Category: Grilling

Michigan Cherry Burgers à la Hockeytown Café

This past Wednesday evening we were fortunate to snag tickets for the opening night of the latest national tour of Fiddler On The Roof. The first two performances were at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit before the company moved on to Wisconsin … they’re currently in North Dakota and will tour nationally till June.

Before the show we headed next door to the popular Hockeytown Café, a sports bar/restaurant to honor both the Detroit Red Wings and also to curate a collection of custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles designed with the Red Wings and Detroit Tigers in mind. It’s a nice place, with music that’s not overbearing, a friendly and attentive staff, and some seriously good food.

The one thing that jumped out of the menu at us right away was the Michigan Cherry Burger. The menu describes it as, “Our famous 1/2 pound burger topped with Traverse City cherries & Boursin cheese and served with lettuce, tomato and red onion.” We went ahead and ordered a couple of these beasties and thoroughly enjoyed them. The sweetness of the cherries, combined with the garlic and herbs of the Boursin cheese all on top of a tasty burger, all complimented each other nicely.

I decided I’d make them at home for the family.

Pic-A-Nut in Detroit distributes dried Michigan cherries from the orchards near Traverse City. Boursin Cheese, created by Francois Boursin in Normandy, France, in 1957, is made by Bel Brands USA, a subsidiary of the Bel company in Paris. Both are readily available in Michigan, with the cherries being from Kroger and the cheese being from Meijer.

We made the burgers stuffed vs. layered as Hockeytown has them. It’s difficult to take a photo of a stuffed burger … I’ve done it before and the pics turn out to be fairly lame. In the first photo above we took the other pre-formed 1/4 lb chuck burger, topped the cheese and cherries with it, and then crimped and sealed the edges. We then grilled them outside for the best flavor before topping them with the same kinds of lettuce, tomato and red onion as the restaurant.

They turned out quite nicely, to the point where one of my kids ate two of them … a whole pound of chuck plus toppings and cheese. And he’s a younger teenager who weighs no more than 100 lbs … Mary’s burger was ground turkey, with the light Boursin stuffed inside with the cherries, which was then pan-fried in a bit of olive oil. She said it was excellent, and was a nice lighter representation of the beef version.

We’ll certainly be making these again.

Review: Michigan-Made National Coney Island Hot Dog Chili Sauce


A couple 1.5 lb bricks of National Coney Island’s Hot Dog Chili Sauce with a package of Koegel Viannas.

Yesterday Sylvia Rector of the Detroit Free Press published an article promoting the fact that Meijer stores in the midwest are now carrying Hot Dog Chili Sauce from National Coney Island of Roseville, Michigan. Since a lot of what I do is all about Michigan-based foods, and of course hot dogs and coneys are high on that list, I had to head to the nearest Meijer to grab a couple of the bricks of sauce. Besides, both our oldest boys work at the southeast Michigan Meijer distribution center and we have to help keep them employed …

The National Coney Island web site does offer complete coney kits in a styrofoam shipping box, including buns and their own brand of hot dogs, and also offers the sauce bricks and hot dogs separately. But as per Ms. Rector’s article, Meijer is only carrying the sauce. According to their web site, National‘s hot dogs are, “Natural Casing Hot Dogs (the ones that snap !!!)” To get a similar action I picked up a package of my old coney standby, Koegel Viennas, which have a natural lamb casing. For the buns I grabbed an eight-pack of Aunt Millie’s brand which are used in many coney shops in this area.

When they decided to say this sauce is packaged as a “brick” I imagined it was packed like one of those bricks of coffee grounds in a foil wrapper. The reality is that the sauce is in a plastic tray with a plastic seal across the top having the artwork, nutrition facts and recipes printed on it. The two recipes are:

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS: For CONEY SAUCE, Add 1-1/2 Cups Water. For CHILI CON CARNE Add 2 Cups Water and Chili Beans. Cook to a Minimum Internal Temperature of 160°F.

With a 1.5 lb brick of the Hot Dog Chili Sauce, you’ll end up with just over 2 lbs of “CONEY SAUCE”.

My previously-described definition of the “brick” package really would have worked well for this particular product. I dumped the 1-1/2 cups water into a pan, cut the seal off the package of chili sauce, grabbed a spoon, turned the package over, over the pot and … nothing. The sauce didn’t move. I squeezed the sides of the package a little to loosen it and it finally came out in a solid chunk. Yup, pretty much a brick.

I turned the heat on low and broke up the brick of sauce with the spoon. After about 5 minutes a lot of the sauce had softened up. However, as I’d not used a non-stick pan the sauce started to harden on the bottom of the pot fairly quickly. I’ll use a non-stick pot next time to solve that problem.

It took about ten minutes for the sauce to soften completely, at which point I set the burner almost off just to keep the sauce warm. The consistency of the sauce is quite good. It’s not almost puréed like some commercial sauces are. There are good chunks of actual meat in there, giving it a nice body, and it has a great color as well.

I grilled up some of the Koegel Viennas, nuked the buns a bit and put the whole of it together.

