Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan

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It’s no secret that I love visiting the Traverse City area. From May-October this area of northern Michigan becomes an irresistible attraction with wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, resorts, golf courses, farmer’s markets, apple orchards, creameries, stables, marinas, antique shops, boutiques, lighthouses, and even a casino.

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There is literally something here for everyone, but culinary travelers, in particular, will find an endless string of tasting experiences and innovative cuisine. Having lived in the Chicago area for almost 20 years it’s easy to take for granted what visitors from other states find so breathtaking; the oceanic scale of Lake Michigan, to which the lakeshore up here with miles of scenic shoreline and lighthouses lend a salty Atlantic feel that’s still only a few hour’s drive outside of Chicago.

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I try to make it up here at least twice each year, and always seek to experience a different aspect of what this area has to offer; this Summer I was invited to visit the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa to try out the amenities and to dine at Traverse City’s highest fine-dining restaurant to sample the new menu at Aerie.

Our comfortable room was on the 11th floor of the hotel tower with sweeping views overlooking the 900-acre resort and the spectacular Grand Traverse bay. The wonderful hotel staff demonstrates impressive attention to detail; from evening turn-down service with chocolates to a late-night emergency corkscrew delivery at a moment’s notice, they swoop in effortlessly to save the day and never fail to make you feel welcome.

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In addition to the world-class golf course with its clubhouse and pro shop, for year-round guests, the resort has extensive indoor and outdoor fitness facilities including tennis courts, a spa with massage and facial services, two indoor swimming pools, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool for lounging complete with a cocktail bar. 

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Inside you will find a coffee shop with fresh baked goods straight out of the Aerie kitchen, a breakfast cafe with plated as well as buffet options, Dylan’s Candy Bar for little ones (and those of us with a sweet tooth!), a sports bar, outdoor gear and clothing boutiques, gift shops, and of course Aerie, the resort’s crowning jewel which I will be sharing with you in the next write-up. GrandTraverseResortandSpa7_acookscanvas-copyright2012-2017_85

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Kir Impérial Cocktail

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Bastille Day is France’s national holiday commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. The French refer to it as la Fête Nationale, a national celebration of the event, which marked the turning point in the French Revolution. At celebrations held throughout France, revelers will raise a glass to toast the unity of the French people; many of those glasses bearing a variation of the Kir cocktail.

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The original Kir dating back to the late 1800’s consists of white Burgundy wine flavored with crème de cassis, and was referred to simply as a blanc-cassis. In the years immediately following WWII, it was a favorite of Félix Kir, a parish priest who joined the resistance during the war, and helped 5,000 prisoners escape a prison camp at Longvic. After the war, he was made mayor of Dijon, often serving this cocktail to visiting dignitaries and delegations.

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Over the years the recipe has been modified by substituting the white wine with Champagne, creating the Kir Royale; swapping out the cassis liquor in favor of Chambord makes a Kir Impérial. This most decadent iteration improves on the original by adding the tart, bright, floral qualities of raspberries to offset the overall sweetness of the drink.

I decided to pair my Kir Impérial with a smoked salmon, cream cheese, tart pickled red onions, and fresh chives.

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Kir Impérial
1 serving

1 oz. Chambord
3 oz. Champagne (I prefer Piper-Heidsieck Brut)

Pour Chambord into a nicely chilled glass and top with Champagne. Et voila! Santé!

 

Smoked salmon with cream cheese, pickled red onions, and chives
4 servings

Ingredients
4 slices of smoked salmon (sliced in thirds), I prefer Echo Falls
12 Divina toast points, imported from France (located in your cheese department)
Cream cheese
Pickled red onions, minced (see recipe here)
Fresh chives
Freshly cracked black pepper

Place toasts on a platter. Take four slices of the smoked salmon and slice them into thirds. Place a dollop of cream cheese or crème frâiche onto the toast and fold a slice of the salmon on top. Thinly mince a few slices of pickled red onions and place them on top along with the freshly chopped chives.

Serve immediately alongside a Kir Impérial!

Fresh figs with Cambozola and prosciutto

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Fresh figs are only available for a short time so when I saw them in the supermarket the other day, I quickly sorted through them, choosing the ripest unblemished figs I could find, then turned to Jason and said: “we need cheese and prosciutto!”

