattered little.

The toast came and went but no Champagne materialized, at least not where we were sitting. This was more than fine though, as we had our hands full with Oregon pinots and gamays and James’s homemade orange wine (not made from oranges, but with a slight orange hue due to being left on the skins). Somewhere in the midst of the feeding frenzy, Marvin showed up with his camera, and before long we were assembled at the island’s prow with the city skyline as our backdrop. I took the break from the table as an opportunity to say hello to some other friends who had been invited independently of our contingent- like us, they had no idea who had planned the event, or at least that’s what they claimed.

We ate and drank and laughed as the sun set, my cue to pack up. (I heard from those who stayed longer that they were “escorted” off the island by the park rangers, whose leader may have regretted his magnanimity.) In the end, it didn’t really matter who organized the dinner, or if we followed the rules to a tee (although I admit I am a person who appreciates the beauty of rules and order as well, and was slightly jealous of the folks with the flower-bedecked tables and fancy dress). We enjoyed one of the few remaining summer Sundays in lively company, and with some of the best food and drink to be had in the city. It may not have been as grand as Paris or New York’s, but I tip my hat to the anonymous planner of Detroit’s first dîner en blanc and hope it may be the first of many such happenings, secret or not. I won’t say I don’t appreciate a little mystery and drama, but for me, it’s all about the food and friends.

All photos © Noelle Lothamer 2011.

snippets

For those of you who are married, this wins the Obvious Statement of the Year award, and for those of you who are unmarried, take heed: planning a wedding is a LOT of work. Like, feels-like-a-second-job amounts of work. And for someone like me who basically does have a second job (or two or three, depending on how you count freelance work, being a landlady and running a micro-food-business), I barely have time to breathe let alone blog. For those who opt for a “regular” wedding at a place where it’s X amount per head all-inclusive, there’s still plenty to keep you busy (my sister went this route last year and still, a few months out, found herself wishing she had planned a small destination wedding instead). But when you capriciously decide that you want to have your reception at an old Model T museum, with no kitchen or staff, that doesn’t regularly host large events, you’re dealing with a whole new level of coordination.  My chest gets tight just thinking about it.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I’m managing to squeeze in little snippets of normal life here and there- a Sunday supper of grilled salmon with scape pesto; a weekend visit with my mom and sister; a restaurant meal with my old high school friend Kathy and her husband Garrett (longtime readers may remember my posts about my stay with her in Portland, and making her family’s Chinese dumplings).

When Kathy announced a couple months ago that they’d be in Ann Arbor for a couple days and wanted to meet for dinner, I didn’t have to think too hard about where to go. Grange is a restaurant which friends have raved about for its commitment to only serving local, seasonal food and its excellent cocktail menu. We were particularly wowed by the house-made charcuterie platter (trend trifecta- there were even pickled scapes! but who cares because it was REALLY GOOD), which included whipped lardo among its decadent treats. For dinner, I had pork loin on a bed of greens with pickled strawberries. The dish had minor flaws, but the pork itself was juicy and had a nice fatty layer indicating its non-industrial “other white meat” origins. After dinner we went next door and had a couple un-fancy drinks with Fred, another old friend from college. It was an evening that made me happy and wistful at the same time- I’ve met so many great people at different times in my life but despite the brave new world of online social networking, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all in any meaningful way. I’m just thankful for times when I do see old friends and we’re able to pick up without awkwardness,  as if no time had passed.

Speaking of things to be grateful for, my family has been so supportive and helpful during this busy time! My mom and sister were in town visiting a couple weeks ago and I was glad I was able to find time to cook them a meal. I deep-fried some stuffed squash blossoms from the farmers’ market, grilled a grass-fed flank steak, roasted some beets and dressed them with a scape & pistachio pesto, and heated up some pasta with fresh tomato sauce I’d made a few days prior. We had a nice leisurely summer supper, nibbling on cheese and salami and white bean dip, then moving outside for a glass of L. Mawby (a sparkling wine from the Leelanau) and the squash blossoms (I took Melissa Clark’s excellent advice about moving the deep fryer outdoors). As dusk settled in, we  migrated back to the dinner table afterward for the rest of our feast.  The roasted beets were so sweet they tasted like strawberry candy, and despite her aversion to the garish magenta roots, my mom consented to trying a bite. Their green tops were chopped and sautéed with some kale for a slightly bitter counterpoint to the beets’ intense sugar. We lingered over these and a few bottles of wine, and after dinner (partially thanks to said wine), Amanda coerced me into getting out an old photo album and reminiscing about a trip we took to New York almost exactly a decade ago, just two weeks before 9/11.

