Monthly Archives: November 2010

Pie is the New Cupcake?


I came across this article in the NY Times about how pie can be the next big dessert like the cupcake trend.

And Yes as a person who makes and sells pies I have to agree.

Here are my reason why the humble pie can be the next big thing.

1) Pie fits in better with the local food trend/movement with local fruits and nuts
2) Hand or Pocket pies can have the same appeal for a one serving dessert like cupcakes
3) Pies can be a warm/hot dessert, which unlike cupcakes have to be served at room temp
4) Seasonality: Pies work on hot days, cold days and every other day
5) Most of the pies out there are mass produced crap, so stand alone professional pie shops will stand out
6) Pies can also be made savory, which can lend itself to an entire pie themed restaurant
7) Lets not forget fried pies. They can be made to order and served bubbling hot with ice cream
8 Did I mention I make and sell pies
9) There is a movie called American Pie not American cupcake
10) Did I mention Ice Cream? Both ice cream and pie can be paired for a huge variety of tasty combinations
11) Then there are ice cream pies with a  graham cracker, vanilla wafer or oreo cookie crust, which can include sauces and toppings like a sunday for kids
12) Pie is sexy. Having your sweetie warm up a piece of pie with some ice cream after some lovin sounds better than a cupcake

OK. The thing about pie is that it is tricky to make unlike cupcake which has instant mixes and store bought frostings.

So in order for pies to take off, good pie has to made easier. For example, there needs to be artisan pie dough available in the freezer section in a roll-your-own flat disk shapes and not a pre-made, pre-size pie crust sold in a tin. This will allow for more flexible on the shape, size and use of the dough.

Speaking of pre-made pie crust. I think that they can be sold in single severing sizes too in say 4-8 servings or round disks like wonton wrappers to make single serving pocket pies.

Then their is filling and sauces. There are a ton of crap pie filling out there. In order for pie to take off, it has to be both made easier and made good with good ingredients. Like other artisan hand-made food product businesses out their like say salsa, jams and sauces, pie filling can be another food products business that can take off.

Farmers Markets can be a buzz with venders selling pie jarred filling.

Lastly, pie has to be available in more places than out of the way family restaurant. This means places like coffee shops, ice cream parlors and all manor of upscale eateries along with stand alone hip pie bakeries will need to get pie on the menu.

Local pie bakeries can extends their products to coffee shops and ice cream parlors that can quickly warmed up pies to be served along side ice cream or coffee. I for one would like a hot fruit pie in the morning instead of a muffin.


Pie Anxiety: A fear of Making Pies

Ann Arbor Food


I confess. Before I started making pies and selling them this year at the Westside Farmers’ Market (Thank you Michigan Cottage Food Law), I suffered from PIE Anxiety.

Pie Anxiety is a condition where people are afraid to make a pie because of a fear of failure. I would like to provide some reassuring kind words of wisdom to not worry and that everything will be alright, but I am afraid I can’t. You just have to take it one pie at a time.

I think the roots of Pie Anxiety come from the fact that pies, unlike other food items are a vey public food. Most pies are made on special occasion when our cooking is on the spot.

Pie is also a kind of sport in America with all sorts of contests, prizes and ribbons won for one’s craft of making a good pie.

In a food culture that is surrounded with fast food, processed food, industrial food and that has struggled to find an identity, pie making is one of the long-term endearing food traditions we have as Americans.

I avoided making pies and manage to slug through my pie requirement in culinary school with a few less than stellar examples. My crusts were tough and I was criticized by pie experts, older woman in my class who know how to really make a pie.

I retreated from pies to the fun, fancy food of the day, which was crazy plated desserts that used sugar sculpture and chocolate, sauces, cakes, ice creams, mousses and marzipan.

But fate brought me back to pies and I finally feel OK about making them.

I must being doing OK because pie experts at the market freak about my pies.

Part of the reason I feel Pie Anxiety exists is because the tradition pie crust is not very forgiving.

The butter has to be cold. You can’t over work the dough. The moisture has to be right or it will fall apart when rolling out. Any mistake and you will have a less than flaky finished crust.

So with that said, what I do is say heck with the conventional pie crust. In fact, I am not a big fan of the straight flour and butter crust anyway.

Yes. I said it.

There are two things that can make a pie crust easier to make.

The first is to use an egg. This adds some richness and moisture to the dough without adding water. Water and flour combine to make gluten, which is the protein found in flour. Over work the gluten and you can say good by to a flaky and tender crust.

My other suggestion is to use chilled alcohol like vodka instead of water. Alcohol provide moisture to the dough and it will be more forgiving with regards to gluten development than using the traditional ice water if you over work the dough.