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I spent a few minutes at the cheese case gently squeezing and sniffing wedges of this and that, but mainly focusing on rich, triple-cream bries and the ripe, blue-veined cheeses I knew would be salty and assertive enough to balance out honey-sweetened figs and the salty richness of prosciutto. At last, I selected a tender, generous wedge of Bavarian cambozola, then with a bundle of freshly-sliced prosciutto in hand I made my way home to my kitchen.

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To prep the figs I remove the stems, and slice an “X” about halfway down through, then opened them gently to reveal the vibrant red-hued flesh. I carefully packed each one with crumbled cheese, a floret of folded prosciutto, a drizzle of raw honey, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.


Fresh figs with Cambozola and prosciutto

Ingredients
6 fresh figs
3 slices of prosciutto (sliced in half)
Crumbled blue-veined cheese
Drizzle of honey
Fresh thyme

Grilled Ribeye Steak with Charred Scallion Citrus Compound Butter

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I first learned about compound butter while living in Germany. Compound butter is simply butter to which herbs, spices, etc. are added, rolled into a log shape, and chilled until needed to top fresh bread, baked potatoes, steaks, salmon, etc. While prepared compound butters are not so easy to find in American supermarkets, Europeans can easily find them one can find them in most grocery stores, right alongside regular butter.

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Our favorite flavors included paprika-kräuter (red pepper & herb), frühlings kräuter (spring herb) and knoblauch (garlic). They come in small cubes ready to use, but I soon started experimenting with making my own compound butters, to create flavor combinations the store brands didn’t offer. One of my favorite recipes included charred scallions with lemon zest; these two flavors marry nicely and are perfect on a grilled ribeye.

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Grilling steaks can be intimidating; steaks aren’t cheap and cooking over open flames can seem like an uncontrolled process, but if you take some time to familiarize yourself with the proper temperatures and textures to look for, it will quickly become second nature. There are few things as satisfying as serving up a perfectly grilled slab of steak, and your friends and family will certainly remember the effort.

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I look for a 10-16oz. ribeyes, about 3/4” thick, then season generously on both sides and let it come up to room temperature while the grill heats up, sear for 5 minutes on both sides for medium-rare, 7 minutes for medium-well, and tent with tin foil to let the juices reabsorb before serving.

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Grilled Ribeye with Charred Scallion Citrus Compound Butter
Yields: two servings

Grilled Steak
2 ribeye steaks (~3/4-1lb. each)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Charred Scallion Citrus Compound Butter
2 large bunches of scallions
1 stick of butter (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 lemon juice + zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Instructions
Prepare the compound butter a day in advance. Wash scallions and dry with paper towels. Place scallions on a platter and drizzle with olive, tossing to coat. Add salt and pepper and set aside. Grill scallions for 4 minutes on each side or until charred. Set aside.

Cream the butter and set aside. Zest lemon, making sure to only zest the bright yellow of the outside. Cut the lemon in half and juice 2 TBSP of the juice and add it along with the zest to the butter. Thinly slice the charred scallions and add to the citrus butter mixture. Blend together and add the butter to plastic wrap and roll into a log. Refrigerate for 6 hrs or overnight.

Pat the steaks dry and season well on both sides with sea salt and cracked black pepper, allow to rest at room temperature while grill preheats to 450’F. Grill for 5 minutes each side, tent with foil and rest for 10 minutes. Just before serving, top each steak with a coin of compound butter.

Lagunitas Brewery and Taproom in Chicago, Illinois

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The Lagunitas name is legendary among beer aficionados, and since 2014 the Chicago brewery and taproom have been thrilling locals and tourists alike with world-class beers made right here in the city, served up alongside some of the most spectacular pub grub in Chicago. The brewery is located on the near west side in a warehouse district among film studios in North Lawndale.

Entering the parking lot a large mural informs me that I have indeed arrived at the Lagunitas Brewing Company, 2607 W 17th Street, Chicago ILL, USA – Earth, Sol, Milky Way, Local Group, Virgo Super Cluster, Space. Upon entering I am whisked away from my urban surroundings through a Wonka-esque corridor lit by a celestial mural and a dancing laser light that takes me on a journey beyond pure imagination to a land of malted barley and smiles by the barrel. At the end of the corridor a mosaic of a pinup girl holding a mug of beer directs me up a flight of stairs to a hall that lead me past banks of windows overlooking a staging area where beach umbrellas, an arcade racing game, an array of sofas and chairs stand ready to accommodate tour groups as they await their turn to tour the brewery, then sweeping views of the brewery floor.

