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.
A meal of muskrat at Erie VFW Post 3295 in 2008, topped with banana peppers and served with mashed potatoes, creamed corn and turtle soup. Click the image for a larger, more “in-your-face” version.
Just like in 2011 and again in 2012, we missed the annual Muskrat Dinner at the Monroe Yacht Club on January 7th. One of these years we may actually make it …
Erie, Michigan, VFW Post 3295 will host their annual Muskrat Dinner this year on Friday, January 25, 2013, beginning at 6 p.m. If you’re available, the day before from 8:30 a.m. till 1pm they’ll be cleaning and prepping the critters and the vegetables. I might actually make it to that … Click here for details from the 2008 dinner along with more photos.
Elk Lodge 1731 in Flat Rock, Michigan, is prepping on February 9th this year and will hold their Muskrat Dinner on February 12, 2013. Or you can have spaghetti if the thought of eating muskrat freaks you out. They’re also hosting their Wild Game Dinner January 27th if your so inclined.
The Harsens Island Lions Club at the mouth of the St. Clair River south of Algonac has February 12, 2013, set aside for their Muskrat Dinner. (Always the 2nd Tuesday in February.) That’s a beautiful area and is probably worth the drive just for this event.
The Algonquin Club of Detroit & Windsor will hold their annual Muskrat Dinner on February 19, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at … wait for it again … the Monroe Yacht Club. I still haven’t quite figured out why they use the Monroe club as their location, but they’ve also moved their dinner forward by about a month. It will also be educational: Gerald Wykes will discuss the battle of Mongaugon and Brownstown during the War of 1812.
And the Gibralter Rotary Club in Gibraltar, Ontario, will hold their Muskrat Dinner on March 23, 2013.
Is it a rat? Is it a fish? Is it good eatin’?? You betcha!
One of the favorite flavors of my life for the past 30 years or so has been that green paste they call guacamole. Back in 1984 Frisch’s Big Boy out of Cincinnati started shipping #10 cans of guacamole to the restaurants in Ohio so the topping/dip could be used in a few new dishes they were rolling out. We received a couple of the large cans at the restaurant I worked at on West Broad St. just outside the I-270 loop. A lot of us had never had the stuff before, so manager Gus Pappas opened one of the cans so we could try what we were supposed to use. It was, as I wrote in the first line above, a “paste”, thoroughly puréed, and a singular pea-soup color throughout. Tasting the quacamole with the same kind of metal spoons we always placed at the tables (using plastic spoons for that kind of thing wasn’t in vogue yet), we found some of the stomachs in the room weren’t quite up to the task. I didn’t mind it, but it was, in fact, slightly odd while still being a little on the intriguing side.
Since that time I’ve had what I always assumed was actual guacamole on numerous dishes, from Taco Bell’s 7-layer Burrito (an unfortunate staple of mine in the late 1990s) to various Tex-Mex salads at joints purporting to be “authentic Mexican” (which in fact were more like New York City-made salsa) to lots of different sandwiches (yes, wraps too) that actually worked rather well with the paste included as one of the spreads.
As embarassing as this is to write, I found just past April 13th that the stuff I’ve been enjoying as guacamole for almost three decades isn’t anywhere near the wonderful goodness and amazing simplicity of the real, authentic dish. On that date, I picked up Mary after work and we headed to one popular BBQ pork restaurant in Toledo for a meal … only to find they were a converted Hot-n-Now and that they’re drive-thru only. Wanting a sit-down meal we headed another mile down the road to The Docks and decided to try El Vaquero, which we’d heard was as authentic Mexican as it gets in Toledo. On our way in we noticed a sign for Tableside Guacamole for $5.99. It sounded intriguing, so once we were seated we asked the server for it as an appetizer.
That’s when things got interesting. The server came back with a busser’s cart with the Tableside Guacamole sign on it. On the top of the cart was a number of metal bins, and the oddest mortar/pestle I’d seen. The thing was carved out of roughstone, and had a face painted on it like a pig. The server added chopped tomato and red onion to the mortar, along with chopped jalapeno. He then cut and pitted two Hass avocados, scooped the fruit out of the flesh and added the fruit to the mortar, along with some chopped cilantro. Finally, he squeezed a lime into the mix and sprinkled salt and pepper over it all. Using two spoons, he then proceeded to mash the bejeezus out of the mixture, then set the whole thing, mortar and all, on our table, just as you see it in the photo on the left. Ok, I’m the one that stood the menu behind it …
That guacamole was nothing at all like any other guac I’ve had in my life. It was thick and chunky, bursting with the individual flavors which contrasted well together while creating an overall flavor like nothing I’d had before. It was seriously addicting, so much so that Mary and I used the still-warm 4″ tortilla chips to polish of the entire mortar full of guacamole.
