Cheese and Crackers

For dinner last night, Chris and I went simple with cheese & crackers plus a bit of wine.

Using some of the cheeses we bought at D&W in Williamston, I made up a little sampler platter with 3 cheeses and accompaniments.

Petit Basque: Smooth and light sheep-milk cheese, like a very mild swiss. This was a first tasting for both of us. Did best with a more flavorful cracker or a bit of the jam on top.

Rambol: smoky mozzarella or goat cheese like consistency, spreadable at room temp, would probably melt well. Fondue or gourmet grilled cheese? I think this was my favorite of the three even though its technically a processed cheese. At least it didn’t come from a can.

KerryGold Swiss: typical Swiss cheese, a little bit nutty. Pairs well with the jam and plain on crackers. Compared to the Petit Basque, this cheese starts to taste a bit more sharp.

Cranberry-Ginger Jam from The Jampot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Jampot is the store for a bunch of monks that make jellys, jams and other sweet treats. Last summer I bought several jars of jam from this place inclduing one jar of the fabled thimbleberry jam. Which has not been opened; at 12 bucks a jar, I’m treating it like fine wine.

Torremoron by Ribera Del Duero: A 2006 vintage Tempranillo that received 90 points from Wine Advocate. Spanish wine. We found it to be fruity, smooth, light on the tannins with just a hint of pepper. Did not pair well with the fresh grapes but I think this would make a good match up for a bbq or medium-spicy chili. Chris thought it was pretty simple and he really couldn’t differentiate any specific fruits. On-line reviews noted a strong cherry flavor but I was thinking more plum.  (we found this wine at D&W in Williamston, along with the first 2 cheeses on my list).

Crackers from Keebler and Kashi
Grapes

The RIGHT wrong turn

I’m on a bit of a blog overload tonight- too much to write about and not enough time to write.

Saturday, Chris and I ended up having quite an adventure. First we went to lunch at Sawyer’s Pancake House. I ordered a turkey burger with avocado and goat cheese. I’ve had this before and really was tempted to get something off the new dinner menu but it was too early for that much food. Chris and I split the Southwest Vegetable Wontons though. They were tasty and obviously homemade. Chris also had the yellowfin tuna sandwich, another new item. He’d eaten one earlier in the week and said its best with lettuce and tomato added. The fries have changed a little bit since my last visit. they were definitely crispier this time, maybe a little bit too crispy. But, I do like the crunchy end pieces so I “suffered’ through it. Dipped in basil mayo, you can’t go wrong anyhow.

After a few errands, we decided to go see a movie, like a lot of other people in this town. Not much else to do on a rainy day, I guess. Narrowing it down to two movies, I made the choice for the black comedy Burn after Reading. The Coen brothers are great and this movie was very typical of them. Brad Pitt, whether you think he’s a hottie or not, played his character perfectly! We had about 45 minutes to kill until the movie started so we wandered over to the Williams-Sonoma store (in Eastwood).

As we walked in the door, Chris said “try not to spend any money.” I replied, “Are you talking to me or yourself?” We wandered around, I fiddled with the gadgets, my favorite section, and wiped my drool off the glass in front of the knife cases. I turn around and who do I see at the cash register? Yep, there is Chris saying “don’t look.” Silly boy was buying a large cookie press “for me”, visions of sugarplums spritz cookies dancing in his head. I pointed out the cool Halloween cookie cutters I’d found and soon enough, we were adding that to the bag.

After the movie, we hop on 127 and I figured we were going home but then Chris stayed left and headed toward 96 Eastbound. Wouldn’t tell me where we were going either. I guessed somewhere in Okemos and that was true originally. But, too busy talking, he missed the exit for Okemos (he was planning to visit Dusty’s Cellar) and the next one isn’t until Williamston. As it happens, this week’s City Pulse had a write-up about a new restaurant in Williamston so I suggested we check it out while we were there.
The Riverhouse Inn was pretty busy and I felt a little underdressed so I just grabbed a menu and added it to our mental “to do” list. As we were driving around trying to find the place (its on Grand River, really very easy except the odd/even sides change depending on if its East or West Grand River), I remembered the D&W Fresh Market. We have shopped at one of these in Grand Rapids and while its not as nice as The Fresh Market (also in GR), they have excellent produce, carry Boarshead deli products and offer good prices on wine. Somewhere recently I had seen an ad for the new Williamston location which was filed away on that mental list. This location is smaller than the one in Grand Rapids, mostly in the deli department. We still found plenty to buy including a few new cheeses to try out (see future post). And there, on the 2nd to bottom shelf, was a label I’ve been looking for since our trip to Minneapolis in July. Idiziabal cheese, the smoky sheep-milk cheese from Spain that goes fantastic on a slice of bread with a pile of turkey. Unfortunately, it was only the label, they were out of stock of the actual cheese. Guess we’ll have to check back in a few weeks.

