Baking is my favorite hobby, so when I was considering experience-inspired birthday gifts back in April, a Zingerman’s BAKE! class was one of the ideas that came to mind. My parents were kind enough to give me gift card to use toward a class. The hardest part was narrowing down which class to take when mulling over their extensive catalog. I finally settled on the fruit tart class because I love fruit based desserts and thought it would be fun to play with patterns for the layered fruit on top.
It’s nearly impossible to fault Zingerman’s on their customer service and the staff running this class were no exception. When I walked in just before the class started the instructor, Nikki, greeted me warmly and showed me to my spot at the table where I found a folder marked with my name filled with details of the pastry we’d be making along with several coupons good at the various Zingerman’s businesses. Bonus!
Nikki encouraged me to stop over at the Bakehouse for a free beverage before class started. Beverages are free to students during the scheduled class time, a nice unexpected extra. I opted for water over juice or coffee, knowing I’d want to stay hydrated as the ovens heated up the classroom.
Everyone arrived right on time and they had us go around and introduce ourselves. Several people were BAKE! veterans and spoke highly of the classes. One woman also warned us first-timers that they can become addicting!
We started with an overview of how they approach baking, including reading, and re-reading, the recipe several times before you begin, what ingredients they suggest and why they use them. Before each step in the tart making process Nikki demonstrated the technique, while throwing in some fun stories. A couple of assistants set us up with tools and ingredients and then cleared away our mess at each point in the class. Trust me, baking is much more fun when you’re not the one cleaning up!
This class was very hands on, which I really enjoyed. We made our own fruit tart from beginning to end, including the crust scented with orange zest, pastry cream with vanilla bean paste and cutting and laying out the fresh fruit design. We learned several great tricks, one of which was to crumble the tart dough into the pan and press it out, rather than going through the laborious process of rolling it out, where it often breaks anyway. That tip may not work for every pastry crust though so you’ll want to experiment!
Honestly, my favorite part was the comparative tasting. Zingerman’s buys a high-end comparative fruit tart from a nearby competitor, which they don’t name, and plate a slice along with the fruit tart recipe the instructor made (and you too!). We sample the cream, and crust of each and talk about how they stand up to eachother. Our (Zingerman’s) recipe won hands down! I had planned to eat both, because dessert is my weakness, but the competitor one wasn’t worth the calories; the crust was bland and the cream tasted like Jell-O pudding. It wasn’t cheap either at around $20! The one we made that day was soooo good! You could taste the zest from the orange in the crust which gave it a bright complex flavor. The vanilla cream was rich, thick and absolutely luscious. We also had a lovely variety of fruit including, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, blueberries and oranges which we had the chance to arrange however we liked.
Having been a seasoned at-home baker I wasn’t sure if I’d come away with anything I couldn’t have made at home or looked up online, but I was wrong. The pastry crust tip was a great time and stress-saver. I’m going to try that for some other desserts. There were some other great tips we learned along the way, but I’ll encourage to you to sign up and see for yourself what kind of knowledge they share.
Aside from this class, the only other cooking classes I’ve taken have been with Josh. We have gone to some interactive date-night-style classes at Ann Arbor Cooks! (also very fun!). Even if you’re an experienced cook or baker, like me, I think there’s a lot to learn in a group environment, and it’s also just plain fun!
Have you taken any cooking classes? What was the best tip or trick you learned?
Category: Baking Class Review | 2 Comments April 16, 2013
I celebrated another birthday yesterday. I won’t tell you which one… which means I’m definitely getting older. Over the weekend my husband, Josh took me to The Whitney, a gorgeous restored mansion-turned-restaurant, in Detroit and The Common Grill in Chelsea for two delicious dinners. To keep the ‘The… [Restaurant Name]” theme going, for my actually birthday dinner yesterday I thought it would be fun to try The Sardine Room in Plymouth, which I hadn’t been to yet.
They don’t normally take reservations for small parties early in the evenings, but when Josh called on Saturday they were kind enough to accommodate us with a 6:15 Monday reservation. It was lively when we walked in, but not completely full. It’s long and narrow with sleek high-top tables backlit by a contemporary lighted wall. We were lucky enough to be seated in a booth in the back that had a view of the kitchen.
