Number 49 on the list, handmade Coarse Liverwurst (Liver Sausage) from Kilgus Meats in Toledo, Ohio. I just eat the stuff by itself, no sandwich required.
In December 2006 shortly after starting this blog over at the Monroe News web site, I fell victim to the whole “Foodie Quiz” thing and wrote one myself. Looking back at it now I can see how ridiculous the concept is. The fact is, there’s no way to really define the thing people call a “foodie” because our cultures are different, we were raised in different environments, and to be perfectly blunt, it’s completely unfair to write any kind of “foodie evaluator” that excludes considerations for vegetarians, vegans, Kosher upbringings, or any other nuances in the culture of the person taking your quiz.
A few days ago some online friends posted a link to a so-called “foodie quiz”, one that was supposed to be a test of some “rare foods” the quiz-taker might have had. It was entirely boneheaded, completely ludicrous, including staples such as BBQ ribs, pulled pork, maple syrup … and then threw in “purple ketchup”, which is nothing more than a novelty item from Heinz. The “quiz” set my teeth on edge.
A lot of the “foodie quizes” out there, and sadly my own from seven years ago included, assume the people who score the highest are “better” at enjoying food than people who score lower. That’s simply untrue. A lot of folks who would never touch a lot of things are actually better educated about the foods they do focus on. That should mean something.
So, I decided something had to be done. Someone needed to make a list people might look at and think “Hey, some of these things might be kinda cool. I think I’ll try that.” Or maybe even “Oh yeah, I remember grossing my sister out when I ate that, and it’s real food!”
I decided to develop a list of a hundred items (frankly an arbitrary number), none of which could be called “rare” but possibly located in just few areas. These would be foods I think people should take the time to try at least once, not an actual measure of anything whatsoever.
When it came right down to it, it became what I’d like to consider to be my own suggestion for a “Food Bucket List”, a list of foods I think people should try before … well … you know …
In letting those online folks who knew about the purple ketchup fiasco know about what I was doing, I did take some suggestions from them. They’re either fellow tech writers or fellow food enthusiasts whose opinions I value. Some of their suggestions did make it into the list.
After releasing the Food Bucket List on November 7th I got a nice surprise. My own score on the list, also the number of items on the list that I’ve tried (the items that are bolded), is currently 54%. However, my son Adam who’s now a U.S. Marine ended up with the current high score of 57%. Part of that is not only my insistence that my kids try everything at least once, but also that since his orders have taken him to Japan and Korea, when he was in Okinawa he’s actually had a meal of real Kobe beef that was stuffed with foie gras. And then … ummm … drizzled with chocolate. He picked that over shallot butter. Go figure … But regardless of that, he specifically ordered a food that I may never be able to enjoy since it’s only available there. That makes me proud of what I’ve taught him about food.
On the other end of the spectrum is one of the tech writing leads (says she’s a “Manager” … supposedly that’s a better title …) at Symantec Corp. She’s a vegetarian and scored 9%. I might give her a hard time about that (and I do!) but the honest truth is that she does seriously enjoy food her way, and her own Food Bucket List is going to look completely different from mine. And that’s fine with me. Just don’t tell her I said that.
There are no right or wrong answers in this one. But remember, if you don’t try something just because you’re squeamish, there are people around the world who likely eat that particular item on a regular basis because either that’s their culture and heritage, or they’re simply so poor that that’s all that’s available to them. Think about it before dissing something completely.
So check out my Food Bucket List and use the comment section below to let us know how you did. And maybe why you scored a certain way. Because when it comes right down to it, that’s really the interesting part.
A loaf of Farmhouse Bread from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they make this and other breads from scratch.
A couple days ago on Huffington Post, staff writer for food and culture Joe Satran posted an article that made me think a little deeper about how things used to be. In his article, “FDA Confirms All Routine Food Safety Inspections Suspended During The Shutdown“, Mr. Satran gives the numbers:
8,733 food safety inspections that the FDA had commissioned states to perform in fiscal year 2014 … are being delayed until funding resumes. That works out to about 167 delayed inspections per week … the furloughing of 976 of the FDA’s 1,602 inspectors will prevent another 200 inspections from being conducted each week of the shutdown.
Mr. Satran also lists what these inspections generally cover:
The FDA oversees the safety of 80 percent of the American food system, including dairy, juice, raw eggs, farmed seafood and so-called manufactured foods, such as Cheerios, peanut butter, M&Ms, hummus, canned soup and frozen ravioli.
At the same time though, USDA inspectors will continue inspecting meat, poultry and egg facilities on a daily basis since they “cannot be furloughed by law”. That should make people feel better about the safety of what they’re eating …
Well, shouldn’t it?
It should, but it probably won’t.
Part of the basic issue is that people are no longer able to trust the safety of the food they eat. They see numerous reports of food recalls from bacterias and foriegn objects and other items in their foods, they hear of e.Coli and other food poisoning outbreaks, they read of spinach fields being on the receiving end of runoff from pig farms, they drive past mega-farms and see hundreds of cattle wallowing in mud containing Lord-knows-what from all the animals in there …
Facing the reality sucks. Food is an industry. And when it comes to far too much of where our food comes from, caring about the quality by the people who should be responsible for said quality DOES.NOT.EXIST.
This has zero to do with the government shutdown. It’s a simple fact that people in the United States today generally have no clue how to ensure their own food is safe. There’s really no widespread practical training in this area, which is thanks to the demise of youngsters no longer being taught how to cook by their parents or other relatives, via the old-school “home economics” classes, or the like.
It also has a lot to do with corporate greed. Money ends up being ahead of food safety, regardless of what the corporate “spokesmen” or “legal counsel” say via their filtered/redacted/glossed-over press releases. The lack of real honesty in this area is ridiculous, irresponsible, appalling, whatever you want to call it.
This is easy to prove. Head to your local butcher shop, a farmer’s market or roadside stand, a local bakery or artisnal bread-maker’s shop. You likely won’t see any inspections going on except for maybe an annual county health inspection. What you will see, however, is quality foods made by a small company that actually cares about what they do … and not a single recall in sight.
Go to a “farm-to-table” restaurant, such as Salt Of The Earth in Fennville, Michigan, or Chef Alan Merhar’s Evans Street Station in Tecumseh where they actually care about the ingredients they use. Get yourself connected to Farmer Lee Jones and his Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, where they not only provide fresh vegetables to more than 1,200 chefs worldwide, but are also leaders in food safety because Farmer Jones actually cares about his products. Then head to his Home Delivery page and try some of that wondeful stuff for yourself.
And then … go to a chain resturant. Or a large chain grocery store. Look at the meats, the vegetables, the so-called breads. Where did they come from? Who was involved? What’s in there? Is the place clean? Did the employees wash their hands or wear gloves? Was the meat and dairy kept at the right temperature at all times?
Frankly, if people were taught about actual food safety prior to working in these places and practiced it, these questions would not be necessary. Why? Because the employees along the way would know better than to let things go. And, not to put to fine a point on it, the FDA and USDA inspectors people seem to be so concerned about right now wouldn’t be necessary either.
Meanwhile, people are enjoying Chicken Sashimi in Japan, something that would never be allowed here in the United States. We are also largely not allowed to buy or sell raw milk, we are not allowed to have the classic Scottish dish Haggis because it includes sheep’s lung, and foie gras is being banned because the process to create it is being misrepresented on-purpose.
Here’s my bottom line on this:
We’re a country of food safety wimps, unwilling to learn what the realities of real food safety are, being led like sheep by our dependence on the internet and popular news media for information we are unwilling to learn by actually taking the time to investigate these things before making an educated decision, and passing that information on to the next generations.
There ya’ go. Deal with it.
The Greek Breakfast Skillet at the Cozy Corner Coney Island in Monroe, MI, in August 2013; Sliced Gyro loaf, onion, tomato, feta cheese and home fries under two over-easy eggs, served with toast.