We had to have more. Mary’s simple question of “You can make this, right?” sent me on a quest these past few weeks. Fortunately, I found everything I needed, almost in one place.
If you’re driving through the city of Adrian in southeast Michigan just north of the Ohio line, you wouldn’t have much of a clue that there’s a fairly large Mexican community there. In the small downtown area is a single authentic restaurant, The Grasshopper, El Chapulin, that even serves a rather decent bowl of Menudo, the beef tripe and hominy stew that turns the stomach of so many sqeamish Americans. But southeast of the downtown area there’s a square mile or so straddling East Beecher Street between South Winter and Parr Highway that’s home to almost the entire Mexican community of the area. There are small buildings along Beecher offering handmade tacos and chalupas, a place called The Tamale Factory run by three generations of women that’s basically a hole-in-the-wall in the corner of an old auto shop, a small Mexican family sit-down restaurant called Mario’s Mexican Restaurant on the north side of Beecher between Oak and Treat that you can’t even get into at lunchtime because it’s so packed, a great family restaurant at Maumee and Dorothy called the Sunny Side Café that serves the most amazing Mexican breakfast dishes …
… and right there at the corner of Beecher and Gulf is one of my own favorite places to shop, Victoria’s Market.
Even though the market has been on my radar for a while, I’d never bought anything in the way of cooking tools from them. I’d vaguely recalled seeing some mortars at the bottom of the tool rack but it had seemed to me they were marble or some other kind of stone. Last week, though, when I headed in to actually look at the mortars and pestles, which are actually called a molcajetes and tejolotes, I found them to be of the exact same pig design as the ones used at El Vaquero. At that point I knew I was in business, and at $17.99 for the thing I just had to get one and get going with it.
Looking around the web for guidance wasn’t as revealing as I’d hoped it would be. One of the main issues I found was that a large number of recipes call for a bowl, not a molcajete. While some may consider such a point to be mere quibbling, it would seem to me that if you are attempting to make any kind of an authentic dish from any type of cuisine, you’d better darn well be specifying and using the correct authentic tools for the job as well. You know, it’s just like this: If you’re making Chinese food you need to use a wok over a high-temp gas burner, not a skillet on an electric stove. When we had the Tableside Guacamole at El Vaquero, there was also a cultural experience involved which added a certain value to the dish. If the server had made it in a bowl I doubt it would have had the same impact. His use of the molcajete brought forward our own respect for the Mexican culture, which was part of what I wanted in the dish when I finally made it myself.
On the web it turned out that, a little more than four years ago, Journalism Professor Holly A. Heyser had posted almost exactly what I was looking for on the hunting blog she was writing at the time. She doesn’t write that particular blog anymore, focusing elsewhere on her freelance writing and photography. In case her older work disappears at some point, I’ll repost a couple of her points about the molcajete which were most important to me:
Q: So how do you clean it?
A: Easy: I put it in the sink, run hot water in it and add a little dish soap, then use a scrub brush to get into all the pits and pores. You won’t be able to get out all the green bits – they really stick in there. But it’s OK. No one has died from eating guac out of my molcajete. After scrubbing, rinse thoroughly to get out all the soap, then turn it upside down to drain. It takes a while to dry out completely, because it’s a big stone sponge.
Alternate method: Rinse it out and stick it in the dishwasher.
Q: You mentioned something about curing the molcajete. What’s up with that?
A: The molcajete is made of stone, and if you just start using it straight off the shelf, you’re going to get bits of stone in your food. Not so good for your teeth!
To cure it, you dump in a handful of uncooked rice, grind it down, rinse it out, and repeat 3-5 times until the rice no longer looks gray at the end of the grinding. I won’t lie – this process is a total pain in the butt. But it’s worth it when you make your guac and all the people who eat it tell you it’s the best guac they’ve ever had. Your big fat head will make you forget all about the torture you endured.
While Ms. Heyser’s version of the guacamole was actually quite close to what I was looking for, there were some variations to it that were a bit different from what they did at El Vaquero. Most importantly, the technique and process were a little more involved than the simplicity we had seen at the restaurant. Her version uses the tejolotes to grind the ingredients to “pulpy bits”. While this certainly does sound good, I didn’t recall seeing the tejolotes at El Vaquero. This seemed important somehow.
