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Archive for the ‘Ann Arbor Area Food Folks’ Category

A Virtual Pasta Party

A couple of weeks ago, the nice folks from Al Dente Pasta got in touch with the G3 via this blog and asked if we’d be interested in hosting a pasta party and writing about their product. I was interested in trying the pasta, but I had two reservations about this. First, as you might infer from the sparse posting around here, we are three really maxed-out women right now. Work has been non-stop, we’ve been on the road, dealing with domestic life and all that other stuff that makes it hard to cook, let alone write about it. We can barely get ourselves in the same room for coffee for fifteen minutes let alone have a party. The second is that I worried that well, I wouldn’t like the pasta. And then what would I say?  To solve the first problem, we decided on a virtual sort of pasta cook-off. We’d all make our pasta as part of our daily lives, but then compare notes and photos. As for the second issue, I decided that if the pasta was unremarkable, we could just maintain a polite silence.

Guess what?  It’s good! Really good. I have to tell you, I’ve been staring at Al Dente bags for years and never thought about them. So when a case of the stuff showed up on my porch I was surprised to see on the label “since 1981.” Really? And it’s made in Whitmore Lake? Who knew? There’s a nice information page on the company site explaining the history and growth of Monique Deschaine’s company from a one woman operation to a business with national reach. I’m glad to know she’s sending her pasta all over the country, but I’m more glad to know I can get a high quality pasta made only a few miles away.

But I bet you want to  know what we did with it. Well, lot’s of things.

Maria Mushroom Fettucine

Maria's Mushroom Fettucine

The wild mushroom fettucine was a natural pair with those Michigan mushrooms I’ve been going on about. I diced up some trumpet mushrooms and shallot and did a quick sautee in olive oil. When the mushrooms had taken on some color, I added some green garlic (local green garlic has been in stock at our food coop lately) sliced into two inch lengths and a little bit of diced preserved lemon that had been hanging around in the fridge.  While  this melded together, I tossed the fettucine in boiling water. It cooks fast, so be vigilant! Just before the pasta was done, I added a little cream to the sauce and let it warm. Then I drained the pasta, saving out a bit of the water, added the pasta to the sautee pan and bound it all together with the pasta water and a couple of tablespoons of butter. It resulted in a silky tangle of noodles and a flavor deepened by the earthy undertones of the mushrooms. Quick, easy and delicious. Four thumbs up around here, although certain younger members of my household patiently picked out their mushrooms and laid them on the side of the plate.

Shanas Spicy Whole Wheat Pasta

Shana's Spicy Whole Wheat Pasta

We thought Shana had drawn the short straw when we made her take the whole wheat fettucine. But she’s an enterprising young woman, and not only made the best of it, but made the rest of us feel like wimps for having been afraid of the healthy stuff. Here’s what she has to say:

I used the whole wheat (and flax) fettucine, and I modified this recipe —  – subbing chard for kale, and making my own harissa. I follow a recipe similar to this one in Saveur . (As an aside, I can’t stress enough how great it is to keep a jar of harissa in the fridge at all times. It turns what could easily be a loser dinner — scrambled eggs, or some leftover potatoes and greens—into something very nearly quite special.)

I was skeptical of whole wheat pasta, which I always thought tasted like wet cardboard. I thought that people only ate it to be virtuous, and I for one always put taste before virtue.  But the pungent garlic, harissa, and olives, really stood up to the hearty pasta and the meal was well balanced and delicious. I wouldn’t have wanted to make this dish with non-whole wheat pasta, in fact, because the flavors would have overwhelmed the pasta.  It was a good combination.

I was surprised that the pasta cooked so quickly – like 4 minutes or something — and that it tasted really fresh.

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Anne's Spinach Feetucine

Anne went in a spring direction with  spinach pasta with leeks, garlic, asparagus, peas, lemon, prosciutto, parmesan w/a little bit of cream added. She says “We liked it a lot – it was very light and delicate – very close to tasting like fresh pasta. I still have to try the spicy sesame – I was planning to do it maybe with tofu and a peanut sauce.”

Nicks Pick: Squid Ink Pasta With Swordfish

Nick's Pick: Squid Ink Pasta With Swordfish

My final Al Dente experiment was the squid ink pasta tossed with olive oil, capers, kalamata olives, green garlic and parsley, topped with grilled swordfish (I’d like to say it was fancy, but it was frozen and from Trader Joe’s and just fine.) That meal is best described in three year old Nick’s words:

“Mama, are you serious this is octopus noodles?

