In common English, an artichoke is a big thistle plant that is native to the Mediterranean. The artichoke grows wild in the south of Europe and is cultivated in the United States, primarily in California. The leaves proceed from the base of the stem and are long and somewhat spiny. Most often, large Artichokes are cooked (upside down) in a mildly acidified water (with lemon juice) until tender (when the bottom most leaves pull away easily from the choke. The artichokes are then removed from the water and either eaten hot or chilled. The leaves are removed and arranged on a platter and are then dressed with a flavorful dressing (like Italian, Caesar or a Lemony Style Dressing). Smaller Artichokes have leaves too small to extract much “pulp” off when eating and therefore the leaves are eaten whole if small and tender. Both sizes of Artichokes can be stuffed and Baby Artichokes can be grilled very successfully.
Bend back outer petals of each artichoke until they snap off easily near base. Edible portion of petals should remain on artichoke bottom. Continue to snap off and discard thick petals until central core of pale green petals is reached. Trim brown end of stem and cut off top 2-inches of artichokes; discard. Pare outer dark green surface layer from artichoke bottoms. Cut out center petals and fuzzy centers. Slice artichoke bottoms about ¼ inch thick. Toss with lemon juice to prevent discoloration; set aside.
Saute onions in olive oil 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. Spoon evenly into 2-quart oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle with Italian herb seasoning.
Arrange tomato slices, artichoke slices and cheese slices on onions, over-lapping slightly in center of dish.
Cover dish with lid or foil. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes.
As we bid farewell to our summer season, we must also come to grips with the fact that some of our favorite summer fruits and vegetables will soon reach their end. By now, you will have noticed that those beautiful cherry displays that used to welcome you as you walked into our stores are no more. They have been replaced by new-crop Washington Bartlett pears, and very soon, mountains of Michigan Apples and Michigan fresh apple cider will greet you and do their best to welcome you into our stores. We are also in our final weeks of fresh nectarines and peaches, so if these are some of your favorites, don’t hesitate. They can be gone at a moment’s notice. We should, however, maintain a steady supply of Michigan vegetables through the month of September and maybe even into October. Michigan corn, tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, Swiss chard, beets, parsley, and cabbage should be readily available during this time.
New Season Equals New Opportunity
Although it’s almost time to say goodbye to some of our favorite seasonal fruits, it is also time to welcome in new fruits that are sure to excite all of us and help us fill the void left by our departing favorites. I can think of no more anticipated or demanded fall fruit than the now famous Honeycrisp apple. The Honeycrisp apple has taken the industry by storm and is still one of the most in-demand fruits of the year. Our first arrivals are usually in the second week of September and come from Washington state first; later they come from Michigan.
With the entire Michigan apple crop almost totally wiped out last year, we should have a great crop this year. Typically, apple trees will overproduce following years with no fruit production. So even though demand is extremely high for Honeycrisp, we are hearing that costs should be slightly reduced this year. As we travel into my favorite Michigan season, stay on the lookout for the changes we are making here at Nino’s. And be sure to take advantage of all of our seasonal opportunities.
Here in Michigan, a state known for its apples, pears don’t always get the attention they deserve. Then again, with only a little over a thousand acres of pear trees planted in our state, it’s somewhat understandable. This is especially true when you consider that there are approximately 48 thousand acres of apple trees here.
In spite of that, and of the fact that Michigan’s apple harvest has dropped over 40 percent since the early 80s, Michigan is STILL the 5th largest grower of pears in the U.S., with a little over 90 percent of growers producing either Bartlett or Bosc pears.
Our entire country’s production of pears is about 750 thousand tons, which sounds like a lot until you compare our harvest with that of the #1 producer, China. Its production is more than 20 times greater at 15 million tons.
Unlike apples, which make delicious pies and sauce, most pears end up being consumed either fresh, right out of the hand, canned, or as pear juice.
Pear Varieties and Uses
Besides the aforementioned Bartlett and Bosc pears, and depending on the season, you’re likely to find green and red d’ Anjou, Comice, Forelle and Seckel pears at Nino’s, and they’re all delicious!
