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Archive for June, 2008

One of the pleasant surprises of this little blogging enterprise that we started about a year and a half ago is that it leads to all sorts of adventures. We’ve met new people, learned a lot about the challenges and rewards of owning an independent food business, and eaten better than ever before in our lives. Some of that eating better comes from exchanging ideas among the three of us, some of it from learning from other food friends, and some from the healthy pressure we out on ourselves to develop our skills and our repertoire so we can share it with our readers.

Last week, we had a very special opportunity to socialize, learn and eat all at once due to the generosity of Scott MacInnis, a talented and aspiring local chef.

Two of the three of us are Old West Side residents. When we spotted a story in the OWS Newsletter a few months backabout Scott and Jessica (his fiancée) and his search for a restaurant location, we thought that it might be interesting to interview him for our blog. I emailed. Scott emailed back. We were all willing, but we were all busy. Somewhere in the exchange Scott said that if we were going to be talking about food, we should be eating while we did it. He knows the way to a food blogger’s heart! At first I was thinking we would go out of coffee and a croissant while talking, but slowly it dawned on me that Scott was offering to cook for us. And then we got down to brass tacks.

So late one Sunday afternoon, Scott arrived on my doorstep with shopping bags and a cooler (although, sadly, not his fiancée who was studying for a final and resisted all our attempts to lead her astray), laid out his mise en place and got cooking. He had given us a shopping list that we divided among our three domestic units, and we all made sure there was a good supply of wine. I turned over the kitchen to him, hovered around to offer pots and pans and run out to cut herbs from the garden and watched the show.

And what a show it was! It was like an episode of Iron Chef was happening right in my kitchen! Scott whirled around like a chef-dervish, managing the creation of a wonderful five course meal, finding time to sit down himself to eat, and engaging us all in an impassioned and entertaining dialogue about food, cooking, great chefs, restaurant work and life in general. Now and then, the conversation was punctuated by a great cackle of glee occasioned by his pure pleasure in cooking or a particular flavor. The rest of us were pretty gleeful too. You can see why:

A Sunday Supper by Scott MacInnis

Asparagus Green Leek Soup
– flavored with curry and coconut milk

Mixed greens with Charred Tomato vinaigrette and Parmesan-Reggiano

Handmade Morel Agnolotti with (Tantre farms best) Chantrelles and cream sauce

Crispy Duck Breast with Fingerling potatoes, braised cipollini onions, lardon, with a tamarind / mushroom infused stock reduction and brunoise vegetables.

Vanilla, cardamon and cinnamon ice cream with apricots and a white wine apricot glaze.

(Those who want the complete record can check out the flickr set).

All the courses were delicious. The duck breast probably solicited the biggest collective moan, but it was the ice cream that I thought about at my desk the whole next day. Nick got a bowl before going to bed and has been peering into the freezer ever since, hoping that more will magically appear.

The others might have thought that I was being a selfless hostess, hanging out in the kitchen washing pots for Scott (there were rather a lot of pots — all due credit to John who jumped in part of the way through), but I was actually relentlessly picking his brains on all manner of things, from the uses of duck fat (myriad and delicious), his recent stint at Logan (of which he speaks with with respect and affection), the optimum number of egg yolks in ice cream (twelve! Good God!) and especially about his aspirations to open his own place in the Ann Arbor area. Below are some the things I learned in that last part of the conversation. My notes and memory got a little fuzzy somewhere in the third course (and probably third wine pairing) so Scott was kind enough to fill in on email.

The general question that we started with was “what are the challenges of getting a restaurant business going, particularly in the Ann Arbor area.?”

He began by talking about how consumers need to think more critically and clearly about the food their choosing. He pointed out that food choices become so clouded by the “commercialization of food service, mass production and price, that quality often is an afterthought. What’s easy and fast (not to mention familiar) usually beats out what is artisan, or moreover, what is good (not to mention good for you!).”