The Sardine room focuses mainly on small plate style dishes with a few snack items and larger entrees and also some soups and salads on the menu. We went with the intention of sharing several dishes so we narrowed down our choices and decided on this selection: fried green tomatoes, a cheese board, pan seared sea scallops (for Josh), and fish tacos (for me). We also chose a larger fried chicken dinner to split that was on special. It came with a choice of two sides so we went with the mac and cheese with button mushrooms and grilled corn on the cob.
The cheese board came out first and included a cheddar with Cajun spices (my favorite), a double cream cheese and a humbolt fog goat cheese with a layer of ash, all accompanied by truffle honey a few baguettes slices and something called pear mostarda. The honey was fabulous drizzled on all the cheeses. I had never considered doing that before, but definitely will going forward! The pear mostrada was a sweet fruity condiment with a hint of mustard seed; also very good. I would have loved a few more slices of bread, but I was happy enough eating the remaining cheese straight from the board with my fork and a little honey on top.
Next came the fried green tomatoes dusted in cornmeal and topped with a smoked corn relish, chile remoulade, and scallions. They were tasty, but we vacationed in Charleston, SC a few weeks ago, so we were a bit spoiled by the amazing Southern version we had down there and this didn’t quite stack up for me.
Josh loved the pan seared scallops with pork belly confit, house bbq, hollandaise, pickled onion. I’ll have to take him at his word since I’m very allergic. It’s one of his favorite foods so he has high standards, which these apparently met.
My fish tacos were made with grilled red snapper with thyme scented cabbage, corn salsa, jalapeno slaw, tequila lime crème and served in soft corn tortillas. The tacos were tied with the cheese board as my favorite dish of the night. It was my first time eating snapper, which I thought was deliciously moist and tender. The slaw and lime crème gave a nice bright note of freshness.
Our last savory item of the night was the fried chicken dinner special. This was probably my least favorite part of the meal, although Josh really enjoyed it. I thought the skin was crisped nicely, but lacked seasoning. The mac and cheese was on the liquid side, almost like processed cheese, and I prefer a firmer style, although the breadcrumbs were good. The grilled corn on the cob was nicely seasoned, simple, but tasty.
Even with all that food I couldn’t pass up dessert on my birthday so I had the strawberry rhubarb shortcake. It took a little while to come out, but was worth the wait in my opinion. I loved that they used a pâte à choux style dough instead of the traditional biscuit or pound cake. It was light and airy with a nice buttery flavor that complimented the perfectly sweetened pieces of fruit.
They also have extensive cocktail, beer and wine lists. I was considering something called the hemingway – el dorado 3 year white rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, luxardo maraschino – but decided to keep it simple and stick with non-alcoholic iced tea instead.
Our server was great too. Very friendly, he made a point to ask if we had been there before and if we enjoyed our visit enough to return again, which we told him we definitely did.
Category: Restaurant Reviews | 2 Comments March 12, 2013
So, last week it was waffles (or wafels) and this week it’s crepes, it looks like I’m on a breakfast treat roll. Although, you can eat lunch at dinner at the new crepe spot in Ann Arbor, as well. I’m actually planning to try dinner there later this week.
Josh and I celebrated our six-year wedding anniversary last weekend the best way we know how, eating our way through the day. We started off at another Ann Arbor newbie in the former Squares location, What crêpe? (I’m going to affectionately refer to this new spot as ‘circles’ for fun). Honestly, I was sad to see Squares go. I thought they had pretty tasty food at a reasonable price for downtown.
It was the first weekend What crêpe? was open so it was pretty quiet the morning we arrived. Only a couple of other tables were filled. My first impression was, ‘Wow, look what they’ve done with the place’. The new decor has truly transformed the previous Squares fast food space into a ritzy and posh place to eat. It seems the hip interior follows suit with their other locations based on the photos I’ve seen of the Royal Oak and Birmingham locations. Dark walls and chandeliers are a big part of the ambiance, although if you look closely you may notice they’ve recycled the previous establishment’s chairs (I suppose that’s the ‘green’ thing to do).
There were plenty of staff on hand just in case a crowd showed up, but hostess and waitress were efficient and friendly. They also made a point to cover the days specials. If you look at the menu on their website you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s available, although the Ann Arbor menu has some differences which they don’t reflect yet on the online version.
