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Recipe: Harvest Sautéed Green Beans


A serving of Harvest Sautéed Green Beans served with deer venison tenderloin medallions.

This is one of our go-to side dishes that seems to go with just about everything. It’s particularly good with meats, and game meats seem to suggest it. At that point it also goes very well with the wild rices and other grains that are generally served with game.

This recipe, however, gained some traction a couple weeks ago. On November 12th Flint Journal Entertainment Reporter Scott Atkinson posted that he was looking for a green bean recipe to include with the MLive Group’s statewide set of Thanksgiving recipes for the year. I submitted this recipe even though I’d never written it down … I was in such a hurry I ended up submitting it as follows:

Fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped to 2″ lengths
Toasted almonds
Dried cranberries
Trimmed and chopped green onions
Unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
Granulated garlic

Melt the butter in a skillet. Sauté beans, cranberries and green onions 4 minutes, add almonds one more minute. Season to taste. Different amounts give different flavor profiles, experiment at will, for example, using chopped Vidalia onion instead of chopped green onion.

There was some discussion in the comments from other submitters that this wasn’t a green bean casserole. But Scott had never specified that’s what it had to be. By that Friday Scott had selected this recipe and asked me for a more complete version. I threw some guesstimates for measurements into a Word version, fleshed out the procedure a bit more, and sent it off.

The first warm surprise came in the form of the rest of the complete menu from across the state:

  • Apple Cider Brined Turkey, Ann Arbor: Chef Joe Flores of Full Circle Group, Zingerman’s Roadhouse and Frita Batidos
  • Michigan Salad, Detroit: Marilyn Thibodeau
  • Mashed Potatoes, Frankenmuth: Bavarian Inn
  • Sweet Potato Casserole, Kalamazoo: Karen Stowall, made by Chris Kidd, Chef de Cuisine at Rustica
  • Stuffing, Bay City: Vince Stuart, owner of downtown Bay City’s Stock Pot
  • Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins, Jackson: Mat Stedman of Mat’s Cafe and Catering
  • Cranberry Jell-O, Muskegon: Penny Larson
  • Apple Pie, Rockford: Julie Setlock, Julie’s Pies

I was certainly in excellent company here with these folks, some of them rather heavy-hitters. But MLive also included this description in the listing of included recipes:

We know how attached people are to the green bean casserole, and Flint is no exception. But taking the main ingredient out of the casserole and mixing it with less traditional pairings — like almonds and cranberries — added up to a side that could end up being the star of the show.

Wow.

When Scott finally posted the official version of the recipe there were 19 photos, along with a video of the completed dish. He described the completed dish with the sentence “I expected this recipe to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.” That kind of thing is always great to hear, or see.

This recipe works year round, as long as you can get the fresh green beans. If you feel you have to use frozen or canned beans, please … don’t bother.

Enjoy!

Harvest Sautéed Green Beans
Ingredients
1 lb fresh green beans
½ cup green onions
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup slivered almonds
4 garlic cloves
4 tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
fresh-ground black pepper

Rinse the green beans and break off the ends. Rinse and trim the green onions (leave the white bulb end for flavor) and chop to 1/4 ” length. Mince the garlic and set aside.

In a high-wall skillet or a wok, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is hot, sauté the green beans over medium-high heat about eight minutes. Add the chopped green onions and garlic and sauté one minute. Finally, add the slivered almonds and cranberries, season to taste, and sauté one more minute. Transfer to a glass bowl and serve hot.

Note: Different amounts and other ingredients give different flavor profiles. For example, try using chopped sweet Vidalia onion instead of chopped green onion, use toasted slivered almonds, try golden raisins instead of or with the dried cranberries, replace half the grean beans with 2″ lengths of grilled asparagus, etc. This is one of those recipes where measurements could be a handful of this and a pinch of that.

Recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs”, a Flint Style Coney Sauce

After we’d discussed the conclusions of this test of Gillie’s recipe, Monica Kass Rogers updated her “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs” recipe with a small-batch version that she likes. It’s definitely worth trying.

Most online recipes and recipes in-print are about as far from Abbott’s original sauce as they can possibly get. They involve ground hot dogs, kidney, or maybe haven’t been tested and should never be made.

Still, in scouring the web for variations and specific versions of recipes for Flint-style coney sauce, we’ve stumbled across what appears to be a “diamond in the rough”. This one is seriously as close to the original as we’ve seen so far …

Over on her Lost Recipes Found site, greater-Chicago-area food writer Monica Kass Rogers has posted what she wrote up as the recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs“. Her notes on the recipe included the following statement:

“Gillie’s Coney Island [circa 1985 in Mt. Morris, Michigan] … shared this large-volume recipe for Flint-style Coney Island chili in a Michigan Restaurant Association cookbook more than 20 years ago.”