This is a very mild hot dog chili/coney sauce. It’s a nice compliment to a full-flavored hot dog. Our opinion is that the National Coney Island Hot Dog Chili Sauce is very reminiscent of an old-style diner coney sauce, the kind of thing you’d get at the counter of a place that might have had a real soda fountain at some point. This isn’t a Flint-style, Detroit-style or even a Jackson-style sauce. The National Coney Island Hot Dog Chili Sauce is it’s own thing, and that’s what makes it good. I can easily see myself topping this sauce with a bit of raw sauerkraut the next time I serve it.

Thanks, Meijer. We’ll certainly be back for more.

My Father’s Day 2010 Dinner: Kid-Made Stuffed Burgers & Fruit Salad

My kids have been busting their butts all day long. The day started with a knock at the bedroom door. On the other side was 13-year-old Ryan. In each of his hands was a large mug of Biggby Michigan Cherry coffee, a mug each for Mary and I. He’d brewed it himself and to tell you the truth it was pretty darn smooth.

Later in the morning Ryan made me breakfast, one of his top-notch Poached Egg Sandwich on Toast dishes. He decided a few years ago, probably at age 10, that he likes poached eggs more than any other cooking type. He started by nuking them in the microwave but now occasionally poaches them on the stovetop as well. He’s also mowed the loan and helped his sister with some things today.

15-year-old Briahna is normally quite the princess. We’ll hear, “I can’t do dishes I just had my nails done!” But even after spending three days at the hospital with Mary and I during the latter part of this week while I dealt with another episode of The Nosebleed From Hell, Bri has washed the walls and doors upstairs and down the carpeted stairs, vacuumed the carpeting, steam-cleaned it, and power-washed the back deck. We’ve now replaced her phone, which she’d lost at either the hospital or the hotel she and Mary stayed at.

17-year-old Adam just plain kicks ass. He’s done all our shopping this weekend (multiple trips), done most of the work installing a 2.1 GPM pump on the city’s flower pot watering tank in the back of our van, taken my convalescing self on a short walk on the long pier (thank God not the other way round) and anything else we’ve needed.

For Father’s Day dinner this evening Adam put together and grilled these beautiful stuffed burgers, which were stuffed with cheddar, sweet onion and bacon. Briahna also created the fruit salad of watermelon, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries and blackberries. The meal was superb, and I’m very proud of my kids for all they do for us just out of love.

We don’t see my 20-year-old Aaron too much unless he’s not working. He works long hours in the refrigerator that is the produce area of the Meijer warehouse just north of Monroe, Michigan. Meijer is a Michigan-based department store that originated the concept of mixing a department store and full grocery. They do it so well the chain has 180 stores in the midwest. Mary’s oldest, Caleb, works at the same warehouse but in the frozen foods section, wearing many layers during work even in the summer months. And her youngest, John, is that most-excellent Marine of ours, stationed at Quantico. These three young men are sorely missed on days like today, and I always wish the best for them.

Gifts from these same kids are right up my alley: Assorted truffles, milk chocolate, dark chocolate with infused chili extract, and some new book from some guy with goofy lips who supposedly knows something about food. Ok, so that is the one thing I actually requested … it completes my Bourdain collection. Mary bought me two books, “Why a Daughter Needs a Dad” and “Why a Son Needs a Dad”, and of course Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” on Blue-Ray. What could be better?

I have great, wonderful, amazing kids and I love all of them very much. I hope they know that. It’s important. Happy Father’s Day? Yes, I had one, thanks to these kids!

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

Father’s Day, A Tribute to Dad

Many of you know my dad passed away late December in 2008 at the tender age of 85. I’ve written before of his signature dish, Eggs In A Frame, and of his despising melted cheese in any form even though I have a photo of him eating pizza. But while I’ve posted a lot more about mom regarding her cooking techniques and recipes, I really haven’t spent a whole lot of time discussing dad’s cooking techniques. And the Eggs In A Frame dish is really his only recipe that I’m aware of.

That’s because dad really didn’t cook much that I can recall. Why?

Because when it came to cooking or even doing dishes, that was mom’s job.

Dad was a classic child of the farming communities of the 1920s and 30s. The menfolk, if you will, headed out into the fields or the livestock barns and worked their butts off. Meanwhile, momma and the girls would be inside taking care of the cooking and cleaning. That’s just how it was. Dad told us he would look forward to coming home to find a couple slices of thick, buttered and still-warm bread on a plate in the kitchen as an after-school snack. Of course, that was after the 4-mile walk from school so he was pretty tired, ya’ know?

Early in my own life I do recall he had his outdoor cooker. However, it wasn’t much. No matter what time-period I think back to, there was that Hibachi. He always had the little cast iron version, set on top of a 2′ square concrete block set on its side on the patio. He would use both wood and charcoal to fire it, along with paper and lighter fluid. Dinner then was hot dogs and burgers, with the burgers being rather thin and kinda dry. Still he tried so it was good. He might also put a can of baked beans on the grates to heat as a side dish.

One time, when he was finished and was getting ready to clean that Hibachi, he set the grates on the patio tile to dump the coals … and promptly put all of his weight on the still-hot grate. He had to peel that grate off his foot before going to see the doctor. I believe he probably still had that scar when he passed away.