I was drawn to the Honey Bear crepe, which was filled with peanut butter and graham cracker crumbs, folded into pretty triangles and garnished with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. It was right up my alley and delicious. I loved the slight texture the graham cracker crumbs gave the filling. I would have liked a few more berries to cut the sweetness of the peanut butter and honey, but aside from that there were no complaints on my end. Josh had a breakfast-burrito-style crepe stuffed with eggs, sausage and a few other goodies. He really enjoyed his dish as well.
Despite the tasty meal, the prices are a touch high for breakfast to make it a regular stop (at least for the less substantial sweet crepes like I had – which are around $12-$14), they might even rival Zingerman’s in that respect. I think a breakfast splurge once in a while is well worth it, but I have a hunch I’d feel more satisfied and feel a better sense of value getting a savory crepe at lunch or dinner for a similar price. They also have a selection of wine and cocktails on the menu if you like that sort of thing. They encouraged us to get a mimosa at 8:30am, but that’s a bit early for me to indulge. I guess my age is showing.
All in all, this was a good start to our celebration of love and food. We made our way back through Ann Arbor by stopping at Mighty Good Coffee for hot chocolate and lattes (the Brown Sugar Sea Salt is a must!), Eastern Accents for some pastries (sadly, closing this weekend), Songbird Cafe for lunch and the Gandy Dancer for dinner.
Category: Food, Restaurant Reviews | Comments Off February 13, 2013
I have a fabulous co-worker who used to live in Belgium and when she came to town once brought waffles coated in Belgian chocolate as gifts. They were sugary, crunchy and the chocolate was unbeatable (this coming from non-chocoholic). I’ve been in search of something similar locally ever since. I’ve been a fan of this place called Taste of Belgium at the North Market in Columbus, OH where they make both delicious crepes and waffles, but I wanted something here in Michigan.
The Wafel Shop is another in a series of new restaurants to open in downtown Ann Arbor in the last several months. Josh and I stopped in to The Wafel Shop for a light breakfast this past weekend, the first weekend they were open. Their standard waffles come with butter and powdered sugar, additional toppings are extra. I went with the Liege style waffle because it sounded very similar to what I had been looking for, sugary and crisp with the same dense texture. I added Biscoff spread and fresh raspberries. Josh chose the Brussles Wafel and added peanut butter and banana. To drink I had a caramel latte and Josh had a hot chocolate.
The food and drinks came up quickly, everything seemed well organized and they had the right amount of staff while we were there for the early morning rush. My latte was decent, not as good as some coffee shops in the area, but definitely serviceable. Josh really enjoyed the hot chocolate, and he’s pickier about that type of drink than most.
I loved my waffle. It was thick, crispy on the edges and I could taste the sugar pearls that were inside that give it a real distinction from the typical American waffle. The Biscoff spread was sweet and had that sugar cookie goodness. I was glad I added raspberries because their acidity and tartness were perfect for cutting through the sweetness of the spread so it wasn’t too much. Next time I would leave the butter off, it didn’t add much with the other toppings already adding a richness. I tried a bite of Josh’s waffle and it was tasty too, although not as much flavor in the waffle itself it did have a nice light airy texture. It was good Elvis style with the banana and PB combo.
I would definitely go back, but I think I’d prefer it for a snack or dessert to breakfast. I like more food in the morning and while I commend them for not trying to overreach and do too much, their menu is simple – waffles and drinks. The toppings aren’t enough to fill me up. I think they should continue to keep it simple though. They certainly seem to have mastered these Belgian style waffles and I don’t want to see that change. Dessert is just fine with me!
They also had chocolate covered waffles in a case, why I didn’t get one on the way out is beyond me, especially because it may have been very close to the original Belgian treat my co-worker gave me! Next time for sure.
Category: Restaurant Reviews | 2 Comments January 27, 2013
I had a yammerin’ to bake a fruit dessert this weekend (yeah, that’s right, a yammerin’). Most women think first of chocolate for dessert, I am one of the rare few that would pick fruit-based desserts over chocolate almost any day of the week.
I ruffled through Pinterest, one of my newer online addictions, for some enticing photos of various fruit galettes. A galette is a simpler, more rustic version of a pie that doesn’t include the fuss of a pie plate or nicely crimped crust so it’s perfect for a day when you’d like to put together an easy dessert.