Unless you live in a place like Michigan, the area north of Fort Wayne, Indiana, or northwest Ohio, you may not understand what a Coney Island restaurant is. Coney Island restaurants number in the hundreds, possibly even the low thousands, in these particular areas and in smaller numbers in some other regions across the United States.
The story goes that immigrants from the Mediterranean region first happened upon the Coney Island area off Brooklyn, New York. The Greeks started emigrating from Greece in about 1890 not only because of the promise of making good money here, but also because of the Ottoman rule there. The term “Coney Island” isn’t a Greek or Macedonian term whatsoever. The name of the Coney Island area off Brooklyn in New York is derived from the name Conyne Eylandt,, translated as “rabbit island”, the Dutch name for that area as found on a map by Johannes Vingboon in 1639. Maps as early as 1733 used the name Coney Island after the term had been used verbally for quite some time.
Those immigrants likely visited Coney Island, eating at Feltman’s. Charles Feltman had immigrated from Germany and started as a pie wagon pusher. It was about 1867 when he put a franfurter on a roll so his diners didn’t need silverware, inadvertantly creating the popular sandwich we know today. He opened his first stand on Coney Island in 1871, and stories indicate he may have sold over 3,600 of these sandwiches in his first year in business. Business ended up being so good, Feltman expanded his Coney Island locations to include a hotel, restaurants, amusements and other concessions. He passed away in 1910, but Feltman’s stayed upen until 1952. It was one of Feltman’s own employees, Nathan Handwerker, who opened a nearby stand in 1916, undercutting Feltman’s 10-cent sandwich by offering a 5-center and founding the hugely-popular Nathan’s Famous.
Some of the better commercial beef and lamb Gryro meat that’s available in southeastern Michigan. Made by Wolverine Packing in Detroit, this brand is what most Greek/Macedonian/Albanian and Coney Island restaurants in the area use if they’re not making their own.
The term “Coney Island Restaurant” has a bit of a baffling history. No one seems to really know why Greeks, Macedonians or Albanians headed for Michigan would name their restaurants after a Dutch term while offering a German sandwich as their lead menu item. My own thinking is that, as the term “hot dog” wasn’t coined until 1916, it’s quite possibly they refered to Feltman’s sandwich as a “coney island” in reference to where they had it. Frankfurters were developed in Frankfurt, in upstate New York places offer a Michigan Dog patterned after the coney from Todoroff’s in Jackson, Michigan, Parmesan cheese comes from Parma, Italy, Roquefort cheese has to be aged in the caverns under Roquefort, France … It stands to reason immigrants were telling each other they wanted to go to Feltman’s to eat some Coney Islands. It’s not that the restaurants are named after Coney Island itself. Instead, when these immigrants started their restaurants, it was a restaurant where they could offer their own Coney Islands similar to Feltman’s frankfurter on a roll, making their business a Coney Island restaurant.
In developing their restaurant menus, the Greeks, Macedonians and Albanians followed the concepts of a lot of diners and cafés in the areas they settled into, to include large breakfasts, hamburgers, beef, chicken, pasta, local fish, desserts featuring foods from local harvests … but then also added specialties from their own cultures. A compiled version of a “standardized” menu for a Coney Island Restaurant looks like this:
My family first took notice of the Greek-owned restaurants in Michigan in the late 1970s. It became a kind of game, searching out these wonderful family diners with their massive portions of good honest food, the kind of food truckers would also seek out on a regular basis. We became friends with many of these owners in the Flint area and frequented their establishments on our normal Friday evening shopping trips.
I remember a Greek-owned restaurant on the King’s Highway just west of Toronto. We were staying at the Candy Haven Tourist Home in 1982 and ate at that restaurant across the street each morning. And each morning, the owner & cook would come out himself to take our order. There were six of us traveling that trip, but the man never wrote our orders down, nor did he write down orders he took almost at the same time from other guests. He cooked them up, along with anything anyone else had ordered, remembered everything perfectly, and knew afterward which plate went to which customer.
I have my own story about working working with an excellent Greek cook. Except for cooking at home, and at a YMCA camp in the summer of 1979, I didn’t enter an actual restaurant kitchen until April of 1983. Frisch’s Big Boy on the western edge of Columbus just west of the freeway somehow decided I was the right person to open their first breakfast bar and operate it five days each week. Manager Gus Pappas was the first cook I knew who taught me real skills. A tall, skinny Vincent Price-looking Greek at least 50 years old, he taught me to steam whole eggs instead of hard-boiling them to make them easy to peel. He was the first to show me halfway-decent knifing skills, how to prep a whole pineapple to make it a snackable food, and how to really taste a dish, and then make adjustments to it.
We tested everything for longevity in a steam table on wheels. Grits didn’t hold out too well, nor did pancakes, nor did the fruit pie filling we set out as toppings. Of course, scrambled eggs, sausages, freshly-grilled shredded potatoes, and other decent things survived the hours on that table over the steam bins.
When Gus was forced out of the management of that Big Boy in late 1984 in favor of young MBA types, the real skills in that kitchen also went away. The Greek way is about a passion for real food, the way Gus taught us at Frisch’s, combined with a serious appreciation for how that food makes the diner feel. That’s what makes customers happy in foodservice, and being able to do that is very satisfying indeed. It’s what really drove Gus, and why he made us work the way he did. At the end of the day, you knew in your heart you’d done nice work.
The filling for the Greek Breakfast Skillet, just before plating, and topping with two over-easy eggs.
Having always been interested in what Greeks and other Mediterraneans offer in their restaurants, particularly in Coney Island restaurants, I’ve recently become even more interested in re-creating some of their dishes. Outside the work I’ve done in creating and re-creating different versions of the Flint-style Coney Island sauce, this is really the first dish I’ve focused on re-creating to be as close as possible to what I’ve enjoyed in a restaurant. In this case, it’s the Greek Breakfast Skillet I had at the Cozy Corner Coney Island in Monroe, Michigan, in August 2013. The old man in the kitchen, also the owner, is from Greece and is also a former resident of the Greektown area in downtown Detroit. He always seems extremely proud of his work, and it’s definitely justifiable.
I’d hoped to find a suitable Gyro meat to use in the dish, and when I found the package pictured above and mentioned what I was doing to the girl at the foodservice supply store in Monroe, it became obvious it’s exactly what they use at Cozy Corner. Later, one taste of the Gyro meat slices from that package confirmed it.
One of the things that I realized about this dish is how easy it would be to prep for a large number of servings. The onions and potatoes need to be prepped ahead of time and sautéed. These can then be held at a low temperature until the skillet is ordered. At that point combine the tomatoes with the Gyro meat, toss it into the skillet or on a flattop, heat it through while cooking the eggs, put the filling in the plate or serving skillet, top with the crumbled feta and the eggs … Just a couple minutes from ordering to serving. Absolutely simple, filling, quite tasty, and very satisfying.
The completed re-creation of the Greek Breakfast Skillet. Dang it, forgot the feta …
Coney Island-Style Greek Breakfast Skillet
1 small onion
3 small tomatoes
3 small potatoes
12 slices 1″x5″x1/8″ gyro loaf
crumbled feta cheese
4 large eggs
salt & pepper
Boil the potatoes whole for just a few minutes until they’re almost fork-tender but not quite. Remove the potatoes from the heat and let them cool. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and slice the onion, cut the Gyro meat slices into thirds and set them all aside separately.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and then slice them into 1/8″ slices.
Heat a couple tablespoons olive oil in a high-wall skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and potato slices, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Sauté until the potatoes are starting to brown, adding a touch more olive oil if necessary. When the potatoes are starting to brown, add the Gyro meat and chopped tomatoes, and continue to sauté.
Heat an egg pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Crack two of the eggs into it and cook until over-easy. Divide the completed filling into two serving dishes, and top one with some of the feta cheese and the over-easy eggs. Wipe the egg pan and cook the other two eggs, along with any toast for the dishes. Top the second dish with its own feta cheese and the second batch of eggs.
