It was an event we’d been anxiously awaiting for several weeks (although some may have feigned otherwise- you know who you are): the second annual GUDetroit picnic on Belle Isle. You may remember my post about last year’s picnic, a 9-hour marathon of food, drink and camaraderie that began shortly after noon and ended only when the last rays of sunlight were extinguished and the city lights began to twinkle across the river in their place. This year was no different in that respect, and once again I was among those packing up at the end of the night after most everyone except Todd and Evan had gone home.
Marvin and I didn’t make it to the picnic until almost 4pm so I missed a few folks who had already come and gone, but for the most part, people were there for the duration (and we weren’t the last to show up by a long shot). There were many familiar faces but just as many new ones, with overall turnout a bit higher than last year- we’re an ever-expanding group! As is often the case with social gatherings whose genesis is online, I wasn’t quite sure whether to just randomly introduce myself to unfamiliar people, even knowing that we’ve likely corresponded in some shape or form already. Some were forthcoming with introductions and others preferred to remain anonymous. Maybe we’ll have to do a name tag thing next time. As long as everyone promises not to write their Twitter handle on it.
One person I was definitely looking forward to meeting was Warda, a fellow blogging friend I recently wrote about whom I’d never met in person. She came with her husband and two darling little girls and brought karantika (photo at left), a savory flan made with chickpea flour that is a popular street food in Algeria. Although they have lived in the Detroit area for years, it was their first visit to Belle Isle, and I was pleased to have a hand in that.
As the evening wore on, things got loopier, with manly naps and snuggles on picnic blankets, tree-climbing, raucous games of cornhole for all ages, mint-spanking, swinging from willow branches, and even some half-baked attempts at hula-hooping. We finally packed it up well after dark, with a few hardy souls carrying on the festivities back in Ferndale.
Now that you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’re saying to yourself “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FOOD?!” I hope no one throws rotten tomatoes at me if I say that I thought the spread was slightly more impressive last year. But maybe that’s just the rose-tinted spectacles of hindsight… the “first time” of anything often holds a special place in one’s memory, and last year’s picnic was pretty darn magical. There were some definite highlights this year though, like grilled feta with honey, anise and other herbs, homemade sausage, pork tenderloin, elote, and Warda’s karantika. The mini pavlovas looked enticing but were gone before I could try one. And judging from the speed at which the 5 pounds of kefta and kebabs I brought were devoured, I’d say those went over pretty well too.
For even more photos of the picnic as well as the kefta and kebab recipes, you can hop over to my blog. And anyone who’s posted photos on flickr or elsewhere, please share links (unless of course they happen to contain photos of a certain, ahem, over-aged hula hooper).
Once upon a time, there were three friends who wanted to try their hands at curing prosciutto at home. As far as charcuterie went, one was a Novice whose experience was limited to the occasional fresh sausage or pâté; another, a Renegade who hung random cheeks and bellies in his basement with little care for recipes or precision. The third, who regularly cures and smokes her own bacon and had taken a class on prosciutto, offered to be their Fearless Leader. The Renegade procured three lovely pig legs from some Romanians at the village market, and the friends met one evening in his basement to roll up their sleeves and get to work (they may have enjoyed a glass of wine or two as well).
The first part of the process involved removing the aitch bone from the legs, milking the large vein to remove the blood (to prevent spoilage), and trimming the legs into a nice round shape. The Renegade and the Fearless Leader already had their legs pretty well trimmed by the time the Novice arrived, so she proffered her rolling pin to assist them with expelling the blood from the vein. When this was done, the FL showed her how to go about removing the aitch bone. She struggled and hacked, and didn’t make the neatest of cuts, but finally managed to free it from the leg socket. This, along with several pounds of trimmings, went into bags for another use. The skin was pulled back on all of the legs and trimmed to expose some of the flesh for salting.
(Note on photos: Due to a computer malfunction, the author regrets to report the loss of the photos from the first stages of the process.)
When the three pigs were trimmed (as neatly as these friends could manage with the tools at hand and relative lack of expertise), it was time to salt the meat. The skin was scored in a few places to allow the salt to enter. The Novice accidentally cut through to the flesh, but the FL reassured her that at worst, the meat may end up a little too salty in that spot. No matter, she thought, it can always be used in a soup or stew. The FL had brought a few pounds of Morton’s salt, a choice that surprised the Novice, but this was what had been used by the old Italian man who taught the FL’s class, and she posited that if it was good enough for him it was good enough for them. (We should note, it was the non-iodized variety.)
The hams then rested for a week in the Renegade’s basement, turned every other day. After a week, the friends met for the next phase, pressing the meat. They improvised with a layer of towels, then parchment, in hopes of not getting the floor too dirty in the Renegade’s fancy booze and cigar room. A table was inverted and placed on the hams, and various items at hand were added to provide the proper weight- a case of wine, a case of beer, and an antique wine press.