Even on weeknights, every once in a blue moon we have an evening where we’re both home at dinnertime (no small feat with two freelancers in the house) and we take time to make a “nice dinner”. Now, don’t get me wrong- by “nice” I don’t mean complicated- we’re still far off from having that kind of time. I just mean a meal that we wouldn’t hesitate to serve to company, once we can actually have people over again. For example- a beautiful piece of wild salmon, smeared with the aforementioned scape pesto and grilled. If memory serves (yes, it was that long ago! sigh…), we had kale and grilled cabbage on the side, two of our current favorite vegetable sides. The cabbage was simply shredded, tossed with salt, olive oil and smoked paprika, and the kale was bolstered with a paste of anchovies and preserved lemons, with some red pepper flakes for good measure. Incidentally, my dangerously crowded pantry may look like overkill to some, but it’s a saving grace when it comes to cooking anything worth mentioning on a tight time budget.

Tonight I will be working, testing and developing waffle and popover recipes for a client in my 90+-degree kitchen and wishing I was grilling or eating a nice cool salad or chilled soup. But such is life right now. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming after September 17th, and meanwhile, eat lots of wonderful summer meals for me!

GUDetroit really gets my goat… (kebabs, that is)

June 11 (only 10 days ago… it seems like months already!) was the second Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. I won’t call it the second annual picnic, because I’m secretly hoping we’ll have another one before the year is out. Nomenclature aside, it was a grand old time- you can read my post about it and see some of Marvin’s photos on the GUDetroit website. Some of the highlights were: tree climbing, willow swinging, mint spanking, cornholing (ahem), hula hooping, river gazing, and getting to finally meet Warda (who I wrote about here) and her beautiful family.

My contribution to the gluttony was a platter of kebabs and kefta, with some raita and a sort of tomato-cucumber-herb relish/chutney on the side. I’ve been eating a fair amount of goat meat lately, for a few reasons: first, I just wanted something other than the “big three” of chicken, beef and pork (we’ve run out of venison); second, because goats aren’t a large scale factory farmed animal; and third, because they have a flavor similar to lamb (which I love) but are milder and less fatty (not to mention cheaper). I will say that goat leg meat is a huge pain in the ass to cut up, unless you’re ok with a lot of sinew; I tend to get obsessive and remove as much of it as I possibly can, which explains why my prep time was three times as long as it should have been. But while goat can sometimes be a little tough, mine was pretty tender as a result of the extra trimming. If you’re using it in a long-cooked dish, you wouldn’t need to go to that trouble.

I also made kebabs from ground lamb with a little beef mixed in, and tons of spices and vegetables blended in for flavor. I’m used to anything with ground meat being called kefta rather than kebab, but the name of the recipe was “chapli kebab” or “slipper kebab”, because the patties are in the shape of a chappal, or sandal. The recipe originates from Peshawar in India, not the Middle East or North Africa, but you’d never know it from eating it- the flavors are quite similar to kefta I’ve had in Middle Eastern restaurants but with a little less onion/garlic flavor and more herbs and spices.

Recipes are below for both items, but first, here are some photos from the picnic. Although I’m not the photographer of the family, I think these capture the spirit of the day.

Tikka Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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This kebab can be made either with lamb or goat. The yogurt marinade adds moisture and its acidity tenderizes the meat, giving even a lean meat like goat a succulent texture. The original recipe did not call for any herbs or chilies, but I had them on hand and I love the way the little green flecks look in the marinade as well as the fresh taste they impart.

2 lbs boneless goat or lamb
½ cup plain yogurt
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 serrano chilies or one jalapeño, de-seeded and roughly chopped
large handful fresh cilantro leaves
optional: 6-8 mint leaves
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
a few turns of black pepper

Cut the meat- if using goat, I’d aim for about ¾-inch pieces; if using lamb, you could go a little larger so the insides will stay pink.

Combine all other ingredients in a blender and pulse until the solids are blended. Combine the meat and marinade in a bowl, stirring to coat all of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Skewer the meat about 4 or 5 pieces to a skewer. It’s OK if it touches, but you don’t want it squeezed one piece against another.  Grill over moderate heat until the outside is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through but still tender (if using lamb, cook to your preferred doneness; we cooked the goat to medium well).

This is traditionally served with flatbread such as naan, but you could serve it over rice as well. I made a cucumber raita (yogurt, shredded cucumber, salt, mint) and a finely chopped salad of tomato, chilies, scallion, cucumber, cilantro and mint to accompany the kebabs.

