Monday, January 21, 2013

Detroit Carnivores

Disclaimer: if you don't like meat/offal, don't eat meat/offal, etc...this post is probably not for you.

Jeremy first heard about Roast from a professor he worked for, after he asked what his favorite restaurant is. We've been meaning to try it out for a couple of years now, and we finally did for my 27th birthday!

Roast is located on street level of the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. How can you go wrong with a restaurant owned by Michael Symon?
We did flag a cab to get here--traffic was a nightmare and it was too windy and cold to hike the half mile from our room at the Marriott at the Renaissance Center. The ride was only 5-10 minutes. We walked into the lobby of the Westin, turned to the left, and were greeted by the hostess of Roast. The restaurant is dark; dark leather booths, dark wood paneling, dimmed lights...Jeremy and I giggled with each other over this, as it makes you feel like you are about to participate in something incredibly hedonistic. We had a nice booth next to a window to ourselves, with a wonderful view of the bar; they have basically made a centerpiece focal point out of the wine cellar/storage: windows allow you to view all of the bottles, lined up beautifully; you can watch servers/bartenders go inside and get what they need--check out the website for an actual photo).

Our server brought us the drink menu, on nothing other than an iPad programmed with their entire drink selection. All we had to do was filter through the hundreds of listings. I ended up ordering a 'Forbidden Fruit'...a cocktail composed of Calvados and I don't even remember what else. It was tasty, but strong. That's what you get when you order something made from apple brandy.
Jeremy had a beer (Orval, a belgian ale to be more specific).

We sat for a while pondering what to order for food. We had skimmed the menu online prior to arriving and had decided to order two appetizers. We just had to figure out what else to order. But first, the apps.

We had our hearts set on roasted marrow and southern fried sweetbreads. I have always had mixed feelings about marrow. I grew up with Mom raving about how delicious and wonderful it is, but difficult to find. Jeremy loves it. I said I would try it with no guarantees. I'm still not sure if I like it, from a purely textural standpoint. Anyhow, I can appreciate that it was prepared well and Jeremy had zero complaints. And the flavors were wonderful. If you like marrow, order this.

Sweetbreads. We had our first experience with sweetbreads in Northern Michigan. These were prepared very differently from our first encounter. They were delicious, and fried crispy, served atop sliced apples and slaw. No complaints from us, we gave them two thumbs up and there wasn't anything left on the plate.

Entrees. We finally decided, after much debate, what to order. The 'Roast Beast of the Day' was goat, pulled and topped with a salsa verde. Jeremy loves goat, but wasn't keen on the idea of it being pulled.
I told him I would order the ribeye and share, and he could get something else. And of course, being Jeremy, he selected the veal heart...
The ribeye was probably one of the best steaks I have ever had. I always order steak medium-rare, and it was done just that way, with a nicely charred and flavorful outside. Each cut is hand selected and house aged, topped with watercress, radish and blue cheese. The whole dish, from cooking temperature to plating presentation was perfect.
I should let Jeremy write more about the veal heart, since it was his dish. The veal heart came rare, atop celery root puree and garnished with spicy giardiniera (essentially pickled vegetables). Jeremy enjoyed the dish, but wasn't used to it being prepared on the rare side. I tried it and didn't care for the chewy texture. Once again, there was nothing left on the plate...
We, of course, chose a restaurant that serves every item a la carte, so sides were separate. We ordered three. Everything comes family style, which is nice.
Side Number 1: Fried Brussels Sprouts. O...M...G....I could eat these every day. Crispy on the outside, and perfectly soft on the inside, these were the most amazing brussels sprouts we've ever had.

Side Number 2: Wild Mushrooms. Cooked in butter. They were delicious, and prepared with the simplest of seasonings. You definitely get to experience the full fungal flavor.

Side Number 3: Broccolini with garlic and breadcrumbs. Yum!