When I asked him to talk more about the Ann Arbor-specific challenges, he, as the G3 have before him, noted it’s surprising that “a town with such a well rounded and smart population was so lacking in the food department. ” Scott was anxious not to offend all the hard-working people that are working in the AA restaurant industry but stressed ” there’s really little out there that piques interest.” He does see this as a great opportunity though; there’s a lot of possibility for change.

We also talked a lot during dinner about the problem of finding the right location and about how daunting downtown Ann Arbor real estate is at the moment. “Between the prices for space and availability, it’s not easy to find a good fit.”

Scott sees the next big challenge as finding the right people to work with. He says this is a problem for food professionals in general because “we mainly like to be in the kitchen, not running around into other kitchens looking for people like us.”

And the final big challenges is, of course, money. When I followed up with him later, her wrote “I’ve spoken with a number of business owners about how they got their start, what were the biggest hurdles and what the hell I should be doing. Their responses? Stay focused and organized, make sure your plans are air-tight and the resources will come (from a surprising array of means). Some were financed outright, by a wealthy interested party, relative, etc; but some were financed through creative mortgaging and passing around the hat.”

One of Scott’s comments in email summed up for me his delight in bringing people together around food, and his excitement about the role he can play: “The other impetus for me to open is because we (together) can make our community better. Sound a little overzealous? Probably is, but it does help make me want to do this all the more.”

Let’s hope that Scott puts together the pieces soon. If he can realize his vision for a comfortable and innovative bistro, the local food scene will be much livelier and more interesting.

It’s typical of Scott’s generosity and desire to share his passion that he actually offered to write up all his recipes for the blog. I sense the man has some trouble knowing his limits (he said he had to pull himself back from creating a twelve course tasting menu for our “simple supper”), and he wrote the other day to confess that the hectic pace set by his impending wedding was keeping him from writing the dishes up. I let him off the hook. But he was nice enough to share this one. The picture doesn’t quite do the soup justice. The flavor was bright and elegant, and it was a great way to start the meal. Those are chives from my backyard floating on top. I’m so proud.

Asparagus, Green Leek Soup

1 Bunch Michigan Asparagus
1 Bunch Leeks
2 quarts unsalted chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 bouquet garni (wrap one green leek end around parsley, thyme, bay leaf, 4 crushed garlic cloves and 8 peppercorns)
2 T unsalted butter (prefer Plugra or other 83%+ butter fat)
1 cup Heavy cream
2 T curry powder
6 Oz coconut milk
1 Oz lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Oz creme fraiche

Wash and chop leek and combine with butter in heavy bottom stockpot on medium-low heat.
Sweat slowly until tender
Add asparagus, de-stemmed and chopped.
Add chicken stock and boquet garni and increase heat to medium.
Bring to simmer and continue to cook at simmer for 1 hour.
Puree with immersion blender and strain.
Return to heat at medium and add cream, curry powder and coconut milk.
Season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper.
Finely chopped chive and creme fraiche to finish

Finally, let me just add that the reward of being a a good hostess is getting to keep the left-overs. We were eating well for almost a week off the odds and ends left in the fridge. Baguette sandwiches with duck breast and arugula pesto anyone?

Scott is happy to talk more with any of you about food, cooking and the local restaurant business. You can always find him through us, but you can also reach him directly via scottmacinnisATgmail.com

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UPDATE: Mary just posted a lovely farewell, thank you, and stay tuned post on the lunch@everyday cook blog.

I’m back with another service announcement for our Ann Arbor readers. It’s official: despite a great response from the community to Mary Campbell’s proposal to offer memberships, everyday cook in Kerrytown will be closing this Saturday, June 21. The need for capital was too great, and the need for renovations too extensive for the restaurant to stay in business. I’m thankful that their fabulous wine store, everyday wines, will remain open, but I’m sad to relate this news. What a loss.