I came across this recipe for a Honey Pear Galette which sounded right up my alley. I liked that it had a slight twist of adding a cinnamon vanilla pastry cream to the base of the crust. Other fruit galettes I’ve made before where simply fruit, sugar and the crust, this added a more elevated appeal that didn’t add too much effort.
I opted for using store-bought refrigerated pie dough (baking blasphemy, I know!), because again, my original intent was to make this an easy dessert. I’ve also had good success with the Pilsbury pre-made pie crusts in the past. I chose some lovely red Anjou pears for this treat, which I hadn’t tried before. They were perfectly sweet, but still firm. I followed the original recipe note to sprinkle some flour over the top of the fruit after it was layered on the pastry cream, but before baking. I think next time I would toss the pear slices with the flour and salt before layering the slices for a prettier presentation. As you may see in the photo, even after baking, not all of the flour absorbed into the pears.
The smell that permeated the kitchen while this baked was intoxicating. The crust was colored a lovely golden brown after baking from the egg wash brushed on just before it went in the oven. The pears were the perfect tenderness and had a touch of added sweetness from the drizzle of honey added while the galette was still warm. The pasty cream added a lusciousness beyond the basic fruit version, just as I had hoped. What a tasty winter treat!
What are some of your favorite fruit desserts?
Honey Pear Galette with Pastry Cream
adapted from kokocooks
Print Friendly Version
- 1 c whole milk
- 2 Tbs cornstarch
- 4 Tbs sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- Pilsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust – one round layer
- 3 ripe red Anjoy pears or another variety, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 Tbs all purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 Tbs honey
For the pastry cream: Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Mix together cornstarch, sugar, salt, and egg in a small bowl. When milk starts to boil, remove from heat. Slowly pour 1/3 c of the hot milk into the cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the hot mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk, whisk to combine. Place saucepan over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly (about 2 minutes.) Pour pastry cream into a small bowl and chill for 20 minutes.
For the galette: Preheat oven to 400ºF. Roll pastry pie crust into a 12-inch circle on parchement paper. Transfer crust on the parchment to a baking sheet. Spread pastry cream in the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Toss pear slices with the flour and salt in a small bowl. Arrange the pear slices on top of the pastry cream. Fold edges of the crust over the pears. Brush the crust with a small amount of the egg wash. Bake until the crust is golden, about 35 minutes. While the galette is still warm drizzle exposed pears with honey transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Category: Recipes | Comments Off December 16, 2012
I promised my husband that I would publicly credit him with find of this new restaurant in Ypsilanti, the Blue Wolf Grill, so here it is Josh (if you’re reading this). Granted, I had not heard that it was coming and I’m usually the first to know when a restaurant will be opening within a 20 mile radius of where we live, let alone right in our own town. However, I haven’t driven down that area of Washtenaw in a while and he was picking up dinner the other night and happened to drive by this new find. Lucky for me (and him) he mentioned his sighting of this new restaurant that had opened just this past Friday near the corner of Hewitt and Washtenaw in what was the old Cosmic Garden years ago (oh, how I miss their sweet potato fries to this day!) and more recently was a Middle Eastern spot. I was thrilled to hear that it was no longer empty and even happier when I looked up their website and found an interesting, well-priced, local ingredient based menu.
We stopped in for lunch today and were not disappointed. They had a soft opening for friends and family earlier last week, but just opened to the public as of Friday. We were the only diners around 3 p.m. on a Sunday, but our waitress was friendly and quick and the food was delicious.
The tables are dressed with real cloth tablecloths and cute little mission style candle holders. My husband hopes they upgrade the black plastic chairs at some point, but I didn’t mind because they were still comfortable which was what was important to me (and my behind).
The menu has a nice mix of soups, salads sandwiches, pastas and entrees with a nice little twist to each. The prices range from $6-$10 for salads and sandwiches to $12-$18 for the nicer dinners, which include a side, a salad and a roll. It would be easy to find something to please a wide range of palates and pocketbooks at the Blue Wolf.
I have been eating a lot more meatless meals lately and was happy to find several vegetarian options that appeared to be well thought out, not just your typical black bean burger or pasta with sauce here. I considered one of the interesting salads, butternut squash ravioli with roasted apples and curry cream sauce, but decided on the Grilled Veggie Panini.