D’ Anjou pears, both green and red, have much the same flavor, and both are delicious eaten right out of the hand when ripe and soft. However, I think I enjoy them even more when they’re still a bit crisp and then poached or baked in a wine syrup. The same could be said for Bosc pears.
The juicy and aromatic Bartlett pears, both yellow and red, are probably THE most popular pears, and both hold their shapes well when cooked. But this is a pear I most enjoy in salads, especially the red Bartlett. Its bright-red skin adds visual interest.
Bosc pears (generally speaking) are not quite as sweet as d’ Anjou or Bartett pears, but they make up for it with a delicious, almost spicy flavor that holds up well when baked or poached or used in salads.
The Comice pear, being a bit larger (and rounder) than most pears, is a good choice for presentation in a fruit bowl, as an accompaniment (sliced) on a diced-cheese board, or diced and served with a cheese fondue.
The Forelle and Seckel pears are both petite in size. However, what they lack in size, they MORE than make up for in sweetness and flavor. Because of their small size, I like to use these pears in dessert presentations where the pear is just part of the dish, leaving me the opportunity to add components to the plate without burdening anyone to eat a standard-sized pear. Both of these small pears are excellent choices for poaching or pickling whole. In addition, there’s an interesting (and delicious) recipe for each of these cuties on our website.
Speaking of desserts, one of my very favorite recipes for pears is a Pear Crisp, a crushed Ginger Snap Streusel that has a special sweet-spiciness and goes particularly well with any pear you choose.
With a crisp, there is no bottom crust, making this recipe easy to prepare.
Fresh Pear Crisp with Ginger Snap Cookie Crust
1 Cup Ginger Snap Cookies, crushed or chopped
1/2 Cup Rolled Oats (*not quick oats)
1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
3/4 Stick Melted Butter
6 Cups Pears, peeled, cored (halved and sliced ¼” or diced into ¾” pieces)
¼ Cup Granulated Sugar
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
2 TBSP Cornstarch
¼ Stick Melted Butter
½ tsp Cinnamon
Grease, or spray with vegetable spray, a small, ovenproof baking dish (approximately 8“ x 8”).
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the ginger snap cookies with the rolled oats, brown sugar and ¾ cup of melted butter. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix together the pears, granulated sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, ¼ cup melted butter, salt and cinnamon, and pour that mixture into your baking dish.
Top evenly with the ginger snap cookie and oat mixture, and bake in a 350 F oven approximately 45 minutes or until the filling is bubbly.
Allow the crisp to cool until warm, and serve with the BEST vanilla ice cream you can find!
The summer months are among the most enjoyable times of the year for me to buy produce. This is when I get the chance to deal with all of our local farmers. Most of you have seen or been at the Eastern Market on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but to visit it at 3:00 a.m. during the work week is a different experience altogether. As I walk from shed to shed, selecting and negotiating produce for our stores, I enjoy the many casual conversations I’m able to have with our partners, the local farmers.
As the summer wind blows in, so do our locally grown fruits and vegetables. My usual first stop each morning is with Rob Ruhlig of Ruhlig Farms, which is located in Carlton, Michigan. Ruhlig Farms grows a wide variety of vegetables, such as corn, peck tomatoes, cabbage, pickles, zucchini, yellow squash, greens, broccoli, pumpkins, winter squashes and peppers. Ruhlig Farms is also a large grower of annual flowers.
My second stop is with Ron & Tim Campbell of Campbell Farms. They provide us with fresh bunches of radishes, cilantro, parsley, carrots and leeks.
Our next stop is with Everett Leitz of Leitz Farms, which is the grower of the famous None Better label. Leitz Farms is, without question, the most perfect and precise grower at the market. You would be hard pressed to ever find a tomato or cucumber that is not picked and ripened to perfection there. In the months of late July through early October, all of the grape tomatoes, vine-ripe tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, and honey rock melons you find in our stores are a direct result of the hard work done at Leitz Farms.