Lastly, I use only butter. I feel people love my pie because I use only butter. We have been subjected to cheapen pies that use shortening for so long that one taste of an all butter crust will make us taste what we have been missing.

OK. I can already hear the peanut gallery scream the praises for lard. I honestly have not made a pie with lard. Even if it is great, I have found that finding good lard (that is not partially hydrogenated) in the store.

And again, pies making tends to be a public offering. This means that our pies usually are served at gathers like potlucks, parties or holidays. A pie made with lard cannot be eaten by vegetarians or a number of people who eat butter, but not pork fat.

I would make a pie with lard if I could find a good source and I was certain that most people could have it, but those two factors are rarely the case and most end my full butter crusts anyway.

Care Packages to the Front

Here is an email from my last care package:

Dear Brian,
Thanks for the goodies, they were a big hit here as usual.  I admit I am a boxaholic, thanks for supporting my addiction.  🙂
Fruit roll up things are awesome.  Good pick.  People ask me what I want, and I never really know, and wouldn’t want to tell them because they might miss coming up with something like that.  They were a treat.
I hope all is well there in Michigan.
You rock.

My cousin has been stationed in Iraq since February, and I’ve been sending him a “care package” every month. These packages range in items from home-baked goods to candy, and even Star Wars figures for his desk.

After he received his first package, he started making requests via e-mail. By the second package, he started making requests for items for other members of his unit.

Apparently, I had inadvertently adopted them all .  Like a summer camp camper’s, who then shares the goodies with his bunkmates, my cousin has become the most popular guy in his unit. One member wanted fresh coffee beans, while another requested beef jerky. Granola bars seemed to be a favorite with everyone.

And it’s easy. I learned that these packages get to my cousin in Iraq faster than packages I send domestically. Most packages will get overseas in a little over a week.

To send a package to someone in the military, you only have to send it to a base in the United States to an APO/FPO address. Ask your friend or family member in service where to send it to. The military will then pick up the tab for getting it from the U.S. to the soldiers, wherever they are stationed. The U.S. Post Office even offers a discount rate for APO/FPO destinations.

I have picked up a few things after sending 10 packages overseas. For starters, e-mail the person you are planning to send the package to and ask what is wanted or needed. Don’t just throw in random stuff. Also ask if there is anything a person in their group would like. My cousin for example asked for healthier items this time instead of the usually sweet baked goods, so I threw in health food store fruit leather, which was a huge hit and the best part is that it does not take up much room.

Also throw in a little something for Iraqi kids. My cousin requests gum, which he likes to hand out to grateful children. The kids also seem to be crazy about beanie baby toys. They stuff small, which makes them easy for troops to carry into the field to hand out.

As for what not to send, I learned the hard way that anything chocolate is likely to melt. Temperatures in Iraq can run into the 120s depending on the time of year, so those well-meaning chocolate bars you send will be melted puddles by the time they reach that part of the world. If you make home-baked goods, note any nuts, nut oils or potential allergy ingredients. A member of my cousin’s group cannot eat peanuts, so I make sure to find granola bar he can eat.

If you are sending clothes, make sure they are durable and not something cheap from the dollar store. Remember, they have to hold up to wartime conditions.

And keep your packages on the small size. Remember that you are sending your package to a war zone, and the logistics of handling large packages can overburden our military. If you have a lot, consider dividing up the packages in half.

Lastly, if you say you will send a package, make sure you send it out ASAP. They will be looking forward to getting your package, and may even tell their buddies about it. One time, I said I was going to send a package and then got busy with school and life and blew it off. My cousin rightfully so gave me an ear full about not keeping my promise and how he look and his buddies looks forward towards getting this packages and I felt like a real heel. The guy is in a war zone and I am cozy in my house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After that, I have always got my packages out ASAP.

If you do not know a friend or family member overseas, ask around and offer to go in on a care package for someone who does. You can also contact charities and veterans’ groups that organize care packages to the troop like

And make sure you review the rules of what you can send when sending through a charity. For example, you can send home-baked goods directly to a friend or family member, but if you are sending a package through a charity, it only accepts packaged food items. All home-made items will be thrown out.

My Visit to Louisville, KY: The Hot Brown Sandwich a Contender for Thanksgiving

Ann Arbor Food

The Hot Brown

LOUISVILLE – Not every town can boast its own sandwich like Kentucky’s Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon, tomato and Mornay sauce.

(What is Ann Arbor’s signature sandwich? I cannot think of one. Feel free to comment and vote for possible contenders. Also, for those looking for something different for Thanksgiving, this sandwich might do the trick.)

