Fall Harvest Chicken

If you are driving the stretch of land between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan you will see a patchwork of farms around the town of Hudsonville and in late fall some of those farms will be harvesting winter squash, a seemingly endless variety of shapes in oranges and greens. If you happen to stumble across the white acorn squash, buy one or two. The creamy white flesh becomes wonderfully buttery when roasted. In this recipe, the squash is roasted under a brined, roasted chicken for over an hour along with carrots and onion, with the addition of late fall herbs and a bit of apple for brightness.

Fall Harvest Chicken1



Fall Harvest Chicken

4 cups unfiltered apple cider
½ cup salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed, skins on
2 bay leaves
8 whole peppercorns
16 whole coriander seeds
½ cup fresh chopped oregano
½ cup fresh chopped savory (or thyme)
4 cups ice

4 lb. whole chicken
4 Tbs. butter
1 quartered Honey Crisp apple

2 acorn squash, pealed, seeded, large cubes
4 carrots, peeled, large pieces (similar size to squash)
2 medium sweet onions, 8 pieces each
2 Tbs. vegetable oil

To make the brine: Place first 6 ingredients in a stock pot over medium high heat. Add half of the oregano and savory. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat then add the ice. The amount of ice does not have to be exact, but the brine should end up at room temperature and should have a saltiness similar to a salty broth. Remove neck and innards from cavity and place chicken in a container just large enough to hold it and cover it with the brine. Allow it to sit in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.

Fall Harvest Chicken

Remove chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour prior to cooking. Pre-heat oven to 475°F. Place the acorn squash, carrot, onion, and oil in a heavy cast iron roaster or similar pan large enough to accommodate the chicken. Sprinkle with herbs. Stuff apple into the cavity of the chicken and then settle the chicken into the middle of the vegetables, breast side down. After 25 minutes, turn chicken over and slide butter under the skin above the breast. Turn oven down to 400°F and return pan to the oven and cook for an additional 45 minutes or until an internal temperature of 160°F. The legs of the chicken should be loose and the juices run clear. Remove chicken from pan and allow to rest on a carving board.

Fall Harvest Chicken4

We served this on a bed of red kale sauteed with shallots, which provides a nice bit of bitterness to contrast the sweet richness of the roasted squash. The apple cider brined chicken, along with the Honey Crisp roasted inside, added a hint of brightness. We had house-made spiced apple sauce which we served warm alongside the chicken. Overall it was a wonderful Sunday dinner, celebrating the fall harvest, and a fine example of Great Lakes Cuisine.

In Praise of Cherries

The summer picking season has begun in the Great Lakes region for tart Montmorency cherries. Both Bing and Montmorency are grown extensively in Wisconsin and Michigan, thus the National Cherry Festival hosted in Traverse City, Michigan each year. On the festival website, they share this bit of history:

French colonists from Normandy brought pits that they planted along the Saint Lawrence River and on down into the Great Lakes area. Cherry trees were part of the gardens of French settlers as they established such cities as Detroit, Vincennes, and other midwestern settlements.

Modern day cherry production began in the mid-1800s. Peter Dougherty was a Presbyterian missionary living in northern Michigan. In 1852, he planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other farmers and Indians who lived in the area, Dougherty’s cherry trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer.

We are quite fond of the combination of cherries with slow cooked meats. The tart, sweet flavors of the fruit offer both contrasting and complementary elements to a savory dish, and slow-roasted meats in particular. We once served an espresso-rubbed beef short rib was served on a dollop of lusciously rich pommes aligot with a ribbon of cherry sauce surrounding the plate. Decadent and beautiful (and a hat tip to my buddy Tom who co-created the dish).

Short rib with Cherries

A simple, summer dish in the same vein follows:

Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Pan Sauce

1 Pork tenderloin

1 Tbs Penzey’s BBQ 3001 Seasoning

1 sweet white onion, diced

1 tsp salt

1 cup pitted cherries

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 Tbs vegetable oil

1 Tbs butter

Hand rub seasoning into pork tenderloin 1 hour before preparing, allow to rest in refrigerator, uncovered. After one hour, remove pork. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering hot. Sear pork on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Set pork aside onto platter. Add onions to pan and sprinkle with salt and allow to wilt, stirring often to avoid burning. When caramelized, add wine and cherries and nestle pork back into pan and cover. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Remove pork to platter to rest. Remove half of cherry/onion mixture and process in food processor until smooth.  Return to pan with butter and mix together.  Slice the pork on a slight angle and serve on generous spoonful of sauce.