By the time we left the store, it was full dark and still raining. Again, I thought we were headed for home but just before turning back towards the highway, Chris said we needed to make one more stop. We pull in to a street-side parking spot and he starts walking towards what appears to be a bar or restaurant of some kind.

It wasn’t until we sat down, at the bar, that I found out the name of this place: CB’s Bucket Bar & Grill. Formerly known as the Williamston Bucket, its been re-opened under the new name for about a year after a fire destroyed the original in February 2006. The old version was a more typical bar with tvs and NASCAR memorablia, so I hear. The new version is nicely done up with a wood bar, light green coloring and a tranquil, smoke free environment.  It was very quiet but the bartender assured us that its normally busier, with Friday night being their biggest night.  I’m sure the constant rain kept many people away this weekend.

We were originally only going to have a drink but I was hungry so we decided to take a look at the menu.  Along with a few nightly dinner specials, you can order something so simple as a pub burger or get fancy with a full steak dinner.  I opted for CB’s Special Salad with grilled chicken while Chris had the Steak Bites appetizer- cubes of cooked-to-order sirloin served with bread and boursin cheese dipping sauce.  About half-way through eating this, he declared “New Rule: we are coming here at least twice a month.”  Since Williamston is not on our side of town, I don’t know if we’ll be able to stick to that but I can see coming to the D&W grocery store twice a month so we could become regulars soon enough.

We didn’t order anything complicated but sometimes simple food gets the worst of it when a place is trying too hard or trying to cover up their shortcomings. In this case, Chris’s steakbites were medium with a hint of pink as requested. My salad was made up of fresh apple slices, cucumbers, romaine and good cheese with just the right amount of dressing.  I’d much rather some places just do dressing on the side because they go overboard especially with creamy dressings.  Not a problem here.

My first glass of wine didn’t really excite me. I think my medicines are affecting my tastebuds but also it was too strong for my salad.  When I said I’d just like a glass of the house Pinot Noir, the bartender suggested I try the Mark West Pinot as its the same price ($5/glass) and much better.  She was right.  (side note: Mark West Pinot is on sale at World Market for under $10/bottle right now, we saw it Sunday).  The bartender was also our waitress/server. She was attentive and friendly but didn’t hover. As we sat there, we got involved in a conversation with another couple at the bar.  Pretty soon everyone was chatting about the economy of all things!

I had a hard time finding information about this place on the internet. This is partly because I couldn’t remember the exact name.  I finally got the word combination right and found some reviews from when they first re-opened last fall.  No website and no mention anywhere of the club they have opened on the 2nd floor. I’m not convinced that a club in Williamston is really “right” but there were about 30 people there Saturday night. It was smoky though- we didn’t actually go in.

Considering our eventful evening was all based on missing that exit for Okemos, I think it turned out all right!

Details

CB’s Bucket Bar & Grill

Hours: Mon-Fri,  11 AM -2PM (kitchen closes at 11PM)
Address: 132 Grand River Ave., Williamston (just east of the Williamston Sun Theatre)
Phone: 517655-1000

Accepts all major credit cards, smoke free!

Munching thru Minneapolis

Chris and I went on a little vacay over the Fourth of July week, first a few days in the Minneapolis then heading up to his family’s lake place in Wisconsin.

We arrived late on Tuesday night after a lovely delay in Chicago- can’t leave without the pilots!  During out layover in Chicago, we ate airport food which can sometimes be good food but was not, in this case.  Wolfgang Puck may be a world-renowned chef to the stars but his Pizza Express shop in O’Hare is nothing to get excited about.

We stayed with Chris’s friends, Adam and Kat, who live near Lake Calhoun, one of the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.  You can canoe on the lakes as well as enjoy bike/walking trails, marvel at the gorgeous houses surrounding the lakes (we did that) and visit a rose garden and bird sanctuary among other activities.

Due to our late arrival on Tuesday/Wednesday, we just crashed the first night.  On the drive to Adam and Kat’s house though, I did come to realize that this trip was more than just a little vacation- it was Chris’s sales pitch for moving to Minneapolis after law school.

Wednesday, we got up, showered and scrounged up some breakfast then watched a Soaring video until Adam got home from his half-day at work.  We decided to go out for lunch then pick up groceries for a grilled dinner on the deck. 