( a couple of minutes later) ” I LOVE octopus noodles.”

(extending hand with caper held gingerly between thumb and forefinger) “what’s this??”

(a minute later) “Capers are GREAT. Can I have some more noodles?”

And about a week later while staring at his plate of Barilla penne. “Where are those octopus noodles?”

Al Dente pasta is available by mail order, and locally at both Sparrow’s in Kerrytown and the PFC. I believe I’ve seen them carried at Zingerman’s and Busch’s as well.

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

You all have been very patient as we have either been not posting at all or writing about wonderful things to eat in places where you’re not. It’s high time to bring it all back home.

March kicked my butt. So many (so many) years of winters, and I still don’t really believe that March is the worst month. I let myself believe that February is hardest and then March will come and it will all start to get better. But it doesn’t. And it always hurts, because I expected something more. In March, I’m tired of braises and root vegetables and wadded up kleenex and sensible footwear. But there are no reasonable alternatives

Except.

The light stays longer. At the market there are a few glimmers of hope; a table full of spinach, a few handfuls of radishes, the soft brush of pussy willows.

And eggs. There are more eggs, as the chickens begin to wake up to the faint possibility of spring. At this house. we’ve been eating a lot of Dragonwood eggs. Paul drops them by the house, the kids fight over the prettiest ones (the speckled ones are particularly prized), I marvel at the intensity of the yellow in the yolks and before you know it, we’ve whipped through another dozen.

Well, ok, eggs, rebirth, we get that. But the promise of coming alive again into the growing season comes in more unexpected shapes as well. Mushrooms, anyone?

Shana brought me a bag of these beauties from the Selma Cafe a couple of weeks ago (she and Anne and I entertained and perhaps mystified our colleagues by spreading out a mixed pound on a table at work and dividing them up while we oohed and aahed appreciatively). The next Saturday I was literally first in line at the market to make sure I got a half pound before they were gone. The first batch went into a deep, rich sauce for a grilled leg of lamb made in honor of the first day of spring. The second round went into one of my single girl suppers (well, not quite single; young Nick was keeping me company, but he doesn’t hold with fungi and ate his scrambled egg unadorned). Leftover polenta, chilled and sliced and lightly fried in olive oil, layered on top of some hoop house arugula. Dragonwood eggs, softly scrambled. Mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of cream.

(hey, I made that bread; I’m overcoming fear of yeast)

Polenta, eggs, mushrooms, supper. Nothing much, but a moment where I needed to believe that the world would be warm again someday, it was oh so much more. And in its down-deep localness, it helped remind me that I love the place I live in. Even though its winters are damn long.

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A few posts ago, Maria wrote a glowing review of Diner for a Day, a breakfast/fundraiser hosted by Lisa Gottleib and Jeff McCabe, featuring local foods and supporting local farmers and purveyors. As I’m sure you gleaned from Maria’s post, it was a successful and delicious event, one that is inspiring some repeat performances–and, we hope, will become a regular occurrence.

It turns out that one breakfast/fundraising event featuring locally-grown food was such a hit that they held another breakfast last Friday, dubbing it “Selma Café”–a local foods breakfast salon with the goal of helping to “co-create the next wave of our local food community. “

As you might imagine, I’m pretty excited about this, and I’m one of several volunteers who are working to make this a regular event. I’d like to invite you to our March 6 Selma Café, which will take place from 6:30-10:00am at 722 Soule Blvd. Local chef Scott MacInnis will be manning the stove, and Rob Harper of Edible WOW and I will be the kitchen/service crew, on toast, coffee, clean-up and whatever-else-we-need-to-do-duty.

I really hope you can make it! Feel free to leave comments or e-mail me with questions. We’re also actively seeking volunteers to sign up to help keep this informal local food salon running, so please let us know how you can help.

Updates about Selma Cafe and other related events will be posted here.

More about Selma Cafe, in Jeff’s words:

Please join us every Friday morning from 6:30 to 10:00 at our casual breakfast gathering spot on the west side of Ann Arbor. Hosts Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe welcome you to pull up a chair and enjoy a meal from our guest chef. Come share, with your neighbors and friends, a little bit about what you feel is worth building in our community.

