Monday, March 31, 2008

Blog Updates

I’ve recently made a few adjustments to my blog that will help make navigating the space easier and more enjoyable. I’ve eliminated the SlideShow which never worked consistently and replaced it with a link to ‘My Public Photo Album" under the ‘links’ to the left. Here you will find a folder of all the photos I’ve used in the blog, as well as some raw culinary photos, and lastly some non-food related pictures.

I added a YouTube video bar which seems to have a mind of it’s own, it is in a very techy way related to the SlideShow. The feeds have worked so far, but over the last 4 days it’s displayed the same video’s so I’m up in the air as to whether this feature will stay or go. Any suggestions?

I created a ‘Labels’ menu to the left. I took the time to go back through the archives and label all my previous posts. While there isn’t much diversity in the discussions here, this feature is sure to help anyone interested in searching the archives.

Lastly, my new job starts tomorrow. Nemo Grille, in Avon, Ohio is my new home. I’m very excited to get back into the fine dining atmosphere again, and share all the new and exciting things we do there on this blog.

Dinner in the Sky

If you haven't seen this one yet, it might take a moment for you to wrap your brain around this wacky idea!!! Yes that is a crane, and yes is has hauled into the sky seating and preperation space for some 20 dinners!

Check out their website for details. Unfortunatly there doesn't seem to be a domestic version available as of yet. There are some amazing photos on their web page, but I have more than one silly question to ask. Restrooms??? Either myself or someone I'm dining with always seems to drop something, a fork, knive, napkin??? I can understand a thrill ride, or being able to see the cityscape, but do I really want to eat during this adrenaline pumping, death skirting moment?

I wouldn't do it. In fact I think I'm mentally and physically unable to. My fear of heights keeps me off step stools let alone lynched up into the sky straped into a 4 point harness in a swiveling chair sucking down champagne and oyster as if any moment will be my last.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Indie take

For a very interesting look at some of the area's restaurants check out 5front Inc on youtube. They are also televised on Time Warner Cable, but archives are available on youtube. They do a very good job show different aspect of the restaurants they visit. The pieces go quite in depth, much more than just a commercial or something like that. They are continually adding content so check back frequently.

Too Much Rice?

I find it almost impossible to cook just the right amount of rice I need for any sized group. It is especially difficult cooking rice for two, and reheating properly cooked rice just doesn’t seem to work out so well. I’ve made congee in the past in the restaurant setting, and can see how this would easily be a useful technique in the home kitchen as well.

Congee in its most simple form is rice porridge. The method of cooking, and density of the end product vary from Northern China where other grains might be used to southern India where congee is served with spicy fish curries. In most countries congee is considered a therapeutic food since it is easy to digest. Congee also functions as a way to stretch a small amount of rice to feed a large family or guest party. I think of congee as a means to use left over white rice, mostly because this is how I’ve come to use congee in the restaurant.

The traditional way of making congee is to simply way overcook white rice until grains breakdown and a starchy, viscous soup develops. The starting ratio of liquid to rice is as high as 12 to 1. Some rice makers have a special congee setting, but I don’t have a rice maker, nor do I have the time to slowly cook down rice and pay constant attention that it doesn’t scorch.

To make congee I prefer to either use properly cooked left over rice that has been cooked with a 3 to 1 ratio of liquid to rice at which point I would reheat the rice with just enough liquid to cover. If I was starting with raw rice I would start with a 4 to 1 ratio. Instead of cooking the rice for a long time, I prefer to speed things up by using a blender or food processor to break down the grains. This works best with warm rice, which is why we reheated the leftovers. I also prefer to leave about a quarter of the rice as whole, plump overcooked grains. I’ve also found that processing the rice just until the grains break down produces a silky congee opposed to a further blended mixture that tends to tighten up. Finally, remember it’s a lot easier to add some liquid to the blend than to try to cook liquid out.

