Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 11, 2013

The art of cooking

BY CYMBRE FOSTER Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Frankfort may be small, but the lineup of summer culinary classes at its Oliver Art Center is mighty.

The “Dinner on the Porch” cooking classes are led by award-winning chefs, cookbook authors and restaurant owners in the center’s teaching kitchen, Kay’s Kitchen. They run through early fall.

This is the second season that the center has offered the classes, targeted at home cooks. They’ve been a big hit with residents and visitors alike, said Chef Jim Voltz, director of culinary arts at the center.

“I’m thrilled with the talent we’re attracting in our visiting instructors and the variety of courses we’re able to offer,” he said.

Voltz, who kicked off the season in May, recently launched his fourth cookbook, “Simple Meals on the Porch.” Two of the six classes he is teaching this summer are based on the book, which offers recipes and tips for easy entertaining.

“This book takes things down a peg,” Voltz said. “It’s for summer people who want to spend more time at the lake and less time in the kitchen. These recipes will give you more time to enjoy the summer.”

Many of the dishes can be made in the morning and can sit in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat. Or you can put them together all at once in about an hour. Recipes like the shrimp and crabmeat au gratin sound impressive but aren’t a whole lot harder than throwing burgers or hotdogs on the grill.

“You can do many of these in one pot without a lot of work,” Voltz said.

The cookbook contains more than 50 main dish recipes, plus recipes for a few basic accompaniments and 16 desserts.

Joe Muer, owner of several Michigan restaurants including one of Detroit’s premier eateries, Joe Muer Seafood, is presenting three classes offering tips and techniques for preparing fish and seafood.

“It’s a scary idea for most people,” said Muer, who retired to the Frankfort area in 1998. “I teach them how to buy fish, wrap it and store it.”

Muer should know. He’s the third generation in a nationally renowned family seafood chain launched in Detroit by his grandfather in 1929.

Although retired, Muer is still keeping a hand in the food business. Besides teaching — all three of his Oliver Art Center classes filled early, but the center is keeping a waiting list for the July 30 and Aug. 21 classes — he recently opened a new Joe Muer Seafood restaurant with Joe Vicari of Vicari’s Andiamo Restaurant Group in Detroit’s Renaissance Center, to rave reviews.

Muer’s coffee-table cookbook, “Joe Muer’s Classics Seafood Cookbook,” contains the history of the Muer family and business as well as recipes. It is available at The Bookstore and Glenwood Market in downtown Frankfort and at Crate and Cargo in Beulah.

The culinary series continues with “Brunch” on July 17, “New Hors d’oeuvres” on Aug. 7, “Potluck on the Porch” on Sept. 11 — all taught by Voltz — as well as a knife skills class with certified knife expert Ed Bartush on Aug. 15 and Indian cooking with Pat Sheafor on Sept. 25. The season wraps up on Oct. 9 with Voltz’s “Soup for Fall.”

To register or for more information, call 352-4151 or visit

Three Pasta Medley with Sausage

(Serves 8 generously)

This is about the most perfect one dish meal or potluck take-along dish. It can be made 1 or 2 days in advance and served cold, but is best at room temperature. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and crusty bread. This is a very filling dish and no sides are needed.

Pasta Ingredients:

3 different pastas of your choice, 2 dry cups of each (penne, shells, ziti or any you prefer, except I would suggest not using spaghetti)

2 lbs. link Italian sausage, hot, mild or sweet (I mix hot and sweet)

12 oz. beer of your choice or vegetable broth (I recommend beer)

2 T. olive oil (extra virgin not necessary)

1 large red onion, cut in half and sliced into rings

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces

1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces

1 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces

½ c. pitted sliced black olives

1 c. grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

½ c. extra virgin olive oil

2 T. balsamic vinegar

1 t. Dijon mustard

1 T. minced garlic (about 3 cloves)

1 T. dried or 2 T. fresh oregano

1 t. salt

½ t. freshly ground black pepper

Make vinaigrette first by combining the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a jar or blender and mixing well, set aside. Prepare pastas per package directions for each type, drain well and put in large bowl. Pour 3 T. of the vinaigrette over the cooked pasta and mix to keep them from sticking together. Add the onion, peppers and olives to the pasta and mix. Put sausage links into a large sauté pan. Add the beer or vegetable broth. Bring to a light boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until links are firm. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels until cool. Slice links into ½-inch pieces. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add sausage slices in batches and sauté until lightly browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels and add to pasta mixture. Pour about half of the vinaigrette over pasta mix and toss. Cool and refrigerate until serving.Bring to room temperature before serving and add more vinaigrette as needed. Check for seasoning; you may want more salt and pepper. Serve with either Pinot Grigio for white wine, Zinfandel for red wine or your favorite beer.

— From Jim Voltz’ “Simple Meals on the Porch”

Peanut Butter and Jam Bars

(Makes 24 bars)

These bars make a great summer dessert. They are easy to do and adults love them as well as the kids.