Selma Cafe is:

  • a hub, a center, a heart of the many ongoing efforts to improve our lives through community building and free access to affordable, healthy foods and efforts to foster right-livelihood in vocations with meaning and purpose
  • open 6:30 – 10:00 am every Friday as long as is viable
  • located at 722 Soule Blvd. Ann Arbor, MI The home of Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe
  • hosted each week by a chef who works with seasonal, local ingredients
  • a weekly podcast, with on-site host Jeff McCabe and guests, discussing subjects related to the re-localization of food economies.
  • for you!! Please come see us, pull up a chair, tell us what you would like to drink, to eat, what is on your mind. Pass through when you are able, or stick around and make it happen.
  • all-volunteer. Suggested donation is $10-$15 for breakfast. $3 for a cup of coffee or tea with biscotti. All proceeds go directly to the local farmers and producers that supply the ingredients and to non-profit groups working to expand access to healthy, sustainable food resources.
  • founded on the principals of openness, inclusiveness and transparency. We seek your help in building the tools and organizational structure to maintain these organizing principles.

Why do I care so much about Selma Cafe? Why am I considering waking up super early to help serve breakfast to strangers? I’ve been thinking for some time (and posted a comment to this effect on Jeff’s blog) that, while there are many efforts afoot in A2 that support local food, something has been missing — a center, a hub. There are the local producers and consumers of local foods who might meet up at the Farmer’s Market or at the farm for their CSA distribution. There was a local food summit meeting recently that generated good discussion about some future directions for local food community, policy, and projects. There is chatter on various blogs and e-mail listservs about eating and cooking in more sustainable and locally-supported ways, and a number of restaurants in the area are sourcing local ingredients. (Not to mention the many other efforts under way that I’m unaware of!)

All of these are right and good, and I’m glad we have this energy and vision and activity around local food here in Ann Arbor. But I’ve been longing for the social element—the real, in-person, hand-shaking, bread-breaking (and waffle-eating!), hanging-out time that a community needs to grow, to cohere, to be nourished, to sustain itself. I want to cook with Scott and make toast with Rob and drink coffee roasted by John Roos, with John Roos. I want to talk to Jeff McCabe about how he bakes bread and how to garden. I want to meet readers of this blog; please join us!

In short, whatever I’ve felt was missing from a sense of local food community was abundantly supplied at Diner for Day, and I’m hopeful that Selma Cafe might be able to feed this hunger.

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A couple of weeks back, there was an email in my inbox from my friend Scott inviting the G3 and any and all friends to Diner for A Day, a fundraiser breakfast to support local farmers and producers and the completion of Chris Bedford’s latest film “Coming Home”, as well as providing seed money for a future edible schoolyard program (to be announced). Now, I’m always happy to attend an event where Scott cooks, so I rallied the troops and signed up the lot of us  (three bloggers, three partners, one three year old). Only later, when I began to see posters for the event around town and realized that it was to be held in a not-overly-large house not too far from my west side neighborhood did I begin to think “how will they pull this off?” And though I would not want Scott and his good compatriots such as Eve Arnoff and John Roos, and, most notably, the intrepid hosts, Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb, to think that I doubted them . . . well, I sort of expected to arrive and find a sign on the door that said “never mind, go home, get yourself some Lucky Charms.”

How did they pull it off? With both efficiency and style. The house was packed with people, many eating, many cooking, many serving, and all were in a great mood. We lingered long and could have lingered longer except for some sense of guilt at holding on to our seats when there were hungry masses to be fed. Scott told me they served 160 meals out of Jeff and Lisa’s kitchen that day.  All-American breakfasts, big waffles and fruit, elegant smoked salmon strata (Scott had smoked the salmon, Eve had assembled the strata) and wholesome AND delicious granola. And lots of John Roos coffee (and apple cider and tea for those of us who wimped on the prospect of more than one cup of that particular joe).

The food was great — well prepared, hot, efficiently served. And there was granola, milk, bacon and eggs to take home if you wished, as well as some very stylish t-shirts and dish towels to commemorate the event. But even greater was the good fellowship and the sense of being connected to my community and the way in which the room buzzed around the shared love of food and place (at least, I think that was it, not the coffee. Ok, the coffee probably helped).