My favorite flavoring for congee is pickled ginger. I proceed with making the congee just as described but in the blender along with the rice I add sugar, pickled ginger, and pickled ginger vinegar, salt, and white pepper. The sugar and vinegar balance is important as to ending up with a congee that is tart, but not puckeringly bitter. This starch base works very well with both soy and spicy sauces or proteins.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

While I do consider myself a Top Chef fan, last night was my first chance to watch a full episode. Season 4, Episode 3 a.k.a. The Block Party. I have previously acquainted myself with the cast of chef’s on,/ but have yet to see them in action, and certainly they provide a curious blend of personalities. There are plenty of opinions and egos within the crowd. My guess is the winner is one of the few that doesn’t open his/her mouth until at least half way in as a way to not alienate any of the other competitors. That sounds like a task in and of itself.

The aspect of Top Chef that in one way bewilders me and in another way is completely understandable is: Why do they bring in restaurant quality chefs, offer them restaurant quality prizes, and provide very much un-restaurant related tasks to perform and judge them upon? I guess if they all got a cozy kitchen with lots of time to prepare the kind of dishes they are used to preparing on a daily basis it wold be rather difficult to find mistakes, and judge them on wide, open ended characteristics. Yet is seems all too often one of the chef’s is admonished for not converting what they know (restaurant food) into what they are being judged at (block party food). Fortunately as the show progresses and the pool of contestants slims to a number that would fit properly in a kitchen , the challenges become more familiar to a restaurant chef. Instead of twisting the atmosphere, they often tweak the food situation, which I find much more interesting.

So, I’ll most likely skim over the next few episodes the same way we all read Shakespear in High School, and when they get down to 6 chef’s I’ll start to watch again. Between here and there what could they possibly come up with...... mother’s day brunch on a $5 budget, Zimmerman as a guest judge a.k.a. the Bug, Feces, and Offal episode., or maybe they get tossed from the kitchen and work from a hot dog cart, a brand new G.E. hot dog cart!?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dispatch from the chest freezer, completed

Dispatch from the chest freezer, completed

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months lurching over this breathing bench I call my ‘office.’ Topped off with an array of electronics any normal kitchen storage device looks inviting. Unfortunately I’m able to type away or surf the web for hours instead of cook, which is why I’m here of course. I’m leaving the Wonder Bar; physically I’m done this coming Tuesday. After that I plan to leave this Wonder Bar in my proverbial culinary dust. I’ve learned a lot at this post, mostly outside of the kitchen, and mostly what not to do. At least I learned something though. As of April 1 I will be the chef at Nemo Grille in Avon, Ohio.

The first, and most frequent response I get is, “Avon, wow, that’s out there.” Well...kinda’…not really, I’ve spent much longer driving downtown looking for a parking space then walking 10 minutes to my destination all the time wondering if that bum might mug me. Then desperately hoping that my car is there, unharmed when I get back to it, all the time shrugging off panhandling scum. This is my life no more my friends. I rejoice in my 20 minute commute to the suburbs all safe and sound like a baby in a blanket.

I do have some fun and interesting ideas I’ve yet to have the customer base to explore upon. I’ve been reading up on my hydrocolloids, and my active experiment for Thanksgiving dinner was a success. I’ve been longing to make a nice pate, and cure some duck breast, and bake some bread. All this once again within my capabilities.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pork Cheeks

As promised the Pig Cheek post. I'll say first off that I've been craving Asian flavors. A sharp lime bite with a salty soy, and chili spike. It's just been on my mind lately, and you can see this with what I chose to braise the cheeks in. I was inspired to procure the cheeks by Chef Harlin's posting about them in the forums.