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1½ c. sugar

2 large eggs

1 t. vanilla

3 c. all purpose flour

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

28 oz. smooth peanut butter

18 oz. strawberry jam

8 oz. chopped salted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. In a separate medium bowl mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until smooth (do not overmix). Grease and flour a 9x12x2-inch nonstick baking pan. Spread 2/3 of the dough evenly on the bottom of the pan. Spread the peanut butter over dough. Spread the jam over the peanut butter. Dot the top of the jam with the remaining dough without spreading. Sprinkle nuts over dotted dough. Bake for 45 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting.

— From Jim Voltz’ “Simple Meals on the Porch”

Joe Muer’s Classic Bean Relish

This is our most popular recipe, which came from my maternal grandmother, who assisted her husband when he opened his restaurant on Oct. 28, 1929 — the day before the crash.

1 qt.Great Northern beans or white beans

½ c. fine-chopped onions

½ c. fine-minced fresh parsley

2 T. fine-minced red pepper or canned pimiento

½ T. white pepper

1 t. salt

½ c. distilled vinegar – add slowly and taste as you go

Empty beans and their juice into a large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix ingredients and season to your liking. The relish will store well in jars in the refrigerator for over a week. If flavor weakens, add a little vinegar to boost the flavor.

Joe Muer Seafood

Where to begin

Mystery? There is really none at all. What you will learn will surprise you. Do you know that fish can be easier to prepare than meat; can be less expensive, healthier, and lends that gourmet touch to any meal? Let us start at the market.

Fresh fish is safer than fresh meat. If it is not fresh, of course, your nose will tell you. Fresh fish does not stink. It has a distinctive odor, but it is not offensive. It is not hard to recognize a piece of fresh fish. It just looks good. The eyes of the fish, if the head is still attached, should be bright and the skin should gleam. There may be a little slime still on the skin, but good fish from the market can be slimy. Before you cook your fish, it should be rinsed in very cold water to remove the last of the slime, then patted dry with paper towels.

The problem of mercury pollution, of course, has extremely limited the fishing industry, but the housewife really does not need to worry about it. Every species of fish sold is laboratory tested, both for mercury and DDT. State and Federal inspectors test samples at every import point, and no fish is sold which fails to meet their very strict standards.

Storage of fish

Fresh or frozen fish should be rinsed well and packed in airtight containers. The best procedure is to pack in a heavy-duty ziplock bag and place the bag in water to work out all air before locking. In refrigerators with a temperature control meat drawer, store fish at coldest temperature. In other conditions, cover wrapped fish in ice. Do not put unwrapped fish in ice because ice leeches the minerals from the flesh. Following these directions will allow you to keep the freshest of fish really fresh for up to a week.

Preparation of fish

Now to prepare that gourmet fish dinner. Gourmet to me means doing something very simple with exquisite food. With a good piece of fish, my wife and I can get a gourmet dinner together in 20 minutes. And, of course, you should add that bottle of wine to really top off your meal.

The most common mistake in cooking fish, no matter what the method, is to overcook it. After a little practice, it is not difficult to determine when fish is done. Fish is translucent when it is raw. When it is cooked, it turns white. Break it open in the thickest part, and if it is white, you know it is done. Also, many people do not preheat the oven, but it is very important.

Oven Broiled Fish

Rinse fish in cold water and dry with paper towel. Place fillets on waxed paper to season using 1/2 teaspoon paprika, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Baste the flesh side of fillets with 1 tablespoon butter or margarine. Use a pan sized to fish portions, line with aluminum foil and place fish skin side down.

Preheat oven to maximum temperature and cook fish at broil as close to broiler as possible. Broil until well brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Charcoal Broiled Fish

Use a hinged grill with a long handle that holds the delicate meat in place. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on one side of the grill, and lay the fish on the foil skin side down. Season the fish with salt, pepper, paprika and lemon and brush with melted butter or vegetable oil.

Put the griddle with the fish flesh side down over a fire that has burned down to red hot coals, and leave it just long enough to brown the meat and seal it. Then turn the griddle over and cook it skin side down about five minutes for a piece that is 3/4- to 1-inch thick.

Baked Fish

The best baked fish I ever had was the kind my mother used to bake when my brother caught fresh fish from the lakes and brought it home. In a baking pan, brown (but not burn) 1/4 pound of butter. Season the fish with salt, pepper and paprika, and dip it in beaten egg. For four fillets, you will need two eggs. Then dip the fish in cracker crumbs, place the fish in a pan, and, if you browned the butter in the same pan, turn the fish over to butter it on both sides. If you browned it in a separate pan, pour the butter over the fish. Bake it in an oven preheated to 375° for 15 minutes.

Tartar Sauce

Tartar sauce is a compliment to fried fish only. We make our own at Muer’s because most tartar sauces are made with sweet relish, and we use dill picle relish. We mix one heaping teaspoon each of dill pickle relish, minced onion, minced capers and chopped parsley with one teaspoon of lemon juice and one cup of real mayonnaise. The relish and onion and capers must all be very well drained. The best way is to squeeze the ingredients in a piece of cloth. If you use tartar sauce on anything but fried fish, please do not tell me.