There’s something to be said about traditions. Whether it be a religious rite, a certain food made every year without fail for a holiday, or some corny family ritual that has you groaning inwardly each time it’s performed, traditions bind us and make us feel a sense of community between ourselves and those who share them. Most traditions revolve around church or family, but just as meaningful are the ones we create or choose purposefully, rather than the ones we inherit.
My favorite tradition which falls in the latter category is the annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. Every year for the last three years (and hopefully many more to come), we gather under the willow trees on the north side of the island to eat, drink, socialize and bask in the beautiful views. Anyone is welcome to attend, but there is a core group that shows up each year. You can be relatively assured of a delicious and potent punch or shrub made by Evan or Dave, creative DIY eats and coffee drinks from James, elote from Amber and Nate, homemade sausage from the Porktown Sausage boys, and a host of other treats that go above and beyond the standard picnic fare. And of course there’s Todd, who (along with Evan) organizes the picnic, comes early to set up, and stays until everything is returned to the condition it was in when they arrived. Continue reading
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.
So, I know it’s Christmas Eve and you’re all probably running around doing your last-minute preparations. But I’ve been sitting on this post for a long while now and wanted to get it published- there’s a recipe for romesco sauce that you just might be interested in if you need a last-minute appetizer for a Christmas or New Year’s party.
There ain’t no party like a Detroit… sherry tasting!
Those of you who have been following this blog are familiar by now with the GU Detroit*, a loose collective of “food and drink professionals and serious enthusiasts”. A couple months ago the topic of sherry came up in the forums, and since no one was extremely knowledgeable, and because we all love an excuse to get together and imbibe, our friend and cohort Suzanne seized the occasion to host a sherry tasting.
*That’s “gee-you Detroit”, short for Gourmet Underground, not “goo Detroit”, in case you were wondering.
The GU Detroit gang being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and see a large table groaning with the weight of what seemed like several tons of food- Spanish charcuterie, cheeses, olives, and tapas of all sorts were nestled in tightly, and I was challenged to find room for my contributions. Although I should be used to this kind of spread at a GUD event, it was still a bit overwhelming and I had that “kid in a candy store” feeling for at least the first hour I was there.
In addition to about 10 or 12 types of sherry, there were wines (including several bottles of Les Hérétiques, a GUD favorite that Putnam and Jarred turned us on to) and homemade cider my brother brought. The tasting was semi-organized in relation to the number of people there- someone (Evan or Putnam, I’m guessing?) had lined up the bottles in order from the pale finos to the darker, richer olorosos so that we could attempt some semblance of a proper tasting. However, due to the somewhat chaotic nature of the event, I can’t tell you much beside the fact that I preferred the lighter sherries; the intense raisiny flavors of the darker sherries were not as much to my liking.
I hadn’t had a chance to cook for quite some time, so the day of the party I decided to go all out and make three different tapas to bring. Flipping through The New Spanish Table, I came across a recipe for deviled eggs with tuna (which I blogged about in a less breezy post than this) that sounded perfect. I also made a batch of romesco sauce from the same book, a paste (although that word makes it sound less appealing than it is) made from hazelnuts and peppers and garlic and sherry vinegar that can be eaten with crudites. Last but not least, I sauteed some button mushrooms with garlic and parsley. I think I’m at my cooking-mojo best at times like these- when I have the day to consecrate to the task, and an event to prepare for.
I can’t wait for the next GU Detroit gathering, aka excuse for me to actually cook. I’m not anticipating doing much cooking to speak of in the next month (not counting lots of scrambled eggs/omelettes and salads for dinner), as I focus on packing and moving house and getting the new house in order, so unless there’s an event to kick me into gear it may be a while before you hear from me, at least regarding new recipes! But I’ll be around, regaling you with other food-related news and happenings.
For now though, here’s the romesco recipe. If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so- it’s a nice break from all the roasted red pepper hummus and cheese spreads and ranch flavored veggie dips so prominent around this time of year. In addition to using it as a dip, it has other applications as well- in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers cooks shrimp in it (I’ve made this too and it’s uhhh-mazing!!) and I can picture it as a great sauce for chicken too.
Romesco Sauce (adapted from The New Spanish Table)
1 medium-sized ñora pepper or ancho chile
⅔ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ Tbs toasted breadcrumbs
1 small ripe plum tomato, chopped (if unseasonal, substitute 1 good quality canned plum tomato or 3-4 Tbs canned diced tomatoes)
1 Tbs sweet (not smoked) paprika
pinch of cayenne
6 Tbs fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (quality red wine vinegar may be substituted)
Notes: I could not locate a ñora pepper or ancho chile when I made this last time, so I used something labeled “chile California” which, although inauthentic, worked fine. Also, almonds may be substituted for the hazelnuts, or a combination used. The sauce will have a slightly different character but will still be delicious. If you want to gild the lily, fry the nuts in olive oil instead of dry-toasting them.