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The taproom itself features a large wraparound bar with comfy stools and rows of Oktoberfest-style picnic tables. I took a seat at the bar and in a minute or two Chef Bob Chamberlain came in to greet me. After walking me through the specials menu he went back to the kitchen and emerged a few minutes later with the first of a series of dishes, each paired wonderfully with fantastic beers.

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Beet Salad Red and yellow beets, arugula, Israeli couscous, toasted almonds, manchego cheese, red onions & Born Again Yesterday mango vinaigrette, paired with Born Again Yesterday pale ale.

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Salumi platter with spent grain crackers, a cheese washed in whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout, Wisconsin Gran Canaria’s sheep-goat-cow’s milk cheese, Manchego, housemade jerky, Serrano ham, beet jam with salumi from West Loop Salumi, paired with 12th of Never ale.

Beer Mussels PEI Mussels steamed with Lagunitas Sucks, with celery, carrots and blue cheese in a buffalo sauce, paired with Lagunitas Sucks ale.

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Bacon Wrapped Scallops Pan-fried jumbo scallops served with purple mashed potatoes, seaweed salad and mango habanero jam, paired with Lagunitas IPA.
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Dark Stout Brownie made with spent grains, roasted malt, and vanilla bean ice cream and caramel, paired with Lagunitas dark stout.
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Having concluded my tour I can admit, I had half expected to see a massive factory coldly cranking out product but was instead greeted by a friendly team of passionate people cheerfully crafting excellent beers and entertaining guests with great food in a fun, inviting atmosphere. Lagunitas Chicago Brewery and Taproom is a great place to spend an evening and well worth the short trip from downtown.

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How to Assemble an Easy French Cheese Board

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Who doesn’t love cheese? I’ve had great cheeses from all over, but my favorites tend to be French. I love creamy camembert, nutty salty hard aged Mimolette, and the deep savory earthiness of blue veined brie. For us there was a bit of a learning curve, an acquiring of taste to really enjoy strongly flavored ripe French cheeses.

The first time we went to Paris, it was to celebrate our 11th anniversary. We rented a tiny apartment in St. Germain that we later discovered was in a building the guide books noted as “the narrowest house in Paris”; though it was merely 1 meter wide at the entrance, thankfully it got wider toward the back, because it was shaped like a wedge of cheese! Once we had unpacked, our first trip was to the nearest supermarket to stock up on espresso, snacks, and wine for later in the evening.

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As soon as we entered the store we were greeted by the aroma of freshly baked baguettes, but we knew immediately when we were approaching the cheese department. Though many French cheeses are kept at room temperature, even when wrapped in cellophane and in a chiller case, the combined aromas of all that ripe cheese can be overpowering. Within a few minutes we had filled two baskets with everything that caught our eye, several baguettes, a couple of mild and ripe cheeses, and wonderfully salty French butter. Although we had a long list of restaurants to try, that first night we dined solely on bread, cheese, butter, and wine.

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Fast forward a couple of months, we had experimented with a variety of cheeses and discovered what we liked, and looked forward to the smelly cheeses as much as the milder ones we liked in the beginning. Luckily we didn’t have to drive the whole 6 hours to Paris every time we needed cheese; the drive from our house in Germany to the French border was only a bit more than an hour long, and there was a supermarket not far from the crossing. Once we discovered how easily we could make the trip, we visited often to stock up on cheeses and butter.

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Sometimes we like to re-live that first evening in Paris with an array of French cheeses and a bottle of wine. When my friends at Revol asked if I’d like to work with their new cake stand and glass dome, I knew in an instant what I wanted to prepare, a lovely French cheese tasting. In the years since returning to Chicago, I have spent a lot of time perusing cheese departments, but have always struggled to pull together all of my favorites in a single trip.