Jeff and Lisa and friends are doing great work (and seem to be having great fun) with the SELMA co-op, reaching out to neighbors and organizing around sharing resources and skills, from lawn mowers to loaves of bread. I’m delighted to hear they’ll be  continuing the good work and fellowship (and food!) in a regularly offered Selma Cafe, a place for friends, neighbors and those of us interested in our connections to the land and to each other to gather to trade talk and toast.

And their biggest fan? Young Nick, who after 5, count ’em 5, pieces of bacon, two whole waffles and a heap of raspberries said “Mama, I don’t want to stop eating!” Later that day when I asked him what was his favorite part, he declared “all of it!” And for me too.

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I just received an email reminder from Mary at the Community Farm Kitchen about an event G3 readers might be interested in. She will be participating in a panel discussion on “Finding Local Food and Bringing It Home for Dinner: Supporting Our Farms” this Thursday, May 22 from 7 to 8.30 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library Main Branch (downtown—downstairs multi-purpose room).

From the Library’s website:  “This panel discussion features exemplary local farmers and food experts who will discuss what they’ve learned about growing food, what they see for the future of food and why Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms are so important to the community. They will also highlight the creative ways in which local people in our community are buying, cooking and enjoying food that is produced close to home.

Panelists include Richard Andres and Deb Lentz (Tantre Farm); Kris Hirth (Old Pine Farm); Mary Wessel Walker (Community Farm Kitchen) and Victoria Bennett (a parent who found new ways to shop for food because of her son’s severe allergies). Cosponsored by Slow Foods Huron Valley.”

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Old and New Faces of The Big Ten Market

Our conversation with Jean Henry got us interested in learning what other observations folks around town who work with food and wine might have to say about the local food scene, about the climate for small businesses in Ann Arbor, and, of course about what they’re cooking for dinner. Matt Morgan, of Morgan and York was kind enough to spend some time talking with us about good food, good business and good consumer practices:

Could you talk a little bit about your philosophy in developing Morgan and York and how you see your niche in the Ann Arbor food scene?

What Tommy York and I set out to create was a small shop that did both food and wine retailing well. By that, we were looking to have a discriminating selection of products– not the biggest selection, but products chosen for their special characteristics. Then we needed to properly take care of those products, and deliver them to people with great service. When we started out, we saw Zingerman’s doing a terrific job with the food, and that VC had knowledgeable wine staff, but no one was doing both. When you consider that food and wine are inexorably connected in European food traditions, it makes sense to offer both.We also wanted to represent small producers. The Costcos of the world don’t care about small family wineries or cheese-makers — they can’t make enough pallets of XYZ product to feed the monster. On the other hand, we (small retailers) are not important to companies like Coke, Kraft, or Kendall-Jackson. There’s a natural balance in small, quality-oriented retailers representing small, quality-oriented producers.We see our niche as picking great products and bringing them together in a way that makes sense aesthetically, and providing service based on sharing our enthusiasm for food and wine.

I’m particularly interested in how you balance your obvious commitment to local products and purveyors and to making available quality products from around the world. Could you talk about this a bit?

That’s a great question. The answer stems from the philosophy that I outlined above.We are primarily in the business of selling imported food and wine. Many of these products come from well-established producers and regions where their products, or products like theirs, have been made for centuries. There’s an enormous amount of cultural wealth and history reflected in that, and in many ways our local food industry is still maturing. There are unique and interesting foods and drinks coming from our part of the country, and the best offer a sense of place — something special not easily replicated in an industrial food factory elsewhere.Our job is to pick local products of very high quality, put them out for sale next to the best wines, cheeses, etc of Europe, and get people to take them seriously. Whose eggs we sell, or what wine from Michigan we offer is critically evaluated by our customers — people who have traveled and had the chance to try some of the best food and wine in the world. By putting our (Michigan’s) best foot forward, by showing that these local small-producer products compare favorably to their old world counterparts, we can help build the strength and reputation of our small producers.

How’s business? Can you comment in general about how you see the climate for small businesses in Ann Arbor, particularly food and wine businesses?

