I started writing this post and realized- for once, I don’t have a lot to say. But that’s OK; the following is all you need to know: A small venison roast, some local root vegetables from the farmers’ market, some homemade stock, and a weekend day with enough time for a long braise can yield the following:
I don’t often get roasts from my dad, usually his venison is in burger form, so this was a first. I just treated it like I would any other tough cut of meat, braising it for a while in the stock at a low temp and then adding the vegetables later so they didn’t cook to mush. The result wasn’t earth-shattering. but it was homey, comforting and hearty, which was just what I was going for.
Venison Stew with Root Vegetables
1 small venison roast (about 1.5 to 2 lbs)
a few Tbs bacon fat
2 cups stock, preferably homemade: beef, lamb or chicken will work (mine was actually turkey, leftover from Thanksgiving)
aromatics: a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, juniper berries, or a couple sprigs of rosemary or thyme would all work
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled & cut into chunks
5-6 small shallots, peeled & trimmed
4 small potatoes, scrubbed and cut in halves or quarters
1 celery stalk, trimmed & cut into ½-inch pieces
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 225°. Warm the stock on the stove in a heavy lidded pot large enough to accommodate the meat. Rinse the venison and pat dry; lightly salt the meat and rub all over with the bacon fat. Add venison to pot, cover, and braise in the oven for 2 hours. You can turn the meat halfway through, but it’s not strictly necessary. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables. After the initial 2 hours, lightly salt the vegetables, add to the pot, cover, and cook for another hour or until vegetables are tender.
If the meat comes easily off the bone, feel free to serve your roast as-is; if meat is a little tough, you can either braise a bit longer, or do what I did: Remove meat from pot until it cools enough to handle, remove from the bone and cut into bite-sized pieces; return to pot to warm through. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. If desired, serve with chopped parsley as a garnish.
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. Continue reading
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).
Anyone who knows me is aware that I love to try new recipes and have a very curious mind when it comes to anything food-related. Lately my curiosity has prompted me to go beyond the kitchen proper and to explore things like charcuterie and cheesemaking. I decided that reading about it wasn’t enough; I wanted to take a cheesemaking class to really see what it was all about. Not much was being offered in my area, but I did find a class on the west side of the state near Grand Rapids, at DogWood Farms. A bit of a drive, but luckily Marvin was into coming with me and making a weekend out of it, so on a rainy late October Friday, we got in the car and headed west.
The class was scheduled for Saturday at 8:00 AM. Marvin and I are not what you would call “morning people”, but we groggily dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:45 and suffered through some terrible hotel coffee, then got in the car for a drizzly half-hour drive in the dim early-morning light. I had no idea what to expect as we drove towards the farm. The website didn’t offer much clue as to the size and scope of cheesemaker Barb Jenness’s operation, and having never visited a dairy or creamery, our minds were a blank slate.
Leaving the freeway far behind, we wound our way down country roads towards the farm. After a bit of a Mapquest snafu, we pulled up the drive and were greeted by Barb’s husband Jim, who informed us that Barb had gone to get some cow’s milk from a farm up the road for the day’s cheesemaking. Barb has a herd of Alpine goats and primarily makes chèvre, but it was too late in the season and the goats were in their drying-off period.
Barb showed up shortly after, and sat down with us for a few minutes to chat. She was very hospitable and had a sampling of cheeses out for us, as well as thick slices of a delicious banana-coconut bread, a welcome sight after the nasty factory muffins on offer at the hotel buffet. We talked to her about why we were there, what we hoped to get out of the class, and discussed the little we did know about cheesemaking. It turned out that we were the only two students that day, which was perfect as it gave us the opportunity to ask any and all questions that came to mind, and gave Marvin the chance to take lots of photos!
Barb’s creamery turned out to be about as tiny as they come, but it was perfect for learning, and for getting an idea of what’s possible on a small scale. Barb had converted a room that was once her laundry room (probably no more than 40-50 square feet) into her cheesemaking room; another space that was little more than a hallway accommodated her packaging area and her “aging cave” (a couple of wine refrigerators rigged to the proper temperature and humidity). Even with just three of us in the cheese room, it was a little tight, and I was glad we were the only students that day.
Given that the goat’s milk was done for the season, we made two cow’s milk cheeses. One was a fresh cheese that Barb called cream cheese, but which bore very little resemblance to the gummy cream cheese in square foil packages. It tasted like the cow equivalent of a chèvre- a mild, creamy, moist and somewhat crumbly cheese with a bit of tanginess to it. She had milk/curd in a couple of the stages of production, and working backwards, showed us the process from the finished cheese to the curd to the milk she had started with. We were able to participate by ladling the curd into molds to drain. It had the same texture as yogurt, when you spoon into it and it releases liquid.
