Sunday, December 27, 2009

Food Inc. The Movie

The movie Food Inc. has been out for some time now, and I’ve finally watched it. For anyone who has not seen it I will agree with most other’s opinions that it is a well put together documentary that everyone can get something from. For those of us who have seen it, perhaps we can discuss.

I was very happy with the way information was presented. There was a clear distinction between facts and opinions which I think is very important in a serious picture like this. I feel like I’ve educated myself quite well on most of the issues Food Inc. breaches so there were few ‘new’ ideas to me. I do appreciate that the ideas were presented in a well organized, easy to understand manner.

In my opinion the single most interesting chapter of the movie was the story of the poverty stricken family who could manage a full stomach off a fast food dollar menu, but would starve on a grocery store bought diet. That’s right; $1.18 got one single bunch of broccoli at the grocery, but fed their small child at Burger King! It brings up a whole slurry of questions. Could fast food be ‘good’ for some people? Is turning our food over to corporate giants and selling our souls the only way to feed the growing population? Will differences in food production create a new class of Americans? Should those less wealthy people be forced to ignore the inherent moral ambiguity of giant corporate food production standards?

The other idea that most sticks with me from the movie is that fast food companies control the whole, yes WHOLE food production system as it is they are the most prolific purchasers. It only makes sense to make your best customer your happiest customer. How do you break that chain? It’s capitalism, it’s American, it’s success!

The farmer is the ‘pickle in the middle’ of this whole debacle. A modest man, with modest goals, willing to live a modest life might enjoy the work of organic, sustainable farming in today’s environment. But can you fault anyone who is already elbow deep down on the farm, neck deep in debt, with his farmer colleagues failing fast, give in to the corporate giants? On the other hand can you afford the higher prices that organic, sustainable products require? Yes, these products require a higher price since they cost much more to bring to market. As customers, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t condemn the mega farmer while refusing to support the ecco-farmer.

Fruitcake Poll Results

What is fruitcake?
1. a rich cake containing dried or candied fruit, nuts, etc.
2. Slang. a crazy or eccentric person; nut.

Indeed, this chewy, rich confection is a staple of the holidays, but what, exactly, is it? It is called a cake, but because it is full of nuts and candied fruits, it resembles a candy bar. When sliced, pieces look like cookies.

In ancient times, fruitcake was made with raisins, pomegranate seeds, and pine nuts mixed together with barley. Later, honey, spices, and candied-dried fruits were added. Because of fruitcake's consistency and longevity, early soldiers and hunters carried it with them on long journeys.

In the 1700s, Europeans baked ceremonial fruitcakes at the end of the nut harvest, saved them, and then ate them at the until next year's harvest. This was done with the hope that it would bring another successful harvest.

Also, throughout Europe during this time, the consumption of fruitcake (also called plum cake) was legally restricted to special occasions because of its "sinfully rich" taste. Those laws were later rescinded, and fruitcake became an essential of the Victorian tea era.

In 18th-century England, it was believed that unmarried wedding guests who put a slice of fruitcake under their pillow at night would dream of the person they would eventually marry.

Today fruitcake has become the butt of many jokes, and idolized as the one most dreaded gift. What made fruitcake a succes in the past have become it's downfall in the presant; it's longevity, sweetness, and nutritional/physical density.

Looking at the poll results there is far less detest for fruitcake than expected. Only 25% polled claimed to flat out not like fruitcake. While I'm not a huge fan of fruitcake it does convey some feeling of celebration and I would surely enjoy a slice during the holidays. If by chance you have some fruitcake this season enjoy it and savor in it's long history.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Great Chistmas Potato Gratin

It has become somewhat of tradition at the Walsh family Christmas that I make some sort of cheesy potato dish. Layering a gratin can be as simple as mixing everything up and smashing it into a pan and baking it or you can take the time, and put the effort into making uniform layers with evenly distributed ingredients. This year I decided to put in that effort. Whether you decide to take the easy route or not, here is a list of ingredients that makes enough to fill a 10 inch square baking dish, and roughly 6-10 people.

Cheesy Potato Gratin

5-6 pounds large Idaho potatoes, cleaned and sliced 1/4 inch thick on a mandolin
1 onion sliced as thin as possible
8 oz cheddar
6 oz fontina
4 oz parmesan
1 pint heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1 heaping tablespoon roasted garlic
salt and pepper

Shred the cheeses and mix them together. Mix the cream, eggs, and roasted garlic together. Assemble the grain by nicely alternating layers of potato and cheese. Every third layer add some of the cream mix, but make sure you save some cream for the top and final layer. Don't forget to salt and pepper each layer.

Bake, covered at 400 degrees for about an hour and a half. Pressing the gratin at this point is optional. If you press it this makes unmolding it and cutting it into serving very easy. If you are serving it in the dish there is no reason to press it. To re-heat microwave until warm then bake for 5-10 minutes to form a crusty top.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New pics

This special ran about a month ago; seared Grouper over carmalized salsify, horseradish gnocchi and shoestring zucchini in a basil pest cream topped with pickeled summer peppers.

