Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal. You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends? Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!). There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc. Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question. I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.
And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods. I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection. Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine. I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.
I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t). I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth. I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable. A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch. The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.
As for those wines? Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes! A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!) All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential. (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.
Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity; I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines. This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar. I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.
Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)
1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese
Put some water on to boil. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.
Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat. When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding). As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice. About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry. Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.
Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms. While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly. (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well. Remove from heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream. Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.) Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell. Grate a light layer of cheese over the top. Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed
Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining. Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds). Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic. Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.
To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°. Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden. Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil. (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)
There’s a bumper sticker that reads “Ann Arbor: 25 square miles surrounded by reality”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that fair city, allow me to explain the joke. Ann Arbor (or A2 as it’s known in shorthand), home to the University of Michigan, is a liberal enclave where people are SO like-minded that after spending some time there, you’re apt to be lulled into forgetting that other places aren’t as progressive. For someone coming from another city (especially Detroit), going to Ann Arbor is akin to going to Disneyland’s Epcot Center; like visiting a staged example of what a mid-sized Midwestern city could be if everyone shopped at a food co-op, recycled, volunteered, or was otherwise groovy. Everywhere you go, there is evidence of A2′s crunchy leanings: a yoga studio every other block; houses painted various shades of the rainbow; people biking and walking more than they drive. The city hosts an annual Hash Bash (they’re known for their lax marijuana laws), has a high school where kids aren’t given grades, and allows people to keep chickens in their backyards.
Saturday Scarlet Oaks had a show in A2: a fundraiser, held in an urban barn (see photos above & below), in which people were asked to donate art supplies as part of their admission. It was a gorgeous day out, so my friend Melissa and I decided to head out there early so we could wander around, get some food, and basically be tourists. Lest you get the impression by my comments above that I’m somehow hating on Ann Arbor, let me assure you that’s not the case- there are few better places a drive’s distance from my house to spend a sunny afternoon. The downtown area is eminently walkable, and features scads of cute shops, restaurants, cafes etc.
The city is as close as one can get to a food-lover’s paradise in the Midwest. In addition to many great restaurants (several in the budget category- this is a college town after all), A2 boasts a lovely farmers’ market and several gourmet shops. Most notably, it’s home to the nationally-known Zingerman’s mini-empire (deli, restaurant, dairy, and bakery), whose philosophy leads them to source and serve only the best quality slow and sustainable foods. Folks here are very active in the local and organic food movements- a blogging friend runs a business called Locavorious, selling local foods frozen at harvest to be eaten through the winter months; another blogger runs Preserving Traditions, a group that hosts workshops on canning and such. Not surprisingly, the largest concentration of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers is in Ann Arbor and its environs.
Our singer Steve grew up around Ann Arbor and knows all the good spots, so at his suggestion we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Sadako. He and his wife had raved about how good it was, and how cheap (for sushi)- a rarity. (I realize “cheap” is not necessarily a word you want to associate with sushi, but trust me, the quality was not proportional to the low prices!) We ordered off the lunch specials menu, opting for bento rather than sushi rolls. For a mere $7.45, I got an incredible amount of food: miso soup, a small side salad, 2 gyoza, an assortment of tempura (including 2 shrimp), teriyaki-glazed salmon with vegetables, and 4 pieces of California roll. I was pretty much in awe of what a great deal this was, and felt a little guilty that I couldn’t finish everything. I made a valiant effort though, and finished most of my bento. Note to self: in the future, only eat half the miso; it’s good but fills valuable stomach space that could be better spent on tempura!
Happily sated, we continued across town to Kerrytown, the neighborhood which houses the farmers’ market, Zingerman’s deli, and some other shops. Melissa wanted to visit Hollander’s, a huge shop specializing in paper goods. (As I left, I happened to see that the entire upper level is devoted to kitchen/ housewares… a good thing I didn’t notice sooner, as I probably would have spent an entire paycheck and/ or browsed so long that I would’ve been late for our set!) I bought a set of postcards with illustrations of vegetables from old seed packets, which I’ll frame and use as kitchen decor.
