April 17, 2014

Amish Cake

I happened upon a cake recipe that seemed way too good to be true.  I had to try it anyway because the recipe is so easy with a ton of possibilities.

Everything you need: 

1 box of cake mix (any kind)
1 can of pie filling (any kind)
3 large eggs

Mix all the ingredients together and pour the batter into pre-grease 9x13 cake pan.  

Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees 
(or until a toothpick comes out clean)

I made a devil's food cake with cherry pie filling (chocolate covered cherries anyone?)  It smelled amazing as it baked and came out of the oven cooked perfectly.  Just looking at the cake, you’d have no idea it was made with pie filling.  Not only does this cake / pie filling combination taste amazing, it doesn’t even need frosting (which is great for those of us counting calories!)  It’s sweet enough with the pie filling and incredibly moist. 

 I got this recipe here, she calls this the “Are You Kidding Cake.”  I titled this "Amish Cake" because she got this recipe from an Amish friend of hers.

Suggested Cake / Pie Combinations:
Chocolate Cake Mix / Cherry Pie Filling
Butter Pecan Cake Mix / Apple Pie Filling
Pineapple Cake Mix / Blueberry Pie Filling
Strawberry Cake Mix / Strawberry Pie Filling
Strawberry Cake Mix / Blueberry Pie Filling

The possibilities are endless and delicious.

April 2, 2014

Ashley's Restaurant

Brad and I have been talking about going to Ashley’s Restaurant for a while.  I’m not even sure how long ago (or from who) we heard about it and the only thing we knew was that Ashley’s is located in Ann Arbor, MI and that the bar carries OVER 70 BEERS ON TAP.  I decided for Brad’s birthday we were finally going to go, so for his birthday gift I got a room at the Bell Tower Hotel. 

Google Maps

I found the Bell Tower Hotel by Google mapping Ashley’s Restaurant and searching for nearby hotels.  The Bell Tower, according to Google Maps, is just a 3 minute walk from Ashley’s Restaurant, perfect.  We only live 45 minutes from Ann Arbor so if we planned to drive to a hotel, we could have driven home instead. (Don’t drink and drive people!)  I also bought him a gift card for Ashley’s, which entitles him to 1 free beer a month (you can hold up to 3 beers at one time.)  You can purchase said gift card, as well as other merchandise / gift cards here

Picture from Google Maps
Brad was pretty excited about the trip to Ashley’s. When I told him about the trip, he got on Ashley’s website to see all the beers they currently have on tap.  On Thursday I took a half day of vacation so we could beat rush hour traffic and get checked into our hotel.  As we made our way to the Bell Tower Hotel, we drove right past Ashley’s Restaurant; if it hadn’t been pointed out on the GPS we might have missed it.  Ashley’s is located in a small tan storefront near the corner of S. State Street and E. Williams, in Ann Arbor, MI.  Seeing the signs for the adjacent yoga studio confused me as to whether or not the building was in fact the bar we were looking for or a yoga studio with the same name.  Across the street from Ashley’s is a large green common (which I can only assume is part of the University of Michigan.)  We’ve walked this stretch of road many times during the annual Art Fair but were completely unaware that this is where the “famous” Ashley’s is located.  It looks exceptionally different without the vendor booths and crowds of people lining the street.   It seemed quaint as we walked along the storefronts in the cool weather, amongst the professors and college students making their way to and from class.

Picture from Google Maps

When we arrived at the door, we did a double check to make sure we were actually entering Ashley’s Restaurant and not a yoga studio.  We entered into a small walkway directly to the hostess stand which held a sign that read “please seat yourself.”  We walked through the small darkened restaurant which extended through an open doorway past a beautiful stained glass window.  We found there were only 2 open tables, the one directly next to the door and a table next to that.  We chose the latter.  To my left sat two gentlemen, which I assume and can only describe as professors, at a high top table, which was part of a row that lined the wall.  To my right were the backs of a few people seated at the bar.  Our server was prompt and pleasant, she handed us both two menus:  one for food, the other for beer and liquor (Ashley’s is apparently not just known for their beers, but whiskey as well).

We started with waters, as the beer menu is quite extensive.  It’s several pages of categorized beer (i.e. Pale Ales, Scottish Ales, Lagers, etc.) all of which have detailed descriptions.  This list includes all the beer Ashley’s carries, not just the 70 on tap.  Aside from glasses and bottles the menu also offers several predefined beer flights as well as a “build your own” option.  We started the night by ordering a Michigan Dark Beer Flight and a Michigan Light Beer Flight.  Each flight of beer comes with four 5 oz pours, served in rocks glasses, “plated” in a short sided metal bucket.  Underneath the four glasses is a sheet of paper revealing what each beer is.  If one of the four beers listed on the menu is unavailable, it is switched out for a different beer at the bartender’s discretion (this unfortunately happened to us twice).   In this case the name of the beer that is supposed to be there will be scratched off and the name of the beer replacing it will be written in.

Michigan Light and Dark Flights.  The book is the very extensive beer menu
I rated each beer we tried on my Untappd app, if you don’t have or have never heard of this app I highly recommend it if you love trying new beer.  I heard about it from my friend, Stefanie, about a month ago; Untappd allows you to log, rate and comment about beers you’ve tried.  It has a 5 star rating system and between the two flights we tried, we rated the beers from .5 to 4.5 stars.  You should know I’m stingy with stars, I don’t care for IPAs and if I rated it 2.5 it means just that it’s an average beer. 