Of course, a birthday dinner cannot be completed without dessert. They had a variety of options, but we couldn't resist the creme brulee of the day: brown butter creme brulee. I love me some brown butter, and my little brain could hardly wrap itself around the idea of flavoring creme brulee with it. Yummo. My taste buds were in awe!

The upshot: my 27th birthday dinner was a total success...despite the traffic jam from the International North American Auto Show, and the fact that my birthday falls in one of the coldest months of the year. If you want a hedonistic, meatcentric experience, or just plain delicious food, check out Roast Detroit. We highly recommend it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lovely Lights of Leavenworth

In December we were able to visit my parents. So off we flew to Seattle, where they picked us up from the airport. It had been previously decided that we would have a vacation within a vacation, so reservations were made at an inn in Leavenworth, WA. (Sidenote: for December, or basically anything after Thanksgiving, you have to have reservations...they book solid a year in advance). Throughout the weekends of December, they have a glorious display of holiday lights throughout the downtown area, with music in the plaza and other activities.

On our drive to Leavenworth (pictured at left), we stopped in Tukwila for lunch. Grazie Restaurant is wonderful; small and family run, everything is very fresh, and nothing we ordered from their menu was anything short of fantastic. So, if you are ever in Tukwila, check them out. You won't be disappointed.

On the road again, headed through the Cascades, and soon enough we were in Leavenworth. And it was packed. People everywhere! It's a good thing, but finding parking would be a nightmare. Fortunately the inn had parking. Dream House Suites is the place we stayed to be specific--complete with kitchenette! Very comfortable, extremely convenient location and sleeps at least 4 adults!

Now, onto, you guessed it...the eats. There is no lack of food in Leavenworth; it is everywhere. And all kinds too, but mostly focused on the German. It is a Bavarian village after all. So, we decided to eat at Pavz--twice. First for dinner, then for breakfast.

For dinner, we had an appetizer of cheese fondue. It was great. Their whole menu pretty much consists of variously stuffed crepes. I had ham, cheese and cremini mushroom, topped with bechamel. Very good, and incredibly filling; one crepe can definitely serve two people (I doggie-bagged half of mine). My parents and Jeremy all ordered different crepes and enjoyed them thoroughly. Then Jeremy and I went back for breakfast...

I ordered the chile relleno (at left). Poblano pepper stuffed with homemade chorizo, potatoes and cheese, atop eggs, black beans and avocado, garnished with pico de gallo. Mmmm Mmmm yum. It was wonderful. A lot going on, as far as ingredients and items, but all works together. Jeremy got a ham, cheese and egg crepe. Basically the equivalent to my dinner, minus the mushrooms.

After our breakfast, Jeremy, my Dad and I headed on over to Red Tail Canyon Farm. Dad had made reservations for a sleigh ride, however there was not enough snow at the time to embark on such an adventure. A wagon ride was substituted and it was fun. I feel the Belgian drafts would probably disagree, as it started to snow pretty heavily the morning of our scheduled visit. The guides take you around the farm, discussing the history, the forest, the for all ages and they provide heavy blankets for cold weather. Added bonus: hot cocoa and a nice warm fire in a teepee before you depart.

We ate dinner at Cafe Christa that evening.  Excited for the food, and apple streusel for dessert, we were on the more disappointed side of life. (Note: lack of food photos here). My parents and I have eaten there numerous times before, and the streusel was amazing, with a vanilla sauce that we craved. However, the food (wiener schnitzel, saurbraten, and sausage platter) was mediocre. And my Mom and I could not figure out what they did to the sauce for the streusel. It was overly sweetened with an artificial orange flavor. We inquired as to why this was, and were informed "We have always made it that way." My Mom and I disagreed wholeheartedly (as oranges and vanilla are not the same flavor); we left and cheered ourselves up with a ruckus game of Cards Against Humanity.