Pork tenderloin with cherries

We choose to serve it with pine nut couscous and oven roasted broccoli, but a wild rice dish here would be an even better pairing, bringing some of the roasted, nutty flavors to the dish. We have also prepared mashed potatoes with a very generous portion of blue cheese added which would have matched nicely here as well. Getting cheese into the dish is recommended. Sweet cherries have that deep, winey depth while the tart cherries bring the bright acidity. Try either or both. And any leftover cherries should be pitted and soaked in bourbon with a vanilla bean for a month. That’s not so much Great Lakes Cuisine, but it sure is awesome in a Manhattan.

In Praise of the Hand Pie

A roast herb chicken over a pan of onions, carrots, and rutabaga – Saturday evening meal.


The drippings, after a quick coating over the vegetables, are strained off and refrigerated. The caramelized bits are scrapped up and added to leftover vegetables and chicken, which has been finely diced. And now the heart of the hand pie.


The meat-filled hand pie is known in the upper peninsula of Michigan as a pastie (pronounced either pah-stee or pay-stee). An immigrant dish from the United Kingdom. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan surround this strip of Michigan, a region rich in earthbound natural resources.  The iron-rich veins of the hills drew miners from around the world; in particular the mining experts from the Cornwall region of the United Kingdom, who immigrated to the area as their own tin and copper mines began to wane in the mid-19th century.  As we witness so often with any immigration, culinary traditions travel well. The pastie was the miner’s lunch, baked into a pie-like crust, which was intended to keep warm the diced mixture of beef, potato, onion, and rutabaga inside (traditional recipe here). The Cornish pastie has actually been recognized by the European Union as a Protected Geographical Indication.

Unfortunately, the hand pies have become somewhat standardized as beef, potato, onion, and rutabaga. And in most cases the ingredients have been cooked separately and then diced and combined.  Too often, the result is an overly large, doughy mix of bland vegetables overpowered by pepper. Nevertheless, they can be fantastic after a cold day out fishing or the morning after a particularly long evening of drinking. But returning to the roots of the dish suggest that the filling was the previous evenings left-overs, prepared to retain heat through mid-day. So why not many types of leftovers? And that inspired our dish here – Roast Chicken with Carrots and Rutabaga Hand Pies.

Chicken4 The dough is a traditional pie crust with one substitution – a 1/2 cup of butter was replaced with a 1/2 cup of the cold chicken fat saved from the roasting pan. The congealed jus was added to the filling. The result was an exceptionally flaky crust and flavorful filling. A simple buttermilk gravy was served alongside.


These were much smaller than the traditional pastie, served hot from the oven. The success of these flaky, flavorful variations suggests other ideas:

Beef Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots – Potatoes and carrots cooked with the pot roast, rather than cooked separately. A horseradish dipping sauce.

Sauerbraten with Rotkohl – Marinated beef with traditional sweet/sour red cabbage, perhaps a black rye dough.

Beef Wellington – A hand-held version of the classic English beef with mushrooms.

Porker – Brined and grilled pork loin, rough-chopped liver pâté, thick-cut bacon in a rye flour dough. Mushroom dipping sauce.


New Restaurants Added – Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_0143Let me tell you this – the Backwoods Bastard is definitely one of the finest brews I have ever had. Complex, lingering, hauntingly good.

It just may be the best brew in Grand Rapids, MI, and given that Grand Rapids has been named Beer City USA in a poll run by the guru of home brew Charlie Papazian, that is saying something.

As I’m sitting in Founder’s Brewing Company Taproom, enjoying this masterpiece of brewing craft, I’m thinking this Curmudgeon sandwich might have been the best sandwich in Grand Rapids, but I’d already had the best sandwich in Grand Rapids the night before at Brewery Vivant and it came with what might have been the best French fries in Grand Rapids, but I’d already had the best fries at Hop Cat earlier in the day. It was a flurry of really good food and really great beer.

None of this should be surprising considering Grand Rapids is home to one of the world’s best breweries according to Ratebeer.com and one of the best beer bars in the world according to Beer Advocate. Allow me to walk you through my amazing two days, a true Great Lakes Cuisine experience.


Upon checking into a downtown hotel, the front desk recommended Hop Cat for a quick lunch.  Beer Advocate and Ratebeer.com both recognize Hop Cat as one of the best brew pubs in the nation.  The menu is two pages with a dizzying array of local craft beers, national micro-brews, and international specialties. They also brew a number of house specialties and are affiliated with the Grand Rapids Brewing Company just down the block (home of the Beer and Sausage Fest each weekday from 4-6 PM) .