Adam at age 15 with some camp cooking equipment from the 1950s. Peope in the U.S. today would likely be extremely squeamish about eating food prepared with these.
When it comes to food, I don’t really like “top-ten” or “top-one-hundred” or any other kind of similar lists. Those lists are very dependant on the taste buds of the voting majority, their culture and history, where and how they grew up, even what kind of mood they’re in or whether or not they have a cold when they eat whatever they’re voting on. But at the same time, there are things I constantly … constantly … hear regarding foods of various kinds, statements that burn my biscuits so bad, my biscuits turn into hockey pucks.
I’ve been working in the foodservice industry off-and-on since the summer of 1979. Most of the statements in the list below have only really shown up in the past ten years or so. It seems people in the U.S. are just getting snarkier, more arrogant about their own feelings about various foods and other people, and decidedly less informed about what real food is and how to enjoy it. I’m definitely of the opinion that it’s the demise of the formerly ubiquitous “home economics” courses in public schools, along with less knowledge of farming and animal husbandry and butchering, that’s contributing to this overall ignorance. This type of education needs to make a comeback, and fast, before we end up as a nation of “food ignoramusses” with no knowledge of those subjects whatsoever.
When it comes to this list, you will never hear me say these things, and if you say them in my presence I might just have to call you on the carpet for it. Ok, so there are two on this list that I used to say … but I won’t any longer … seriously, my daughter will make sure of that … Frankly, if you want to be snarky about food, especially if you open your mouth with any of these and haven’t thought it through, you have a lot to learn. Here are your hard lessons …
12) “I never use canned ingredients … Don’t you dare ever make me anything out of a box.”
Really? If that’s an absolute, I want to see the cow you’re getting your milk from, the backyard chickens giving you your eggs every day, the garden with all your veggies, the bread you’ve got proofing somewhere, your butchering shed … If you’re in the U.S., this ain’t likely. Sure, there are a lot of overly-processed foods out there, but there are certainly some things you’re going to need to use in today’s busy world. Frozen phyllo dough in your baklava, packaged peas for that potato salad, that steel-cut Irish oatmeal that’s just so comforting in the morning … even the good Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, prepped correctly, with the onions and celery sautéed in butter, and the chicken stock added. Yes, you can be particular about your canned and boxed foods, there are some decent ones out there, and to completely draw a line like that is rather unrealistic. Get your head out of your can and go get some good Kosher pickle spears to roll up in that thinly-sliced ribeye with the layer of German mustard out of a jar before slow-roasting it in that freshly-made gravy.
(The image: Margaret Rudkin was the founder of Pepperidge Farm, and was author of the Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. She developed the first packaged stuffing mix, the Sage & Onion, based on her grandmother’s recipe, which is in the book.)
11) “You’re going to eat some real food, not junk.”
If you’re taking your kids out somewhere and you say this to them, you’re some kind of stick-in-the-mud. If you’re saying this while you’re on any kind of day trip or vacation with them, you should facepalm yourself. Say it to your spouse at any time, and you should go see a proctologist about your Serial Buttholiness. Get the kids a grilled cheese sandwich, let them have ice cream first, it won’t kill them or you … if they’re asking for a bag of chips, maybe wandering Disney all day has dehydrated them a bit and their body is telling them they need salt …
And if the spouse wants the 16 oz T-bone with baked potato and sour cream, maybe look the dish over when it arrives and consider learning how to grill steak like that at home for a special occasion. Learn how to have fun on trips of any duration, and include the food in that fun. It’s good for relationships of any kind.
(The image: A handmade corndog from the Rock & Roll Café, one of the better food trucks in southeastern Michigan. They also offer an amazing half-pound sirloin burger topped with grilled peppers and onions.)
10) “That’s not how I make it … That’s not how my Grandma made it.”
And you didn’t bring me any? How rude is that???
Seriously, let’s talk about hot dogs and Chinese food.
It stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. Regional, cultural, religious and family-specific preferences will always be a factor in what kind of foods you will enjoy or even prefer. In early 2012 journalists from MLive put together what they called the Michigan Coney Dog Project, resulting in what they determined to be Michigan’s Top 10 Coney Dogs. That they put the Flint Style Coney further down on the list (at position #4) than the Detroit Style Coney (at positions #1 and #2) is not at all surprising since only one of their members is from Flint. That “Coney Detroit” co-author Joe Grimm was along for the ride is even more telling as a partial reason for those results. And a brief look at the more-than 100 comments below that article will show proof of liking what you grew up with.
If you’re from Detroit, you might like American or Lafayette Detroit Style coneys, while thinking a friend who likes Flint and Jackson styles is crazy. A person standing by from Chicago will tell them they’re both nuts, while the Hawaiian resident and the West Virginian will be arguing Puka vs. Sam’s Hot Dog for an hour. Similarly though, a person from the deep south will avoid Zehnder’s fried chicken like the plague since it “will never be like my mama’s”, Chesapeake Bay crab lovers will always be at odds with those who love Bering Sea ophelia, and a new Chinese visitor to the U.S. will always have a difficult time figuring out why a so-called Chinese restaurant serves that incredibly popular General Tso’s thing he’s never heard of.
Being even a mildly-adventurous eater means not only being more accepting of flavors and textures outside your comfort zone, and being willing to try them, but also acknowledging our differences in food likes and dislikes, celebrating those differences even though we may not agree for whatever reason. Saying a town “Doesn’t know how to do a hot dog” isn’t true. They don’t do your hot dog. They do theirs just fine. When you’re in their town, you’re actually the one who’s nuts. So try theirs. And remember to keep your mind and your taste buds open.
(The image: Some Chocolate-Oatmeal No-Bakes, made from my mom’s recipe.)
9) “That just sounds nasty … I can’t believe you’re gonna eat that … I can’t stand that, I’m good.”
I’ve enjoyed the Flint Style Coney since I was probably 7 or eight, maybe earlier, I really don’t know for sure. My kids have always liked them as well. Unfortunately now, since I’ve let those kids know the real thing has beef heart in it (the original sauce from Abbott’s Meats is almost 100% beef heart), my daughter has a difficult time stomaching it.
I’ve always told my kids they have to try every food once. I don’t care if it looks bad, smells bad, came out of a sheep’s or lamb’s gullet (i.e., the natural casing on sausages and some good weiners) or the bottom of a cloudy lake (i.e., catfish), you’re going to try at least one bite before you tell me you don’t like the thing. At that point I can have some respect for your opinion, but not before. Because of this, my daughter now enjoys alligator, calamari, some of the eel she’s tried (not all, but that’s ok), deer venison, has a passion for good rabbit dishes, helped me search on a trip once for the best fried okra …
… but she won’t eat cornbread. Can’t stand the stuff. Make her a corndog from scratch, the breading comes off of it. Doesn’t like it with chili or ribs. However, that stinker will break up that same cornbread, dump it in a glass with some 2% milk and eat it with a spoon. I can’t figure that out …
Something to keep in the back of your mind is that we have seriously become a whole country of complete food wimps. I happened on an original copy of the 1922 “Home Economics Cook Book for Elementary Grades” printed by the Board of Education in Toledo, Ohio. In the chapter on poultry, kids through grade eight were taught to singe the pin feathers off the chicken, cut its head off, draw the pin feathers out with a knife, use the fingers to find and remove the windpipe and crop, dig in with the hand again to remove the intestinal organs (“being careful not to break the gall bladder”), also pulling out the lungs, kidneys, the heart (“found near the lungs”), the oil bag near the tail …
If you enjoy chicken, but the above description and the thought of following it grosses you out, you do indeed have double standards. You should be ashamed of your squeamishness. In these “first-world” countries we’re supposedly so incredibly advanced. But our food has become so sanitized and processed that we’ve selectively (yes … selectively) lost track of where our food comes from. We prefer not to know that other countries pass down recipes for dishes usng the complete animal, largely without a cookbook for a hundrred miles in any direction. Only recently have restaurants here began to celebrate “farm to table” and “nose to tail” menus and recipes. This is supposedly a big deal, with higher-end and specialty restaurants making a lot of noise about it. Meanwhile though, authentic Mexican restaurants have always served Menudo made with good tripe (a.k.a. cow stomach), Abbott’s Meats in Flint still makes and distributes the 1919 version of the Flint Coney sauce made with almost 100% beef heart, secluded families in the Ozarks eat daily meals of squirrel and raccoon, and any time you eat a decent sausage, that crunch is some animal’s intestine. So pull your heart out of your throat and have some real food. Learn about where your food comes from. You’ll appreciate it more.