Many eateries in Louisville offer the Hot Brown, but arguably the best is at J. Graham’s Café, located at the Brown Hotel. It was invented in 1926 by Chef Fred Schmidt at the hotel, from which the sandwich takes its name.

“There are other items on the menu, but most come for the Hot Brown,” said Matt Wilcoxen, sous chef of J. Graham’s Cafe. “On busy days we sell about a hundred.”

A quick view of the tables at J. Graham’s reveals the signature oven-safe plates featuring a bubbling Hot Brown in front of all but a few diners.

For those interested in trying this sandwich, you better bring your appetite. This is not low-calorie fare. The first ingredient in the two-serving recipe is a quart of cream. And we have not even mentioned the cheese, butter, turkey and two pieces of bacon yet.

“It is so rich that many diners split a Hot Brown and finish off the meal with a salad,” said Wilcoxen.

Many visitors to Louisville feel that trying a Hot Brown is an absolute-must experience.

“It would have been a shame not to have it,” said Jeff Beck, a guest of the hotel, who was in town to attend a wedding. “It was very unique. I recommend it.”

You can tell if people like their food by how quiet they get when they are eating. Eating a Hot Brown left one Voice staffer speechless.

The traditional Hot Brown is made with turkey, but you can substitute country ham. J. Graham’s Cafe also features an Egg Florentine version for breakfast.

The Legendary Hot Brown Sandwich Recipe

Recipe courtesy of the Brown Hotel Serves two (or four)

2 ounces whole butter
2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 quart heavy cream
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast
2 slices of Texas toast, crust trimmed
4 slices of crispy bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk whipping cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about two to three minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven-safe dish and cover with seven ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one-half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish.

Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

Ham variation: Substitute equal parts country ham for turkey.

Egg florentine version: Substitute four poached eggs, one bag of frozen spinach (thawed, liquid squeezed out), and six artichoke hearts pieces for the turkey.

Follow the recipe for the turkey version, but instead of turkey, place half the spinach on the Texas toast. Place two poached eggs on top of the spinach and plate three artichoke heart pieces on the plate. Add the rest of the ingredients and broil.

Washtenaw Student Run Bakery:The Sweet Spot

Here is a quick video a did using a flip camera. It is of the WCC student run bakery, which is only open a few hours a week, Tues-Thursday from 12:00-1:00 p.m. They sell out fast, so get there early.

Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project: Molasses Test

OK. After growing, harvesting and trying to figure out how to make sugar from sugar beets without having much of a clue, we finally managed to make something sweet.

Check out the video to see what we did.

The result was a earthy, molasses syrup that turned part crystalized and sandy when it cooled. It has a strong flavor and I figure it would be good in some bean dishes and for a molasses kick with sweet quick breads.

Another interesting discovery was sugar water. And I am really excited about the potential.

The process of making beet sugar from sugar beets entails a long cooking time like maple syrup to get to the crystal stage, but I found that it only requires a minimal amount of cooking to create sweet water.

It tastes just like sugar and water and I figured that if someone wanted to make a batch of sweet beverage, they could do it with a lot less fuel use from making crystal sugar and then adding back the water.

For example one could make sweet iced tea with the hot sugar water from and early stage in this process.

Sugar water can be a possible economically viable use of this with small cottage food beverage businesses being about to create a locally produced home grown sugar micro beverage industry.



Tomukun Noodles in Ann Arbor: PHO

Ann Arbor Food

Tomukun is one of Ann Arbor’s newest restaurants. They specialize in moderately priced noodle dishes like ramen, pho, soba, and udon. They also offer rice dishes and a nice assortment of appetizers like pork buns, which come more open faced than the traditional cooked inside a bun.

The verdict.

The place was great. I ordered the deluxe pho and Emily had the spicy seafood ramen. Good Pho is hard to find. I thought theirs was worthy. Was it the best? The Pho I had out in Oregon kicked-ass, so I will not go on the record saying it was the best I ever had, but it was the best in town and I plan to make Tomukun my haunt for my local Pho fix.

What you want to see with Pho is fixings like lime, sprouts, hot peppers, sweet and hot sauce and fresh basil. Tomukun provided those fixings. Any place that cheaps out and does not provide them with your Pho is not worth returning too. (I will not say who you are…other so called Pho places in town…but they know)

What made this Pho a little different at Tomukun is the broth, which was pork not beef. I liked it. They also put slices of pork belly in the Pho Deluxe, which I never had before. I am not a big fan of intestines, which are common in Pho, so the addition of pork belly was welcomed.

At $11 is was on the pricy side for Pho, which usually runs about $7 in the out of the way places in Portland. But I figure you pay more to eat in downtown Ann Arbor.

Click here to see the Menu