Digging through my collection of more than 200 cookbooks I was somewhat shocked (I guess more like irritated) to find I’d never once picked up any kind of Mexican cookbook, authentic or otherwise. Michigan-based Borders Bookstores have all closed recently, so I headed to my second choice, a Barnes & Noble in north Toledo … only to find their cookbook section has been pared down to a whole three sets of shelves. And of course, the one “authentic” Mexican cookbook had the guacamole being made in a bowl …
Frustrated, I made the 12-mile-or-so drive to the large Books-A-Million store in Perrysburg, which is south of Toledo. There I found the cookbook section to still be an entire aisle, eight sets of shelves, with a decent selection of Mexican cookbooks.
Looking through all of the cookbooks spread across more than one shelf I discovered only one mentioned using a molcajete to make the guacamole. The book is Dos Caminos Mexican Street Food by Ivy Stark, Executive Chef at Dos Caminos and other restaurants in New York City and elsewhere. And lo-and-behold, the small chapter on equipment also included a photo of the same molcajete used at El Vaquero, the same one I had bought at Victoria’s Market.
Dos Caminos Mexican Street Food might soon become one of my most-used cookbooks. Street food can be an amazing thing, and when ethnic street food is done right it can be downright addicting. The guacamole recipe on page 71 sounded suspiciously familiar. And interestingly enough, the introduction to the recipe read in-part;
We prepare it tableside in a lava stone molcajete according to each guest’s specifications.
With this particular book added to my collection, I only needed to do one more thing.
For Cinco de Mayo of 2012 last week we took two of our kids and our granddaughter to El Vaquero for an appropriate and authentic Mexican dinner. Of course we asked our server for the Tableside Guacamole. A woman brought the cart to our table and began to make the guac. I started asking questions, only to find out she spoke very little English. I paid particularly close attention to what she was doing so I could possibly recreate it later, making mental notes on all the ingredients and processes. The guac was just as good as it had been the first time, if not even better. I asked our server about the “Guac Girl” and found out she is actually the owner’s wife! She hasn’t been in the U.S. for very long, but obviously she makes some of the best guac around. I mentioned what I was doing and where I’d bought the same molcajete. Our server was dumbfounded … He explained they had bought thirty of them for the large restaurant and had paid at least thirty dollars for each. More reason to like Victoria’s Market I guess …
With a plan in mind, gathering the ingredients turned out to be a bit on the interesting side. I headed to one of the “normal” American groceery store, and was sorely disappointed. $4.49 for three avocados that didn’t look so great anyway?? No thank you … I headed back to Victoria’s Market where I’d picked up the molcajete. The owner there had been kind enough to give me bits and pieces of advice, but now went full bore into it. For example, the Wikipedia entry for avacodo states, “A ripe avocado yields to gentle pressure when held in the palm of the hand and squeezed.” The owner doesn’t like people squeezing his avocados like this to test them as the fruit inside the flesh becomes bruised. So he keeps the avocados inside the walk-in cooler. He headed in there and came out with four beautiful, ripe Hass avocados. Looking at the sticker I discovered these weren’t from California as most recipes I found specified. They were actually from Mexico. I’m not sure if this makes any difference but it sounds good anyway … I also grabbed a few jalapeños, some key limes, Roma tomatoes and a nice bunch of cilantro out of the wall cooler. The red onions, which is what El Vaquero uses in their Tableside Guacamole instead of white onions, weren’t in the vegetable bins at Victoria’s Market, so I headed to another market in Adrian to grab some.
In making this recipe successfully the very first time I did it, I learned a few things. First of all, getting the pits out of ripe avocados and scooping the fruit out of the flesh is considerably less stressful than I’d imagined. In fact, it was probably the easiest part of the entire process. Also, the membrane needs to stay in the jalapeño when you seed it so more heat remains, else you may as well not even add it. And finally, don’t have anyone who might really like it test it for you. You may not get the guacamole back, let alone have any left for the rest of the family when they get home.
Before the recipe, some “food porn” … a shot of the bin of fresh-made pork rinds that sits next to the register at Victoria’s Market. I can’t stand commercial pork rinds myself, but these things? I could probably eat this whole bin given the chance …
Recipe: Authentic Molcajete/Mortar Guacamole
This recipe looks rather involved, but really it’s not. I’ve included a lot of descriptive steps for beginners who may not know how to accomplish some of the processes. This is actually quite simple. We hope you like it as well as we do.
2 ripe Hass avocados
1 large Roma tomato
1 red onion
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper
1 key/Mexican lime
ground black pepper
Cut two slices of the red onion and give it a rough chop until there’s a couple tablespoons. Chop half the tomato the same size and amount as the onion, and add both to the molcajete. Cut the jalapeño or serrano pepper in half, remove the stem and the seeds (leaving the membrane), chop it half the size as the onion and add it too to the molcajete.