First, we drove along the Minnehaha Parkway looking at many beautiful homes while the abundance of trails and eco-friendly people were pointed out to me.  Also, Adam took us through Uptown which is apparently where Chris used to hang out a lot as he pointed out his favorite bar, sushi joint, live music source, etc.

We arrived at Minnehaha Park home of a beautiful waterfall and Sea Salt, a seasonal cafe with fresh fish and seafood plus a beer & wine license.  They were quite busy; we were joined in line by customers who had ridden up on their bikes.  I haven’t quite figured this place out yet- it appears to be an independent restaurant inside a city or state owned park.  Strange.

 

The original plan was to get fish tacos which is kind of what happened.  I ordered scallop tacos, Chris went for shrimp tacos and Adam chose the crawfish po’boy.  We also shared an appetizer of shrimp cocktail.  Adam and I each went for a pint of local brew Summit Beer.  Being that the weather was just gorgeous, we looked for seats outside.  Tables were found but no chairs.  A few feet away, a man and woman were sitting at a picnic table with attached benches. The man, whose name I don’t recall but might be Tom, offered us the extra seats if we didn’t mind listening to a foreign language. As it turns out, his sister-in-law is Danish and Adam spent several years in that part of the world for work! Although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t part of the sales pitch for Minneapolis, the whole experience was pretty cool. 

 

After stuffing ourselves, we headed to the grocery store Kowalski’s, one of Chris’s two favorites.  It was a nice grocery store, for a smaller gourmet upscale type of place.   It was definitely expensive but I found a few unusual items including marcona almonds, an almond variety from Spain that is particularly tasty.  I bought some of those, along with dried Montmorency cherries and we mixed them in with our Minnesota Wild Rice.  Kowalski’s Market should not be confused, by Michiganders, with Kowalski Meats.  You know, Kowalski Kowality. If you’ve ever eaten a polish dog or a hot dog at a sporting event in this state, you’ve probably eaten a Kowalski dog, unless it was Koegel’s, of course.

After finishing up at Kowalski’s Market, we headed over to France 44, a cheese and wine shop.  A huge liquor store with a cheese shop attached, I was a bit overwhelmed at first.  I was given charge of picking out the wines for later that night.  There were a lot to choose from but not many comments or reviews posted.  After much browsing, I settled in the domestic wines section as they were all 10% off for the Fourth of July Holiday.  We bought a bottle of Cline 2005 Big Break Zinfandel, one of many in the Cline repertoire. The first time I’d had this variety but Chris and I really like their Ancient Vines Zinfandel.  We bought something else but I can’t remember the name and since we didn’t get to drink it, I can’t comment on it anyhow.  The Zin was tasty and strong- definitely a bolder taste than the Ancient Vines.  Although I didn’t have my aerator-pourer, we found a cheap substitute at the shop so we can demonstrate the magic of air to Adam.

The boys left me in the wine racks and headed over to the cheese side where Chris found the sheep’s milk cheese that he now wants more of.  The stuff I can’t find as I don’t know the name.  I’ve sent an email off to the blog writer for the shoppe and will hopefully know more soon. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed some grilled meats, corn on the cob (best of the season so far) and Minnesota wild rice along with our bottle of Cline.  The following day, we headed up to the family lake place for 3 days of typical mid-western food: is that a marshmallow dessert I see?  To be fair we also had more great corn on the cob, a delicious wild rice-cream of mushroom side dish and “mom’s” homemade chocolate chip cookies.

While in the area, we did a driving tour of Crex Meadows and spotted a few deer and acres of wild rice: 

Melt in Your Mouth Morel Risotto

Remember that non-homogenized cream I mentioned in my last post?  I used it tonight in making this risotto, served with chicken and more mushrooms plus steamed snap peas.

Risotto Ingredients:

1 cup brown short grain rice
3-4 cups water/broth/wine, hot
1 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
10-15 morel mushrooms, sliced lengthwise and rinsed
several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
olive oil, salt & pepper

Directions:

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant then toss in onions.  Cook 3-4 minutes until onions are softened but not browning.  Add rice and continue to cook another 1-2 minutes.  Add approximately one cup of the broth or wine to the pan, stirring constantly.  Let the liquid mostly absorb then add the next cup of broth.  Continue until the rice is softened to your liking (we like al dente rice so 3 1/2 cups of broth/water worked great).

After you add the last cup of broth or water,  melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a separate pan over medium-high heat.  Add thyme, stripping it off the stems.  When the butter is melted, add the morel mushrooms and saute, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.

