Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tracina's Gourmet Specialties

 In these cold, dark winter months, there are few things more comforting than a good hearty meal at an old Italian place like Mario's or Roma CafĂ©. But unless you're Monica Conyers, eating out can get expensive. And since most of us don't have little Italian grandmothers in our kitchens rolling out fresh dough, Italian Night at home generally consists of breaking some Barilla into a pot of water and pouring on a jar of Prego. Not exactly delizioso.

Fortunately, Tracina's Gourmet Specialties has made it their mission to change all that. 

Started by a husband and wife using old family recipes, the Clinton Township-based company offers nine varieties of gnocchi and a marinara sauce at several area grocery stores. The gnocchi come filled with everything from plain ricotta to pumpkin to black truffles, and can go from freezer to plate in less than five minutes. You can tell by look and by taste that each gnocchi was hand made using really good ingredients. Tracina's uses no additives or preservatives and utilizes locally sourced, organic ingredients whenever possible.

You can sample some gnocchi for yourself at Tracina's booths at Eastern Market and the Royal Oak Farmers Market. To find retail or restaurant locations, visit tracinas.com 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Eat The Mitten Party

In our ongoing effort to support the struggling local economy, Jason and I thought it would be fun to organize an event centered around Michigan-made food and beverages. I did a little research and was able to pull off a huge spread without buying anything from outside the state. 

We started with the obvious choices like Better-Made chips, Kowalski sausages, and Faygo. And followed those up with the less obvious including a spread of Michigan cheeses, several of which were organic, Avalon Breads, Eden Organic and Germack nuts, dried Traverse City cherries and local apples. Farm raised chicken from the Royal Oak Farmer's Market was shredded with Hot Rod Bob's BBQ Sauce (Oxford) and served on buns from Miami Bakery (Livonia). McClures Pickles from Royal Oak and Garden Fresh Gourmet chips and salsa, which are based in Ferndale, rounded out the menu. 

Our 25 guests were asked to bring a Michigan wine, beer or spirit. And to my delight, no one showed up with that N/A wine from St. Julian. Some of the wines that they brought were surprisingly good. Sparking wines from L. Mawby, Pinot Gris from Chateau Fontaine, and Naughty Red from Chateau Chantal were some of my favorites from the night. There was a huge selection of local brews from Bell's, Short's, Founders, Arcadia Ales, Michigan Brewing Company, just to name a few. A couple guests even brought their home-brewed concoctions to share. And although I am not a vodka connoisseur, the offerings from True North and Valentine were both very good and artfully packaged in cool bottles.

So as our play list of Michigan-made music blared on in to the wee hours, the food and drinks and dancing eventually dwindled down. I think we were successful in our purpose, to introduce people to some terrific localitems that they may have been unfamiliar with. And by the way, McClures spicy pickle brine tasted great in the bloody mary's the next morning.

Friday, March 27, 2009

McClure's Pickles - Royal Oak

Bob McClure is an actor who travels the country doing Shakespeare. His brother Joe (shown at left) goes to grad school at Wayne State. Together, they run McClure’s Pickles, a rapidly growing Troy-based gourmet food company. The McClure brothers do not get much sleep these days.

As recently as three years ago, the only way to get a McClure’s pickle was to exchange gifts with a McClure. Using an old family recipe, Joe and Bob have been brining since they were kids and gave out jars to family and friends around the holidays. On a whim, the brothers decided to turn their pickle-making hobby into a business. Bob, who lives in Brooklyn, got a few jars placed in local markets. One of the first that sold was to a New York Times reporter who published a glowing review in the paper’s food section. Since then, the McClures have been busy trying to get their Spicy Spears and Garlic Dills to 
foodies across the country.

From Bob delivering cases of pickles around New York City in a rented hatchback to Joe working a stand at Eastern Market only a few hours after he’s been there to buy produce, McClure’s prides itself as being about as DIY as a business can get. With some help from Mom and Dad, Joe and Bob do all the buying, pickling, packaging, and distributing. Despite this lack of manpower, McClure’s pickles can be found in 11 states, with more coming every couple of months.

McClure’s pickles have a taste that can’t be matched by any big name brand. The jars come loaded with chunks of garlic and peppers that are delicious in their own right. The juice can be added to tomato juice and vodka to make a great bloody mary. Currently, the McClures offer robust Garlic Dills and red-hot Spicy Spears, both of which can also be bought as relish. Plans are in the works to introduce a beer-based mustard that will be made with local microbeers from wherever the mustard is sold. In Michigan, Atwater Block Brewery of Detroit and Black Lotus Brewing in Clawson will be the suppliers.

The McClures believe in supporting local farmers and suppliers and in creating foods that use natural ingredients. It’s a belief that translates into some great products. To find out how to get some McClure’s or learn more about them, go to mcclurespickles.com. Or better yet, visit Eastern Market and talk to Joe yourself. For more information you can visit www.mcclurespickles.com

Maple Creek Farm, Yale

Last spring, inspired by a desire to know better where my produce was coming from, I joined Maple Creek Farm CSA. Danny and Michelle Lutz operate Maple Creek Farm in Yale (in the thumb) and offer a Consumer Supported Agriculture program where members buy a share of the crops for the growing season. I paid $700 for 20 weeks of top quality certified organic produce. The copy paper sized box was delivered every Tuesday to a fellow member’s home a couple of miles away. I just had to swing by and pick up the box between 9am and 9pm on the day it was delivered. (Although on a hot summer day produce looks better before wilting in a box for 12 hours). Each week, we got lots of great food as well as a much better understanding of the trials of a Michigan farm. Super sweet strawberries, which were in the boxes all spring long, were noticeably more soggy if they had to be picked after a heavy rain. Leafy greens apparently grow well in Michigan because we had more types of lettuce and kale every week than a family of 4 could hope to eat. I ended up giving up some of the delicious lettuce to friends and family because I couldn’t stand to see it go to waste.

Throughout the rest of the spring and summer, we enjoyed some of the best cabbage, green beans, celery, peppers, radishes, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini I have ever tasted. Bad weather towards the end of the fall season left members with light shares the last few weeks. Danny and Michelle were very apologetic, but weather, like so much in these uncertain times, is out of our hands. Maple Creek Farm has a stand during the growing season at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. When I stopped in a couple of times last fall, I was told that as a CSA member, I could take whatever I wanted at no additional charge because of the small shares at the end of October.Very cool of them.

It was a great experience to eat what is truly local and in season. Fresh fruits and vegetables have tons more flavor when eaten the day after being picked. And to know that one family planted the seeds and picked the product with no chemicals or pesticides along the way made the food taste that much more satisfying. For more information you can visit their website at www.maplecreekfarm.com