It turns out that, sometime in the 1980s (data seems to support 1987), the Michigan Restaurant Association did, in fact, publish a spiral-bound cookbook titled “A Taste of Michigan“. The timeframe for this book would support Rogers’ claim that the recipe is printed there. Until we receive a copy of the book we’ll refrain from further conjecture on our part …

It must be noted that Gillie’s Coney Island is currently showing an image of an Abbott’s Meat truck on their web site that indicates that’s where their sauce is coming from. Which sauce they’re actually serving at the moment remains to be seen.

There are a couple things uniquely interesting about the particular recipe Rogers posted on her site that illustrate a high level of authenticity. First of all, there’s the 10 lb of ground beef. This might seem extreme to a home cook. But anyone who walks into a GFS Marketplace store in Michigan, Ohio, or elswhere along the GFS “trail” to Florida, will find that’s the minimum amount of ground beef they can purchase there. This is because that’s the volume most restaurants base their GFS truck purchases on. Gillie’s would certainly specify this same amount.

More interesting, however, is the process for this recipe, i.e.:

  • Over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot.
  • Add onion and saute for 1 minute
  • Add spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes
  • Add 10 lbs of hamburger; reduce heat to very low and cook for one hour

This is extremely interesting because it matches the description regarding the making of the Abbott’s sauce given by none other than Edward Abbott himself to an interviewer from the Flint Journal:

“According to Edward Abbott, who eighty plus years later is still making the ground meat base for Flint’s coney island sauce, the only meat ingredient is beef heart, regardless of the stories and rumors of other meat parts being used. Abbott’s added some seasoning … The sauce is made by boiling commercially prepared beef suet for several hours, then browning finely chopped onions in it and adding the spices and the meat. Taste varied according to the size of the chef’s hand … ‘They still sell the traditional sauce; the meat base … that has all the seasonings – cumin, chili powder, onions and the rest of the spices … The Abbott product has always been sold uncooked …’”

“Two to Go: A Short History of Flint’s Coney Island Restaurants”, 2007 by Florine, Davison & Jaeger (Genesee County Historical Society)

What this means is that someone at Gillie’s either read that same article/interview, or they used to work for Abbott’s or one of Abbott’s direct competitors. They then used the information from Abbott’s to create the recipe that was subsequently published in “A Taste of Michigan” and reposted by Monica Kass Rogers.

We’ll re-post it again here with Ms. Rogers’ kind permission, also assuming this is how it was published within the now out-of-print “A Taste of Michigan”. Once we find a copy of that book, we’ll ensure what’s listed here is updated to match those pages. And we’d like to thank Monica Kass Rogers for inadvertantly pointing us in the direction of this “diamond in the rough”.

Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs

Makes 10 lbs of chili

Flint-Style Chili Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup fine-diced onion
  • 3 Tbsp each paprika, cumin powder, chile powder
  • 10 lb extra-finely ground hamburger

Hot Dog Assembly Ingredients

  • hot dog buns
  • Koegel Vienna hot dogs
  • mustard
  • ketchup (optional, frowned upon by some)
  • diced sweet white onion
  • Gillie’s Coney Island Chili

Instructions

  • Over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot.
  • Add onion and saute for 1 minute
  • Add spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes
  • Add 10 lbs of hamburger; reduce heat to very low and cook for one hour
  • Assemble hot dogs: Grill hot dogs (preferably a Koegel Vienna dog from Flint, MI)
  • Place dogs in buns and top with Gillie’s chili, mustard, (ketchup optional) and raw diced sweet onion.

To be honest, this is a lot of Gillie’s coney sauce. If you eat coneys as much as we do this might be a worthwhile venture. But to be honest, the amount this makes simply isn’t at all “family friendly”. We’ll adjust these amounts to something that makes more sense for a home kitchen.

Ground beef it now specified in ratios of lean meat to fat. In most foods, especially burgers, we’ll use an 80/20 ground chuck. But for this sauce we’ll use more of a utility beef, a 73/27. Since it’s readily available in 3 lb. chubbs, that’s the amount we’ll adjust the recipe for and divide the other measurements by about a third.

