Storms, laughter, nourishment, and beauty. My Girl's Weekend at Grand Beach was all of these and more.
It was a crisp and very cool May afternoon in Grand Beach, Michigan. It was Thursday, the car was packed to the gills, and the GPS chirped happily when we turned into the driveway and surveyed our home for 4 days. Hurrying to see the docile blue waves gently lapping the shoreline, I wished instantly I was running along its edges. But that wasn't to be. My knees were just beginning to respond to the supplements I hoped would remove the agonizing ache in my joints. But it would all be okay. I was spending the whole weekend cooking. I could have command of an expansive culinary space that looked out upon a sapphire horizon. I would be surrounded by women who had known me for nearly three decades. I couldn't wait to unpack, put on my apron, and get to work.
"Yes, Tricia. I will be there for our Beach Girl's Trip!" I had said last fall, quickly answering a heartfelt email from my lifelong friend who needed to gather all of her most special women together for a rendezvous at the water's edge. The condition was I wanted to be the chef for the whole weekend. I wanted to nourish all these friends; these women who have been my safety net for almost 30 years. She accepted my terms without hesitation.
The home was grand, which is an understatement. But then, isn't everything at Grand Beach? It provided a canvas that we painted with tastes and truth. Each of us bringing to the friendship and the table a different skill. Each of us sharing secrets that easily emerged once the first cork was dislodged and the first course served.
As you might guess, I set about getting the lay of the "kitchen," so to speak. Locating the tools, arranging the food, and reviewing the handwritten menu I had scrawled only the day before so everything was poised for perfection.
Our first evening was simple, and full of flavor. Baked cod topped with a Blackberry Ginger Chutney made by simmering oranges and blackberries with ginger, a bit of champagne vinegar, red onions, and a knob of ginger. It was placed atop a puree of cauliflower scented with a hint of coriander, garlic, and cream, and served alongside a simple salad of dressed baby kale. It carried us through the night as we listened to the calm outside turn to a loud and satisfying spring storm and chose between a dessert of Texas sheet cake and delicious apple bars. Each bite represented a nudge up in dress size, but we were in no mood to be good!
I love it when a Friday feels like a Sunday. Leaving the week behind for the sound of yawns and coffee flowing at dawn I arose early on day 2, took on the mantle of nourisher again, and began to chop the vegetables that would fill the personal omelet cups. With the smell of bacon filling the air, and grated cheese falling like lace, we prepped for brunch. Although the eggs were perfect, the star was the small heirloom carrots, sliced lengthwise and roasted in a 425 degree oven with rosemary and orange vinaigrette. After tossing cantaloupe with a hint of lemon and cinnamon it was time to bring on the hungry!
When breakfast is at 10, and dinner is at 7, you need something in between to keep you vertical. After all, the wine was flowing along with the food, so our stomachs growled us into submission and we snack elegantly on a simple apple, celery and walnut salad with lemon herb dressing. It was served with quintessential southern deviled eggs featuring sweet pickle relish and peppadew peppers. Delish!
I'm not sure how we segued, but our plan to go out to dinner Friday evening was quickly voted down. Maybe the desire to eat in started with the first bite of chutney the night before. Perhaps it was the citrus on the roasted carrots at brunch. In any case, the unanimous cry was for me to cook again, and we would cancel our reservations at the swanky eatery 20 minutes away opting instead to gather all 11 of us around our little lake table.
I love a 180 degree shift in food planning. It is my favorite thing to create a meal on the fly. Taking stock of our food inventory for the weekend, which included a few stand-by items, I knew I could put together our feast that night with just a few extra groceries. So after heading to the local market, I purchased some lovely ground turkey, and the ladies bought a few more bottles of wine, along with a bag of perfect Yukon potatoes. Nada decided she would make her famous crepes for dessert, and we were all salivating by the time the first appetizer was served.
By adding orange slices, a bit of balsamic, and some honey to bottled fig jam, I created a glaze for the flavorful Mediterranean turkey meatballs. Adding golden raisins to the meat insured moisture, and a last minute thought to bind the orbs with rice cracker dust since we couldn't find bread crumbs was inspired. We slow simmered onion and potatoes as our side dish.
Then, while it was simmering, I was summoned to the dining room. It was there I would experience the biggest surprise in a long time. I was presented with an apron, signed by all, as a thank-you for nourishing them during our trip. I was so honored, so caught off guard, so danged excited! Ladies, we all know it. Nothing is stronger than a tribe of true friends!
You know me. You know that while I was crying one eye out, I also had the other on the stove. I couldn't burn the meal served on the heels of my honorary apron ceremony! And since all had pitched in while I blubbered, dinner was a success!
Wait, it's now day three and it is only Saturday! WOOHOO! More chances to cook, to nosh, and to make memories. I would make my famous scones along with fresh fruit, cook some sausage, and we would gorge like we hadn't eaten in days. (Or hours!) Good cinnamon, golden raisins, and just the right touch produced these prized scones. All I could think to say was, "tah, dah!!!
Do you feel you've gained 10 pounds just reading this blog entry? Well, don't stop now. Just loosen your waistband and keep reading. There's more to come.
After a trip to Three Oaks, MI for Bourbon tasting and shopping, we settled into our last night of food. Since we felt stuffed, I decided on a meal that represented our affliction by serving spinach and artichoke stuffed chicken breasts, and a colorful side of brandy roasted root vegetables.