On a non-food related note, Jeremy and I wandered around one afternoon and peered into many shops. We didn't buy much, but Jeremy did surprise me on Boxing Day with these two beautiful and yummy smelling soap bars from The Bubblery. This shop is located in one of the numerous small shopping 'malls' that encompass downtown Leavenworth. I didn't find the smells of the store overwhelmingly strong, and everything was divine (I highly suggest you check out their website). I'm all for little local stores, and this one was great. I have yet to actually use the soap (mostly I just smell it and swoon), so I can't comment on how clean it makes you feel, or how soft it makes your skin. Honestly, I think The Bubblery could be a serious future competitor for Lush...and Jeremy reported they take great care when wrapping your items if they are to be gifted (they were very cutely wrapped, btw). The place looks like a pastry shop--full of cupcake bathbombs and large apothocary jars full of handmade sugar scrub. Seriously, if you like soap, bath products and other handmade cosmetics as much as I do, you won't be disappointed by this place.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Garden Redux

In memory of warmer days, a post about this year's garden.  Real foodies grow their own... and nothing tastes better!  Our west-side Ann Arbor apartment has a tiny and heavily shaded backyard with gravel instead of soil.  However, the landlord said we could do whatever we like with it, so I went to town on it (much to Jen's chagrin).  I made a few frames out of 2x8s, and double dug raised beds with lots of compost.  Added some rebar posts to secure hoops made out of irrigation tubing, so that the beds could be turned into hoop-houses or covered with protective netting. 
Made the first planting in late March.  Since the yard is so shaded, we are restricted to veggies with low light requirements.  Bottom-most bed in the photo has an assortment of Asian greens (tatsoi, yu choy, and bok choy).  Upper right bed has mizuna, radishes, tangy mesclun mix (red sails and mottistone lettuces, arugula, broadleaf batavian endive, chives, and joi choi), mild mesclun mix (dwarf siberian kale, slobolt and red sails lettuces, vit, mizuna and tatsoi), and peas (dakota).  Upper left bed is kale (dwarf blue curled), assorted mustard greens (indian, san ho, and bau sin), and rapini (variety unknown).  The potted Rhubard plants look very sad because they were just divided and transplanted that afternoon.  They came from the Konopnicki family farm (Coleman, MI), owned by my great uncle Steve who was the last surviving member of his generation of the family.  Upon his death, we learned that his will specified that his estate be liquidated and the proceeds divided amongst the heirs.  We made one last trip to visit the family farm before it's sale, and I dug up the rhubarb plants to take as a memento.  I learned from my mother that these plants were at least 60 years old...
First harvest, mid-May (clockwise from upper right): mild mesclun mix, tatsoi, bok choy, rapini, and yu choy.  All were delicious, but the rapini was exceptional (sauteed with pancetta, olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest).  Rapini is tastiest when it is picked very young, but farmers usually let it get fairly large (to the point where it resembles a baby broccoli) before harvesting to boost their yields.  Overgrown rapini is excessively bitter and I think it tastes terrible at that point, but sadly this is usually all you can find even at farmer's markets and fine Italian restaurants.  In contrast, my properly harvested rapini was rich and pungent, with only a slight pleasant bitterness.  I wish it could be grown throughout the season, but unfortunately it doesn't do well once temperatures reach the 70s...