Also, the spices simply specify “paprika”. Most people don’t realize there are numerous kinds of paprika available. If a cook happens to have the Hungarian style in their pantry and use it, the sauce will end up far too sweet. We’ll make sure to specify the more savory Spanish paprika.

But there’s also one other adjustment we want to make. This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup shortening. When this recipe was apparently printed, shortening had different characteristics than it does now, back in the pre-trans fat ban era of the 1980s. Still, shortening is vegetable oil, not an animal fat, and we can certainly do better in the interest of flavor.

We can replace the shortening with lard to get better richness. But remember, lard is made from pig fat. Mr. Abbott specifically mention boiling beef suet for several hours, the result of which is beef tallow. This would certainly give the sauce a more accurate flavor profile. Premium edible beef tallow is readily available in jars from FatWorks. (It’s also available from Amazon at an inflated price, so we’ll go with ordering directly from FatWorks.) What we can do is specify both the lard and the tallow as options, forgoing the shortening completely.

The end result of these adjustments, along with modifying the list of ingredients to match currently-available products (and obviously ditching the ketchup), is below:

Gillie’s Coney Island Sauce (Home Version)

  • 1/2 cup edible beef tallow (available from FatWorks) or lard
  • 1/3 cup fine-diced white onion*
  • 1 Tbsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin seed
  • 1 Tbsp mild chili powder
  • 3 lb 73/27 ground beef
  1. Over medium heat, melt the tallow or lard. Heat until very hot.
  2. Add onion and sauté for 1 minute.
  3. Add the spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the hamburger; reduce heat to very low and simmer for at least one hour to let the flavors develop. Stir regularly to ensure the meat is broken up to be as small as possible.
  5. Assemble hot dogs: Grill hot dogs (preferably a Koegel Vienna dog from Flint, MI.)
  6. Place dogs in steamed buns and top with Gillie’s chili, mustard, and raw diced onion.

* Notes:

  1. For the onions, just cut a couple medium onions about 1/8″ small chop, then set aside 1/3 cup for use in the sauce.

Conclusions

  1. This recipe turned out to be quite bland. During testing, 1/2 tsp Kosher salt was added to kick up the other flavors. Doubling the amounts of the spices would certainly help. But we’re not so sure paprika of any kind is a necessary part of the equation, while garlic powder or granulated garlic would certainly be a nice addition. So the spices should probably be 2 Tbsp ground cumin seed, 2 Tbsp mild chili powder and 1 Tbsp granulated garlic.
  2. The extremely dry and loose but greasy/oily nature of this particular sauce indicates the real need for the textured vegetable protein, i.e. soy flour, in the circa 1907 original Abbott’s sauce package. It’s obviously used there as a binder to give the sauce at least a bit of body. The Bob’s Red Mill version of soy flour is inexpensive, while cacker meal would also work.
  3. What this obviously does for this is to set up the direction for developing a recipe for recreating what’s in the circa 1907 original Abbott’s Flint coney sauce package at home in smaller batches.

Home Dishwashing: A Standard Operating Procedure

“What do you mean … I have to put dinner away when I do dishes? That’s can’t be an ‘implied’ rule, I don’t see that written down anywhere.”

And the pot containing cooked No. 3 spaghetti noodles mixed with sauce sat on the clean stove. The rest of the dishes were washed and air-drying while the former Marine just stood there with a smirk on his face.

Really?? Oh, he ain’t gonna like me …

I’m a rather fair technical writer. I wrote early video editing manuals at DeVry in 1985, then a few extremely detailed NAVAIR calibration procedures while in the Navy before moving on to assisting in the technical editing and some authoring of Microsoft Access and Visual Basic programming books for Wrox Press. So I can write me some techie stuff.

What’s he’d inadvertantly triggered was a Standard Operating Procedure for dishwashing at home. It took a few hours to nail down this morning based on what I’ve bitc … er … complained about in the past. But I do believe it’s all there. If not, there shall be revisions.