(The image: A whole beef heart, used in the development of a recipe for Flint Style Coney sauce.)
8) “I had a bad experience there once … They used to be good, not anymore though.”
This one’s a “mea culpa” moment for me …
It’s rather common knowledge that restaurant reviewers will make multiple visits to a single location prior to writing their review of the place. While quite a few so-called “reviewers” are hacks who have no history of cooking, knowledge of good flavors and textures, or even the culture of a given restaurant and why its regular guests love it, they normally know better than to only go once. Restaurants should have consistency between servers and cooks at any given time, but it’s definitely necessary to check more out than can be done at one time.
Even if you’ve had a bad experience somewhere, maybe the cook was having an off day, maybe the server had some issues (even though that should never be reflected in customer service), maybe there are new owners/management (maybe someone actually read your comment card and acted on it) … There are a lot of reasons to try a place again.
There’s one restaurant chain I have a problem with. Ok, multiple problems. It’s a fast-casual place, and there seem to be a lot of hit-and-miss depending on which location I visit. One location in particular has really had my hackles up for a long time and I vowed never to go back.
Then my daughter became pregnant. Three guesses where she wanted to meet up to discuss it … first two guesses don’t count … Now she’s one of the lead servers there … at that same location … I can’t win for losing on this one, I have to go back to the place I really don’t like.
So get your butt over there and try it again. Maybe everything will be fine. In my case, it’d better be or I get to withhold a tip from my own kid.
(The image: Bree with some Poutine at Crazy Joe’s in Wallaceburg, Ontario.)
7) “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”
Another “mea culpa”. Worse for me is that this one is my daughter’s suggestion. Sometimes, she’s right. Sometimes …
Longtime readers will know I’ve had multiple sinus bleeds since 2008, requiring (we think) twelve surgeries to shut off the flow of what’s mostly been arterial blood. (You can tell by the color, along with the occasional pulsing that’s synchronized with the heartrate.) For those first three episodes stretched out from 2008 through early 2010, the night before the bleed started I had enjoyed scallops at the Frog Leg Inn. As I also run their web site and shoot photos in the kitchen, I actually have the pics to prove this. It got to the point where I brought it up with my ENT specialist, who thought it rather odd but still worth some consideration. Was there something in the scallop beds off Massachussetts that the scallops were eating that I was strangely allergic to? Just made no sense at all.
But then with these last two bleeds, in June and May 2013, there hadn’t been a scallop in sight since the previous bleed in June 2010. Why? Because “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”
I think maybe it’s time for some scallops. I should probably have a bucket and some towels standing by though. It can get messy.
(The image: A particular plate of scallops in the kitchen at the Frog Leg Inn, the very dish I’ve always suspected as being responsible for the sinus bleed of March 2010.)
6) “If it’s past its expiration date, you’d better throw it away.”
Were you aware at all that the US Food & Drug Administration only actually regulates a use-by/expiration date on infant formula and some baby foods? That the USDA only requires poultry to be labeled with the date it was packed? That any “use-by/expiration date” on food products is highly dependant on handling, storage temperature, and other uncontrollable variables? And that if you stick hard-and-fast to these dates and throw food away just because the date says it’s “expired”, your level of brain deadedness is showing?
If you can’t tell when food has gone bad and need to go by those dates, you probably shouldn’t be cooking whatsoever. Common sense, smell, the look of a certain ingredient, if fish smells fishy, if beef is brown, if poultry is slimy, if veggies have mold on them … Pitch it. It’s really not that difficult to figure this out.
(The image: A 39-pack of Koegel Skinless Frankfurters with a “Sell By” date of September 20. No year is specified on the package. I didn’t make the package blue for effect, that’s a reflection of the sky on a very nice day.)
5) “Poor little bunny … How can you eat Bambi?”
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and you say this, zip it. It’s very seldom I’ve seen or heard of a carnivore preaching that people damn well better start eating meat becuse it’s better for both them and the planet. A good friend of mine is a full vegan, I respect both his and your views. He and I simply don’t force our views on each other the way vegans and vegetarians generally do with carnivores. You certainly don’t have the authority to tell me what I should eat, that’s my decision. Go have some Fritos and “original” Oreos, and be quiet.
If you’re a carnivore and you’re saying this, what’s your problem? Do you really believe that whether or not we should eat something is somehow related to its level of cuteness? Piglets are somehow inedible early-on because they’re adorable, but when they’ve aged a bit they’re only good for a long smoking of the shoulders and ribs with sauce added, and the divvying up of the bacon and pork rinds. Baby chicks seem to only belong in a petting zoo, while chickens only belong in a skillet with seasoned breading and an inch of hot oil for frying. Selecting which animal to cook based solely on how flippin’ cute it is, is a ridiculous double standard. No, deer, rabbits and other species don’t lose their attractiveness as they age like other animals do. But that in no way means we shouldn’t enjoy them at dinner time. If your emotions are in the way when you’re deciding what to cook, or what I cook, you’re the one with the problem. It’s all food, so eat it.
(The image: A serving of some impromptu Rabbit Chili.)
4) “I can’t tell you, it’s a secret recipe/ingredient.”
In 2007 when I first started working on developing www.frogleginn.com, Chef Tad made it clear he wanted a section where he could post recipes. With so many chefs and professional cooks guarding proprietary recipes as “trade secrets”, I asked why he’d want to do something like that. He explained that home cooks would not have the tools, equipment, or the cooking techniques he and his team do, and that even if a professional were to attempt a duplication, subtle differences in those items would prevent an actual duplication. Any “copycat recipe” will certainly result in something similar but never an exact duplicate. You can only duplicate exactly within the same kitchen the recipe was developed in using identical ingredients.
In late July 2013 Mary and I spent the weekend at the Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we enjoyed a 7-course meal prepared by owner French Master Chef Francois Moyet. The entrée I selected was his Chicken Marsala. Later in the weekend I bought a copy of the book the Chef had written on the history of the more-than-100-year-old castle. It it were some of his recipes, including the Chicken Marsala. Think about that.
The same goes for home kitchens. Sure, it’s a “home kitchen”, and y’all probably shop at the same Piggly Wiggly over yonder. But the concept is the same … You’re going to buy different ingredients, you’re going to measure them somewhat different, Paula’s 350F oven will average 355F while Mildred’s averages 343F, it’ll rain the day Frank makes it while, when Gilbert finally gets around to it, it’ll be 95F outside with high humidity and he ain’t got no A/C. Yes, each batch will taste and feel differently.
“Secret” recipes … “secret” ingredients … Get over yourself.
(The image: Some of the ingredients used in a BBQ sauce recipe I redeveloped for Joe Perry’s web site.)
3) “My chicken/pork/beef/fish has to be well-done.”
Why do you want to ruin the taste and texture of your food this way? Why is it so important to you to remove all those good flavors by overcooking what can actually be better on your plate? This is nothing more than paranoia about supposed food safety issues that are preventing you from enjoying these foods the way other people actually enjoy them and survive.