Lately I have started buying my cheese through online retailers who ship their products directly from France as well as other European countries. Fromages.com is a company in France that will ship to the USA and sell a wonderful variety of cheeses we enjoyed while living abroad. Sensibus.com is a specialty delicacy online food store that ships products from various European countries. Between the two sites, we can experience a little taste of Europe without leaving our home. I hope you give them a try, I’m sure you will enjoy them as much as we have.

Bon Appetit’!

French Cheese Board
A good selection includes 2 hard cheeses, 3 soft mild cheeses, and 2 blue cheeses

Fresh baguettes, sliced
French sea salted butter (Beurre d’Isigny Butter – Doux (Unsalted))
Selection of crackers (pictured: LesleyStowe – Fig and Olive Raincoast Crisp)
Apricot and/or fig preserves (pictured: Bonne Maman Fig Preserves)
Champagne, Rose or even a nice light-bodied red wine will do. (pictured: 2016 French Blue Bordeaux Rosé)

My cheese recommendations
Mimolette
Comte
Petit Basque
Brilliant Savarin
Cambozola Grand Noir
Beurre d’Isigny Butter – Doux

Dinnerware pictured: 
OAK CAKE STAND Ø13 LOW
LARGE GLASS CLOCHE, DIAMETER 27 CM
SUCCESSION DESSERT PLATE – WHITE
OVAL SERVEWARE EQUINOXE BLACK

Herradura Tequilas

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I rarely pass up an offer to test premium spirits, and when asked if I’d like to try Herradura Tequilas I jumped at the chance. Founded in 1870, Casa Herradura is the world’s only remaining tequila producing hacienda, still harvesting agave by hand and estate bottling each batch using the same traditional methods they began with almost 150 years ago.

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I visited the website to read through the history of the brand and the intricate production process as I waited for the package to arrive. Most interesting to me is the open fermentation process, which occurs without interference relying on naturally produced wild yeasts that are unique to the valley, lending subtle variation, complex character, and an incredibly smooth taste that industrialized fermentation can’t match.

Herradura Blanco
Aged 45 days, this white tequila is great for mixing but with a touch of sweet agave, warm vanilla, and surprisingly smooth woody notes, its a shame not to sip is neat. Surprisingly smooth sipping, it has a clean finish with a hint of oak.

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Herradura Blanco with pineapple, red jalapeño and marash pepper
Makes two cocktails

4 oz Herradura Blanco tequila
1/2 cup lime juice (5-6 small limes)
1/2 cup pineapple juice plus three slices of pineapple
1 tsp agave syrup
1 red jalapeño thinly sliced

Slice the red jalapeño and set aside. In a large mixing glass, muddle two slices of pineapple, add lime juice, pineapple juice, agave syrup and stir. Wet rim of each glass with pineapple juice and dip into pepper flakes. I chose marash red pepper flakes (Turkish crushed peppers) for its depth of flavor and mild heat. Pour the cocktail into each glass and enjoy!

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Herradura Reposado
(pictured right)

Warm and tinged with spices and fruit, cooking the agave gives it a buttery sweetness. Aged 11 months in American white oak barrels, this luscious tequila has a structured woody character and incredible smoothness.

During our time in Germany we learned a new twist on the old practice of shooting tequila; instead of trying to kill the harsh taste of cheap tequila with the sharpness of salt and lime, a wedge of sweet ripe orange dressed with a dash of cinnamon serve to enhance the qualities of a good tequila and prolong the experience. Though this combination may sound off-putting and will likely raise a few eyebrows, you might impress a few friends or even make some new ones.

Herradura Reposado with orange wedges and cinnamon
one serving

3 oz. of Herradura Reposado
Wedges of sweet orange
Dash of cinnamon

Nothing more to say about this drink except cheers! (or PROST! to our friends in Germany!)

Herradura Añejo
(pictured left)

Intense flavors of cooked agave, hints of dried cherries, figs, cooked pears, and fresh cream. The Añejo has a beautiful dark amber hue thanks to spending two years in toasted oak barrels giving it a bold, woody character and a smooth but spicy finish. Simply too intricate to mix with anything, I enjoyed it by itself. A stellar sip like this calls for equally stellar drinkware so I poured it at room temperature into Peugeot’s modern take on a connoisseur’s nosing glass, which sets atop a frozen metal chilling base. Bringing the temperature down about 10 degrees further smooths the flavors, then I enjoyed it with a bit of dark chocolate. Enjoy!

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