Friday, February 21, 2014

Thundersnow, or what I like to call Despair-in-weather-form

Yesterday I was introduced to a new term: thundersnow.

It's when your snow storm is accompanied by thunder. Because snow falling at 2 inches an hour isn't bad enough. If you want to see and hear what it's like, I direct you to this youtube video I found.

I've handled the 6+ feet of snow we've had and shoveling new snowfall onto piles that are taller than I am. I've only griped a little when the numerous polar vortexes swept through and temperatures dropped into the -20 degree zone and were even colder with the windchill. I've deal with chipping through 1.5 inches of rock hard ice off the sidewalk with a coal shovel (great upper body workout!).

But thundersnow made me want to go hide in the closet, curled in a ball, and not come out until Spring.

So something had to be done.

And that something had to involve butter, eggs and chocolate. Definitely chocolate.

Ok, yeah, I'll uncurl myself from the fetal position to eat profiteroles.

The fact is that choux pastry is ridiculously easy to make and I was in no mental state to take on anything tricky or labor intensive. You chuck a stick of butter and a cup of water into a sauce pan, bring it to a boil, then turn the heat to low, dump in a cup of flour and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a globby ball that pulls away from the side of the pan. Plop the ball in the stand mixer and beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, until you have a smooth, pasty batter.

Then you can either use two spoons to urge little 1" blobs of the sticky dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, or glop the stuff into a ziplock bag, snip off a corner and pipe tubes for eclairs.  30 minutes in a 400 degree oven and you get cute little balls (or sticks) of puffiness to play with.

My favorite way to fill these is with whipped cream, but I didn't have any in the house and the two other people I was making these for still don't like whipped cream (my kids now eat spinach, but still consider whipped cream to be an unpleasant substance...go figure). There was vanilla ice cream in the freezer and I made a mediocre batch of pastry cream for the eclair tubes. It was more like vanilla pudding, enriched with egg, and not as good as the pastry cream I learned to make in my pastry class years ago (gotta find that recipe which is buried somewhere), but it was perfectly sufficient and served its therapeutic purpose last night, particularly when drowned in chocolate sauce (again, not amazing chocolate sauce--just some bittersweet chocolate melted into hot half and half). For my second round, I peeled a ripe bartlett pear, sliced it thin, put the profiteroles on top and doused the whole thing in chocolate sauce. It was very messy and very delicious and possibly the only reason that I am able to be coherent today.

You'd think that thundersnow would be a good way for winter to get its last punch in, but no. Today we have high winds (50 mph!) and flooding. Yesterday in a low lying part of a street I saw a backhoe digging out a storm drain from the concrete-hard mountains of snow that the snow plows have tossed up--not a little bobcat, but the big honking kind that you see on construction sites.  That was a first in my memory. And I assume the city will be sending that particular piece of equipment out all over town to try and give some of the melting snow a place to go. Particularly since there is another nasty blast of cold coming and if they don't all the streets will be sheet ice. If that happens, I don't know what I'll do--will a second round of profiteroles save my mental state? Or will I have to take it up a notch and if so what would that even look like? Suggestions welcome, particularly if you are local and want to come share.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Detroit Dining (with crap photos!)

One of the more fun things that I've had the chance to do since last September is dabble in the Detroit restaurant scene.  That's when my son started playing jazz piano with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Civic Youth Ensembles (which, on a musical and parenting note, has been a fantastic experience. Auditions for 2014-15 are coming up so if you have a musical kid and are willing to do the schlep, I'd highly recommend checking them out.)  His ensemble rehearses every Wednesday from 7-9:30 and by a fortuitous aligning of our family's schedule with my mom's, my daughter has spent those evenings having concentrated one-on-one granny time while Brian and I take Ian to Detroit. We drop him off and then have about 2 hours to go out to eat before heading back to listen to the end of the rehearsal and take him home. There have been a few times that we both couldn't go and since the new year they've had to cancel 3 out of 5 rehearsals due to extreme weather (and probably should have canceled one of the 2 they held since it took us 2 hours to make the normally 45 minute trip).