There’s a burger place in Toledo called Bar 145. They didn’t name it that because of an address or area code, rather they’re using the internal temperature of a piece of beef that’s been cooked medium-rare. At the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Michigan, the menu description for the 12-ounce Pork Saltimbocca states “Recommended medium-rare unless otherwise instructed.” And in his Les Halles Cookbook, Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote “Hell, most people figure that if the crispy skin tastes good, and there’s no yucky blood or pink stuff near the bone, that’s a fine roast chicken … Chicken should taste like chicken. Understand also that legs and breasts cook at different rates. In your zeal to make sure that there is no pink (eek!) or red (oooohh!) anywhere in the legs, you are often criminally overcooking your breasts. Find a happy medium. A little pink color by the thigh bone does not necessarily mean you are eating rare poultry.”
People do eat food this way. In Japan they have medium-rare chicken sushimi. They are also allowed to have chicken tartare. It’s only because their chickens are raised in such a way that they’re safer to eat. We’re the ones that are backward, while their ancient culture has food goodies we can only dream of having. We’re the ones with the food safety problems. We really, truly suck at it. Meanwhile, other cultures are enjoying some great treats. You should at least try food medium-rare when possible. You might actually like it.
(The image: The raw ribeye I then cooked to medium-rare at the Monroe Boat Club over their community grill.)
2) “That’s a heart attack waiting to happen … A heart attack on a bun … It’ll put me in a diabetic coma.”
No, it’s not. It’s a splurge, a meal to be enjoyed, a once-in-a-lifetime food experience, a challenge, maybe even a meal to be shared with someone you’re with. And you … are inappropriately judgemental.
Unless you’re a Registered Dietition, someone’s doctor, their trainer, or even their lifestyle coach, you have no right and zero authority to use this snide and blatantly offensive comment. Even if you say it when looking at a photo of a dish, you’re more than welcome to slap yourself in the face. People happen to like food, people do like large meals, and if you’re using the current media obsession with “the obesity epidemic” as your basis for saying this you are, again, judgemental and inappropriate.
For example, my wife and I like the Chateau Burger. It’s a one-pounder cooked and served at the Chateau Louise here in Luna Pier. But even when I tell people she and I split the burger, those same people tell me basically that we shouldn’t be having it because it’s just too big. Excuse me, but at that point it’s a half-pound … the same size as a cheeseburger at Sonic, the double at Wendy’s, the double quarter-pounder at McDonald’s … The things they eat all the time. But this info is never good enough for them, because apparently they want to see themselves as “the better, healthier person”.
Gimme a break. You’re a clueless jerk.
Granted, if someone eats like that all the time, that’s a problem. But it’s their problem, not yours. It’s something for their doctor to discuss with them. Now … If you happen care enough about someone to urge them to get help, you’re welcome to do that as well, sitting down with them and having a loving talk about how you don’t want to lose them because of their health. But if you’re going to be snide, insulting, say nasty things about what they’re eating … If you then get slapped or get hot, greasy food dumped on you, you damn-well deserve it.
This same thing goes for those people who claim something will put them into a “diabetic coma”. Have you ever been in a diabetic coma? Are you even a diabetic? Are you possibly just being offensive to diabetics with a snide and insulting remark about an actual medical condition that isn’t always brought on by eating too many sugary sweets? Is there a candymaker standing in front of you who’s possibly proud of their work while you stand there insulting what they do? Those latter two questions are probably more like it. Have some of their work, you obviously need more sweetening.
(The image: The one-pound Chateau Louise burger, as pictured on A Hamburger Today out of NYC. Yes, after shooting that pic I split the burger with Mary.)
1) “Damn, that’s too expensive.”
I’m reminded of a sign that used to hang in the former Bill Knapp’s restaurant in Adrian, Michigan. It listed how much various items cost in 1975. Google the following words:
Look at the results. Gas was 57 cents a gallon. Pretty cheap. Eggs were 77 cents a dozen. They’re only about twice that now.
But then there’s milk.
38 years ago in 1975, milk was $1.57/gallon.
In August 2013 I paid $2.49/gallon. Mary and I both bought milk at school in 1975 at 15 cents a half-pint. That comes out to $2.40 for a gallon of milk when milk was $1.57/gallon.
Yes, seriously. That’s what we paid.
Milk subsidies to farmers have kept gallon prices artificially low. If those subsidies didn’t exist, you’d be paying $7.50 – $8/gallon at the grocery store.
You, my friend, are spoiled.
Here’s the thing: One way or another, you’re paying that $7.5 – $8/gallon, whether you do it in the store or through your taxes via the “subsidies”. It’s the same with corn and other crops and farm products as well. It’s shielded from you so you don’t have to think about it, so it’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind. You are absolutely paying more for some of your food that you think you are. Deal with it.
And then you’re at a restaurant. There’s no “dollar menu” and the 1/4-lb burger is five bucks. You blanche. Right in front of the minimum-wage worker or below-minimum wager server who’s smiling at you waiting for your order, your $50k/year self mumbles “Damn, that’s expensive”. After bitching further about the price of an added drink and fries, you head out to your Lexus, fire up your iPhone and complain on Facebook. Later on after work, that minimum-wage worker picks up their child-support and their public assistance in their rusty used car which is all they can afford because prices at work aren’t actually high enough to pay decent labor wages, heads over and pays the sitter when they pick up the kids, then the rent, the utilities, and hopes to have enough for a couple things at Aldi.
In most states, minimum-wage laws do not apply to tipped employees, meaning servers. That’s stupid. They make probably $2.65/hour and guests are assumed to make up the rest. That’s even more stupid. Minimum wage laws need to apply to everyone, flat-out and period. Tips are a gift, not a wage. Yes, the cost of a meal will then go up, so what? Those workers will then be better able to survive. Get your prissy self out of your immaculate car in your $200 jeans, shove your expensive iPhone into your … pocket … and man-up to paying what you should be paying for food.
It’s a simple fact that customers refuse to pay higher prices for food, prices that are needed in order for workers to make decent wages, while those same customers pay premium prices for anything and everything else. No, unions are not any kind of answer. Customers simply need to stop being penny-pinching boneheads in any situation having to do with eating. The problem will exist while people keep buying off the “dollar menu”. If you don’t like higher food prices, you should be the one starving for a while so you can see what it feels like, not the people who feed your selectively-miserly, inconsiderate and arrogant self.
(The image: Brina, our server for our 7-Course Dinner prepared by French Master Chef Francois Moyet at his exquisite Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in late July 2013.)
One thing I’m doing my best to correct, is peoples’ perception of what a Flint Coney really is. Ask anyone who’s been through town, grown up there recently, or seen recent news reports where to get a real Flint Coney and they’ll likely mention Angelo’s or Tom Z’s. A new book, “Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America,” by Brice Kraig, he mentions Tom Z’s as one of the top ten places to get an “unusual” hot dog in the U.S.
But the simple fact is, it’s places that serve Abbott’s Original Coney Island Topping, shown in these pics, that are honestly serving the original Flint Coney. I’m suspecting two of these places are Mega Coney Island in Fenton, and the Palace Coney Island in the upstairs food court at Genesee Valley Shopping Center at Miller and Linden Roads. There are probably quite a few others, but I haven’t been able to check yet.
I’ve even taken to editing the Wikipedia page on the Flint Coney to ensure the information there is accurate. Part of what I’ve written there is this:
“Some assert that in order to be an ‘authentic’ Flint coney, the hot dog must be a Koegel coney and the sauce by Angelo’s, which opened in 1949. However, the sauce was originally developed by a Macedonian in 1919, Simeon O. (Sam) Brayan, for his Flint’s Original Coney Island restaurant. Brayan was the one who contracted with Koegel Meat Company to make the coney they still make today, also contracting with Abbott’s Meat to make the sauce. Abbott’s still makes Brayan’s 1919 sauce available to restaurants through the Koegel Meat Company.”
That original 1919 sauce is what’s shown in these photos. Welcome to the real Flint Coney.