DISHWASHING STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
last updated June 30, 2014

1. Dishes should be washed each evening. 48 hours from the last washing is an outside time limit to prevent insect infestations, odors, and other issues.
2. Collect all dirty dishes from the living room and bedrooms. Stack dishes to the right of the sink. (If stacking also on the rangetop, first ensure the elements are turned off and cool to touch.)
3. Put the previous meal away, throwing away food as needed (i.e., if the food will not store well, such as cooked pasta without sauce). Ensure there are no open containers in the refrigerator. If there are, fix the problem as needed, asking for recommendations if necessary.
4. Put away the clean dishes from the last washing, stacking largest on the bottom to smallest on top, keeping pieces together, such as lids to travel mugs, grease catcher in the electric griddle, etc. If you don’t know where something goes or how it’s stored, ask.
5. Change the drying cloths, the wash cloth and scrubbing sponge you’ll be using, and any drying towels, putting the older ones in the laundry.
6. Clean the sink bowls with hottest possible water to touch, and dish soap if necessary.
7. Stop the right sink, add hottest possible water to touch till 2″ from the top (deep wash water distributes foodstuffs better), adding 2 tablespoons dishsoap halfway through.
8. Wash the drain rack and its drain surface in the right sink first, along with the counter underneath, rinsing the drain rack and its surface in the left sink under hottest possible running water to touch.
WARNING: WASH KNIVES AND OTHER SHARPS INDIVIDUALLY,
NEVER DROPPING THEM INTO THE WATER
TO BE SEARCHED FOR LATER.
9. Wash dishes individually in the right sink, checking all surfaces, soaking only when necessary.
10. Check the inside of the microwave and wash the glass plate if necessary.
11. Rinse dishes in the left sink under hottest possible running water to touch.
12. Stack rinsed dishes in a safe manner, keeping pieces together, such as lids to travel mugs, grease catcher in the electric griddle, etc.
13. While washing, if more room is needed to continue stacking dishes in a safe manner in the dish drainer and on the drying towel space, towel-dry and put away the clean dishes, stacking largest on the bottom to smallest on top, keeping pieces together, such as lids to travel mugs, grease catcher in the electric griddle, etc. If you don’t know where something goes or how it’s stored, ask.
14. While final dishes are soaking in hot soapy water, clean the inside of the microwave (including the ceiling and carousel), rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap. Reassemble the microwave with the glass plate and carousel and close the door.
15. Clean the rangetop with hot soapy water, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap. This includes lifting the elements (first ensure they’re turned off and cool to touch) and cleaning the drip bowls.
16. Clean all counters and backsplashes with hot soapy water, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap, including under appliances, cutting boards, etc., and corners.
17. Clean the table with hot soapy water, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap.
18. Finish washing, rinsing and stacking any dishes left to soak. NOTE: There should be zero dishes left soaking at this point.
19. Drain both sink bowls, putting rinsed and clean drain stops upside down on the back of the sink top. Clean the sink bowls, faucet and faucet area with hottest possible water to touch, and dish soap if necessary, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap.
20. Rinse dishcloths and scrubbing sponges in running hottest possible water. Wring out and lay out dishcloths to dry. Wring out scrubbing sponges and place on the back of the sink top next to the clean drain stops.
21. If the Keurig was unplugged, plug it in and turn it on. Ensure water tank is filled to the Fill line, and if it isn’t, fill it and reattach it to the Keurig with the lid on correctly.
22. Take the garbage out (including items next to the trash can, and any trash in the bathroom trash basket). Put a new trash bag in the trash can correctly for use and place the lid correctly.

Me: Well, whadaya think?
Ryan: I’m still reading …
Me: You hate me, don’t you?
Ryan: I’m still reading …

Yeah, they don’t like very much, do they? Meanwhile, Mary and I are still laughing.

The Effects of Scotchgard™ on Wakefulness: A Study


This piece is satire. If you take it another way, that’s your problem, not mine.

A recent study has determined that certain substances commonly used in upholstery for furniture has a tendency to cause a form of sleeping disorder, particularly in the presence of small crowds or large amounts of alcohol.

The conclusive study, funded by the Fulfilled Associates of Naps & Slumbers (FANS), visited more than a dozen residences in north Columbus, Ohio, east of High St. between 5th and Lane.

“It became obvious early-on that the number of individuals in the residences, coupled with the amount of alcohol ingested by the observed individual, combined to create an almost instantaneous reaction similar to a sleeping disorder when that individual came into contact with Scotchgard™ on a piece of upholstered furniture” said Dr. Richard Head, director of FANS. “We don’t know exactly what the Hell happens, but those drunk-ass college students just go comatose.”

The situation is apparently linearly exacerbated in the presence of varying numbers of other individuals. In parties of two or three, individuals can be found hours later lying in heaps on Scotchgard™-treated sofas, loveseats and the aptly-termed easy chairs. With larger numbers, particularly in excess of about three dozen, Scotchgard™-treated couches can be found containing slumped people in large amounts in yards and sidewalks.

“We’re lucky their haven’t been any hospitalizations”, continued Dr. Head. “Some looked like they’d been put out with the trash and could have ended up at the landfill. Maybe some of them should have been. This shit is dangerous.”