Got several more harvests out of this planting, providing us with many tasty meals and salads.  Note the bug holes in the mesclun mix.  I'm a 100% organic grower - partly due to ideology, but mostly because I'm too lazy to actually go out and apply pesticides.  So a small amount of insect damage is inevitable, however healthy plants generally aren't harmed by it.
I was very slow about planting summer crops - my thesis advisor decreed that I must publish a paper (her tenure review is fast approaching), so I was preoccupied with work.  I managed to plant some pole beans (goldmarie, a yellow romano variety) on twine trellises, along with vegetable amaranth (edible red leaf) and swiss chard (bright lights).  The amaranth dominated the chard, didn't realize it would grow so quickly.  The pole beans were very tasty, but I wasn't too fond of the vegetable amaranth, though the foliage is attractive and resembles coleus.  Baby amaranth leaves are OK (taste sort of like spinach), but leaves from plants >6 inches tall are tough and chewy. 
Despite being very busy, I managed some fall plantings mid-September.  I totally neglected everything thereafter - no watering, never put up the plastic covers for the cold frames, etc.  Amazingly, the garden grew very well.  I harvested everything on December 20th, in advance of a predicted winter storm.  The final haul: kale, radishes, swiss chard, mild and tangy mesclun mix, and bok choy (all same varieties as above plantings).  Out of all the harvests, this was by far the most memorable (what could be more fun than picking greens in near-freezing heavy rain) and definitely the best tasting.  Time for some biochemistry.  Plant metabolism is highly responsive to temperature.  Cold temperatures induce production of sugars, which serve as cryoprotectants (protect plant tissues from freeze damage, basically like antifreeze).  Additionally many secondary metabolic pathways are differentially regulated by temperature... The end result is that veggies grown under cold conditions are usually much sweeter and have a noticeably different flavor than those grown in warmer weather.  The old timers call this "cold-sweetening".  The effect was noticeable for all of the veggies in this final harvest, but it was particularly dramatic for arugula (main component of tangy mesclun mix).  Spring and summer grown arugula (which comprises most of what you get in stores and restaurants) is in-your-face peppery and bitter, which I like in it's own right.  However, winter arugula is totally different, the peppery-bitterness is still there but subdued, and the flavor develops a complex sweet and nutty overtone.  Jen and I both agreed that our homegrown winter arugula was absolutely delicious (especially with poppyseed dressing) and made some of the best salads we have ever had.

Alas, due to the fence our yard gets no light in the winter, otherwise I would continuing gardening in hoop-houses. Stay tuned for my attempts at indoor gardening....

Friday, January 11, 2013

Boxing Day

I had to work on Christmas (oh the joys of being a nurse). So, Jeremy and I celebrated Boxing Day instead. And this is one of the gift bags-o-goodness I received...
Yes, Jeremy knows me all too well, and the fact I adore cheese...and figs...and the oh-so-glorious Brit invention of clotted heart instantly melted. I have never met a cheese I haven't liked...and these were all delicious. I had saved the labels from the cheeses to write them down, but they accidentally were thrown out, so I can't say specifically the varieties, except one: Up In Smoke Rivers Edge Chevre, created by the wonderful people Three Ring Farm in Oregon. In the photo above, it is the cheese with the shiny gold label. And it is award winning. And holds the essence of maple trees in it's soft creamy deliciousness. We were both very impressed by this cheese (and it comes wrapped in maple leaves...which would look very pretty on a plate at a party). The other cheeses were great as well; the blue was a very spicy type. However, hands down, Up In Smoke was our favorite of the night. After skimming their website, I have a small daydream of landing a cheese internship there--who wouldn't want to make cheese from cute goats on a dairy by the river in Oregon? It sounds like a dream!

On a sidenote--you CANNOT go wrong smearing clotted cream all over pannetone...ever. It is scrumdillyumptious. Apparently it makes really good french toast. We didn't make it that far. Maybe this year we can make pannetone french toast with clotted cream, and an ever so gentle drizzle of maple syrup...

Happy eating!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year, New Blog

I had every intention of starting this blog in Summer 2012...alas, time got away from me and now it's 2013. Thus, I will begin with adventurous memories from July 2012!
Jeremy and I traveled to Traverse City this past July. Along with staying right on Lake Michigan and swimming in the warm water, we made a grand tour of the Old Mission Peninsula vineyards. Our first stop was 2 Lads Winery. Beautiful location perched high on a hill, you could see for miles from this vantage point. We were not disappointed by their selection, and purchased a few bottles ourselves: Cabernet Franc (can't tell you the vintage, we consumed the bottle shortly after returning home); Rose 2011 and my personal favorite the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay (chock full of velvet buttery caramel goodness)! Don't let the screw cap fool you, this stuff is no joke!
Next on our stop was Peninsula Cellars. Situated in an old one room schoolhouse, they offered a wide selection of various reds and whites. We walked away with a bottle of cherry wine (just like cherry pie) and a couple of bottles of Manigold Gewurztraminer (a dry spicy variety).