When the last cup of broth is almost completely absorbed, add the morels and any juice or butter in the pan to the rice.  Allow the rice and mushrooms to cook together a few minutes then remove from the heat.

Stir in a couple handfuls of cheese (or 1 handful if its grated) and about 1/4 cup of the heavy cream.  Mix until the cheese melts. Add more cream based on desired consistency, season with salt and pepper.  Dig in!

To make the accompanying chicken with mushrooms:

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, tenderloin removed, pounded to an even 1/2 inch thickness if necessary
1 cup of shiitake mushrooms sliced (stems removed)
1/2 cup small diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
olive oil, salt & pepper
smoked paprika
fresh thyme
garlic
balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add about 1  clove of mashed garlic.  Season chicken breasts with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  Saute about 5 minutes per side until golden.  Remove chicken to plate and cover with foil to keep warm.   Splash a little balsamic vinegar in the pan to deglaze then add the onions.  Turn up the heat and cook until the onions get soft and most of the liquid is gone.  Add shiitake mushrooms and about 1/8 cup of water or broth.  Cook until the mushrooms and onions are soft and golden brown.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cold butter to the pan to thicken the sauce.  Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat and keep warm until the risotto is done.

Some tips:

  1. Rinse your morels after slicing them; grit and small bugs can sometime be trapped inside.  Pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Taste the rice before you add the cheese and cream. You may need to add more broth and continue cooking until it reaches your desired consistency.  Expect it to take at least 45 minutes but an hour is more reasonable.
  3. I strongly encourage using a combination of wine and broth for the cooking liquid.  A medium-bodied Chardonnay with just a little oak would be a good choice.  Red wines work great, if you don’t mind red rice.  Avoid really crisp whites.  Any sort of broth will work, match it to whatever else you are making. Tonight, no wine on hand so I used vegetable broth and 3/4 cup of water.
  4. I used 2 pans for this meal: cooked the rice in one while in the other, I sauteed the chicken then the mushroom/onion mix.  I put the chicken and mushroom/onions on a plate, covered in foil then wiped out the pan to cook the morels.  I didn’t clean the pan so the morels probably benefited from some of the chicken/onion/mushroom bits but I don’t think it was signficant.  After I added the morels to the risotto, I put the chicken and onion/mushroom mix back in the pan and added the butter to create a sauce then kept it warm while the rice finished.
  5. Dish up your servings then quickly put the rest in the fridge. Not for food safety- to guarantee leftovers for tomorrow! Chris went back for seconds before he finished his chicken.

Again, Chris’s verdict is that I could make this a couple times a week. Its getting easier to cook for him since he keeps telling me that.  I can also make turkey tacos and Turkey-Mushroom Noodle Goodness and Balsamic Chicken (recipe coming soon) on a weekly basis.  With leftovers, that just about covers 7 days.

Feeding the Addiction

Chris and I, the balsamic vinegar-aholics, spent the weekend in Traverse City for a wedding.  We had a great time between the wedding events, wine tasting, cherry-infused samplings, fudge, and the beautiful scenery of Northern Michigan.

We also ate at a fantastic little cafe, The Cook’s House. The subtitle on the restaurant’s awning is “local sustainable cuisine.” I want to move in with these people. Look for a later post with details about our meal.

On Sunday, before the wedding, we did a little shopping in downtown Traverse City.  This place has changed a lot since my childhood but some stores are the same: the fudge shoppe in particular.  One of the newer stores, Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars, opened within the last year or so, is a gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop.  Set up much like an open wine tasting, the small storefront is lined with large barrels of olive oil on one side and vinegar on the other.  A salesperson will suggest combinations and assist with mixing a little vinegar with oil in small paper cups. You can dip your finger in the cup or just throw back the tablespoon of flavor like a shot.  Our first sample was Olive oil infused with mandarin orange mixed with an 18 year old balsamic vinegar.  A little too sweet for both Chris and I.  We next tried a Basil Olive Oil mixed with Oregano infused vinegar.  Better but they sort of cancelled each other out.  Third try was garlic olive oil mixed with Pear Vinegar, a white vinegar.  Now that was a winner!

I’ve seen White Pear Balsamic Vinegar in the stores before so we just bought the garlic olive oil this time. It was very garlicky and will make a great dipping oil for bread too: mix some basil, cracked pepper and grated cheese together than sprinkle on top of the oil. 