One of the first things I did was make a Google map of food establishments that I'd like to try. Since we have time limitations*, we're mostly sticking with midtown and downtown Detroit (though I hope to get to Hamtramck soon to try Rock City Eatery). It also means we can't go to places where there are long waits for tables or super slow service. I really want to try La Feria Tapas, which is right around the corner from DSO, but it's tiny and there's always been a wait. There are also the financial limits--we don't have the budget to try Detroit's higher end dining every week so most of the places we're going to are pretty affordable. 

Here's a rundown of the places we've gone. The few photos I have are crappy iPod pics because I haven't remembered to bring a decent camera with me.

Green Dot Stables: A fun tapas-like place but with sliders. Order a whole bunch and share. I liked the Korean (beef, peanutbutter and kimchi), tempeh and buffalo chicken sliders the most. Some of the others were less successful--the quinoa was dry and the "mystery meat" of the day was a tasteless deep fried wee scrap of wild boar. And then there were basic choices like the coney dog and cuban (fine, just not very interesting). The desert fluffer nutter slider was fun and sticky. The cocktails are cheap ($3) and potent so make sure you have a designated driver who can resist their call.

Buffalo Chicken Slider with a Gin Promise

clockwise from left: mystery meat/wild boar, Cuban, coney dog, Korean slider, tempeh

Motor City Brewing Works:  good beer and decent enough pizza. I wish they'd improve their crust (too squishy and sweet) but otherwise an ok accompaniment for the beer.

Slows BBQ: delicious bbq--we had pulled pork, brisket and ribs--and huge portions. We got lucky with two seats at the bar but be prepared to wait if you want a table or visit the Slows to Go (which, despite the name, actually has some seating and in summer has a nice long outside picnic table) on Cass Ave.

Grand Trunk Pub: Decent enough bar food (good burger and corned beef) but we went here mostly for the atmosphere--the pub is located in what was the Grand Trunk Railway's ticket station so you can sip your beer under a gorgeous ribbed barrel vault ceiling.

Mercury Burger & Bar: Good beer on tap, perfectly cooked and affordable burgers and fries with a little extra oomph. 
I had the Flint Burger (green olives and cheddar) and garlic fries. The fries were cooked in lard and then tossed with an addictive garlic, rosemary, black pepper, salt comnination.

Brian had the fried bologna sandwich which came with excellent homemade pickles. He chose poutine for his fries which were ok, but not as good as you can get across the river in Canada.

Cass Cafe
: Very casual, friendly place with good affordable food and decent beer selection. I had a good salad that they made a little extra effort to make interesting  (hardboiled eggs coated in smoked paprika and deep fried artichoke hearts). It might not be a place I'd go out of my way to visit, but I liked the place and I'd be here all the time if I was a Wayne State Student.

Traffic Jam and Snug: fun atmosphere and decent porter, but I thought the food was disappointing. They make their own cheese and bread here (along with the beer), but I thought the bread was dry and tasteless and the cheese wasn't much more interesting than a slice of Kraft cheddar.

Dangerously Delicious Pies (inside the 3rd St Bar): outrageously good savory pie (especially the Smog--steak, mushroom, onion, gruyere), $6 a slice with a side salad, but I won't go back unless I want to get it for carry-out or until Spring/Summer when the outside seating is open. The 3rd St Bar is dark, cold, plays crappy music really loud and didn't have functioning draft taps. I wish Dangerously Delicious was housed in a more worthy bar.

Here are the places that I'd like to try between now and when Ian's rehearsals end for the season in early May:

La Feria Tapas
St Cece's Pub

Xochimilco Restaurant 

Ally Tacos (a counter inside Marcus Market)
Bucharest Grill (two words: chicken shawarma. You can take it to the Park Bar next door where they have a good selection of Michigan craft beer)
Rock City Eatery
Craft Work

Any other places that should be on my list and meet our limiting distance and price criteria?

*There are additional timing complications because some of Detroit's restaurants and bakeries aren't open in the evenings (I'm looking at you Le Petit ZincMudgie's and Avalon Bakery) so despite being within our geographical and price ranges we can't make them work.