To get your fix before they close the doors, lunch will be served today and tomorrow, and there will be a Summer Solstice party held in the Kerrytown courtyard Saturday evening from 6:30-9:30 to benefit Growing Hope, a local non-profit. Read more about the party on the everyday wines + everyday cook blog.

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come hither

The idea of eating flowers has always struck me as a category mistake, on par with dating guys who still live with their parents or buying cigarettes for minors — something that just should not be done. At upscale restaurants, it sort of irritates me if my salad comes out adorned with edible flowers. Sure, a single, bright orange nasturtium resting atop a pile of greens adds some color to the plate, but it seems merely decorative to me — a fussy piece of garnish. (And when is the last time you wanted to eat plate garnish?) I feel like I’m supposed to think, “My, how clever! A flower that you can eat!!” Uh-uh, I’ll pass.

I have made exceptions to my ban on flower-eating for squash blossoms. I’ve tentatively brought them home from the farmer’s market, equally intimidated and seduced by their charms–so delicate! so weird! They challenge the home cook, seeming to say, “you might know all about my brethren squash and zucchini, but you have no idea about what to do with me once you take me home.” They are the Mae West of produce.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this and am alone in being intimidated by squash blossoms. If you’re with me, though, and have found yourself beguiled by blossoms, I assure you that it’s simple to do something delicious with these odd little beauties.

lazy blossoms

I may not be keen on flowers-as-food, but I’ve always like it when food is wrapped in other food — dates wrapped in bacon, stuffed grape leaves, ice cream sandwiches. (Not together, obviously.) This recipe–if it can be called a recipe–takes a page from that book. Just clean ’em, stuff ’em, dip ’em in egg and flour, fry ’em. And, of course, eat ’em.

Stuffed squash blossoms

  1. Once you’ve cleaned off the blossoms, make some kind of cheese stuffing. I used cream cheese, garlic, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper. I wish I’d had some goat cheese, because that would have been divine. Stuff the blossoms with a small spoonful of the filling and twist the tops closed.
  2. Set out two prep bowls. Into one of them, break an egg and beat it a bit with a fork. In the other bowl, add some flour and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Dip a blossom into the egg
  4. Dust with flour. Do this to all the blossoms and place on a plate.
  5. Fry lightly in olive oil until golden. You can be smarter than me and use a utensil instead of your bare hands to add the blossoms to the pan.
  6. That’s about all there is to it.

Serve as a part of a light meal. Radishes on buttered baguette will do, and a Tantre Farms salad never hurts.
farm share dinner #1

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Readers of G3 know that we are big fans of everyday cook + everyday wine in Kerrytown. We have written about them a great deal in this space — about cooking classes we’ve attended, lunches we’ve enjoyed, and wines we’re drinking. We’ve posted about their bid for the city’s available liquor license (which they did not get), and now it’s time for one more public service announcement about one of our favorite food spots in town. It appears that everyday cook, the lovely multi-purpose lunch restaurant/demo kitchen/ event space, is in danger of closing, and owner Mary Campbell would like feedback about her proposal to keep it going. She is interested in offering memberships at various levels with increasing benefits; funds from the memberships would give them the influx of capital to keep the business running and sustain its growth. Mary summed up how it would all work in an e-mail to me:

We’re literally going to load a gift card with the membership amount + a 10% bonus. So, if somebody does $250, they’ll get $275 loaded onto an “everyday” card that they can use at everyday cook or everyday wines. It’s basically fronting us the money so we can do our capital improvements and we’re paying folks a 10% return on money they would have spent with us anyway (or so we hope). The cards never expire so people can use it until the dollars are gone and then reload if they would like.

Sounds like a great deal, no? I urge you to please read the proposal and send your comments to everyday_wines@yahoo.com or leave comments at the end of this post. After you do that, I urge you to think about purchasing a membership at whatever amount would support your everyday wine/cook habit budget. Chances like these to help sustain a great local business in a direct and immediate way do not come around often.

I quote her letter in full:

Hello, everybody.

