Friday, 16 March 2012

Spring Break 2012: Michigan Food Fare

It's been just over a week since I took a brief break from life in Granville and headed "home" home to Metro Detroit. And when I'm home, there will undoubtedly be many an occasion  for foodie experiences; for this year's spring "break," this journey was no exception. From testing unfamiliar techniques to trying the stylings of new restaurants, the three entries to this post fit quite nicely into the global cornucopia of food.

For quite a few breaks now, it seems I can rely on at least one cooking experience with my former roommate Tony. Before stepping foot in the kitchen, we had brainstormed possible brunch-time possibilities and aimed for Eggs Benedict. Take a look at this site and you can read up on one person's take on this dish's essential components, but to simplify it even more, I would claim the musts include a split English muffin, ham, an egg (poached preferred) and a hollandaise sauce.

As you may have already read, I have made hollandaise in the past. For this second go-around, on Saturday, I clearly didn't have the fairly simple process memorised in my head. Soon after beating 3 egg yolks together in a bowl over a pot with simmering water, I added too soon an entire stick of melted butter. First of all, the yolk to butter ratio was so off that it became a liquidy mess; and adding in that much butter gave it little chance to be saved. Scrapping that lot, I beat again 3 egg yolks until they about doubled in volume, and then slowly drizzled in 4 tbsp unsalted butter while continuing to whisk everything together off the heat. To this, I added the juice of 1/4 lemon and then whisked it all, along with a touch of paprika, and a pinch of salt and ground black pepper. The consistency at that point didn't seem to look right and so I continued to add more lemon juice; one taste of it, though, and I was quickly reminded that to thin the hollandaise to the right consistency, I had to use water. Albeit rather bright with lemony citrus flavour, I caught the mistake just in time. Thankfully this would be served over the relatively heavier components of egg, ham and muffin.

As I was working out the hollandaise, Tony set off to try and poach the eggs. Initially he had put in two bowls (to catch the eggs) and went for warm, simmering water so as not to overcook the eggs, and then switched to a pot of boiling water. Whatever we were doing didn't seem to work and it was deduced in the end that the eggs weren't fresh enough. If you take a read here, you'll also note that it's suggested to use vinegar to help the whites firm up more quickly. Oh well, lessons learned for next time. Speaking of time, we didn't have quite enough to keep going at the poaching process, and so Tony decided to fry up some eggs and cook up sliced ham.

Meanwhile, the hollandaise was done and I was now left with six egg whites. We had our main course (and Tony would soon be working on a diced fruit salad of grapes, apples and bananas) and so my mind switched over to dessert and the meringue. My previous attempt at meringue anything didn't go over so well, and in retrospect I'd say the lack of cream of tartar didn't help. And so for this batch, I whipped up the egg whites and when foamy, I added about 1/2 tsp cream of tartar. By this point, I wasn't exactly sure where to go with this and so I preheated the oven to 350°F and quickly looked up meringue recipes. I definitely didn't have any time for the longer bake methods and so I decided to wing it (with some help from recipes such as this one) and added in about 10 tbsp granulated sugar, a few tbsp cocoa powder, a pinch of salt and a touch of vanilla extract. When this was all combined, I also added in a mixture of 1 tbsp cornstarch and water (just enough until it was dissolved and smooth). While the standing mixture was going, I also chopped up two squares of baking chocolate and folded this into the mixture. I dolloped the mix onto two baking sheets and got these in the oven for about half an hour, as we ate the composed dish pictured below.

Though we didn't have any poached eggs, Tony had nevertheless perfectly fried some up and so we still had the creamy yolk to sop up with the slightly fried ham and toasted English muffin. Against the backdrop of the lemony hollandaise, the fruit salad provided additional fresh bursts of flavour.

As I've never had a proper chocolate meringue cookie before, I can't quite say how this version fared against all others. That said, I think the amount of heat couple with the shorter bake time added in the meringues' deflation. In any case, these still had the slight crisp to the exterior and slightly chewy center I had hoped for; into the future, I'll need to make sure to allocate more time so they could dry out more slowly and maintain the more familiar meringue form.

After the kitchen clean-up, I took a look at my phone and saw a few missed messages. I soon found out that I would taking part in an unexpected second round of eating at Famous Dave's (located in 35 states), the ending location of which was a mere 15-ish minutes away in Novi. My family and I were to soon meet up with one of my godmothers and her mom, as well as the family of my godson, Brendan, whose birthday it was that we were celebrating. Shared amongst all of us, two "All-American BBQ Feast"s were ordered, each of which included "a full slab of St. Louis-Style Spareribs, a whole Country-Roasted Chicken, 1/2 lb. of either Texas Beef Brisket or Georgia Chopped Pork, Creamy Coleslaw, Famous Fries, Wilbur Beans, four corn-on-the-cob and four corn bread muffins." If you can't tell from the photos above, we got two orders, one with the beef brisket and the other with the chopped pork. To compliment my meal, I should note that I also ordered the frozen strawberry lemonade which was refreshingly delicious.

And with my resolution to pay more attention to the food photos I take, I decided to plate up my food with care. Under each of the meats, I randomly assigned the three nearest sauces to my plate: Texas Pit, Devil's Spit (the hottest of the bunch and great for clearing up your sinuses) and Sweet & Zesty. As for the three just behind those--Georgia Mustard (my least favourite), the Rich & Sassy and standard ketchup (always a favourite of mine)--I tried them with the excellent thick cut fries.

For dessert, "homestyle" was taken to another level with these massive desserts that are definitely large enough to share. The two main ones we ordered were the Hot Fudge Kahlúa Brownie and Dave's Famous Bread Pudding, the descriptions to which you can find here. I should note, too, that my dad got Dave's Roadhouse Coffee which, though it tasted quite good, didn't quite match the photo presented on the menu. And for all those who love cinnamon, be forewarned the Novi location doesn't carry the cinnamon sticks as described!

On Sunday, my family and I aimed to go to Christine's Cuisine, located in Ferndale and very well-rated on Urbanspoon, à la a Groupon that my sister and I had each previously purchased. Unfortunately, we didn't know that Christine's was not open for dinner; as a result, we went back to Southfield to one of my childhood comfort restaurants, Michigan-dominant Olga's. However, I was able to head over to Christine's with UDJ foodies Ann and Kristine, and finally check out the eclectic global cuisines (mainly European) offered. Despite the great menu selection, I had to go with the sampler platter which included three fried pierogies topped with caramelised onions, podvarok (baked sauerkraut), a thick slice of rye bread, and of course, kielbasa. Aside from the side salad that comes with this order (and is almost necessary to counter the rich cuisine), this is certainly Polish comfort food at its finest.

As seen above, Ann got a half dozen order of the pierogies, while Kristine got one of the relatively healthier options in the form of a black bean salad. While you wait for the next opportunity to visit Michigan to try out the other menu items (as I'm ready to do), click here to check out photos of both the restaurant and menu. And for the rest of the photos I've uploaded from my shorter spring break (classes are back in session this upcoming Monday), click here.

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