Other effects were also observed, some more disturbing than others. Major holidays appear to also cause a shortening of the timeline for the effects of Scotchgard™-treated upholstery to take hold. But not only is REM sleep entered shortly after the mid-day meal, inhibitions seem to be loosened as well. This can be easily seen with a loosening or complete removal of waist belts, an opening of the waistband of pants, and on occasion a lifting of the shirt. It’s soon after these actions that REM sleep takes hold of a subject located on Scotchgard™-treated furniture.

“The size of the subject is obviously included in our calculations”, Dr. Head said. “In these subjects we were able to examine navel lint without touching the subject as it was readily exposed, and conducted a separate survey on brand selection of underarm deodorant, including a certain percentage of non-use. Methane samples were also taken and will be analyzed when they are considered safe by the Health Department.”

According to FANS, however, a mystery exists with data tied to local and cable-based broadcasts of local and national sporting events. When these events are underway, the effects of Scotchgard™-treated furniture on the observed subject exhibited a latency issue. Dr. Head: “It’s as though the adrenaline produced in a given subject during various sporting events inserted a lengthy ‘lag’ into how quickly the Scotchgard™-treated upholstery put the subject down. American football appeared to produce the most lag into the equation while horse-racing and golf introduced the least lag. The amount of food ingested during these sporting events appeared to have effects similar to that of holiday rituals, vis-à-vis a shortening of the necessary time until REM sleep was achieved. But meanwhile, women’s beach volleyball, while not seemingly as adrenaline-producing, had the same lengthy amount of lag as American football, regardless if the subject was male or female. We were like, WTF??”

An opposite effect did have to be noted with a disclaimer, as FANS had some difficulty making mathematical and observational sense of a certain matter. “It’s those damn Comp Sci and Physics brats”, Dr. Head exclaimed. “They don’t drink, they don’t like sports, they don’t eat a whole lot on holidays … but when they do eat a lot on a given day or they’re oversized anyway and wearing flood pants, the food just seems to make them want to do more homework. Assholes. No help at all. Gamers are the same way. Up the whole damn night, Scotchgard™ or not. Threw a wrench into the whole thing. We just wrote them out of it with a footnote, the last one, which nobody will notice anyway. You’re not going to print that, are you?”

Before dropping off for a nap on his couch Dr. Head did have this to say: “We’re definitely going to have to take another look at the Culinary Arts students. It didn’t matter how much Scotchgard™ was involved, they weren’t affected, they were up half the night drinking heavily, and jumping around and screaming at cooking shows on cable the way the rest yelled at football games … as if food is actually important or something …”

Scotchgard™ is a trademark of 3M and is definitely not used with permission for this satire piece.

Opinion: The State of Michigan’s Culinary Tours


Fried Halloumi cheese and dried apricots at the Boulevard Market in Tecumseh, Michigan, in July 2007.

In 2009/2010 the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council received a grant they used to found the Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance. All the info regarding that grant can be found at:

http://www.michiganwines.com/culinary-tourism-alliance#sthash.ExbiCbP2.dpbs

The last item on that page is a link to the “Foodie Tour Criteria”:

Michigan Culinary Tour Criteria
Foodie Tours must include Michigan products throughout the tour. Restaurants should be quality places that encourage and use local foods. Places listed MUST have a Web site. Up to 11 places maximum offering a variety of experiences for the visitor.

An ideal foodie tour would include:
1. Three restaurants that feature local foods
2. One Farmers Market
3. One U-pick farm
4. One winery
5. Four others which could include ice cream store, bakery, fish, meat, specialty shop like Cherry Republic, chocolate/fudge (all made in Michigan)
6. One brewery

For each listing you may submit a visual image which should be 182 x 100, 72 dpi. No logos are accepted.

The criteria is, unfortunately, not well thought-out at all. That every place listed “must” have a web site is nonsense, as some of the best places don’t need a web site or even a Facebook page for that matter. Word of mouth is some of the best advertising there is, and in the case of a local, ethnic or cultural venue, is really all that’s necessary. Web sites are more a “first-world” requirement, and should never be demanded.

The stated limit of 11 places for any one tour precludes a considerable amount of detail and any resulting exploration. Even in a place like Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County in general, that’s an extremely low number of places to visit. Go to Grand Rapids or Traverse City and it would be easy to list 35 places that are all excellent suggestions. An expansion of this number is definitely necessary.