As many of you know, Everyday Cook is at a crossroads and may be closing toward the end of this month. As the Everyday Cook business model has evolved, it’s become clear that the lunch restaurant is our shining jewel. Led by executive chef Brendan McCall and his amazing team, Everyday Cook has gained an impassioned following of foodies throughout Michigan and beyond. The daily changing menu and commitment to fresh, local ingredients is so special and unique that we just can’t let that go without a fight.

When word filtered out recently that we were closing due to lack of capital funds to sustain our necessary growth, there was a genuine outpouring from the community. And those conversations got the wheels turning.

So here’s the deal – we are weighing the idea of offering memberships to Everyday Cook at various levels with increasing benefits. Your membership and the influx of capital from the memberships would allow us to:

  • Streamline and upgrade the kitchen area for greater output.. Purchase additional refrigeration units to allow us to sell food and freshly prepared items to go.
  • Apply for and purchase a developmental liquor license so we can serve wine and beer, as well as offer wine tastings and wine classes.
  • Offer fixed-menu supper clubs.
  • Offer space to local growers to sell their products year round.
  • Update the restroom in our space so that our customers can use it.

So, you’re wondering “how are these memberships going to work?” Glad you asked.

Lower level memberships would be offered in $250 increments — starting at $250 and running up through $2,500, — and then we will add an additional 10% of value to your membership. For example, a $1,000 commitment will get you $1,100 on an “Everyday” card that you can use at Everyday Wines and Everyday Cook (everything from lunches, wine, other beverages, specialty food items, dinners, wine classes, etc.).

If you have an Everyday Wines bag and get 10% off six bottles, your investment will go that much further. There will be some exceptions such as gratuity and items that we are selling for others and not keeping the proceeds (i.e. local farmers or local booksellers).

We’ll also offer upper level $5,000 and $10,000 memberships that will include the opportunity to host complementary customized private dinner parties, the ability to use our event space, and members-only wine and food tastings. If you’re interested, we’ll fill you in on all the details.

We will spend the next week or so evaluating response to this idea. Ifyou are interested in the membership scenario, please let us know bydropping an email to everyday_wines@yahoo.com

Regardless of the outcome, Everyday Wines will continue to go strong. And, of course, no matter what happens with Everyday Cook, we still have two weeks to savor the best food in town.

From the folks behind the counter and in the kitchen at Everyday Cook

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It’s a fickle time of year. I started this post on Memorial Day weekend when summer was just beginning to be possible, when the first real flush of spring greens was filling the market, when we wanted tastes that were light but still a little bit warming in the cool night air. I wanted to write about these two meals because they fit nicely in this cusp period as we teeter on the edge of summer, and because I’ve gotten very interested in the notion of the menu lately, in the careful composition of flavors and colors, in assembling culinary elements into an experience at once varied and integrated. And so I started this post. And then I got distracted. And now it’s 90 friggin’ degrees and only the early evening rains are saving us from despair.

Nevertheless, I stand by these two menus and even believe it’s possible that you would want to cook them sometime in the next couple of weeks. Perhaps on the weekend when the forecast tells me the temperature will hang around at a moderate eighty degrees.

This first menu was for a relatively simple Saturday night supper at home. It’s pretty self-explanatory, with a few source notes for the locals.

Smoked duck breast with a few olives, cornichons and dijon mustard

The duck was from Tracklements and was especially lovely. We were advised to freeze the breast slightly and then slice it on the mandoline. Tricky. Perfect.

Grilled brook trout with a homemade tartar sauce

One trout fed two nicely; not huge portions, but satisfying. Monahan’s prepped it really well. Not a pin bone to be found. The homemade tartar sauce (see below) was a revelation for this girl who’s always turned her nose up at that gloppy white stuff that comes with a fish fry. I kept coming back for more.

Potatoes Anna

I’m not sure how we came to Potatoes Anna, but I know the process ended up with a spate of research on what puts the Anna in Potatoes. The Joy of Cooking tells me that true Potatoes Anna can only be made in a Potatoes Anna chafing dish. We didn’t have one on hand, so ours were not true, but they were a very nice side dish.

