Ever wondered what the secret ingredient was in your standby order at a favorite restaurant? Me too. I’ve been known to grill waiters (forgive the pun) and chat-up bakers to get a few hints.
Sometimes, my efforts have been rewarded – like when the waiter divulged that the sauce behind one of my favorite appetizers at local restaurant in Plymouth was simply lemon and butter. Ah-ha!
Then there’s the baker in Canton who I tried, by asking in a variety of ways, to discover what kind of flour he used in his baked goods – was it bread flour in the pizza rolls? Pastry flour for the cakes? He never did budge on the ingredients, but I kept buying – and eating – them anyway.
Once a month, I’ll be tracking down some of the folks behind the flavors and restaurants that keep our taste buds happy here in Michigan. For our first installment, I chatted with Amy Emberling, a managing partner at Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor. While many of you may already be familiar with Zingerman’s Deli in downtown Ann Arbor, the bakery is a bit hidden, located in a small business office-type set-up just off I-94. Even though it’s tricky to find, I was surprised that there was a line at the small bakery store. And even at the creamery shop next door. The smaller front offices give way to huge bakery complex behind.
What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?
Balsamic vinegar, a really good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Basmati rice.
And your favorite meal to make?
That depends on who I’m cooking for. If I have people coming over that I don’t know very well, I like to make something that can be served at room temperature. But if I already know the guests, I’m more comfortable serving something that I have to add some ingredients at the last minute. One meal that stands out is one I made for my mother this past December. My mother loves risotto, but she doesn’t know how to make it. So I take my time making that meal; I add grilled chicken, mushrooms, Parmesan. She loves it.
We all have a favorite indulgence. For a foodie like you, it must be something spectacular?
(Laughs) I tend really not to make much dessert at home. But if I had to say what my one indulgence would be, I’d pick chocolate pudding or tapioca.
What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?
For a New Year’s celebration, I decided to make a ham. My mother’s background is Jewish so she didn’t make ham very often and we never ate much pork growing up, so I really wanted to try making it. I special ordered a ham from Virginia and you had to follow this detailed process to make it – soaking it for three days, changing the water, adding black tea at a certain point, braising it, taking the skin off, roasting it. It was very involved – especially since this was a 15-pound ham I was working on. Well, when I was finally finished, it just tasted so salty. We didn’t each much of it. I tried to snack on some of the leftovers the next day and I ended up drinking water for the rest of the evening it was just so salty!
There are so many great Michigan-made food products. What is your pick?
I love Michigan maple syrup. I only have real maple syrup in my house.
Emberling was kind enough to share a scone recipe with Crumbs. If you’d like to sample a taste of Zingerman’s in your own kitchen, give it a try. It’s good to the last crumb.