Using a sharp knife cut the avocados in half around the pit. Twist the halves in opposite directions to pull them apart … the pit will stay in one half. Hold that half in your palm and, with the knife in the other hand, plant the edge of the blade near the handle firmly in the pit. Twist the pit firmly with the knife and the pit will pop out of the avocado fruit. Using a large metal spoon, separate the fruit from the flesh on one side and gently scoop the fruit into the molcajete. If the avocado is exactly ripe, it will all come right out. Repeat with the other halves of avocado.
Roll the lime back-and-forth on a hard surface a few times to get the juice flowing. Cut in half along its equator and squeeze the juice from each half into the molcajete, throwing the juiced lime away. Give a couple teaspoons of the cilantro a fine chop and add it as well.
Using a couple large metal spoons fold everything together. Then simultaneously fold and chop the entire mixture together, continuing until it’s well-blended. Add a little of the salt and ground pepper and mix it in. Taste the guacamole, and add more salt and/or pepper as needed.
Serve directly out of the molcajete, allowing people to dip corn chips directly into it to eat.
A meal of muskrat at Erie VFW Post 3295 in 2008, topped with banana peppers and served with mashed potatoes, creamed corn and turtle soup. Click the image for a larger, more “in-your-face” version.
Just like in 2011, we missed the annual Muskrat Dinner at the Monroe Yacht Club on January 9th. I only realized that this morning when I drove past Erie VFW Post 3295 in Erie, Michigan, and noticed their sign. The Erie Post will host their annual Muskrat Dinner this year on Friday, January 27, 2012, beginning at 6 p.m. Click here for details from the 2008 dinner along with more photos.
Elk Lodge 1731 in Flat Rock, Michigan, is a little earlier with theirs this year and will hold their Muskrat Dinner on February 12, 2012. Or you can have spaghetti if the thought of eating muskrat freaks you out.
The Harsens Island Lions Club at the mouth of the St. Clair River south of Algonac has February 14, 2012, set aside for their Muskrat Dinner. That’s a beautiful area and is probably worth the drive just for this event.
February 25, 2012, is the date for the Muskrat Dinner at the Carleton Sportsman’s Club in Carleton, Michigan. We love Carleton, and had Mary’s first Mayor’s Excchange with them.
The Algonquin Club of Detroit & Windsor will hold their annual Muskrat Dinner on March 20, 2012 at … wait for it again … the Monroe Yacht Club. I still haven’t quite figured out why they use the Monroe club as their location, but they’ve also moved back their dinner by about a month.
And the Gibralter Rotary Club in Gibraltar, Ontario, will hold their Muskrat Dinner on March 24, 2012.
Don’t like the thought of eating muskrat? Have you tried it?? Didn’t think so …
In my last post I included a pic of one of the (what I call) Flint-style coneys at Swig Restaurant & Bar in Perrysburg, Ohio, just south of Toledo. I wasn’t all that happy with that particular pic, so with my birthday today as an excuse we headed back there for more. This is definitely a better representation of why I now enjoy these coneys so much, and so often. If you’re near Perrysburg and you’ve got a hankering for a good coney, Swig is where you want to go.
A coney from Swig Restaurant. The green tinge is from a neon beer sign overhead.
A couple weeks ago on a Thursday afternoon, we headed down to Perrysburg, Ohio. We didn’t really have any kind of actual destination in mind except to visit their rather expansive (for a small city anyway) Perrysburg Farmers Market. Mary and some of her other city leaders would like to start a Farmers Market here in Luna Pier and they’d heard quite a few good things about the one in Perrysburg. For example, the Market’s web site includes a well-built interactive map of the area including exactly where the individual vendors are. Looking at the tech of the area we also found that, in the garden islands of the sidewalks, there was 110v service on the building side (for table vendors) and 220v service on the road side of those gardens (for food trucks), along with potable water connections. Vendors included florists, farmers, bakers, food crafters selling preserves, sauces and spices, alpaca farmers selling yarns and finished knit or needled clothing, and many others.
Walking toward the car toward the end of our walk, I spotted this:
More than anything else, the word “charcuterie” on the sign for Swig Restaurant and Bar caught my eye. Mary had bought me Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Ruhlmann and Polcyn for Christmas a couple years back, and I really love the subject. After discussing the sign and seeing how busy they were, it made sense that we said we’d hoped to come back and visit Swig sometime, if only to satisfy our curiosity.
Our anniversary is October 21st. Last week when we were trying to figure out where to go for an interesting anniversary dinner, the subject of Swig came up. It was an almost immediate decision, and we headed there for dinner that day to see what was up with the place.