I ordered this bag of Abbott’s Flint Coney sauce a few months back from Victoria Lynch at buykoegels.com. In ʺTwo to Go: A Short History of Flintʹs Coney Island Restaurantsʺ by Florine, Davison & Jaeger (2007, Genesee County Historical Society), Ed Abbott is quoted as saying, “The Abbott product has always been sold uncooked.” That explains the color difference between what’s in the bag in the first photo, and this couple spoonfuls of cooked sauce. Straight out of the bag you can tell the sauce is ground beef heart … that is, if you’ve ever seen ground beef heart before. As per Mr. Abbott in the same book from Genesee County Historical Society, “the only meat ingredient is beef heart, regardless of the stories and rumors of other meat parts being used.”
In August 2012 while driving through Genesee County on our way home from Traverse City, Mary and I stopped in at Mega Coney Island in Fenton, Michigan, just off I-75 at Owen Rd. I specifically ordered a couple of their Flint Coneys, shot this photo of the coneys on the table at the restaurant, and asked our server where the kitchen got the sauce. She told me the sauce came in on a truck from Koegel’s. Looking at that photo, and the ones posted here of Abbott’s original sauce, it’s easy to see they’re the same thing, the same texture of ground beef heart cooked almost exactly the same way. Mega is one of our regular stops when traveling I-75 through Genesee County, and will continue to be one of our faves, if only because I don’t then have to cook the Flint Coneys myself to enjoy them.
As it’s based off an organ meat, the sauce by itself has a bit of a livery flavor to it, mixed with the flavor of a nice sirloin. It can be a bit off-putting to people who don’t care for beef heart and other offal. Mary did try the cooked sauce off a teaspoon and elected not to have any of the sauce on her hot dogs. As I’ve written elsewhere, it stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. I’ve been enjoying Flint Coneys since I was seven or eight, also having head cheese and other things people might see as “novel” or “bizarre”. I feel it’s a shame some of these flavors are falling out of favor, and really like hearing of places who are putting more “real food” out there for folks to enjoy.
The Koegel Vienna is the closest you can come to the original Koegel’s Coney intended for use with this sauce. From the Koegel’s web page about the Coney, “We change the ingredients just a little from our Viennas so that the product can be held on a grill for an extended period of time.” Anything else is a wannabe.
After enjoying these two coneys I had to have Ryan make me a third. I’d missed that ridiculously-good flavor that much. I only cooked up two of the four pounds of sauce in the bag, putting the rest back in the freezer for later. But between John (a former Marine), Ryan (a high-school swimmer), myself and a twelve-pound Pomeranian named Samwise Gamgee (his dad’s name was Frodo), we finished off that two pounds of sauce on about 12 Viennas.
Ok now … There’s two more pounds of this bag of sauce in the freezer. There’s also a 5.5 lb beef heart, and some ground beef suet. Time to start some reverse-engineering …
Having suffered my first sinus bleed in three years last weekend (a rather bad episode I might add, with about three pints of blood loss), I found myself once again in need of the wonderful healing properties of the Coarse Liverwurst from Kilgus Meats in Toledo. Mary picked up four pounds of the stuff on Friday, keeping two pounds in the fridge for my use and throwing the rest in the freezer for later. I’ve been munching on its beautiful richness quite a bit on its own with just a fork as usual, and every time I do I seem to get a bit more energy.
On this Easter morning we’ve been taking it kinda easy. I haven’t cooked in more than a week and felt it was time to actually get up and get myself something instead of having Mary or someone else do it. I wanted eggs but of course felt the coarse liverwurst would end up being a side dish anyway. That’s when Aaron suggested I make a Coarse Liverwurst Omelet. That sounded pretty darn good.
I decided I wanted to sauté the liverwurst, as it would need to be like the meat in the Fried Egg & Spam dish that’s popular in Hawaii. Adding chopped onion to it would also give it the texture of a handmade corned beef hash. With the liverwurst being as rich as it is I knew I wouldn’t want a strong cheese in the omelet. I needed a mild cheese to balance the flavors, and Muenster seemed a better choice than Swiss because of the additional creaminess offsetting the texture of the sautéed liverwurst and onion.
The amounts used in this recipe are certainly to taste … I used a lot more of the liverwurst than most people would, cutting a bit more than an inch off the loaf and skinning it before breaking it up into chunks. Without adding oil or butter to the omelet pan, I sautéed the coarse liverwurst and a few teaspoons of chopped yellow onion until the liverwurst broke down into smaller pieces and the onion was translucent. This I drained on some paper towel.
After wiping out the pan, I melted a tablespoon of unsalted butter then made a 3-egg omelet over medium-high heat the normal way, seasoning with our standard staple for eggs, Alden Mill House Miracle Blend. (A combination of Kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic and other spices, a product made in Alden near Torch Lake here in Michigan, and also available at Kilgus Meats in Toledo.) When the omelet was almost ready, I added the still-warm meat and topped it with the slices of Muenster cheese.
This turned out to be a lot better then even I thought it would. I hadn’t overcooked the liverwurst so it was still nice and moist. I might have wanted to add a third slice of the cheese for more creaminess, but it was still a good amount. This is something I’ll make again, especially when a couple more of my boys are home and I’ll have the strength to cook it for them.
As it was though, when I sat down to eat it, I was sweating and short of breath from the exertion of actually doing something. Obviously, I still have a long road ahead.
Thanks for the suggestion, Aaron!
A Beef & Pork Rutabaga Pasty from Nylund’s Pasties in Crystal Falls, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Yes, Michigan does indeed have an Upper Peninsula.
A couple of my biggest pet peeves have to do with Michigan food writing in general. There are quite a few food writers here in the state and, make no mistake, they’re all excellent writers. Michigan has a plethora (love that word) of foods, restaurants, festivals and cuisines and there’s plenty of material to go around.
One problem I have is when any of those writers claims that a specific project is supposed to represent all of Michigan when, in fact, doing so would be impractical at best for any short-term deadline. It can simply be expensive and quite time-consuming to get the physical coverage required for a given project.
Even the most well-meaning food writer makes this kind of mistake, and needs to be called on the carpet about it. Yesterday, MLive Entertainment writer John Gonzales released what he titled “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint 2013“. MLive hubs across the state had compiled voting lists from readers, who then selected the top two restaurants for a given area. Then John, along with Mike Jensen of Saranac, visited 30 restaurants over a six-day period before selecting their top ten. Yesterday morning they named Anna’s House in Grand Rapids “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint 2013″.
But John and Mike had never traveled north of Traverse City for the contest. They never set foot on the extensive land mass of the Upper Peninsula. Nor did they come down this way into either Lenawee County or Monroe County.
What Anna’s House had actually earned was the title of “MLive’s Best Breakfast Joint”.
Over in the comments on yesterday’s article containing that news, I made certain to make my feelings known about this. Other readers, including Robin Linwood of Porcupine Press’s UPMag, echoed my sentiments about the issue. John was understandably a bit defensive about it at first, but I got the impression he quickly understood it was the unfortunate mis-naming of the “award” I had a problem with. Some other readers, however, took issue with my “negativity”, saying I should have been more involved. I pointed out I was heavily involved in the selection and voting for the Genesee County portion, which they didn’t see. And I hadn’t really known what the coverage area was going to be. I think only John really knew what that coverage was.
The basic issue is that of geography. In either of the peninsulas it can easily take hours to get from one end or corner to the other of that peninsula. And if a writer is hoping to includes foods and/or locations from the other peninsula in their writing, they’d better book a couple nights in a hotel somewhere. It would have taken John and Mike months, maybe a year or more, along with considerable funding, to actually determine an honestly-named “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint”.
The other concept I have a problem with, one quite possibly shared with the quarter-million-or-so people of the UP, is a concept that shows up far too often in food writing and other journalism in and about the state of Michigan. It’s the one where “trolls” inaccurately and ineptly refer to an area that’s much too far south as “northern Michigan”. This area encompasses the land that begins north of Mt. Pleasant (excluding the tip of Michigan’s “thumb”), and ends at the straits of Mackinac.