The Oaked-aged Hatter from New Holland Brewing was an excellent IPA mellowed out in bourbon barrels. My preference was Hop Cat’s own Bourbon Barrel Fornicator.

IMG_0122The name alone makes it one of my all time favorites, and the flavors of a maple dopple-bock style beer were heightened by the beautiful oaky/alcohol notes of bourbon. Sweet, deep, and full. And all this beer wonder was complimented beautifully by the Crack Fries with Hot Cheese Sauce. Yes, Crack Fries…perfectly crispy, thin cut fries with a healthy seasoning of herbs and cracked black pepper.


That evening, a friend and I journeyed out to Brewery Vivant, a micro-brew operation in a converted funeral home – not nearly as creepy as it sounds. In fact, the location feels like a chapel dedicated to the craft of brewing in the Trappist tradition.  Packed wall to wall with dedicated patrons, we eased up to the bar on the far side of the hall, in the glow of the stain-glassed window, and ordered a sampler of the four darkest beers.

Here is the brewery’s description of each:

Solitude – Abbey Style Ale – 6.5% ABV

“A deep mahogany colored beer that is made in the tradition of the famous brewing monks of the Abbeys of Belgium. It is malt forward with hints of caramel, pear & raisin.”

Over The Line – Smokey Ale – 7.15% ABV

“This dark ale is brewed with Heidelberg smoked malt, South American chocolate, and a kiss of ancho chiles.”

Plowhorse – Imperial Stout – 9.5% ABV

“The famous Belgian heavy plow horse descends from the medieval war horses that carried armored nights into battle. This seems like a fitting name for one of the biggest beers we make, as the recipe pushes the limits of our mash tun. Each batch is so packed with dark roasted grains that they literally spill out of the top of the tank on brew day.”

Love Shadow – Imperial Stout – 10% ABV  (as described by Mitten Brew)

“Vivant’s delicious version of an Imperial Stout aged in charred oak bourbon barrels. This brew’s aroma is dense with coffee and chocolate. The sip starts tart for a stout and moves into bitter coffee, then a third sweeter phase similar to chocolate and ginger.”

The wood-aged Love Shadow was delicious, complex, and mysterious. And a perfect accompaniment to the finest sandwich I have enjoyed in sometime – a house smoked pastrami sliced thin and topped with bacon kraut, Love Shadow mustard, on a dark rye bread. Absolute smokey, beefy heaven. The side of fries was drizzled with truffle oil and would have been the best I had, but for the Crack Fries I’d had earlier.

Executive Chef Christopher Weimer is creating some of the best dishes in the Midwest to compliment their wonderful assortment of brews. The cheese selection often features area cheeses like Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Blue Paradise from WI or offerings from EverGreen Lane in MI. Maybe you just want a bar snack, try the Crock O’ Pickles, an assortment of house pickled vegetables. The seasonal appetizers have included house prepared charcuterie, smoked whitefish cakes, and Solitude cheddar sauerkraut. Past specialties have included Duroc pork with spaetzel gruyere gratin, beer braised kale, with a maple rhubarb reduction; a Knackwurst platter with white bean and bacon hash, with beer braised red cabbage; and a duck confit with roasted barley cakes, a drizzle of Michigan cherry gastrique, topped with a duck skin cracklin’. This is creative, well-prepared food dovetailing beautifully with the house brews.

The next day I walked from the hotel over to Founder’s Brewery Taproom, which was also filled wall to window with patrons, overflowing outside onto a chilly, snow-laden patio with heaters blazing. It also featured their own stained glass homage to brewing.

IMG_0140 I squeezed into the sole unoccupied chair on the far end of the bar next to a gentleman who is clearly a regular.  I ask what he would suggest and without hesitation he offered the Dirty Bastard as his favorite.  Bar keep – one Dirty Bastard, please!

Here is the brewery’s description:

Dirty Bastard – Scotch Style Ale – 8.5% ABV

“So good it’s almost wrong. Dark ruby in color and brewed with seven varieties of imported malts. Complex in finish, with hints of smoke and peat, paired with a malty richness and a right hook of hop power to give it the bad attitude that a beer named Dirty Bastard has to live up to. Ain’t for the wee lads.”

IMG_0139It is a lovely version of a scotch ale, incredibly drinkable with a fairly high alcohol content. As I sipped this beautiful brew, I enjoyed a Curmudgeon sandwich. Roasted turkey, red onion, Colby Jack cheese, baby spinach, Dirty Bastard sauerkraut, house-made horseradish sauce, all served on grilled Polish rye bread. And that is just one of 26 different sandwiches they offer. This one was exceptional, but the house-smoked pastrami from the night before retained the sandwich crown.