Spinach salad with roasted red peppers and goat cheese

Some of that great spinach that’s in season now, a little red onion, a little roasted red pepper, a generous addition of goat cheese. A nice way to finish a meal that feels like a meal but sits with you fairly lightly.

This second menu was composed in honor of Shana’s birthday. Mostly when the G3 eat together, we all chip in, but I had the day off and I wanted to put together a bit of a feast. I wanted the meal to be homey — a Tuesday night, just a few friends getting together — but have a touch of elegance in honor of the occasion.

Asparagus.

Of course. How could there not be asparagus at this time of year? This version, boiled for just a few minutes, rolled in a sherry vinaigrette and cooled to room temperature, dressed with a very finely minced hard boiled egg.

Lavender and thyme roasted chicken.

I had been reading Laurie Colwin that week, and she is a big advocate of the slow-roasted chicken as, it turns out, is Bob Sparrow, our star local butcher. So I abandoned my usual high-heat-fast-cooking-time method and put it in a 325 oven for a couple of hours. I think it was a little too long but the guests seemed happy enough (of course we’d already gone through a really great bottle of Sandpiper sparkling wine from northern Michigan so that may have raised the level of tolerance for dry chicken. ) Before cooking, I mixed together some butter, thyme and culinary lavender and smeared it under the skin. The plan was to make a pan sauce from the drippings by deglazing the pan with some white wine, but somehow I got daunted by the amount of fat and the pace of the meal, and I bailed on the sauce. Late that night, while cleaning up, I indulged in the solitary decadence of mopping up some of the pan juices with a piece of left-over baguette. Oh my god. I should not have bailed on the pan sauce. Rich and redolent of the herbs. Be brave. Make that sauce.

Scalloped potatoes.

Also on the advise of Laurie Colwin who says scalloped potatoes always make people feel special. Potatoes, butter and ton of cream. What’s not to love? See below.

A salad of bitter greens with fennel and radishes.

Mustard greens and arugula from the Farmer’s market. Quite a bit of lemon in the sherry vinaigrette. I pleased myself by using the mandoline for the second and third time in the prep process (the first time on the potatoes). A nice bit of astringency after the artery-clogging amount of cream in the potatoes. Which cleared the way for . . .

Butterscotch pots-de-creme

From a recipe at Orangette. Listen to her when she says to search out the two kinds of fancy sugar. I made this once before and went with all turbinado and it was good. With demera and muscavado, oh my . . . (Here in Ann Arbor, I’ve found Plum Market to be the best source for fancy sugar in terms of both selection and price).

There was, I must admit, a second dessert, brought by one of the guests, a blueberry buckle sort of cake, light and moist and somehow just right at the end.

(Photo used under a CC by attribution license, courtesy of Iakobos)

Two Recipes that are a great return on relatively little labor:

Homemade Tartar Sauce for Two

Half a cup of good jarred mayonnaise

Juice of half a lemon

1 T of prepared horseradish. More or less to taste.

1 T chopped capers

2 dashes of hot sauce.

Thin the mayonnaise by beating the lemon juice with a fork. Fold in remaining ingredients. Allow an hour or two to chill and for the ingredients to meld together.

Scalloped Potatoes

3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 lb russet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in upper third. Generously butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish (I used my large souffle dish).

Stir together nutmeg, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.

Peel and thinly slice potatoes (again, the mandoline was my friend). Layer potatoes in baking dish, overlapping slightly and sprinkling each layer with some of salt mixture and some of butter. Pour cream and milk over potatoes, pressing down gently to submerge potatoes in liquid.

Cover with foil and bake until potatoes are tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Remove gratin from oven and discard foil. Turn broiler on and broil gratin 2 to 3 inches from heat until top is browned in spots, 3 to 5 minutes.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves somewhere between four and six depending on level of greed.

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