The Wikipedia entry for “Northern Michigan” does a rather nice job of explaining the feelings about the inadvertant naming of this area by various groups of the state’s population:
“Across the Straits of Mackinac, to the north, west and northeast, lies the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the ‘U.P.’). Despite its geographic location as the most northerly part of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula is not usually included in the definition of Northern Michigan (although ‘Northern Michigan’ University is located in the U.P. city of Marquette), and is instead regarded by Michigan residents as a distinct region of the state. Although, residents of the Upper Peninsula often say that ‘Northern Michigan’ is not in the Lower Peninsula. They insist the region must only be referred to as “Northern Lower Michigan” and this can sometimes become a topic of contention between friends who are from different Peninsulas. The two regions are connected by the 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge.”
Reader Holland Sparty posted some notes yeaterday that, I have to admit, help to describe accurately where this mis-naming comes from among Michigan’s “trolls”:
“Dave, consider that there are many regular folk (myself included) who live in the lower half of the lower peninsula that consider going ‘up north’ to be going to places such as Traverse City or the Leelanau area or Mackinaw City. We don’t necessarily consider the UP as going ‘up north’ but simply going to the UP … To be clear, obviously the UP is further north than the northern lower peninsula but for many of us the UP is something more distinctive than simply going ‘up north’.”
In considering this rather accurate description for a while, I came to the conclusion this has created more of a problem than us “trolls” can bring ourselves to admit. I understand the state has a geographical situation different from a lot of states in the Union, but that does not mean anyone should ever ignore or push aside a certain population.
But unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened.
The few miles across the occasionally dangerous Straits of Mackinac weren’t connected by the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge until 1957. Lower peninsula-based food writers, other journalists, and the general population, tend to treat the upper peninsula as though it’s some sort of Siberian outpost. Is it any wonder then that the upper peninsula peoples regularly vote on seccession and have since 1858? That they even have their own version of the Michigan State Fair, held since 1928? That they refer to us as “fudge-sucking trolls”?
No, travel along the four-lane bridge isn’t as easy as any of us would like. And during inclement weather it can still be a dangerous crossing. But the upper peninsula is indeed part of Michigan. All of us need to think of it that way and treat it as such. Otherwise, they’re just going to leave like they’ve wanted to. And that would be a sad day.
Here are some simple facts:
- Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the true “northern Michigan”.
- The land that begins north of Mt. Pleasant (excluding the tip of Michigan’s “thumb”), and ends at the straits of Mackinac, can only be accurately called “northern lower Michigan”.
- Michigan’s food writers, and other journalists and writers, will always have a responsibilty for accurate reporting, without the common and outlandish claims of their writing being of a statewide nature, which they can rarely achieve with any honest practicality anyway.
So here I am, six miles north of the Ohio state line, and after writing all this I’m craving a beef & rutabaga pasty with gravy. Go figure.
In looking at this family’s obsession with the cuisine of India, I find I’ve really been focusing more on learning how it all goes together in the correct ratios than in really experimenting with techniques. My one post from a month or so ago included a recipe for a curry that was really a set of modifications to an authentic curry recipe as described by the young man at the Indian grocery who sold us the spice mix. This works well for a lot of “standard” dishes. But what about just making something up?
We’ve gone chicken in this house. We’ve been enjoying it a lot lately, along with a bit of lean pork, as some are currently dieting. A couple days ago in looking around for what to make for various dinners this week, I realized I actually had the makings of a basic curry dish. I had some good chicken breasts, potatoes, some frozen peas, some canned diced tomatoes … and an unopened package of the Shan Chicken Curry Spice Mix from the other curry.
I think the most difficult part of throwing this thing together was figuring out the timings so it used only one pot. Keeping an eye on it as it progressed proved to be most beneficial. This sucker was tonight’s dinner … and I’ve only cooked it that one time. Simple? You betcha.
So here it is. Hope you enjoy it.
Chicken Potato Tomato Curry
5 split boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
5 russett potatoes
1/2 onion, chopped
8 oz frozen peas
1 1.75 oz package Shan Chicken Curry Spice Mix
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces, peel and cut the potatoes to about the same size as the chicken, and chop the onion. Heat a 6 qt. pot over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons olive oil, allow it to heat a moment, then add the chicken. Brown the chicken, moving it regularly so it doesn’t stick, until it’s no longer pink inside (175F internal temperature). Drain the chicken and set it aside. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, potatoes, onions and peas to the pot and heat to a boil. Immediately lower the heat for a low simmer. Add half the spice mix package (more or less to taste) and stir to incorporate. Allow to simmer 20 minutes or so, stirring regularly to prevent sticking, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Add the cooked chicken and heat for a couple more minutes. Serves 5
A blueberry paczki from Monica’s Baker Boy in Monroe, Michigan, purchased February 11, 2013
People just don’t get it. They feel a need to be snarky about it. And that’s just wrong on their part.
Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, the beginning of the 40+ day season of Lent, representing to many in the Christian church the period of 40-or-so days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Some people forgo meat the entire time, some only on Fridays (which is the reason for the Friday fish fry events at locaal organizations), while others may perform similar fastings during that time. It’s the day of eating richer and more fatty foods prior to beginning the annual season of the Lenten fast.
Today is Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, aka Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. Here in Michigan, the city of Hamtramck, a largely Polish community, celebrates Paczki Day, with parades and other celebrations, including paczki eating contests. Paczki have been known in Poland since about the middle ages, and were developed as a result of cleaning all the fatty ingredients out of the pantry prior to Ash Wednesday. Make no mistake … a real paczki is NOT a jelly doughnut. They predate doughnuts by centuries and are made differently. These paczki from Monica’s Baker Boy in Monroe, Michigan, are made from an authentic Polish recipe, and are wonderfully dense and full of flavor.
There are those individuals who don’t want to care one iota about any of this. They prefer, rather, to be snarky and judgemental about anyone who eats a paczki or partakes of any other Fat Tuesday event having anything to do with the traditional overabundance of food.
The whole box of a dozen paczki from Monica’s in Monroe.
“No thanks … How can you eat that??”
Well, I open my mouth, take a bite, chew it up nicely, and then swallow. Really, it’s just like eating anything else. Should chase a paczki with a chilled glass of whole milk though.
“That’s a heart attack waiting to happen.”
No it’s not. It is if you eat like this all the time. I don’t though. But if you want a salad, that’s your choice. This is my choice for the moment, that’s my decision, and you can just hush … Go to the corner and chew on your celery. Leave me and my paczki alone.
“May as well call it ‘Butter & Lard Day’.”
Actually, thanks, that would be more accurate. That’s indeed the whole point of this particular religion-based observance, we’ll take it under consideration.
The stack of paczki, with the blueberry cut open.
What bothers me more than anything is that many of the Snark-Meisters will pig out on other holidays, on Thanksgiving passing out on the sofa in a tryptophan-induced coma, on Christmas visiting as many homes as they can and eating some at each one, on Halloween with all the candy, on Easter with all the food and candy as well …
But when it comes to Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Paczki Day, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day … whatever you chose to caall it … they flat-out refuse to recognize that it’s the religion-based observance that it is that goes back many centuries. They refuse to recognize the importance of the day and how to observe it properly. They are also likely the ones that can’t wrap their heads around being non-judgemental of others about anything else, either.
I feel that they probably don’t know how to enjoy food to begin with, even during an observance such as today. Good food is one of God’s gifts to us, and there are many food traditions. Paczki Day is indeed one of those traditions.
That’s too bad for those people. But they do leave more paczki for the rest of us.
Above, fresh Lake Michigan whitefish on display in the case at Carlson’s Fishery in Leland, Michigan, in August 2012, only about 30 feet from where the fishing boat that brought it in would have offloaded. At left, Mary stands on the steps leading down into the historic 1850s-era fishing village where the Carlson’s shop is located.
Looking back at the past year, the family and I seem to have spent not only quite a bit of time exploring cultures and cuisines we were not as familiar with previously, but also foods within the state of Michigan itself. In traveling to the Orlando area in June and up into Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula in August, along with other shorter road trips, we found ourselves looking at menus we could have only imagined in 2011. Along the way, my whole concept for exploring Michigan Cuisine ended up turned on its head and I realized I basically have to begin again from scratch.