You really want the answer to this? It’s a long one, and it includes my thoughts about some bad trends in business, retail, and our culture in general that are finally being bucked by the consumer.
Business is good. You can always hope for more business, especially because it translates in to selling more of those small producers’ products, and more opportunities for your people, but we can’t complain. Our customers are taking good care of us in a tough time. I think the food and wine business in Ann Arbor is well-served. Some people have opined that it is over-served, but I’m not sure. I do think there’s a lot of pressure on people who don’t provide anything special for the customer, and we will see some of those places go away.Times like this can be good for the long-term health of businesses that provide high quality and good service. I see people getting away from amassing things, and focusing on enjoying life with their friends and family. In addition, much of America is having health problems related to over-consuming industrial foods, including factory farmed, hormone-filled meat that didn’t exist when our grandparents grew up, and garbage filled with high-fructose corn syrup. People are craving real food, high quality stuff, and they’re tired of being treated like cattle by demoralized staff in the big-box stores. As a society, we are realizing that the financial bottom line is not the whole picture, and that just because we can pay less for more junk, maybe that’s exactly what we don’t need — low quality food, outsourced jobs, and low-paid, indifferent service. It’s all related, and people are beginning to understand that when you pay less, you always get less, even when it looks like you’re getting more.An example of what I’m talking about is this Aussie shiraz wine my wife and I used to buy ten or eleven years ago for $8 a bottle. Pretty OK stuff from a biggish producer. Well, the US dollar is now worth half what it was worth then, but lo and behold, open the paper on Sunday and you can find someone selling that ‘same’ wine now for $8 a bottle. What in your life is the same price that it was ten years ago? People should be asking why these things are so cheap, and the answer is that they are being cheapened to meet a price.Businesses that follow the model of cheapening products, lowering the quality of their staff by paying less, dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator — those are the businesses that are going to suffer, because people will only put up with that trend of something being lower quality, with lower service for so long.I encourage the people of Ann Arbor to patronize businesses that treat them well and sell good stuff. That way those shops will be there to enjoy in the future. Vote with your dollars, and spread the word.

What sort of things are you cooking and eating at home?

We’re really excited for the new growing season to begin in Michigan. We belong to a CSA (Needle Lane Farms) and get fresh organic produce from them every week. A box of Beverly’s produce and our copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables makes life more interesting. One of my favorite recipes is Alice Waters’ recipe for braised chard. It’s so easy and simple and the results are heavenly.Cookbook wise, I’m really excited about an older one– Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. If you haven’t checked it out, you should — he was brilliant and opinionated, and almost always right, which makes his writing interesting. Many of the criticisms he had about food in America are still valid today, 30 years later.Beyond that, I’ve been telling everyone about this great new (to me) way to roast meat– the Jamison lamb we sell, for example. Alton Brown (yeah, the guy from TV) suggests cooking roasts at 200 until they hit an internal temp of 118, then you take the meat out, turn the oven up to 550, and when the internal temp on the meat stops rising, put it back in long enough to brown (~10 minutes.) We usually season the meat first– garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil, but that’s about it. Fantastic, comes out fully rested, and always perfectly cooked.As far as wine, we’re really enjoying the Beaujolais crus — the wines from the really good parcels in that area. Most people think of Dubeouf’s Nouveau, which is really inexcusably bad — the worst face of industrial winemaking. The crus, on the other hand, especially from the small producers, are really satisfying wines that are great with food. When the weather breaks we’ll be grilling more and popping open some dry rose and muscadet, for sure.
What are some of your favorite Ann Arbor food spots?
My family all like Le Dog for soup and sausages in the summertime, especially. Logan does a great job of ‘haute cuisine,’ with friendly service. Eve’s small plates are good, and we always have good food and service at Pacific Rim. Sorry if I left anyone out– I have to confess we don’t eat out too often– we love to cook, and we have a small child, so that keeps us home more than some. Does Ypsi count? Taqueria la Fiesta is a favorite.

Are there any new developments in the works for Morgan and York that you’d like to share with us? Ever think about doing a Morgan and York cookbook?

We did just launch a ‘shoppable’ web store– we’re showcasing a limited range of items, but you can place online orders, which is new for us.We’d love to open another store. My wife is from Sydney, Australia, and we keep joking about a branch location there. We’re looking at doing some remodeling on the current location, but at this point it’s still under discussion.A cookbook is an interesting idea. I should discuss that with Tommy.
You can find Morgan and York at 1928 Packard in Ann Arbor. Right by the big Cheese, cheese, cheese sign. Phone is 734.663.0798. Stop in. Good advice and good samples as well as a great selection — and maybe a recommendation about what to eat with roasted lamb and braised swiss chard tonight.

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