Next up on the Eastern Market tour is Tom Wolak of Wolak Farms, which is located in Armada. Tom provides us with all that sweet corn most of you can’t wait to indulge in. Tom’s corn is usually the sweetest on the market but typically the last to be ready (2nd week of August). Tom also provides the best green beans, which he grows almost exclusively for Nino’s.
Jim Vansteenkiste of Vansteenkiste Farms is easily my most pleasant visit each morning. Jim is always upbeat and just a joy to do business with–not to mention one heck of a grower. Jim usually provides us with Swiss chard, bunch beets, kale, greens, bok choy, and specialty peppers.
Our last stop each morning is with Dave Rudich of Rudich Farms. Dave is another excellent grower and is usually one of the first Michigan growers to have corn ready. Dave also grows some of the best green peppers in Michigan.
My relationship with all of our farmers goes back a long time, and nothing brings me more joy than supporting our local growers. Maybe one day they will figure out how to grow all year round.
Some of my BEST Michigan sweet corn memories were made in the summer of 1998, with the opening of Latitude Restaurant in the Marina District of Bay Harbor, Michigan just west of Petoskey.
I took up residence in the area for a full summer season. During this time, I did the following:
Oversaw the finishing of the construction
Oversaw the hiring of our first chef and kitchen crew
Remained until the end of the summer tourist season
There’s just something about being in the midst of a summer resort area yet in a rural farming community serving the local restaurants and “fudgies” who maintain residence until mid-fall.
As Corporate Chef of the Novi-based Epoch Restaurant Group, one of my roles was to support my chefs by helping in ANY capacity necessary to allow them the opportunity to stay in their kitchen and provide hands-on direction and supervision.
Sometimes, that meant filling in as pastry chef or line cook. It sometimes even meant washing dishes. I did whatever it took to keep the wheels on the tracks and the boat afloat.
One of my favorite self-appointed chores was to head out just east of Petoskey on Mitchell Street to Bill’s Farm Market. It was in the rolling hills in the middle of what seemed like nowhere–until you got there and saw those creamy, white kernels of corn. They were exposed by each husker as he or she gathered around Bill’s tractor wagons, stripping corn to fill the quota for that evening’s dinner.
It was then that you knew it was somewhere you HAD to be if you wanted the BEST sweet corn in Northern Michigan.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wade through the crowds of huskers; they always had my order of six full paper shopping bags waiting for me. And after picking up some heirloom tomatoes; banana peppers; bunches of fresh, sweet basil; and more, I headed back to the restaurant with thoughts of sweet corn on my mind.
Since then, each time I bite into the cob of late-summer Michigan sweet corn, I think about the summer of ‘98 and some of my favorite sweet corn recipes. I made them that summer and still enjoy them today.
Here are two I think you will enjoy:
Sweet Corn Stuffed Pork Chops
4 Pork Chops, Thick Cut (1” to 2”)
2 TBSP Butter, Salted
½ Cup Sweet Onion, Chopped
¼ Cup Green Bell Pepper, Chopped
¼ Cup Red Bell Pepper, Chopped
1 ½ Cups Sweet Corn Kernels
1 ½ Cups Fresh Bread Crumbs
1 TBSP Fresh Sage Leaves, Minced
½ tsp Fresh Thyme Leaves, Minced
½ tsp Black Pepper, Ground
2 tsp Sea Salt (or kosher salt)
2 TBSP Vegetable Oil
With a sharp knife, cut a horizontal slit in the side of each chop, forming a pocket for stuffing.
Take ½ cup of the sweet corn, and puree or mash finely. Set aside.
Heat butter in a medium-high, non-stick skillet, and sauté the onion, bell peppers and the remaining 1 cup of sweet corn until tender (3 to 5 minutes).
Place sautéed mixture in a mixing bowl, and stir in bread crumbs, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Do not overmix.
Generously stuff each pork chop with the stuffing mixture.
Sauté each stuffed chop on both sides over medium-high heat until golden brown. Place on a baking sheet and finish cooking in a 350 F oven until medium well (150 F, about 20 minutes).