After Hollander’s, we headed up the block to Zingerman’s where I was hoping to find verjus. The place was ridiculously packed; the line winding through the shop and several feet out onto the sidewalk. The helpful employee I asked told me that they didn’t currently carry verjus, because they hadn’t yet found a brand up to their standards! We geeked out on vinegars, and he gave me a few outstanding samples, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to part with $20 for a bottle. Next visit I’ll save my pennies in anticipation of dropping some serious cash there. (Ahem, if you ever need a gift idea for me, they have gift cards!)
Our show was a lot of fun; it’s always a nice change of pace to play during the daytime and not in some smoky bar (19 more days!!!). Unfortunately for the fundraising effort there weren’t a ton of people there, but the sound was good and we got an enthusiastic reception. After our set, we grabbed some carry-out and beer and headed to a friend’s house to sit on the porch and enjoy the last few rays of sun before heading back to the reality of Detroit.
As you might expect, living in such an idyllic town does not come cheap. Although property values have taken a hit as they have everywhere, they are much higher in A2 than most MI cities, and ironically, economic and ethnic diversity is the casualty of this gentrification (lower-income folks who work in Ann Arbor mostly live in neighboring Ypsilanti).
Last weekend I had some errands to run near Oakland Mall. Normally I hate going to this part of town, but when I do have to venture out that way, I make a point to try to stop by the 13 Mile & John R area (in Madison Heights), where there is a little cluster of ethnic grocery stores. On the southwest corner there’s Saigon Market, as well as a middle eastern grocery in the same strip mall. Across the street (north of 13 mile) is another strip mall with a Chinese market, a place selling barbecued duck, and a small Hispanic grocery. I love going into the Asian stores and wandering the aisles looking at the various sauces and condiments, picking out new things to try, or just puzzling over what something could be (often the labels are vague and merely tell you it’s a “food product”- not sure how they get that past our ever-vigilant FDA! haha). This time I went to the Chinese place, but honestly based on the products it seems more Southeast Asian or at least Pan-Asian. So this is what I ended up with (from left to right):
1) A bag of dried chilis, the kind you’ll find floating whole in a Thai curry or Indian Dal. I believe they’re referred to as bird’s eye chilis.
2) a bottle of Banana Sauce, a popular Filipino condiment akin to ketchup. It contains no tomatoes; I think it’s dyed red. I had this somewhere once when travelling but can’t recall where; I was hoping it would jog a taste memory.
3) a 6-pack of boxes of coconut milk- I liked the fact that these are a smaller size than the cans, because I often open a can and don’t use it all.
4) some nice simple bamboo chopsticks with pretty metallic red characters on them (anyone know what they say?)
5) some dried squid- I had this as a snack in Japan and thought it was pretty tasty- it’s basically like jerky
6) a small bottle of mustard oil- I had read about this in one of my Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks and was excited to find it, although after smelling and tasting it, I think vegetable oil plus a little dry hot mustard powder could potentially be substituted.
7) ”Dried Black Fungus Sliver”- these look like the kind of mushrooms you see in Hot & Sour soup, or at least that’s what I’m hoping they are. I plan to use them that way, to sprinkle in soups.
What’s the most exotic item you’ve ever picked up from an Asian market, and how did you use it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section…
Those of you who read this somewhat regulary and read my posts about my trip to Portland may have been wondering, “Didn’t she say she went to Seattle as well? Did she not have any blog-worthy experiences while she was there?” I didn’t want to keep you in suspense any longer lest anyone die while holding their breath waiting, so here’s my Seattle post (with one last little bit of Portland thrown in for good measure).
The day I went to Seattle (a Saturday) I had intended to take an early-morning train, but it was sold out. Another excuse to go out for breakfast in Portland! Kathy took me to a place called the Screen Door, which she tells me is one of the breakfast hot spots in town. It was almost (unseasonably) warm enough to sit on the patio, but not quite. Fortunately, in spite of the restaurant’s popularity we didn’t have to wait too long for a table, and best of all, they offer self-serve coffee while you’re waiting. The restaurant defines their cuisine as “Southern-style”, and apparently their signature dish is a huge piece of battered and deep fried chicken atop a sweet potato waffle. I wasn’t quite brave enough to deal with that much food (someone nearby had ordered it and it was ridiculous) so I got a scramble with bacon, cheddar and spinach and it hit the spot. I felt a little guilty for not going out of my comfort zone food-wise, but sometimes you just feel like sticking with what you know and love.