Michigan’s Light Beer Flight
Citrus Pale Ale by Odd Sides Ales – Rated 4.5 stars
Farm Hand by Brewery Vivant – Rated 2.5 stars
Pale Ale by Founders Brewing Co. – Rated 1.5 stars
Final Absolution by Dragonmead Microbrewery – Rated 3 stars

Michigan’s Dark Beer Flight
Dragon’s Milk by New Holland Brewing Co – Rated 4 stars
Dirty Bastard by Founders Brewing Co – Rated 2.5 stars
The Poet by New Holland Brewing Company – Rated 1.5 Stars
Porter by Founders Brewing Co – Rated .5 stars

Best - Dragon’s Milk by New Holland Brewing Co.:  Even though it’s a dark beer it’s really smooth and doesn’t have the overly alcoholic taste most dark beers have. Dragon’s Milk has a slight taste of vanilla with the “creamy” taste you would expect with something call “milk,” but it’s not weird…even thought I know that seems weird as I type it.

Worst – Porter by Founder Brewing Co.:  This was your typical overly thick, overly alcoholic tasting porter.  It was nothing special with no taste.  Unless you enjoy porters, I’d personally steer clear of this one.

Most Surprising - Citrus Pale Ale by Odd Sides Ales:  Honestly, I was really surprised by how amazing this was.  Brad and I don’t like IPA’s, we find them too hoppy without much else to offer.  This beer however is NOT an IPA, it’s an American Pale Ale.  I didn’t know there was a difference before now, but in my defense we don’t do a ton of beer tastings.

After we finished the flights, Brad and I each ordered our own beer:

Brad ordered Raspberry Ale by Dark Horse Brewing Co. We gave this beer 2 stars.  The hints of raspberry are just that; more like hints of hints, as in barely there at all.  This wasn’t a bad beer; I wouldn’t turn down a free one, but I’m not going out to by a 6 pack either.

I ordered Piraat by Brouwerij Van Steenberge.  We gave this beer .5 stars. Yup, half a star is what we gave this beer and that’s only because you can’t give a beer zero stars.  Piraat was overly carbonated, and that was after I poured it into a glass.  The taste was unpleasant and the alcohol content was high at 10.5%.  Brad tried helping me finish it but we couldn’t even chug it because of the carbonation.  Brad ended up with the hiccups. To be fair to this beer, my friend Stefanie said her husband loves Piraat, so to each their own.

It was while drinking these last two beers that we realized we were ready to go, tired and little drunk we debated leaving but it was only 9:30 p.m. Wanting to leave the bar so early made us feel old, it was Brad’s last birthday of his 20’s and we were ready to turn in before 10:00 pm.  We started reminiscing about Brad’s first birthday in his 20’s; we had started dating only a few months earlier and it was the first time I heard someone refer to me as Brad’s “girlfriend." We threw a party at the house he rented during college and stayed up all night playing drinking games until we passed out. 9 years later and we were done before we would’ve even started at age 20.  Then it occurred to me, at 20 we started drinking at 11 pm and partied until 3 am (5 hours) and we drank Natural Light; if I drank a Natty Light now I’d wonder if there was even beer in it.  At 29 we just start drinking earlier, we got to Ashley’s around 5:30 because we were starving and 4 hours later after drinking several high percent alcohol beers we were ready to go.  We’re not old we’re just sophisticated (right?!?!).  Honestly, even if some people think we’re “old” I’m okay with it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, any quality time with my best friend is perfect.

We decided to stay for one more flight of beer and dessert before we left.

Beer Flight
Morland Old Speckled Hen by Greene King – Rated 2.5 stars
Amber Ale by Bell’s Brewery – Rated 1 star
County Street Amber by Original Gravity Brewing Company – Rated 2 stars
Eliot Ness by Great Lakes Brewing Company – Rated 2 stars

By this time a crowd of people were standing at the door waiting to get in. With no tables available and no waiting area, they were lined out the front door.  Suddenly it seemed like getting there early wasn’t such a bad thing. 

The beer drinking at Ashley’s is obviously amazing, but the food is pretty good too.  The food is nothing fancy or spectacular, it’s just really well done bar food (well, actually the apple crisp dessert was pretty spectacular).  The food and beer are however not the only reasons to go to Ashley’s, you also go for the atmosphere and service.  It’s a bar, not a club, it’s low key and not so loud that you can’t hear the person across from you.  In the spirit of the HIMYM finale, I’d compare it to McClaren’s, somewhere you’d go hang out with your friends and make memories, not party.  A place, I imagine that if you go often enough you’d get to really know your bartender or server, who by the way was amazing.  Even though we were there for such a long time, our server never got annoyed, never tried to drop our check off early, or rush us to leave.  She was attentive but not overbearing and remained pleasant and helpful the entire time we were there, even pointing when I picked a bottled beer and not a draft.  If I lived in Ann Arbor, Ashley’s would definitely by “my bar,” the place you could always find me hanging out at.

Not that I think it needs to be said but we are definitely planning on going back.  I can’t wait to try many more amazing as well as terrible beers.  Anyone up for a short trip?

Last Birthday in Brad's 20's
First Birthday in Brad's 20's