After a week of pressing, it was time to rinse the hams and hang them to dry for three days, followed by a rubdown with oil (to keep the exterior from becoming too tough) and pepper (for flavor). The hams were showered off in the Renegade’s basement bathroom, and then hung from a clothes rack for three days to dry (fortunately the Renegade, a lawyer in a previous life, had several unneeded suits on the other side to counterbalance the weight). The Novice was out of town for the oiling and peppering, but she trusted that the others would lovingly season and rub down her leg as if it were their own.
Now, the tale of the three pig legs comes to a pause, as the friends patiently wait for approximately 6 months for their hams to cure. In the following weeks, the friends will monitor the hams for any mold, wiping it off with white vinegar if it should make an appearance. The hoofs on their hams were somewhat of an unknown element, since the FL’s previous hams had been hoofless, but an abundance of salt was applied as a preventative measure. The second half of this tale remains to be written, but if all goes well, it will end with a salty, meaty celebration for all of their friends.
This post originally appeared on simmer down! (a food lover’s blog).
In my last post I alluded to a picnic with some fellow Detroit gourmands, some of whom I introduced to you in this post. We’re a growing group, and we decided to have a potluck picnic on Belle Isle as an excuse to eat, drink and get to know each other a little better. Molly and Todd scoped out the perfect spot under some willow trees, on the banks of the Detroit river with a view of the city.
Knowing this group, I had high expectations, but wow… I have to say I was pretty blown away by how much everyone put into it. Dave (aka Captain McBoozy), James and Evan ruled the drinks department- Dave made a Rhubarb Rum Punch and some Prescription Juleps, Evan brought a chartreuse-and-pineapple juice concoction, and James (our resident coffee-roaster and token Romanian-American) made a fabulous cocktail with cold-brewed coffee, vodka, passionfruit syrup and Romanian mountain mint.
The food was no less spectacular… I displayed an incredible amount of willpower and paced myself perfectly so that I was able to nibble and sip on and off all day while never feeling uncomfortably full or overly tipsy. This was no small feat, since it was pretty much a spread to end all spreads. My contributions were a big bowl of chlodnik and a mess of honey, cumin & lime-marinated grilled chicken (grilling courtesy of Todd, thanks dude!). The rest of the food I almost hesitate to list for fear of inadvertently leaving someone out, but there were homemade sausages, pizza on the grill (organic dough courtesy of Strawberry Moon in Ferndale), Vietnamese fresh rolls, an Israeli couscous salad with shrimp (don’t tell the rabbi!), bruschetta, gazpacho, Korean beef tartare lettuce wraps, grilled steak with arugula, a huge bowl of guac, and an assortment of gourmet ice cream courtesy of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus. Jarred also brought an assortment of wines provided by Western Market- score!
We whiled away the afternoon until it slipped into evening, and somehow managed to dispatch almost all of the food. We were even making ham sandwiches towards the end of the day, with leftover marble rye, mustard, and some J&M German bacon (not really “bacon”; more like the best ham you’ve ever had). As the sun set over the city, we packed up our belongings and mused about how perfect the day had been, and wondered aloud how soon we could do another picnic.
Back to the chicken- this isn’t the first time I’ve made this chicken, but I usually make it with wings for a better meat-to-marinade ratio. The drumsticks weren’t bad, but I think I’ll revert to using wings from now on. It was hard to “name” this recipe because all of the marinade ingredients are bold and prominent- the sweet-tart punch of honey and lime, the toasty warmth of the cumin and cayenne, and the savory hit of garlic all contribute to a sauce that sings with flavor. The elements are inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine (in fact, once or twice I’ve added a pinch of cinnamon), but I’ve never had anything like it in a restaurant or come across any similar recipes in any cookbooks or blogs, so for now I’ll claim it as my own. We couldn’t do this at the picnic, but if you’re near a stove, the leftover marinade (boiled and reduced) makes a killer dipping sauce.
To see the full set of photos from the picnic, check out my flickr set.
Honey, Cumin & Lime Grilled Chicken
4-5 lbs chicken wings (or drumsticks), preferably free-range or organic
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 large limes should yield this, unless they are particularly dry)
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs ground cumin (seeds toasted & freshly ground if possible)
½ tsp cayenne (or more if you like it spicy)
2 Tbs minced garlic (2-4 cloves depending on size)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil
Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, stirring to dissolve the honey. Taste to see that the sweet/sour flavors are balanced. It should taste pretty pucker-inducing, but the heat will tame some of the acidity. Taste for spiciness as well, adding cayenne as you see fit.
Wash and pat the chicken dry. Place in a sturdy Ziploc-type bag with the marinade and seal, expelling as much air as possible. Marinate for at least an hour, longer if possible.
Grill the chicken over medium heat, turning frequently and basting often with the marinade (this should take about 15-20 minutes for wings; slightly longer for drumsticks. If unsure, use a meat thermometer and cook to 160°). If you like, boil down any remaining marinade on the stove until slightly thickened and use as a dipping sauce.