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).
I may be accused of chutzpah for labeling this post “Charcutepalooza”, but so be it. Last month’s posting deadline (April 15) breezed past without fanfare like I wish this cold, rainy spring weather would, and although I had the hot-smoking challenge in the back of my mind all month, I had no specific plan as to how or when to execute it. So when my friend Todd invited a few of us over and said he was firing up his smoker, right after Molly and I had just bought a whole fresh lake trout (scored at Eastern Market for $1.99 a pound!), it seemed like kismet.
Because the trout was going to be in the fridge for a few days before the get-together, I salted and sugared it (no measuring, I just threw on what I thought was an appropriate amount). I had already used my share of the steaks, which I braised in a Thai red curry coconut milk concoction, so I had my half of the fillet left to smoke. Molly went the opposite route, saving her steaks for the smoker. Despite my lackadaisical approach, I did attempt to create a pellicle by placing the uncovered fish on a rack in the fridge the morning of the party. (I mention this as a pathetic bit of evidence that I actually sort of “did” the challenge…) Continue reading
When my band plays live shows, it’s common for us to play certain songs faster than the tempo we record or rehearse them in. There’s an energy to a live performance that incites you to do everything louder, faster, harder. For some of the songs that are already up-tempo, the live versions are sometimes performed at breakneck speeds that make you feel as if you’re on a runaway train that could careen off the tracks at any moment. It’s nerve-wracking to think it could all fall apart, but exhilarating at the same time when you finish the song, looking around at your bandmates like “Did we really just pull that off?”.
This is the feeling that sums up my September- a frantic, energetic, delirious blur. It bums me out that I’ve gone the entire month so far- over three weeks- without posting here, even though I had the first week of the month off (the pork loin shown above was cooked up north over Labor Day weekend, the last couple leisure days I’ve had). Rest assured, I haven’t been neglecting this space out of laziness or lack of interest. I’ve become involved in a few different new projects that are kicking into high gear and keeping nearly every free moment occupied, so I do feel a bit neurotic. But like that song that just manages not to self-implode, I’ve been holding it all together by the skin of my teeth and feeling, for the most part, immensely satisfied.
A month ago, I convinced my job to let me cut my work week to 32 hours so that I could have some extra time for entrepreneurial pursuits. I was a little nervous about the reduction in pay, but I knew it was something I had to do and was ready to take a bit of a risk. Since then, I have started making products for a small business with a friend (more on this soon!) and have written my first freelance article for Model D (out 9/28). I’ve also been working on getting this blog redesigned and moved over to a new domain, which I hope to have done in October in time for its 2-year anniversary.
Meanwhile, my cooking has fallen a bit to the wayside. I’ve largely been subsisting off salads, bread, cheese, and very simply cooked vegetables from the farmers’ market- nothing to write home about, but nourishing to the soul as well as the body. As summer grinds to a halt, I’m spending massive amounts of free time processing various fruits and vegetables, something I haven’t done on a large scale before. I hope to get my blogging mojo back soon, but for the moment my other projects are demanding just about all of my attention. I hope you’ll bear with me as I transition into these new and exciting ventures!
Grilled Pork Loin with Garlic & Rosemary
I haven’t really made anything requiring a recipe in the last month, but I did make the grilled pork loin pictured above with my favorite sous-chef, my brother Jesse, on Labor Day weekend up north.
Take a pork loin and cut it for a roulade (or have the butcher do this if you don’t know how). Generously season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Lay flat. Make a paste out of generous amounts of garlic and rosemary with a little olive oil; smear this liberally on one side of the meat. Roll it up and secure with butcher’s twine. Grill over high heat until it begins to color and brown, then transfer to indirect heat and grill, covered, until internal temperature is 145°. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes tented with foil; slice and serve. We served this with a “sauce” made of fresh Michigan peaches peeled and macerated with a small amount of sugar, and the grilled sweet corn pictured in the new masthead.
In my last post I alluded to a picnic with some fellow Detroit gourmands, some of whom I introduced to you in this post. We’re a growing group, and we decided to have a potluck picnic on Belle Isle as an excuse to eat, drink and get to know each other a little better. Molly and Todd scoped out the perfect spot under some willow trees, on the banks of the Detroit river with a view of the city.
Knowing this group, I had high expectations, but wow… I have to say I was pretty blown away by how much everyone put into it. Dave (aka Captain McBoozy), James and Evan ruled the drinks department- Dave made a Rhubarb Rum Punch and some Prescription Juleps, Evan brought a chartreuse-and-pineapple juice concoction, and James (our resident coffee-roaster and token Romanian-American) made a fabulous cocktail with cold-brewed coffee, vodka, passionfruit syrup and Romanian mountain mint.