The cheek 0n the left is how I purchased them. I removed the silver skin, obvious fat which occured mostly on one side. The bottom (as they are pictured) may or may not have a bit of cartlige, like a bent toothpick. This piece was definatly hard and needed to be removed. The cheek on the right is ready to go.
At the last minute I decided to cure the cheeks, opposed to searing them. I tossed them in my personal duck conift cure which consists most of sugar, salt, and cinnamon. I assembled this mis' while they cured for about 1/2 an hour: tomato, onion, carrot, ginger, chipotle, and for liquid I used equal parts, pepared plum sauce, soy sauce, water, and chicken stock. I was sure to rinse the cure off good because I knew the salt from the cure and the soy would not give a good result.

This is a good picture because it show the 'bottom' of the cheeks set on the mis' just waiting for some liquids. I added just enough liquid to cover eveything, covered with foil, and let cook at 300 degree for two hours.

The cheeks are still steamy hot in this pick. They turned out very well. I speculate that a little less cook time was needed. I've become a big fan of using the vegetables from a meat braise. For this reason I clean, peel, and dice them so they will be sufficently cooked. I picked out the ginger, which I kept large for this very reason, strained the veg. and will use them.

This is what I finally came up with. Soy braised Pork Cheeks with broccolli, garlic bread, and a truffle-soy broth.

I found the flavor of the cheeks to be wonderful. The resulting broth had a wonderful gelatinous sheen. The texture was reminiscent of pork sholder, but the fibers are much shorter eliminating that stingy situation. Pork cheeks are very well suited for the fine dining plate, or the chili pot. I will buy them again. I happened upon these at D.W. Whitakers in the West Side Market for just under three dollars a pound. I consider that a deal.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Poll Results

Looking at the most recent poll, this post should put the wraps on discussing Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week. I’m very pleased that half of the responds are people who ventured somewhere new. Even if it wasn’t the Wonder Bar. Trying something new is almost always good, in the culinary world at least. Now, just imagine the next restaurant week is during the summer, instead of dodging snow storms customers will be applying sunscreen. Not to mention the extra 20-80 seats most restaurant patios hold, let’s talk about overbooked then!!! In any case, that’s a wrap!


I secured two pounds of pork cheeks from D.W. Whitakers at the West Side Market. I've got my camera, and a few ideas, we will see what happens?!?!I tried some cheeses from The Cheese Shop, all very tasty. The Drunken Goat is wonderfully creamy. Cotswold was very pleasant with nice spikes of chive flavor bursting through. Lemon Stilton has a very nice flavor, but the texture is unique. This is white stilton mixed with lemon zest. I don't know for sure, but it seems the cheese is crumbled, mixed with lemon zest, and then re-formed. I love the flavor, not a fan of the texture. I had two other Italian cheeses, but instead of murdering their names, I'll wait till I look at their labels and blog about them later.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Five days later....

Here I am, with my stinky foot in my mouth. The snow is long melted, and the rain has washed even the white dust of salt from our vehicles. While a little snow on Monday might keep the brave culinary scene of Cleveland quiet, a great re-birth of invigorated souls marched downtown in mass to the tune of sold out, over booked, and... gasp... a wait for a table.

The first annual restaurant week was a resounding success for the Wonder Bar. Close to 70% of our food sales came from customers ordering off our generous special restaurant week menu. Thursday, Friday and Saturday all caused me great joy with a bar full of restaurant patrons eating and drinking. There happiness a bloom and percolated with the now motivational sounds of Miles Davis. I’ve never been so happy to hear that Lola is booked full!! Knowing in turn that is why these lost soles wandered into the Wonder Bar, I mean since you parked at least we can validate your parking, but no! We made some friends that is for sure. Hopefully they will wander back to E. 4th street in search of some great happening, some hopeless daydream, some culinary epiphany and remember, "oh yeah, the Wonder Bar.... the food there ‘don’t suck’ " and we will be there to welcome them with open arms, icy cold martinis, and heart warming flatbread like the mother of a runaway child.

What have we learned this week. Basically that mass marketing works very well. So does a sense of community, and discounts. Hopefully the second annual restaurant week is being planned somewhere out there already.