Walking through the front door in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday we found the restaurant mostly empty, but the bar completely full of customers.
Behind the bar on the wall you can see the nineteen taps for the beers that were available that evening. The chalkboard on the wall in the right side of this photo is the list of those beers so customers can see what’s available from anywhere in the restaurant. While there were a few national and international favorites available, some of these beers were more regional. After finding a table and meeting our server, I ordered a New Holland El Molé Ocho Spiced Ale brewed in Holland, Michigan. This beer turned out to be richly nutty, very smooth, and remarkably easy to drink. I don’t drink to get drunk, but I could have easily had a second draught of the Ocho. Maybe even a third … Mary had an amber ale that was quite good and had a nice bitter to it, but unfortunately we can’t recall which amber it might have been.
We ordered three of Swig’s handmade sausages. I ordered a coney, understandably being quite curious about what it might be. We had served beer-braised Kielbasa with pierogi at our small living room wedding seven years ago and then also at our larger reception the following June, so Kielbasa is what Mary ordered at Swig with a side of their fries. And in keeping with the Polish theme I also ordered a Polish sausage with a side of breaded onion rings.
I really need to spend a few moments to talk about this particular coney, also pictured at the beginning of this post.
Swig’s menu simply describes it as:
Coney – mustard, onion, Coney sauce 2.25
Longtime readers will know of my history with the Flint coney, having grown up on it at Angelo’s, developing multiple recipes for minor variations on the Flint coney theme, and serving the non-organ-meat version at the Luna Pier, Michigan, beachhouse in 2008, with Caleb serving it again there this past summer in 2011. They’ll also know from my writings that the Jackson style coney from Todoroff’s is quite similar to the Flint dish, and that the Michigan hot dog as served in upstate New York is an offshoot of the Todoroff’s version.
Of course the wetter sauce of the Detroit coney, as usual, is completely outside this conversation and is unworthy of any consideration whatsoever. It’s just not worth my time.
So yes, I know my Flint coneys. And I’ll tell you what, what Swig is serving, by design or not, is most certainly a Flint style coney. Either Swig redeveloped it on purpose from scratch (except for the bun), or it was an inadvertant “Hey, we seem to like the same stuff” … or they found my sauce recipe online, stole it, and made a few changes, leaving out the ground hot dogs, increasing the chili powder and lowering the salt.
No, they probably didn’t steal it, really. But even if they did, I wouldn’t mind. At least I can go somewhere now in the Toledo area and enjoy a Flint coney without having to cook the dang thing myself, sauce and all.
But one of the coolest things is that, in case you’ve forgotten, Swig makes their natural-casing coney dog in their own charcuterie facility. This is considerably more work than in the Flint coney restaurants in Genesee County where the traditional dog is either the Koegel Vienna or Koegel’s more-specific Coney dog. Swig’s handmade dog was just right in their version of the coney, being similar to the Vienna, and I was very satisfied with it.
Yes, I’ll have more of your Flint style coneys please Swig, thank you very much.
Swig’s Fresh Kielbasa, with house pickled peppers and a side of handcut “Fresh Fries”.
The Kielbasa Mary ordered had been made as a bun-size sausage and apparently grilled on a flattop. It was nicely mild, and contrasted well with the house pickled peppers lying on top. There could have certainly been twice as many peppers to top it off, but the flavor, texture and moistness of the sausage really made it great regardless. The fries were as freshly-cut as the menu claimed, with a few still stuck together in a good clump from the cutting process.We finished almost all of them, that’s how good they were.
The Polish Sausage topped with sweet & sour cabbage and spicy mustard, and a side of onion rings. The coney can barely be seen between the Polish Sausage and the rings.
The Polish Sausage I’d ordered was somewhat spicier than the Kielbasa, with a great garlic flavor and a crisp natural casing. The sweet & sour cabbage is reminiscent of what Chef Tad serves as a side for most of his dishes at the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Michigan, and is a great compliment to the Polish Sausage at Swig. The spicy mustard really pulls the whole thing together and is more than just a condiment, it’s an integral part of the sandwich. And while the onion rings weren’t quite the best we’ve ever had, their flavor fit in well with the rest of the meal.
It was unfortunate we were so full after all this food. After all, there’s Swig’s signature dessert, which we didn’t have the opportunity to try:
Chocolate Covered Bacon Sundae - Chocolate covered bacon, bourbon roasted pineapple, vanilla ice cream, Guinness chocolate sauce. Awesome. 5.99
Oh yeah, we’re definitely going back to Swig. It’s only a matter of when. And then … we’ll have ice cream …