Soak the dried pepper in very hot water until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem and seeds and tear into small pieces, either before or after the soaking, whichever is easiest. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped. Add the garlic, pepper, paprika, tomato, breadcrumbs, cayenne and ⅓ cup of the pepper water and pulse until fairly smooth but retaining some texture. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, processing until completely incorporated.
Scrape the contents into a clean bowl, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt to taste. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to meld, then taste and season with more salt or vinegar as necessary.
Serve with crudités such as endive leaves, fennel or celery sticks, or use as a sauce for grilled shrimp, chicken or asparagus.
I’m absolutely not fronting when I say that, in all that pertains to food and drink, I have the most amazing bunch of friends EVER. In a mere 6 months, we’ve gone from small, loosely organized gatherings, to cider and Bordeaux tastings, to full-on day-long bacon-and-bloody mary smorgasbords that get mentioned in the New York Times. Holla!
The inspiration for Bacon & Bloodies came when I received a package from the generous folks at Nueske’s which included, among other goodies, 3 different types of their bacon! I suggested to the gang that this might be a good excuse to throw a bacon-tasting, and because bacon is sort of a breakfasty morning item, why not throw some bloody marys in the mix? My friend and business partner Molly gamely agreed to host at her lovely Lafayette Park condo.
We sampled several varieties of bacon, including the aforementioned Nueske’s (regular, “uncured”*, and pepper bacon), Niman Ranch (2 kinds, I believe), Benton’s, Link 40, J&M (a local bacon), our friend Kim’s homemade bacon, and probably a couple more that I’m forgetting. Each had their own qualities to recommend them- some smokier, some meatier, some nutty and mild. We didn’t do anything as scientific as to take notes; the bacon was just passed around like hors d’oeuvres as it came off the grill (courtesy of Jarred the grill-meister, who had a couple cast-iron skillets going for a few solid hours).
*Megan, the lovely PR person from Nueske’s, explained to me that although the USDA requires them to label the naturally cured bacon as “uncured”, it actually is a cured product.
Because the party started at 1pm, it ended up being more of a grazing/potluck type thing rather than a brunch. I had little trouble deciding what to bring, based on a Twitter conversation with Todd in which he made fun of Molly and I for our nostalgic enjoyment of Win Schulers’ Bar-Scheeze. I remember loving the stuff as a kid, bright orange and fake as it was; while it certainly pales in comparison to real cheese, it tasted absolutely complex when Velveeta was your benchmark. I decided, naturally, to make a homemade cheese ball in homage to the Scheezeballs of my youth. The funniest thing was that although I used top notch, all natural ingredients, people at the party admitted that they had initially avoided it thinking it was fake cheese! Hehe, more for me.
How to sum up a gorgeous October day in a few words? I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, but some of the highlights were the homemade pickles several people brought for bloody mary garnish, Todd’s pan-fried Cajun chicken livers, a wonderful Georgian cheese tart made by our friend Megan, and the steaks Molly and Jarred busted out around hour 6 of the party, with a phenomenal chimichurri sauce Molly made (she lived in Argentina and I will definitely be getting that recipe to share with you all!). I also made a cinnamon-honey ice cream which I hope to post about soon. Meanwhile, scroll past the remaining photos for a cheese ball that will please even the scheeze-haters.
Win Schuler’s-inspired Scheeze Ball
1 lb good-quality sharp cheddar, shredded
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
2 Tbs prepared horseradish, or more to taste
few dashes hot sauce such as Cholula or Tabasco
few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped pecans (other nuts may be substituted as desired), or a bit more if needed
5 strips bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled (optional)
milk, as needed
Notes: This recipe is very loosely based on a Paula Deen recipe, but I modified it to taste more like Win Schuler’s. Paula calls for 1/2 cup milk; I didn’t find it necessary to achieve the texture I wanted, but if you feel the mixture is too firm, you can add milk a tablespoon or two at a time as you mix the cheeses. If not using the bacon, you may need more nuts to completely cover the cheese ball. The recipe yields a fairly large cheese ball, but can be halved if necessary.
Directions: Place all ingredients except the nuts and bacon into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until completely smooth. Place the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
About 15-20 minutes before you want to finish the cheese ball, prepare the coating: in a dry skillet, warm the nuts and bacon (if using) over low heat to gently toast the nuts and re-crisp the bacon. Transfer to a paper towel and let cool. Put the nuts and bacon in a bowl or pie plate and roll the cheese ball in the mixture, pressing it into the cheese until the ball is fully coated. If not serving immediately, wrap again in a clean piece of plastic wrap and chill up to 24 hours.