Sweet Corn & Bacon Pie
1 – 9” Pie Shell
½ LB Nino’s Maple Bacon, Cut in ½” Pieces
1 Lg. Sweet Onion, Diced ½”
2 Stalks Green Onion, Chopped
¾ Cup Red Bell Pepper, Diced ¼”
3 Cups Sweet Corn Kernels (about 3 ears)
1 ½ Cups Half and Half
3 Extra-Large Eggs
1 tsp Fresh Thyme
1 ½ Cups Monterey Jack Cheese, Shredded
To Taste Salt & Pepper
In a 375 F oven, par-bake the pie shell for approximately 10 minutes or until light blond (do not brown). Remove from the oven and cool.
Cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Then pour off all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of drippings.
Add onion and pepper to skillet. Sauté until almost tender–about 8 minutes. Add only 2 cups of the corn, and continue to sauté about 3 minutes longer. Then remove the entire mixture from the heat to cool until warm.
Puree the remaining 1 cup of corn. Then whisk together the pureed corn, half and half, and the eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
In the pie shell, spread the sautéed onion, peppers and corn mixture over the bottom surface, and then sprinkle the bacon and cheese evenly over that mixture.
Gently pour the egg mixture into the pie shell, and bake in a 375 F oven approximately 45 to 60 minutes or until the filling is firm and golden brown.
Remove from the oven, let rest 20 to 30 minutes and serve warm.
Do you have a favorite sweet corn recipe? Share with me in the comments below!
Working at Nino’s is like working with family. And I suppose if you consider how many hours in your day, in your life, that you spend on the job, it’s a blessing that you can say it’s like spending time with family. And that you’ve found a home.
I suppose, then, that my extended family includes all of our local growers and every food product on our shelves that hails from our great state of Michigan.
For all of us fortunate enough to be able to point to our hand to tell anyone where we live, it’s been our “birthright” to be surrounded by so many great food companies making their own contributions to our dinner tables.
Many names are so familiar that we sometimes forget that they’re even Michigan-based companies. Others have become almost national and even internationally iconic. Names on this list include Kellogg’s; Jiffy Mixes; American Spoon Foods; Big Chief and Pioneer Sugar; Gerber Baby Foods (now a subsidiary of Nestles but still located in Fremont, Michigan); and course, in their own food realm, Domino’s, Little Caesars and Big Boy Restaurants.
A little closer to home, another group of large food companies, such as Bettermade Potato Chips; Faygo Soda; Safie’s Pickles; Garden Fresh Salsa/Mucky Duck Mustard; and Sanders and Morley Chocolates, calls Southeast Michigan its home.
Want a great sandwich? You won’t have to look far for your ingredients. Local meat processors like Kowalski, Dearborn Sausage, Rinaldi’s Sausage, Koegel’s, Alexander Hornung and Winter’s can all provide fabulous lunch meats. Add some Pinconning’s cheese (which is legendary), and look no further than our local bakeries like Zingerman’s, Brown’s Buns, Cantoro’s, Russo’s, Tringali’s, Sweetheart, Knickerbocker, Pasquale’s or even Flat Out Wraps for your bread…ALL Michigan companies.
For dessert, if it isn’t one of Nino’s own sweet confections, you have your choice of local sweets from Awrey’s, Achatz, Just Baked, Johnny B’s, and Elwin’s. Then, top it off with one of our local ice creams from Guernsey, Hudsonville, Ashby’s or Ray’s.
Wash it down with a Towne Club Soda, a locally brewed beer, or even a wholesome glass of milk from Calder’s dairy, and you have a truly Michigan meal.
In fact, we have over 2,000 products at Nino’s from local companies. From Billy Bones BBQ Rubs and Hot Rod Bob’s Dressings to Spillson’s Puddings and The Original Zip Sauce–more potato chips, more condiments, and local produce, the list goes on and on…
Being a home-grown, family-owned, Michigan-based company, Nino’s is proud of our long-standing relationship with local growers and all of our Michigan-based food companies.
The next time you stop into Nino’s, spend a moment to notice all of the wonderful, Michigan-made products we have on our shelves.