Peshawari Slipper Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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Because ground lamb can be very fatty and therefore cook down quite a bit, I like to mix ½ lb lean ground beef in with my lamb to stretch out the recipe a bit. If you choose this option, just adjust the other ingredients upward slightly.

1 lb ground lamb (+ ½ lb ground beef, if desired)
1 medium yellow onion, grated
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons grated or minced ginger
2 green cayenne chilies, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chickpea flour (besan)
lemon or lime wedges

Place all of the dry ingredients (salt, spices, flour) in a small bowl and stir to combine.  Put the tomatoes and onions in a bowl and remove any excess liquid by pressing them with a spoon or spatula and pouring off the watery  juices.

Place the meat in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Knead or mix in the vinegar, tomato, onion, peppers, ginger and cilantro; then add the dry ingredients. Mix for a couple minutes or until the meat becomes smooth and almost paste-like. Fry up a tablespoon or so in a skillet to check for salt and seasonings, adjusting as needed.

Let the meat rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to blend the flavors. When ready to cook, form into either small patties and pan-fry or broil, as in the photo at the beginning of the recipe, or form onto skewers in short cigar shapes (2 per skewer) for the grill. The mixture could also be formed into smaller meatball shapes and served as a cocktail appetizer. Whatever your method of cooking, use moderate heat and cook until the surface is well browned and a little crunchy. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

les culinettes

A few months ago, I got an email from my friend Sarah, inviting me to participate in a cooking club with about 5 or 6 other ladies of her acquaintance. Although I hesitated to add more commitments to my already busy schedule, I’m so glad that I did- these gals can cook!

Although I was unable to attend the first dinner (I think I was playing a show that night), I received a charmingly decorated envelope in the mail from my friend Amy, who had gotten crafty and made us all little badges that said “les culinettes”. I was smitten.

Luckily the next dinner presented no such scheduling conflicts, so a month or so later I got myself to Meghan’s adorable Victorian home in Corktown, where the theme of the evening was “peasant food”. I think any actual peasant would have just about keeled over knowing we considered wild boar ragù, fresh oysters and Pasta Kerchief “peasant food”, but hey, a loose interpretation of the term is fine in my book if it means I get to eat incredible food.

I had gotten back into town that day from a trip and had no chance to shop or cook anything too involved, so I brought a simple green salad and some kale and sweet onions sautéed in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. There was boar ragù, a beet salad, vegetarian chickpea stew, Scotch eggs, oysters, pasta kerchief, and a gorgeous apple pie. Meghan’s son Cass was (reasonably enough) concerned upon seeing the lot of us, worrying aloud that “those ladies are going to eat up all of the pie!” (Turns out he need not have been concerned- after gorging ourselves on the dinner smorgasbord, we tragically only had room for small-ish pieces of pie.)

The problem, if it can be called such, of a potluck like this is that unlike most dinner parties that feature one or two fancy “centerpiece” dishes and then more humble sides to go along with them, almost all of these dishes were showstoppers in their own right. The Scotch eggs were perfectly browned and crunchy; the ragù deeply savory and tender; the pasta kerchief delicate and rich and utterly delicious. I left feeling like if I never ate again, I could die happy.

About six weeks later, the group met up again, this time at Jess’s cool high-ceilinged second story vintage flat above a gallery in Corktown for a curry-themed dinner. I’m still awaiting copies of the photos from this gathering, having remembered my camera but forgotten to insert the memory card, but hopefully I’ll post on that eventually (along with the recipe for an awesome and easy Malaysian goat curry I made). Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a snazzy spring dish, I highly recommend that Pasta Kerchief recipe, which I’ll be cooking myself at the first opportunity.

We’re getting together again this Friday and this time I’m hosting- I’m a little nervous as this is the first time I’ve had more than one or two guests over in the new house and I still feel like we’re not “ready”, but what better excuse to just dive in. Besides, if this dinner is anything like the others, everyone will be concentrating too much on the food to notice that we haven’t hung curtains or that the bathroom tile needs re-grouting. Right? Our theme this month is “green”, and I was afraid we might end up with mostly vegetable dishes,  but there’s talk of flank steak with chimichurri, ceviche, spinach pesto pasta, basil curried mussels and green tea desserts. Can’t wait to see what the ladies will rustle up!