The food was no less spectacular… I displayed an incredible amount of willpower and paced myself perfectly so that I was able to nibble and sip on and off all day while never feeling uncomfortably full or overly tipsy. This was no small feat, since it was pretty much a spread to end all spreads. My contributions were a big bowl of chlodnik and a mess of honey, cumin & lime-marinated grilled chicken (grilling courtesy of Todd, thanks dude!). The rest of the food I almost hesitate to list for fear of inadvertently leaving someone out, but there were homemade sausages, pizza on the grill (organic dough courtesy of Strawberry Moon in Ferndale), Vietnamese fresh rolls, an Israeli couscous salad with shrimp (don’t tell the rabbi!), bruschetta, gazpacho, Korean beef tartare lettuce wraps, grilled steak with arugula, a huge bowl of guac, and an assortment of gourmet ice cream courtesy of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus. Jarred also brought an assortment of wines provided by Western Market- score!
We whiled away the afternoon until it slipped into evening, and somehow managed to dispatch almost all of the food. We were even making ham sandwiches towards the end of the day, with leftover marble rye, mustard, and some J&M German bacon (not really “bacon”; more like the best ham you’ve ever had). As the sun set over the city, we packed up our belongings and mused about how perfect the day had been, and wondered aloud how soon we could do another picnic.
Back to the chicken- this isn’t the first time I’ve made this chicken, but I usually make it with wings for a better meat-to-marinade ratio. The drumsticks weren’t bad, but I think I’ll revert to using wings from now on. It was hard to “name” this recipe because all of the marinade ingredients are bold and prominent- the sweet-tart punch of honey and lime, the toasty warmth of the cumin and cayenne, and the savory hit of garlic all contribute to a sauce that sings with flavor. The elements are inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine, but I’ve never had anything like it in a restaurant or come across any similar recipes in any cookbooks or blogs, so for now I’ll claim it as my own. We couldn’t do this at the picnic, but if you’re near a stove, the leftover marinade (boiled and reduced) makes a killer dipping sauce.
To see the full set of photos from the picnic, check out my flickr set.
Honey, Cumin & Lime Grilled Chicken
4-5 lbs chicken wings (or drumsticks), preferably free-range or organic
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 large limes should yield this, unless they are particularly dry)
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs ground cumin (seeds toasted & freshly ground if possible)
½ tsp cayenne or 1 tsp Harissa paste (or more if you like it spicy)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 packed Tbs minced garlic (a couple cloves depending on size)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil
Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stirring to dissolve the honey. Taste to see that the sweet/sour flavors are balanced. It should taste pretty pucker-inducing, but the heat will tame some of the acidity. Taste for spiciness as well, adding cayenne as you see fit.
Wash and pat the chicken dry. Place in a sturdy Ziploc-type bag with the marinade and seal, expelling as much air as possible. Marinate for at least an hour, longer if possible.
Grill the chicken over medium heat, turning frequently and basting often with the marinade (this should take about 15-20 minutes for wings; slightly longer for drumsticks. If unsure, use a meat thermometer and cook to 160°). If you like, boil down any remaining marinade on the stove until slightly thickened and use as a dipping sauce.
Like many Americans, technically I’m what you might call a “mutt”- like a big pot of stew with lots of bits and bobs, my family tree is peppered with Scottish, English, Native American, French, German and probably a bunch of other genes I’m unaware of. But, coincidentally, I have Alsatian roots on both my mother’s and father’s side. My mom’s grandfather’s family, the Steffeses, and my dad’s father’s side, the Lothamers (originally Lotthammer) are both from Alsace and the Black Forest region (on the other side of the Rhine river, which divides Alsace from Germany). So, given the fact that I have been enamored with French language and culture from an early age, and that I have a French first name and German last name, I have adopted Alsace as my pays and taken to telling people with a wink that I’m alsacienne.
One of my uncles has done pretty extensive genealogical research on the Lotthammer family and has made contact with several families living in Alsace and Germany today that are related to us. When I was 16, he arranged a trip for me and my best friend to travel to Alsace and stay with some of the families he had made contact with through his research (yes, that’s me in the photo above on the right at age 16… the French got a kick out of my braces!). We were there for three weeks, and visited the region extensively- from the largest city, Strasbourg, to a tiny village called Guewenheim, and several towns in between (Colmar, Mulhouse, Thann, Belfort…). The experience was nothing short of transformative for a suburban teenager who until then had barely traveled in the U.S. let alone Europe.