It’s like spending time with family!
What are your favorite Michigan made foods? Share with me in the comments below!
Every year, I look forward to the 1st crops, because for my money, nothing beats our locally grown “spears,” especially when they’re “shown off” with a great recipe. A recipe that doesn’t mask their flavor or hide them amongst a half dozen other ingredients. A recipe that lets you enjoy all of asparagus’ sweet flavor and tasty goodness.
And that recipe would be for a sauce: Hollandaise.
Hollandaise sauce is one of 5 “Grand Sauces” that all chefs and devoted cooks learn to make early on. It’s also one that non-professionals are told is just too difficult to attempt.
Truth be known, if someone told you how easy it is to make (and I’ll give you a couple of tips to help you out), you’d probably eat out less often. And chefs get nervous when their dining rooms aren’t full.
The mystique of Hollandaise continues.
So to help you enjoy your new crop of Michigan asparagus, I’m going expose the “Hollandaise Myth” and give you simple tips for these “Spears with NO Peers.”
Hollandaise is made from only 5 ingredients, but it’s the 2 main ingredients (egg yolks and butter) that can give you real headaches if you don’t to pay attention to what you’re doing.
Here’s how you avoid the headaches, and to show you, we’ll make an average-sized recipe of hollandaise.
Before you begin to cook your egg yolks, in a microwave on the defrost setting, melt 1 ½ sticks of butter until the fat separates, and then skim off that clarified butter and reserve.
Second, squeeze the juice from a half lemon and reserve.
Now, you’re ready to start.
Choosing the right bowl and saucepan to make your hollandaise is super important. You want about a small-to-medium-sized saucepan and a mixing bowl that nests within the saucepan, leaving at least an inch of space from the bottom and an inch or so lip at the top. This way, you can easily lift the bowl in and out of the pan as you cook your yolks.
Next, put only a half inch of water in your saucepan and bring it to a simmer. You should have a space between the bottom of your mixing bowl and the water, and that will mean your egg mixture will be cooking gently over the steam and not directly on the water.
Place 2 egg yolks in your mixing bowl, and for each yolk, a half egg shell of water–in this case 2 half egg shells.
This step will help you to cook your egg yolks into a “pudding.”
Place the bowl over the simmering water, and using a whisk, beat the egg yolk mixture on and off the steam heat (about 15 seconds each round). This method will take a bit longer to turn this raw mixture into a thickened egg pudding, but it will also prevent your mixture from cooking too fast and turning into scrambled eggs.
When the egg mixture is sufficiently cooked, the whisk will create tracks in the mixture. This will let you know it’s time for step 2.
Remove the water from the saucepan and lay a damp kitchen towel or paper towel over its mouth. Replace your bowl and nest it in snugly. This neat trick will allow you to do the next step more easily.
This step gets everyone in trouble now, but if you just take your time, there’s NO reason you should ever have a problem.
You’re going to make an emulsion here by SLOWLY–and the key word is SLOWLY–adding the clarified butter to the cooked egg “pudding.” That means whisking somewhat briskly while adding the clarified butter in very small amounts, especially at first.
Start by drizzling in less than a tablespoon; don’t dump it in all at once. Drizzle it in a thin stream.
Once that is incorporated, add another, the same way.
After the 3rd tablespoon, you’ll notice the mixture is getting thicker. Now is when you begin to whisk in a bit of your squeezed lemon juice–about a teaspoon.
Continue alternating butter and lemon juice until they’re both used up.
The hard part is over, now all you have to do is add a few drops of Tabasco® sauce and salt to taste.
Now, if you like Bearnaise sauce, which is a derivative of Hollandaise, omit the Tabasco, and simply add the following, which needs to be simmered slowly over medium heat until it is nearly a paste.
2 TBSP Dried Tarragon Leaves
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Shallots
¼ Cup Cider or Tarragon Vinegar
¼ Cup White Wine (nothing too sweet)
¼ tsp Cracked Black Pepper
Nothing beats Hollandaise sauce over fresh Michigan asparagus!