“Specialty shop(s) like Cherry Republic, chocolate/fudge”, etc. … These simply don’t exist in any number south of Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint and Port Huron. The Downriver area south of Detroit, nor Monroe or Lenawee Counties, don’t offer a single brewery or brew pub, nor are there three restaurants that serve local foods. But there’s certainly a lot more out there that isn’t listed in the Culinary Alliance’s “criteria”, such as other kinds of specialty markets (jerky in particular), food festivals and food trucks. Still, these areas are precluded from having tours because of the missing “requirements”.

Finally, there’s nothing in the provided criteria to assist in making the concept of a culinary tour exciting in any way. One small photo, “182 x 100, 72 dpi”, would not do justice to any location or venue whatsoever. And what about quality, well-written descriptions or reviews? Those would help at least a little bit to get a visitor’s curiosity up about getting out there and exploring. That’s what it’s really all about anyway.

Now, take a look at the following page on michigan.gov where the state lists all the resulting “culinary tours”:

http://www.michigan.org/foodie-tours/

Go right to the bottom and click on “Indulge in the Cuisines of Southeast Michigan Foodie Tour”:

http://www.michigan.org/road-trips/indulge-in-the-cuisines-of-southeast-michigan-foodie-tour/

That’s where the resulting problem presents itself. There are nine places listed from Detroit to Jackson along the I-94/96 corridor, there’s nothing in the downriver area, Monroe County is completely ignored, and there’s only one drop south for the tenth location, Evans Street Station in Tecumsee, in Lenawee County, which is probably because they couldn’t find anything that qualified along I-94/96. Meanwhile, east-to-west is downtown Detroit to Jackson, a distance of about 80 miles.

So much for the tour being “southeast Michigan” …

A true southeast Michigan culinary tour needs to encompass Lenawee and Monroe Counties. I lived in Lenawee County from 95 – 2003, and Monroe County from 2004 till now. There’s an authentic Mexican community in Adrian along with multiple authentic Mexican restaurants in both counties. Award-winning bakeries are also in both counties, along with Calder Dairy in Carleton still delivering milk in glass bottles to homes, Boulevard Market in Tecumseh making their own cheeses from milk delivered by both beef and goat farmers in the area, and Monroe County having all those amazing muskrat dinners and fish fries during Lent.

For a better solution regarding culinary tours we don’t have far to look. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council itself offers information on a number of “Michigan Wine Trails”:

http://www.michiganwines.com/wine-trails#sthash.IzJ7mhav.dpbs

To Michigan’s north and east is the Canadian province of Ontario. The Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance offers a rather detailed web site for a large number of destinations. To assist in planning they’ve also broken locations down into a number of trails:

https://ontarioculinary.com/culinary-experiences/delicious-destinations/

Besides this resource, the Ontario alliance also offers the “Culinary Explorer”, an detailed interactive map covering the entire province that allows visitors to create their own “trail”:

http://explorer.ontarioculinary.com

The state of Delaware has also developed a culinary trail that includes a “passport”. Restaurants and other locations along the trail provide passport holders with a code for that location. Travelers who prove they have visited five locations in each region can submit their passport in return for the “First State Plates: Iconic Delaware Restaurants and Recipes” cookbook:

http://www.visitdelaware.com/culinary/

Finally, there is apparently a single culinary trail in the state of Michigan. The Petosky Area Convention & Tourist Bureau advertises all the way south to the Ohio state line. Their culinary trail offers a number of interesting locations to visit:

http://www.petoskeyarea.com/culinary-trail-131/

Compared with what others have done, and looking at what’s available within Michigan itself, the current state of Michigan’s Culinary Tours is rudimentary at best. This needs to be taken care of. It is certainly my intent to correct this with the development of a “real” southeast Michigan culinary tour.

It’s too bad that we don’t hear much about the Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance except that they have an occasional meeting. It’s also too bad that they promote some parts of the state but not others. They certainly need to do a lot better.

My Food Bucket List Suggestion: How Many Have You Had?


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.

Food Safety vs. The Shutdown: A Country of Food Safety Wimps


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.

Re-Creating a Coney Island-Style Greek Breakfast Skillet


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
Serves 2

Ingredients
1 small onion
3 small tomatoes
3 small potatoes
12 slices 1″x5″x1/8″ gyro loaf
crumbled feta cheese
4 large eggs
olive oil
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.

Twelve Food-Related Statements That Need To Be Banned


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.

Oy.

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:

1975 prices

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.)

Original Flint Coneys, with Abbott’s Coney Sauce

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 …