I do have to give a shout out to Red Mesa Grill in Traverse City. We were silly and didn't take pictures of the delicious food, and absolutely wonderful Margaritas. Everywhere was packed due to the annual cherry festival, so we opted for the restaurant across the street from our hotel. Despite being a small chain, we had a deliciously wonderful time.

Black Star Farms was the largest winery on our tour. We stopped at the tasting room on Old Mission Peninsula. Walked away with a 2011 Pinot Noir Chardonnay, which was quite tasty. And they let you keep your tasting glasses for a souvenir. The following day we stopped at their main location in Suttons Bay. We didn't go to the tasting room, but ate lunch at the Hearth and Vine Cafe, featuring all local grown/acquired eats. We had caprese salad and a wild mushroom/asparagus/goat cheese brick oven pizza. Both were fantastic. The cafe is situated downhill from the inn, surrounded by green hills, gardens and an abundance of farm animals. They also have a cheese making room, which of course we bought a sampler for a buck.

Continuing on our journey of Leelenau Peninsula, we made a pit stop at Tandem Ciders. We tried all of their hard ciders--and they are all delicious. A very low key little joint, we had a wonderful time chatting with the barkeep, and shortly after we arrived it became amazingly crowded. We took home a growler and a bottle of two different varieties. If ever in the area, please visit them, you won't regret it!

We settled for the night in Glen Arbor, MI, just outside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. We had made prior reservations (a must for summer) at the Sylvan Inn. A bit bigger than a B&B, we were warmly greeted, our room was lovely and just a short walk away from the lake front. And of course it's situated right at the end of the main drag of Glen Arbor--restaurants and shops within 5 minutes. How can you beat that?!

 And of course, with any trip you have to visit an award winning restaurant. We chose Blu in Glen Arbor. Chef Randy Chamberlain has definitely created a wonderful oasis. This small, elegant restaurant sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. The sunset lights up the dining room. A very romantic spot indeed, if you're into that. One of the reasons we (or Jeremy) decided to go here is due to the fact sweetbreads were featured on the menu. He had to have it (and I have to admit I had to try it).

We ordered two different appetizers: Escargot in butter, Pernod and parsley, and of course sweetbreads in puff pastry with some kind of demi-glace (forgive me, but since this was in July, and we devoured this in about 5 minutes, I don't remember what kind of sauce, but it was finger-lickin good)!

I have never eaten offal, never had any intention of trying it, but...OMG, sweetbreads are amazing! And probably horribly bad for you, but nevertheless heaven in your mouth. The escargot were great too, but the sweetbreads...if you eat meat, you must try them sometime. That is all.

 We had salad too. And it was delicious. Now on to the mains: I had Tasmanian salmon en croute with scallops, basil and tomatoes (pictured right); Jeremy had duck confit, the house specialty. As evidence by the card he received indicating he was the 2,985th customer to eat the duck confit. Although my dinner was delicious, with not a speck left, Jeremy was the winner in terms of ordering the best food. Duck confit is incredible, and done oh-so-properly by Chef Randy (who did come around to every table and say hello).
And to top off the scrumptiously pretentious dinner, we had to have a highfalutin dessert; but of course they had creme brulee--an all-time favorite of mine. And it was as perfect as creme brulee can be. Needless to say, we were very happy that we were not using sparkpeople or lose it or weight watchers at the time...I don't think you would have any calories/points left in your bank for the rest of the year. Maybe two.

Phew! All this reminiscing of delicious food makes me want to relive it all over again!