Longtime food critic and writer Stearns has a hot-off-the-presses book out in time for the 76th Annual National Cherry Festival entitled “Cherry Home Companion.“ With 130 tested cherry recipes - many from renowned chefs like Pete Peterson of Tapawingo fame and Keith Famie, a celebrity chef who has his own show on the Food Network who was also a “Survivor“ contestant - along with vintage cherry festival posters and postcards, cherry poems, songs and trivia, it is a unique, and even high-end guide to the wonderful world of cherries.
“Our goal was to include only fabulous, luscious recipes, nothing bland, boring or middle-of-the-road,“ said Stearns, a Detroit native and former restaurant critic for the Detroit Free Press who relocated to Traverse City in 1999 with her husband Joe, an artist and woodworker. “There are so many ways to include cherries in a menu, and I believe we have collected the best examples in this book.“
The origin of the book came when Susan Bays of Arbutus Press, a publisher of Michigan history and travel-related books and tapes, contacted Stearns and proposed that the pair collaborate on a book about cherries featuring with recipes that leaned toward more sophisticated palates. Stearns was already working on another book project, “Good Taste: A Guide to Northern Michigan Cuisine,“ which will be released at the end of July, but loved Bays ideas for the cherry book and decided to plunge ahead.
Stearns then contacted a number of chefs, food writers and “foodie people“ and asked for their contributions. “We wanted only delicious recipes, and a really attractive package, so SI called everyone I could think of, and Susan scoured eBay and local antiques shops looking for vintage cherry postcards and cherry posters,“ she said.
In the process, Stearns sifted through hundreds of other recipes in books, magazines, personal files, and the Internet, eventually deciding on the best ones to test.
“Testing is important, because so many cookbooks don‘t work,“ explained Stearns. “We got the OB Nursing Staff at Martin Memorial Hospital, where my sister is a charge nurse, to help us, along with Jackie Cobb and Jacquie Honea of Jacquie Caters here in Traverse. Susan and I tested many, many recipes, and that was essential. Needless to say, there were moments when we thought we could not eat another cherry dish, even though everything we tested was scrumptious.“
Among the books 200 pages are recipes for snacks and appetizers, daystarters, salads and sides and sauces, mainstays, desserts, and beverages. There are cool summer drinks such as a Simple Cherry Smoothie and the sophisticated Michigan Dried Tart Cherry Cosmopolitan from Eric Villegas of Restaurant Villegas in Okemos, MI. One of several desserts from Tapawingo, Peterson acclaimed five-star restaurant in Ellsworth, MI is the Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding with Cherries. From the Cherry Mascarpone French Toast from Rich Travis of the Latitude restaurant to Cherry Point Chicken Stroganoff from Conrad Heiderer, executive chef of Cherry Point Garden Grill in Shelby, MI, each recipe is a testament to the versatility of the fruit.
There is also a significant amount of helpful cooking information, including descriptions of types of cherries, and their handling, measuring, and even how to deal with cherry pits when seated at a formal dinner. Stearns includes listings for the major cherry festivals around the world, sources for ordering cherries year-round, folklore, and the latest information on the health benefits of cherries.
She says that she is “delighted“ with the finished product, and that researching cherries was truly an educational experience.
“I learned a lot that I didnt know, including how to get rid of the pit when youre at dinner. One hint is no spitting,“ said Stearns, with a laugh. “Cherries can be eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, as appetizers, in salads, desserts and drinks, and are tremendously versatile. There are cherry festivals all over the world, in Japan, Italy, Turkey, France, Nova Scotia, and Australia, among others. It just confirms that everyone loves cherries.“
The book sells for $29.95 and is available as of July 7. Orders can be placed by calling (866) 290-9604 or (231) 946-7240, or visiting the web at www.arbutuspress.com (Tax is $1.80, and shipping is $5.50). Area bookstores will be carrying it, and Stearns will be autographing books on Saturday, July 13 from 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. at the National Cherry Festival at the Open Space.
Cherry Vinaigrette Style Dressing
from Northwestern Michigan College Culinary Arts Department
1 pint cherries, tart, frozen, pureed
1/2 ounce arrowroot4 fluid ounces honey
8 fluid ounces red wine vinegar
12 fluid ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 fluid ounces cherry juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground clove
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dissolve the arrowroot in a small amount of pureed cherries.
Bring the pureed cherries to a boil. Add the honey. Gradually add the arrowroot to the hot puree. Cook until it is thin enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cool pureed cherry mixture to room temperature.
Whip in vinegar and oil. Add cherry juice concentrate and seasonings.
Nancy Stucks Cherry Ramen Noodle Salad
1 package shredded cabbage
3 green onions, rinsed and chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 red pepper, rinsed and slivered
1 small package slivered carrots
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 packages chicken Ramen noodles, uncooked and broken up
1 cup peanut or canola oil
6 tablespoons cherry vinegar (or any other vinegar)
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper
2 chicken-flavored packets from Ramen noodles
Assemble the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Top with dressing; mix well and serve.