As I enjoyed my sandwich, I asked about the limited release – Backwoods Bastard.  The regular next to me slipped into almost reverential tones as he explained the limited availability and the dangerously drinkable 10.2% alcohol content.  I had by this time tried three different brews wood-aged to enhance the flavor. In the Hatter it subdued the IPA bitterness, the Fornicator fronted with bourbon brashness on the nose and in the first sip.  Love Shadow was lovely and the wood-aging more integral to the brew.  But here, now in this brew, oh my…

Here is the brewery description:

Backwoods Bastard – Scotch Style Ale – 10.2%

“Expect lovely, warm smells of single malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts, a bit of earthy spice, and a scintilla of dark fruit. It’s a kick-back sipper made to excite the palate.”

Ah, yes.  That is it – a scintilla of dark fruit. Like Michigan cherries macerated in a vanilla-bourbon syrup. So good, so smooth. Enticing you to have another, to explore further into this wonderful bounty of flavors and aromas. This, my friends, is good beer.

And this, my friends, is Great Lakes Cuisine. Grand Rapids has taken the tradition of beer and a sandwich and elevated it to another level of creativity and delicious exploration. We are adding each of these locations to our list of Restaurants and highly recommend each of them. I left Grand Rapids impressed, inspired, and already planning a return trip.


New Purveyors Added

We’re happy to announce that we have added three new sources to our Purveyors page, two processed meat sources and one for smoked fish.

In Port Washington, WI there is a small, white storefront tucked back off the main street, where you can find a variety of Great Lakes area fish that have been brined and smoked at Ewig Brothers Fish Company.  The company is descended from the fishing operations started by brothers Herman and August Ewig in 1882 in Milwaukee, WI. In 1894 they moved their business to Port Washington and operated a highly successful fishing venture until the late 1960’s, when a decline in the fishing industry forced the Ewig’s to sell their boats after four generations of Ewig’s had worked the lake as active fisherman. But they still source much of their fish in the Great Lakes region or a number of Canadian sources further north.  They offer smoked Canadian whitefish; the variety of fish that was the centerpiece of the once thriving Lake Michigan fishing industry.The smokehouses and retail market are across the street from the location of the original market.

Our two other additions are from Traverse City, MI, which claims the title of Cherry Capitol of the US and is home to National Cherry Festival, so it is no surprise that both vendors offer a combination of Michigan cherries with their signature products. My most recent adventure with Michigan cherries has been to soak them in a combination of sugar, vanilla, and George Stagg bourbon to create a unique addition to a Manhattan.  With a bit of diligent sourcing, I think I could create a “Michigan” – maybe Grand Traverse Distillery Rye as a base and then search out a fortified wine and some bitters from the area, with my cherries to finish it off.  Perhaps when I’m in Grand Rapids later this month I can do a bit of hunting and gathering, but I digress.

Traverse City is developing a bit of reputation as a “modern gastro-paradise”, so claims none other than Mario Batali in Bon Apetit, who likes to summer there with his family to get away from the bustle of his ever-growing culinary empire.  He actually posted a bit of write-up about Michigan in general, and Traverse City in particular. And when Mario talks, the culinary universe listens.  A nice article about Traverse City appeared in the Summer/Fall 2013 edition of Touring and Tasting magazine, where they mention dishes such as slow-cooked and pulled duck, smoked rabbit salad, whitefish roast in grape leaves and Northern walleye pike in roasted tomato cream sauce. Unfortunately, they fail to mention the restaurants or chefs that feature these dishes…more hunting and gathering for me, I guess.

The first Traverse City vendor we are adding to our Purveyor page is Deering’s Market, home of many varieties of jerky including venison, elk, and buffalo along with the more traditional beef.  Of course they offer both a beef and turkey version infused with the Michigan cherry flavor. The second vendor, Pleva’s Meats, doesn’t simply use the cherry juice, but actually adds ground ground cherries to their meat products including their signature burger and fresh sausage.  We have featured the Door County Cherry Landjaeger in these pages before, and the tart, yet rich, flavors of cherry are a natural pairing with meats. Worth noting, Pleva’s also offers a number of specialty sausages such as Blood Sausage and Head Cheese along with Pierogis filled with cabbage, or potato with cheese or mushroom – classic ethnic offerings. A combination of local ingredients, ethnic specialties, and a bit of innovation, tastes like a bit of Great Lakes Cuisine cooking up in Mario’s backyard.