For most of the time they lived in that house from the late 1950s onward, dad had a rather active garden. I remember being directed to go out there to weed, or pick beans, or help plant the corn. There was always the corn and beans, along with onions, carrots, cucumbers and peas. Dad also dabbled in potatoes and peanuts. One gentleman from the GM plant dad worked at wanted to plant some lima beans but no one would let him use their garden space as he was black. So he ended up planting at our house, to which I owe my love for those limas. But I do hate gardening.

Dad wasn’t a hunter (I haven’t hunted a single day in my life) but he fancied himself a pretty good fisherman. He had a lot of old fishing poles, a couple casting reels, a fly-fishing reel or two, and even a couple bamboo poles we could tie lines to. We’d go to one of the “fish farm” ponds up on old US-23, but mostly we went to what was then Wildwood Park, a Michigan State Park south of Flint. We’d rent a canoe and head out for perch, trout, bass … whatever we could find. We’d get it home and mom would either cook it up, or wrap it in foil for the freezer only to throw it away a couple years later after it ended up with some bad freezer burn.

In the mid 1970s Dr Walker diagnosed dad to be hypoglycemic. Dad mis-interpreted the diet page to mean he was supposed to eat six times each day, including a half head of lettuce. This made for dad occasionally eating way more than he could handle, and ending up being miserable by the end of the day. None of us had the heart to sit down with him and explain it correctly.

When it came to restaurants dad had a tendency to seek out some seriously good family places. We had a tradition on Friday evenings of heading out for dinner at a restaurant and then we’d go to the grocery store for the week’s shopping. (Dad always disappeared to the meat department and spend the whole time shopping finding six packages of meat.) On occasion we’d go to a Flint coney place or Haloburger for a deluxe cheeseburger. But dad’s penchant for finding good family diners was unmatched. As it turned out, dad was finding Greek-owned places that had become all the rage for what was “real food”.

Dad would have a real issue later on when prices started climbing above $3.50 per entrée. He felt no meal was worth more than that, and that particular price-point, along with the demise of Hamady Bros. grocery in the Flint area, marked the beginning of the end of our Friday night family tradition.

While I was in college I asked dad when he was coming to Columbus to visit. He said he’d have to ask mom, to which I said I wasn’t asking about her. After a pause dad mumbled, “I’ve never been anywhere without your mother.” He came down to Columbus by himself for a four-day weekend during which he enjoyed a Bahama Mama at Schmidt Sausage House, and some good ribs. Later during my own US-based travels with the Navy I got dad to eat some more “exotic” foods outside of his Veal Parmesan comfort zone, such as crab legs, and steak that wasn’t always cooked to be well done. In the years after my divorce he’d eat chilled taco salad, my oven-roasted potato salad, Tex-Mex breakfast burritos, and even some good Hungarian food.

In the last few years before his death the old softie, who fought the savage “Japs” in WW II, acquired a taste for both Japanese and Americanized Chinese foods, happily visiting the Chinese buffet in his hometown many times.

Helping him eat a couple last meals in the nursing home, I got to thinking about what I was feeding him. Obviously it cost a bit more that $3.50 for the whole meal from the nursing home kitchen. I doubt he would have liked that at all.

Happy Father’s Day, dad, I miss you, my friend.

Mother’s Day 2010: Kielbasa and Pierogi for Mary

One of our “standard” meals in the six years Mary and I have been together has been a fairly traditional meal of Polish Kielbasa and Pierogi. We served this meal at our small wedding in late 2004, our wedding reception in mid-2005, to the administration of the Village of Carleton, Michigan, during Luna Pier’s portion of the 2008 Mayoral exchange, and countless other meals around those.

Today, for Mary’s dinner for Mother’s Day 2010, I think I finally got it right.

Sautéeing the pierogi and onions is the simple part. I use Michigan-made pierogi from Polish Harvest, an old-style manufacturer in Hamtramck, Michigan (yes, where Paczki were brought into the U.S.) I sautée the pierogi in real, unsalted butter over medium-high heat and pay really close attention to which pierogi are done and which aren’t. As they’re done (not all at once) they go into a glass casserole in a 225-degree F oven for holding.

The Kielbasa has always been the rough part. Traditionally the sausage is braised in a German-style beer in a high-wall skillet on the stove. For larger groups, we’ve gone with slow-cooking in old-style roasters at about 225 degrees F, with plenty of beer included in the sausage. But to me, there was something else that might have been done to make it just a little more traditional for today’s “Americanized” tastes.

This morning, on a whim, I picked up a 6-pack of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The Polish Kielbasa for this batch was handmade by our friends at Kilgus Choice Meats in Toledo, Ohio. Before noon I dumped a couple bottles of the lager in with the three pounds of Kielbasa and set it in the fridge. After draining it this evening, I simply grilled it over medium heat.

That’s really all it needs. With the casing nice and crisp, the tender meat of the sausage really let the lager come through in a good balance with the flavor of the pork. The pierogi were also crisp on the outside and, as they were potato and cheddar, were tender on the inside and worked well with the sautéed onions.

Will I cook this meal this way again? Absolutely.

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