The train ride to Seattle was lovely- an uncharacteristically sunny day, and the train conductor obliged my request for a window seat. I miss taking trains; I used to get around almost exclusively by train when I was in Europe, and it’s so nice to be able to read or nap or watch the world go by rather than have to stress about traffic or directions. I was visiting friends from college, and the priority was to spend some quality time with them, but I did manage a couple food-related pilgrimages my last day in town while my hosts Fred and Lori were at work.
My biggest priority was to visit Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, but before I did anything I wanted to fuel up for the day. Lori had recommended a coffee & doughnut shop called Top Pot that was downtown near Fred’s work, so that was my first stop. I have to confess, I’m not much of a doughnut person- I’d usually rather consume my excess calories in the form of cheese or pig fat than carbs or sweets, and doughnuts are pretty far down on the list of sweets I would reach for. But, this being recommended as a “local food landmark”, I had to check it out in the spirit of food journalism. I probably should have ordered a few flavors for comparison’s sake, but I just decided to go seasonal and ordered a pumpkin glazed doughnut. It was pretty good- not too much glaze and therefore not sickly sweet, and didn’t leave that weird film on your mouth that you get with most glazed doughnuts. It was very moist as well and had just the right amount of spice. I can only muster a certain amount of enthusiasm, but if you’re a doughnut lover, you’d probably be in ecstasy at this place.
After strolling aimlessly for a while around the Pioneer Square area and the waterfront, I made my way to the market, where I wandered through the stalls snapping lots of photos and wishing I had either more money to get things shipped home, or a larger suitcase. Fortunately I was there on a Monday morning, so I didn’t have to fight the weekend crowds and was able to photograph and check things out at my leisure without feeling claustrophobic. The market was a feast of colors, smells and the sounds of vendors hawking their wares… Even though I wasn’t in a position to take anything home, I enjoyed the sensory experience. I can only imagine the fever pitch of activity during the busier times, but I’m glad I got to explore without feeling rushed, pushed or crowded.
In addition to all the vendor stalls, Pike Place Market houses dozens of regular shops as well. When Fred found me, I was busy wandering around one of these shops, an Italian specialty foods store called DeLaurenti. Although I could probably find similar items in the Detroit area at Papa Joe’s, I was “on vacation” and wanted to splurge a little on something I probably wouldn’t buy at home. I selected a spicy Spanish chorizo (unlike Mexican chorizo, the Spanish variety is like a dried salami, so I was able to travel with it no problem). I was tempted to buy some salt-packed anchovies as well, but at almost $30, they were a little outside my budget.
Fred’s wife Lori had told me there were places at the market where you could walk up and order fish and seafood and eat it there at a counter, so I wanted to check that out since I’m all about street food and it seemed like it would be more of a local experience than sitting in a restaurant to eat. I ordered a crab cocktail and Fred got some fish & chips and we sat on stools at the metal counter to tuck in. If I’d had more time and a bigger stomach, I could have spent hours walking around sampling the various offerings- in addition to the fish specialties, there was a place touting their “famous” chili, a crêpe place, a place selling deep fried chicken livers, and much more.
The one thing Seattle is most famous for food-and-drink wise is obviously its coffee, which I didn’t get around to sampling (except for the coffee I had at Top Pot, which was fine but nothing extraordinary). However, I was intrigued by this sign advertising “Obama Blend” coffee. I’m guessing it’s a blend of Kenyan and Kona (from Hawaii)?
Next time I come to Seattle, I’m definitely going to set aside some money in the budget to take advantage of the many vendors offering to ship fish and seafood to your house. This time around, though, I was pretty satisfied with my experience; my only regret was passing up those chicken livers!