Part of the issue I see with a lot of food journalism and food writing in Michigan is that it leans much too far toward what the Chefs of the state’s finer restaurants are doing on their menus, particularly with main ingredients for entrées that don’t actually reflect Michigan’s past or even what’s available here. Ahi tune, lobster, calamari, octopus … those are some of my pet peeves in places that supposedly serve Michigan foods. And even the other dishes, from steaks to freshwater fish to chicken, aren’t served anything like what most people would cook at home, especially with garnishes of microgreens and some California wines. While a lot of food writers eat at those places quite often, my family and I don’t, nor do most other Michigan families. We’ll eat at those kinds of places on occasion, maybe once each month or twice if we get the urge. But we’re more likely going to head to a family-owned diner, maybe a Coney Island restaurant, or a place offering authentic Mexican foods such as Menudo, before we’ll even consider a place where we might not be able to wear t-shirts and yoga pants and order a burger.
One Michigan food writer, Patty Lanoue Stearns, isn’t all that high falutin’, and gets a lot of respect from me for sticking to the basics of where Michigan foods have come from, and how they can be used. When writing her own material, she doesn’t get all flashy about all the pretty pictures, she sticks to what the subject is really about, and she talks about real cooking. My favorite of hers is her “Cherry Home Companion“, although I do own all her books. I’ve probably read more of her writings on Michigan than anyone else’s.
It’s a matter of roots. Chef Eve Aronoff in Ann Arbor inadvertantly taught me about going back to your roots when it comes to food.
The Beef Frita with Sweet Chili Mayo and Cilantro-Lime Salsa at Chef Eve Aronoff’s Frita Batidos in Ann Arbor in April 2012.
A few years back Chef Eve operated “Eve” in Ann Arbor, and had published the book “Eve: Contemprary Cuisine” containing recipes for dishes she and her sous chefs had on the restaurant’s menu. Mary and I had met Chef Eve when she was one of the four anchor chefs at Tast Of The Nation: Toledo in 2007, serving the crowd smaller portions of one of those dishes on a mirrored platter. (It may have actually been just a mirror.) Unfortunately, Eve was somehow injured and ended up closing her restaurant before Mary and I could find the time for a visit.
But in 2011, Chef Eve resurfaced in Ann Arbor at a new place she called Frita Batidos, offering “Cuban-inspred street food”. From her menu:
“FRITA BATIDOS is inspired by Cuban culture and a fantasy revolving around two culinary staples in the world of Cuban street food – The FRITA – a burger traditionally made from spicy chorizo served with shoestring fries on top in a soft egg bun and BATIDOS – tropical milkshakes made with fresh fruit, crushed ice, and sweetened milk – with or without rum.”
My son Ryan and I hit the place up for some eats last April. Knowing about Chef Eve’s past venture, we were surprised to see whitewashed picnic tables in Frita Batidos instead of small tables with linens and rolled flatware. There were also dominos on the tables to play with while waiting for the food, which Ryan made use of. When the food finally came, it turned out to be seriously worth the wait, and was quite simply some of the best “street food” we’d had anywhere. It was probably the best burger I’d had anywhere to speak of. Everything was very simply made, was quite inexpensive, and was astonishingly good.
It turns out Chef Eve has never been to Cuba, but was instead inspred by a family history of Cuban cooking. That’s what really got my attention.
A trip to the Traverse City area in August for a Michigan Association of Mayors workshop for Mary finished up with us going for a drive out west of that city, then up the M22 road around the Leelanau Peninsula. We found ourselves in an area of the lower peninsula unlike anything we’d ever seen, with rolling landscapes, roads twisting along the Lake Michigan coastline, and lots of crowds in lttle towns and villages. It was when we finally stopped for a while and walked in the village of Leland that we found the historic “Fishtown” see in the first two photos above. It was something we’d never even heard of, and it was surprising to see in Michigan.
That’s when it hit me. There are obviously five basic components to Michigan Cuisine: The industrial and agricultural workers, along with their families and ethnicities, the hunting and fishing communities, and what’s needed to support that.
People with serious roots. And excellent food histories and cultures. Like the food history and culture evident in Fishtown.
Now, 2012 also saw the publication of “Coney Detroit” by Katherine Yung and Joe Grimm. While the book mainly focuses on that dish, they were kind enough to include a chapter on the Flint coney, the one I grew up on and have kinda obsessed about. The authors had also built a web site at www.coneydetroit.com to support the book, and had a small community there. Looking around, I realized the Flint coney had nothing similar. A lot of people had commented on my various Flint coney sauce recipes in this blog, so there was obvious interest in it. So I snagged www.flintconeys.com, started throwing some information on a few pages, and it wasn’t too long before I had built a web site that pulled a lot of loose information together into one place. And it wasn’t too much longer before the Flint Journal found it.
The information on flintconeys.com ended up being, as a matter of fact, directly related to my own roots in the Flint area growing up in a family of German/English auto workers, sailors and fishermen. And that seems a good foundation for exploring the entire state via its foods.
There’s a lot more to this, in a 15-page document on my laptop that continues to build. Not much of it heads into the high-end restuarants of the state, although there are a few exceptions. But the concept focuses on one thing: Families, and how they eat. That’s what really counts.
Our family has also done a lot of exploration of both Mexican and Indian cuisines this past year. Mexican food is a big deal here, with authentic grocers and restaurants supporting those communities of immigrants who hand-harvest a lot of the more low-lying foods grown in Michigan. Indian food is also huge in places like Ann Arbor and Lansing, with hundreds of immigrant college students needing their own foods and services.
For example, finding ourselves enamored partially with Indian cuisine, I decided I wanted to take one of my favorite hot sauces, the habanero-based Joe Perry’s Rock Your World® Boneyard Brew™ Hot Sauce, and create an authentic-style curry dish. Enlisting the help of an Indian grocer in the Toledo area, the grocer, Ryan and I put together a recipe that went over extremely well when we tried it at home the first time. After a couple other tries, we nailed a good flavor and texture for the dish, which we then named after Aerosmith’s most-recent CD. Give it a try, you’ll probably like it, too.
There’s a lot more where this came from. I’ll keep working on it.
Curry From Another Dimension
3 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 medium red onions
8 Tbsp unsalted butter (split into two 4 Tbsp portions)
1-1/2 cup plain yogurt
8 tsp Shan Chicken Curry spice mix or equivalent
8 tsp Joe Perry’s Rock Your World® Boneyard Brew™ Hot Sauce
2 tsp Ginger powder
Ground black pepper
Peel and cut the onions with a small-to-medium chop and set aside. Cut the chicken into rough 1″ cubes, and season lightly with the salt, pepper and garlic. Melt 4 Tbsp butter in a high-wall skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown until completely cooked (165F internal temperature). When the chicken is done, drain it via a colandar. Wipe out the skillet with paper towel, set it over high heat and melt the remaining 4 Tbsp butter into it. As soon as the butter is melted, add the chopped onion. Sauté the onion past translucent, and continue to cook. As soon as the onion begins to brown, add the ginger. Stir for just a few seconds to incorporate the ginger, and remove from the heat. Add the cooked chicken, the yogurt and the curry spice mix. Set the pan back over low heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the Joe Perry’s Rock Your World® Boneyard Brew™ Hot Sauce, cook for another minute, and remove from the heat. Serve over Basmati rice with a side of a warm tandoori na’an.
- Shan Chicken Curry spice mix is available on Amazon or at local specialty grocer featuring foods from India or Pakistan.
- Lamb, shrimp and salmon are other good base ingredients for this curry.
- This is a hot curry recipe by American standards. A medium curry would use half the curry spice mix and half the Joe Perry’s Rock Your World® Boneyard Brew™ Hot Sauce. People from India would use more than what’s listed in the ingredient list above, and in fact use the full 1.75 oz pouch of curry spice mix for 3 lb of chicken.