That trip was a huge stepping stone on my path to adventurous eating and cooking. In Guewenheim, we stayed with a family whose refrigerator was unplugged and used as a pantry, because they ate fresh food every day and had no need to refrigerate anything! (Any leftover scraps were given to their lucky chien, Zora.) One of the funniest memories from that trip was going over to the home of an elderly woman in the village for a lesson in making kugelhopf, only to discover that the woman’s Alsatian dialect was totally incomprehensible to our limited third-year French ears. Let’s just say there was a lot of nodding and smiling going on that afternoon, and that I still don’t know how to make kugelhopf!
It took a while for my budding food curiosity to convert itself into a love for cooking, but some of the first recipes I ever made from a cookbook came from France: The Beautiful Cookbook. This was a gift from another uncle to our family, and since my parents weren’t the type to cook from a “fancy” French cookbook, the book defaulted into my possession. I still have a great nostalgia for the hours I spent as a teenager poring over the photos, reading about the different regions of France, and staring longingly at all the strange food depicted between its covers, trying to conjure what it would taste like. Luckily, not all the recipes were out of reach, and I taught myself to make tarte flambée (basically a “pizza” with crème fraîche, bacon and onions) so I could have a little taste of Alsace here in the States. With crème fraîche being readily available now, along with ready made pizza dough, this is now something that’s totally doable for a weeknight supper, and I’ve found myself making it fairly often of late. One of these days I’ll make a choucroute garnie, the most famous of Alsace’s regional dishes, but with spring around the corner, I don’t know how many more large heavy dinners will be in the works, so it may have to wait until next winter at this point. If I get really motivated maybe I’ll even make my own sauerkraut!
P.S. This is a GREAT recipe to adapt to the grill- see this post for instructions on grilling pizza.
Photo note: all of the non-food photos are scans of old photos from my trip. The top two are in Colmar; the third was taken atop Strasbourg’s cathedral, and the remainder I believe are from Guewenheim (possibly another nearby village).
Tarte Flambée (Alsatian Bacon & Onion Tart)
1 lb pizza dough, divided in half
1 small tub crème fraîche (you’ll probably use 1/2 to 2/3 cup total)
3 medium yellow onions
6 slices bacon
white or black pepper
optional: shredded Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese
Notes: This will make two approximately 10″ tarts, depending on how thin you stretch your dough. Each tart serves two as a main course or more as an appetizer, so you can make the second tart right away or save the leftover dough and toppings for a quick and easy after-work meal. Cheese is not traditional per se, but I had some and wanted to use it up. If you do use cheese, do so sparingly, otherwise you’ll end up with a pretty greasy tart. The nutmeg may be non-traditional as well but I love nutmeg with cream, bacon and onions so I always include it. White pepper vs. black is more a visual thing, if you don’t want black specks on your white food, use the white pepper.
Place a pizza stone in the oven on the center rack and preheat to 475. OR, make this on the grill. Remove your dough from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temp while you prep the onions and bacon.
Heat a medium (10″ or 12″) cast iron or aluminum skillet over medium heat. Cut the bacon into 1/4-” strips (I like to use a kitchen scissors and just snip the bacon right over the pan) and fry to your preferred doneness. While the bacon is frying, cut your onions. I like to do thin rings but you can dice it if you prefer. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off some of the bacon fat, leaving enough in the pan to fry the onions. Saute the onions over medium-high heat until soft and golden.
Put a generous amount of flour on a pizza peel or other flat surface such as a cookie sheet with no lip (in a pinch, I have used an upside-down cookie sheet; you just need to be able to slide it off onto the pizza stone). Take one of your dough balls and flour it until it is dry to the touch. Gently stretch the dough, using your fists, flouring as you go to keep it from sticking to your hands or the pizza peel. I like to get mine as thin as possible, but if you prefer a chewier crust you can adjust accordingly. Don’t forget that your dough will shrink back a bit, so make it slightly thinner than you think you’ll want it. When you’re done, place the dough on the peel and shake it, making sure the dough moves freely and is not sticking anywhere.
Working as quickly as possible, spread a thin layer of crème fraîche over the dough, about 1/4 cup or a little more if needed. Top the tart with half the onions, half the bacon, a few grinds of pepper and nutmeg, and cheese if using. Slide the tart onto the pizza peel and cook until the crust is golden, 5-10 minutes depending on how thick you stretched the dough. Brush the flour off the peel and use it to serve the tart.