The sandwich came on fresh herb focaccia with mozzarella and had a nice assortment of vegetables, including portobellos, yellow squash, roasted red pepper, red onion, fresh spinach as well as a hummus spread. This was not your standard veggie sandwich that is slapped on the menu to appeal to a few vegetarians. The vegetables were nicely grilled and well seasoned, the bread was herby and fresh. The flavors of this sandwich came together nicely. It also came with a pickle some tasty ruffled chips, although you can upgrade to the house fries for another dollar.
Josh opted for the Wolf Sliders, four sliders with your choice of pulled pork or chuck burgers, or a mix of both. He went for two of each. The sauce on the pulled pork is on the sweeter side which is right up his alley. I had a bite and thought it was pretty good too. He really enjoyed the burger sliders which had a slight char to the outside of the meat, but not too much. The fries came with his meal, but they were a bit on the crisp side for our taste.
We saved room to try one of their three desserts. We had a choice between the whipped chocolate ganache with berries, a croissant bread pudding with creme anglaise or a chocolate Michigan apple cake with vanilla sauce. Our waitress sold us on the bread pudding saying she had it earlier that day and it was her absolute favorite.
The bread pudding was fantastic as promised. The croissant pudding was studded with dried fruits throughout, a touch of chocolate chips on top and served with a delectable vanilla sauce that wasn’t overly sweet. Fresh berries that surrounded the dish were a perfect accompaniment for their acidity. I cannot believe all their desserts are less than five bucks. If I hadn’t been so full I think we would have tried more than one!
I love that another restaurant that has put some thought into their menu, considers local ingredients and something other than just the ordinary has given Ypsilanti a chance for their success. They follow in the footsteps of Beezy’s Cafe, Red Rock, Wurst Bar and Bona Sera. It’s so nice to see something aside from fast food chains becoming a part of the Ypsilanti community. I believe the that the Ypsi folk are welcoming to these types of establishments and they will see strong support. We’ll be back here for sure!
Category: Food, Restaurant Reviews | 2 Comments October 17, 2012
I have fallen in love with a little cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan called, The Songbird Cafe. I find reason to stop in at least once a week or so. The staff is very pleasant and efficient and the coffee and food are simple, but delicious.
Their caramel latte is just the way I like it. They don’t skimp on the foam, which tastes like a coffee marshmallow to me! So many places these days only fill the latte with milk and leave off the froth, which is my favorite part when done right (and Songbird does it right!).
I know I’m enjoying a great latte when it tastes rich and luxurious even when I order it with skim milk, and that’s exactly what I’ve gotten every time I’ve ordered one at this sweet little cafe. Beezy’s, and now The Songbird Cafe, are my two favorite places in the Ypsi/Ann Arbor area to order an espresso drink.
I’ve also had some tasty food at Songbird, including: oatmeal cookies, a divine apple hand pie, a simple, but delicious caprese sandwich and breakfast.
For breakfast I always order the green tea muffin with candied ginger and topped with walnuts, their cherry granola yogurt parfait, a side of fresh fruit and a caramel latte, of course!
The muffin is lightly sweet and heavenly. I love that the walnuts are sprinkled on top so they don’t interfere with the soft texture of the muffin too much. The candied ginger wakes up the taste with a subtle and sweet zing. The granola parfait is made to order in a cute little mason jar. The yogurt is plain Greek yogurt so I usually grab just a touch of honey from the coffee bar to take the edge off. The fruit Songbird serves has always been well picked and absolutely fresh.
I also enjoy seeing the love that went into the decor of this little place. I never went into this building when it was the beloved Flim Flam diner, but I imagine it’s quite a bit different inside now than it was then.
You walk in to be greeted by the friendly staff at the coffee counter and the chalkboard with specials of the day (their daily soups are fabulous as well!). The counter has lovely slats of wood and a granite top. The side walls have a touch of exposed brick for a rustic feel.
To the right is the dining area, the open entryway to the seating area is accented on side with a lovely leaded glass door. The tables are plenty with a mix of cushioned benches and simple wooden chairs. Library shelves line the back wall. Light pours in from the front window making for a very comfortable and cozy atmosphere to enjoy some simple, but lovely food.
Category: Restaurant Reviews | Comments Off
Printed from the Everyday Foodie blog. © 2011 Karen McCullough