The other cheese we made was a Tomme-style cheese. This one, an aged washed-rind cheese, had a few more steps and involved pasteurizing the milk, cutting the curd, and forming it into blocks. She showed us some bricks of the cheese being aged and it had a ruddy rind that was the result of a paprika and olive oil wash.
Cheesemaking involves a lot of what Barb termed “hurry up and wait” time, where you’re waiting for curd to set, whey to drain, etc. During these “breaks” she would sit us down at her dining room table and go over slides she’d prepared on different aspects of cheese and cheesemaking. Barb was a great teacher and very well-prepared. She had a packet for us to take home that included all of the information given in the class, as well as some recipes, a list of books and websites where cheesemaking supplies could be ordered. She was extremely encouraging and kept asking us if we planned to open a creamery. I certainly have thought about it, although I think Barb has a big advantage not having to own or lease a secondary property for her facility. I’m not sure that would work with my tiny little Ferndale house!
After we were done with the day’s cheese-related activities, we headed out to the barn for a visit with the goats and chickens. After hanging back a bit watching Marvin in the pen photographing Barb, Jim and the goats, I decided to take the plunge. A few goats escaped, but were quickly rounded up by Alice, the resident canine goat-herd. It was hilarious to watch this little dog corral goats twice her size, nipping and barking until they ran back into the pen. Barb looked amused to see us city folk interacting with the livestock, and had a twinkle in her eye as she asked us whether we thought we could have goats of our own. As much as I thought the goats were pretty cool, I doubt this city girl could get the hang of milking and breeding livestock. But Barb assured us that it was perfectly “OK” to just have a creamery and leave the animal-tending to someone else. Phew!
We left the farm with a few of the fresh cheeses as well as some goat’s milk soap I bought from Barb- she’s been in the soapmaking business since before she got into cheese three years ago. Barb urged us to keep in touch about our cheesemaking adventures, and told us to feel free to contact her if we had questions or issues. I was pleasantly surprised at how encouraging she was about starting a cheesemaking business- she went out of her way to tell us about her experiences getting started, how to avoid certain pitfalls, etc. She didn’t get into details about how much she is grossing, but she did tell us how much her cheese sells for (retail and wholesale) and that she easily sells out of everything she produces. She gave me the impression that, while it may not be a way to get rich, you could definitely support yourself.
I plan to try my hand at a few different cheeses at home as soon as I get a chance to order some supplies and figure out a good milk source. I’ll be sure to post about my successes and failures here as I go!
All photographs (except chicken) courtesy of Marvin Shaouni Photography
I first came to Amanda Hesser through her book Cooking for Mr. Latte, a “food memoir” of her courtship with her now-husband. While that book was cute and enjoyable enough, I was more excited at having discovered her cookbook, The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings From the French Countryside. Here is a cookbook after my heart: not only is it set in a château in France, it focuses on using seasonal ingredients, AND has great writing to boot.
Hesser prefaces each chapter (corresponding to a month) with a couple pages worth of anecdotes about what was harvested that month, how it was dealt with in the kitchen, and best of all, her interactions with the crusty gardener, Monsieur Milbert. The third main character in this drama is the garden itself, whose caprices ultimately dictate the activity of Hesser’s kitchen and the moods of Monsieur Milbert.
I have yet to cook many recipes from this book, but that is almost beside the point. In the spirit of trying to be more of a locavore, I have referenced it often before going to the farmers’ market, to get inspiration for seasonal menus and to see what produce I should be on the lookout for. (For those of you who assume everything at your farmers’ market is local and/or in season, think again- many markets, including Detroit’s Eastern Market, sell produce that has been shipped from CA or elsewhere. If you’re in doubt, don’t be shy about asking the vendors where their produce was grown.) Luckily, the region of France where the book takes place has a similar growing season to Michigan, so the recipes for any given month correspond to what’s available here.
Hesser’s recipes are modern and mostly unfussy. She is inspired by French cuisine and traditions, but not a slave to them, and many of the recipes feel more ”American Contemporary” than French. The recipes are not complicated per se, but some of her methods and suggestions do reflect the fact that she was in a kitchen all day and had nothing but time to fiddle. For example, she prescribes saving the skins from blanched, peeled tomatoes and drying them in a low oven to be used, crumbled, as a garnish on soups. (I actually took the time to do this once, and the dried skins sat languishing in my cupboard, forgotten, for at least a year!)
One big hit was the Red Beets with Shallots and Sage- I have brought this to two potlucks, and both times people who thought they hated beets changed their minds after tasting it. If anyone else out there owns this book, let me know what recipes you’ve tried. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking to get ideas for the lean season ahead, and waiting impatiently for the first asparagus to hit the markets in the new year.