Thanks to Sarah Burger for photos- we were both taking pics with her camera and I no longer know who shot what, but some of the above is her handiwork!

new column SimmerD, and a belated recap of the detroit holiday food bazaar

I’ve made some vague references to freelance gigs that were siphoning off a bit of time away from this blog, and today I’m excited to introduce SimmerD, a new monthly column I’ll be writing for Model D about all things food-related in the city. Below is Marvin’s accompanying slide show, which contains photos of many of the events I mention in the article that have been filling my schedule the last few months!

I thought that since I mention the Food Bazaar in the article, although it was a few months ago, now would be an appropriate time to go into a little more detail about what it was exactly and how it was developed. I would love to see people re-create these types of events in their own communities, if they don’t already exist! The following text was written months ago but I never had any photos to go with it (see below re: how crazy busy I was that night!) so it got lost in draft-land. I always intended to publish it, though, so here you go.

It started as a little kernel of an idea, and grew into something I could only have dreamed of- a festive, food-filled event attended by hundreds of people, all drawn by their love of local, artisan, small-batch foodstuffs.  An event with 16 amazing local vendors, some of whom sold out of product in the first hour because of the overwhelming response.

I first started thinking of doing a holiday food event after our fledgling jam company participated in the Homeslice benefit for MOCAD in October.  It was a great event, and wonderful exposure for our brand, but the percentage we were asked to donate back to the museum cut into our already slim profits.  It got me thinking that rather than sell at a farmers’ market or other location where we’d have to pay a booth fee, why not organize our own event? I started asking around and brainstorming locations. As luck would have it, the person who lives above me volunteers for an art gallery that was trying to find events to host in order to expose people to their space.  We ended up with 1800 square feet of free space at the Whitdel Arts in Southwest Detroit.

The next step was to find vendors.  Through my involvement with GUDetroit, I know many food producers, both locally established businesses such as Simply Suzanne and Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, and tiny home-kitchen-based start-ups like Suddenly Sauer, Neighborhood Noodle, Detroit Zymology Guild, and Gang of Pour (links below).  Through long chains of emails, I got everyone organized, and with the help of some of the other vendors (hi, Holly!) got all of the details worked out.  A few more vendors were added through word of mouth, and Suzanne arranged for Michael Geiger to provide music.  Marvin got prints made of 8 food-related photographs he’d taken, and hung those in the space.

Thanks to the magic of Facebook, promoting was a snap.  Between all of the vendors and people inviting friends, the invite list was well over a thousand people.  By the day of the event, over 400 had RSVP’d “yes”.  We also got write-ups in both major Detroit weeklies, the Detroit News and a couple of online publications. I was floored and thrilled by all of the support and interest on the part of the press, but a tiny bit concerned about legal issues.  Since this was originally intended as a semi-private, word-of mouth event, we hadn’t pulled any permits, and some of the vendors weren’t in strict compliance with MI food laws.  Not only that, but our friend James was selling homemade wine on a “donation basis”.  Two days before the event, I got a call from local NPR affiliate WDET asking if I would appear on the Craig Fahle Show to talk about the event (here’s the podcast, I’m on with Will of Corridor Sausage about halfway into the program). The irony was that they were referring to it as “Detroit’s first underground food show”.  But we figured, hey, it took the city 10 years to finally crack down on Theater Bizarre… we might as well go for it and hope for the best.

At the outset, I had envisioned more of a “holiday party” where we would sell to friends and friends of friends, hang out and drink some wine, nothing too crazy.  In actuality, I got to enjoy about 20 minutes of the 5-hour event and the rest of the time I was stuck at our booth because we were so slammed with customers! By the end of the night, we had sold out every last item we had for sale. The other vendors reported a similar hectic pace , but no one was complaining! I think there was a little bit of disbelief (at least on my part) that we had pulled it off, but we were ecstatic to know that this kind of an appetite exists in Detroit for the products we had to offer.

Thanks to everyone who participated, either as a vendor or attendee.  I hope to repeat the event next holiday season or maybe even sooner- now that I (sort of) know what I’m doing, it should be a little less daunting!  Below is a vendor list of links if anyone is interested in contacting them to get more information or order products.

Beau Bien Fine Foods

Detroit Zymology Guild (soon to be Commissary)

Corridor Sausage Co.

McClure’s Pickles

Simply Suzanne

Pete’s Chocolate Co.

Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company

Suddenly Sauer

Neighborhood Noodle

Gang of Pour

Shelby’s Kitchen Therapy

Porktown Sausage

RG Distribution (selling Kenzoil, El Azteco products, and more)