Using some of the leftover sausage, and lightening the stuffing by adding a little yogurt instead of all mayonnaise, a simple meal became exquisite. I've long used spirits to help create a depth of flavor with roasted vegetables. If you don't like the taste, I suggest you try a little maple syrup and lemon zest with the oil and salt and pepper. Toss, spread out on a baking dish, and let them become jewels of perfection!
As approach the end of this food journey, we close with a satisfying frittata, served with beautifully ripe fresh fruit and some of the remaining scones. Simple, flavorful, and celebratory. An apt closing for a culinary week that will long be remembered.
Thank you ladies for your honesty, your willingness to be sous chefs, for keeping my wine glass full at all times, and for letting me bind our memories to nourishment and love.
Over and out. Kitchen empty. Hearts full!
I try to be a good listener, I really do. Endeavoring to hear what is being said, I respect and appreciate the other person's point of view. And, I don't believe learning or maturity is possible without it. After all, do I really have to say something right on top of the person talking? Is it vital I blab all over you while you're trying to communicate? I appreciate someone who really pays attention to me when I'm talking because it changes the entire dynamic of our encounter. And that's important. I'm sure my silence does the same wonderful things for you, yes?
Now, here's the caveat, when you tell me you don't like a particular FOOD...oh, dear. I fiddle, and fidget, and gesture and roll my eyes. Why? Because although there are lots of reasons for this statement and you may have valid reasons, I'm still going to interrupt you say that most of the time, the reason you don't like something it's because YOU JUST HAVEN'T HAD IT SERVED CORRECTLY.
Take fish for instance. (Yes, you knew I was going to say this.) What is it about fish that draws so many battle lines on the plate? For one thing, it is notorious for being cooked INcorrectly. And almost everyone, even those who love all ocean and river dwelling creatures, can tell you a horror story about tough, dry, mealy, bad smelling fishiness gone awry. That's why a recent dinner party attendee, who is a good sport and a little reticent about finned creatures, let me cook her some fish THE RIGHT WAY.
Classic Cod. Classic because it's easy to make, and easy to mess up. It can be served alongside so many different flavors but on it's own it was the perfect fish to make without any fancy seasonings. And at the end of the meal? I got a thumbs up. Chalk it up to another person who stacks the deck in my favor for GOOD FOOD DONE RIGHT.
Unless she has very, very good manners and she went home and cried, I think she'll come back! <Insert dice-rolling sound here...>
Okay, for those of you who still know and believe that good food conquers all, here's what I did. Knowing that fish benefits from clean flavors, and fresh ingredients, I let the side dishes steer the theme of the meal. I had recently read about some pan sauteed versions of ratatouille -- the classic French vegetable dish -- so I decided to put something together that would layer flavors and colors. 'Cause y'all, the fish is gonna be simple.
Working to cook each ingredient in my ratatouille in stages I set about making delicious begin....Which is to say I started with all the aromatics and potatoes because they can take longer to cook. Then scooped them out and gently sauteed the vegetables afterwards with care. Then I put everything together again, deglazed with stock and wine and added herbs, simmered SLOWLY, then added butter. Yes, I know. YUM!!!
Those beautiful Cod filets? First, BUY. FRESH. FISH. Got that? The best. Don't mess around. You'll just waste your money. And I have my eye on a new Le Creuset piece that is awesome. If I hear you're wasting money, you're buying!!!
Here's now I did the fish:
1. Rub each of the 4 ounce filets with GOOD olive oil.
2. Sprinkle with good cracked black pepper and kosher salt.
3. Put a thin slice of lemon on each filet. Then a dot of butter on each filet.
4. Tie fresh thyme and rosemary together with a string and place on top of the fish filets. Cook at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes.
5. Take out of the oven, cover with foil for 10 minutes.
6. Ladle butter pan juices on top.
7. Fight for your own. People will want a taste.
8. Take a bow.
That's it! That's how you DO IT RIGHT.
RECIPE: Pan Sautéed Ratatouille
4, 4-ounce Cod Filets
4 T olive oil, divided
2 T butter
1 large clove garlic chopped finely
4 sprigs each fresh thyme and fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, grate off the zest and slice the lemon thinly
1 medium, roundish purple eggplant, cubed
½ large yellow squash, cubed
5 medium width asparagus stalks, cut into 2 inch angled slices
½ white onion, in large 1 inch pieces
½ pint cherry tomatoes halved
¼ C white wine, ¼ C chicken stock
2 small white potatoes, cubed
1 t dried oregano flakes
Rub filets with 2 T olive oil. Place in baking dish, about ½ inch apart. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dot with a small lemon slice, put ½ T butter pad on each filet, tie up two of the rosemary sprigs and two of the thyme sprigs and place on top of the fish. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and then prep the ratatouille.
Heat a large saucepan and add 1 T butter and 2 T olive oil until hot. Add the onion and potato and sauté on medium high, seasoning with salt and pepper, until browned. Take those ingredients out and then add the eggplant, tomatoes, squash, and asparagus along with the garlic, adding a little salt and pepper, and the lemon zest. Sauté until soft. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, let simmer on low for about 2 minutes, then add a little of the stock, reserving the rest if needed to moisten pan. Add the potatoes and onions back in, cover and simmer on VERY low for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Don’t let it dry out. I kept mine on VERY low heat. Put in a little more butter at the end to make it shine and taste even better!
While vegetables are simmering, cook the fish for about 15-18 minutes. Remove, cover with foil and let sit for about 5-8 minutes. Serve by ladling the buttery pan juices from the fish over the fish while it is nestled next the vegetables. Sprinkle with flat leaf parsley and some lemon juice.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.