During our weekend, we visited three wineries and bought wine at each. We also sampled a lot of different cherry-themed products including mustards, barbeque sauce, salsa, preserves, fruit butters, chocolates and wine.  We also had cherries in both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception meal.  Despite this cherry overload, we came home with 5 or 6 jars of stuff in the car. I’m not even sure what all is in there, Chris was more cherry happy than me.  We did not buy any cherry fruit wines though. 

I made a command decision to tour the Old MIssion Peninsula and its wineries.  I had a very good reason for this, my affinity for Winery #1:

Bowers Harbor

My first experience with Bowers Harbor was a Michigan Food & Wine Festival at Meadowbrook several years ago.  After sampling many wines that day, my mom ended up buying a whole case of Otis, the estate’s signature white blend.  Fastforward to present day, Otis is still popular although its namesake, a Yellow Lab who served as official dog greeter at the vineyeard has since passed away.  Bowers Harbor is a family-run winery that started as a family farm.  With the passing of Otis, the winery welcomed Cooper, a Bernese Mountain Dog, who soon took on official greeter status and earned his own wine label.  Cooper’s wine is a sweeter style than Otis and not quite to my taste.

On this trip, we bought a bottle of 2005 Riesling, an early harvest year so the wine is less sweet. This particular varietal is only available at the vineyard.  We also picked up a jar of sun-dried tomato (cherry?) spread.

 

Chateau Grand Traverse

The second winery on our trip, CGT is the oldest and probably largest winery in Northern Michigan. Established in 1974, they sell wine under three labels, Chateau Grand Traverse, Grand Traverse Select and Traverse Bay Winery.  The tasting room on Old Mission offers over 25 varietals for sampling as well as a number of wine-related goods from storage racks to crackers suited for wine and cheese parties.  They also sell glasses, decanters and finally a wine aerator. We have been looking for one of these since a friend showed hers off last Christmas.  Many a wine shop has disappointed us with perplexed looks and sad headshakes.  On Sunday, I stumbled across the Ventar wine pourer with aerator. While not identical to the gadget we’d seen over the holidays, it was only $20 and did the job. 

(Later in the day, while in another shop, we ran across the aerator we’d used before, marked at $70!  Its cheaper on-line, the Vinturi aerator)

Besides a whole lot of Brownwood Farms products, a wine-food pairing guide, wine crackers and the aerator-pourer, we bought some wine here too!

 2006 Chardonnay “Late Harvest” – A sweeter wine than usual, Late Harvest grapes are left on the vine to allow the sugar content to rise.  Not quite as sweet as Ice Wines (where the grapes are left on til after the first frost), Chris actually liked this white wine so we decided to buy a bottle. 

2005 Gamay Noir “Reserve” – Red wines are rare in NOrthern Michigan and quality reds are even harder to come by.  Chris prefers reds so when he came across one that he liked, he bought 3 bottles of it!  We had the first bottle last night.  And we used our aerator too.  THere is a distinctive difference- the aerator definitely helps soften the tannins.  Now that I’ve had a full glass of this wine, I have to say I don’t love it. Perhaps with food, it will be better.  I felt the pepper flavor came on too fast and blotted out the fruit flavors.  First sip was very plummy but then the spice just overpowered everything.  The wine won a Gold Medal at the 2008 Great Lakes Wine Judging. 

 

BlackStar Farms

The third and final winery visit wasn’t actually meant to be a wine tasting visit. We’d been given information that they had locally made cheese on site.  They didn’t have any cheese there although they do make cheese at their Sutton’s Bay Farm, up in the Leelenau Peninsula.  I sampled two wines here but Chris wasn’t allowed.  For the second time in 3 months, he’d misplaced his ID (since found) and the host was reluctant to allow him samples without verifying his age. I had to show my ID and I did think it was a little strange to be so reluctant after seeing my age. Perhaps I should be flattered that he thought 33-year old me was dating someone under 21!

I tried 2 whites, the 2006 Sur Lie Chardonnay first. This is a non-oaked Chardonnay and it was very crisp. I thought it too metallic.  It seems like a lot of Chardonnays I’ve had recently have had way too much oak so they are heavy and woody.  But I took a chance on the the 2006 Arcturos Barrel-Aged Chardonnay and I really liked it.  Very buttery and smooth with a nice caramel undertone but you could still taste the fruit.  And I bought it, rounding out our wine buying for the day.

 

Before our stop at Fustini’s, we also visited Cherry Republic and Murdick’s Fudge in downtown Traverse City.  And bought fudge and cherry related products, of course.

 

For more about the wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, please visit: http://www.wineriesofoldmission.com/