This is the current weeks meat special; Grilled boneless lamb loin over a warm watercress-fingerling potato salad in a feta-oregano dressing garnished with persimmons and oven-dried strawberries finished with a tomato reduction, herb oil and sea salt. This might well be the 'wordiest' description of a dish ever.
These pictures where taken with my phone's camera. I never expected them to come out this well. They aren't super crisp or detailed, but they convey the essence of the dish nicely and when your working the line and trying to catch a shot of a dish in 10 seconds while the server is giving you the evil eye because 10 seconds feels like 5 minutes. Then, in the flow of things it is much easier to grab the phone and snap two shots and move on. I plan on trying this more often while my camera is on vacation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kevin, Top Chef Winner in our Hearts

Kevin earned a finale win according to 50% of my pollsters. He garnered a full 70% on this site. Now we learned his personal life was in shambles during recording, poor guy.

You can find Kevin's bio here. It's not often that industry people leave places on good terms, and when they do, and return to a place of former employment it really speaks to there character.

From the bio you can trace Kevin to the Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. There webpage is not complety up do date, but the dinner menu was current when I dropped in here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Music and food

I've never been able to carry a tune. From those horrible days in grade school playing the violin to present day I can not 'do' music, but I do love music. It's crossed my mind a few times to post about music on this blog, of course it would be food related, but I always stopped short. The othter night I heard this jam by Colin Dussault called, "Good Booty and BBQ" and I just knew someone else reading my blog would also enjoy it. I tried to find it online, but Mr. Dussault's version is not available. Fortunatly the Out of Favor Boys have a version posted here, and it's damn good too. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Top Chef Vegas, over and out.

You can see my prediction here from my observations when the season premiered.

I am glad to say I had Jen, Eli, Kevin and Michael all in my final four and that is almost how things played out. Brian V. lacked the outward confidence in the beginning that would make you think he would show up in the end. Ironically after watching the last episode I thought Brian should have won.

You can't argue against the judges’ pick of Michael as he did a great job as well. The sibling rivalry played out well. I thought it might get ticky-tacky eventually, but the producers didn't take it down that road. Kevin might just win out as fan favorite. Everything he did seemed to be quality work, unfortunately not everything hit the high note at the right time for him. Plus, he painted himself into a hole with the "simple southern" pre-disposition about everything he cooked.

I really like the mothers at the judges table of the finale. That really tugs at the heart strings. I mean who doesn’t want to do well in front of their mom. The group of restaurant owners who tasted the dishes was over the top impressive. The chef's might as well have considered their performance a living resume for the next year or so with those guys. On the flip side they never explained how, or if at all their opinions played in the final discussion.

Lastly congrats go out to all those chefs who lasted long into the competition. I can't really imagine the stress that goes into being there let alone winning. Cheers!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Would you like a hot dog?

Hot Dog Facts

7-Eleven sells over 100 million grilled hot dogs yearly, considered tops in North America.

The world’s longest hot dog was prepared in August of 2006 in Tokyo, Japan and measured 196.85 feet.

The term “dog” dates back to 1845 when accusations that dog meat was used to make the sausages.

Words associated with hot dog production; advanced meat recovery, meat slurry, wiener, mechanically separated poultry, sodium nitrite, listeriosia.

I’m not sure who eats one hot dog a day over years, but according to the American Institute for Cancer Research this daily consumption increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 20 percent.

Two things come to mind when I think of hot dogs: baseball, and hot dog eating contests. In both cases the hot dog has only grown in popularity in the recent past. Dollar dog night seems to be a huge attraction at Tribe games. A few years ago only a few select week-nights offered such promotions, but this past season included almost a dozen. Obviously hot dogs can draw a crowd, and they draw no bigger crowd than at the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Seen, and replayed on ESPN as if it was a top tier sporting event the popularity has put both Joey Chestnut and Nathan’s on the map. I can remember when most hot dog sales outside of a sports stadium came from a street cart. No longer is this the case as places like Nathan’s have shown there is money to be made in the hot dog restaurant business. Locally the opening of Happy Dog by already successful restaurateurs puts the local foodie stamp of approval on the nationwide love affair with the wiener and bun combination.

It’s been a long time since I’ve indulged in a hot dog. It may be as long as a year now. I’m interested checking out the Happy Dog and their hundred toppings. Then again a pack of dogs and some buns aren’t going to break the bank, but I would hate to have a wiener without a bun. Let’s try to figure this out. How many packages of wieners do I get and how many packages of buns do I need if there are 6 dogs per package and 8 buns per bag, but one person is a vegetarian, another doesn’t eat pork, two other people are sensitive to sodium, three people are on a low carb diet, and someone won’t eat theirs without relish and I don’t want to buy relish?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey day eve

Thanksgiving eve.

With the great holiday of Thanksgiving less than an hour away, I begin to wonder what I have in this past year of the culinary world to give thanks for? Let me try to conjure up a few things.
I give thanks……

Kari and I have jobs in the biz currently.

Bacon, house cured bacon, and the raise of pork nation.

The people I’ve meet with this blog… Scott, Corry, Diane, Amarillo, Bob, Michelle, Dorenburg, Dana, Stuart,Dino-mite, and anyone else who has commented or visited my little piece of the internet.

Blackbird bakery, as they have enlightened me on the idea of a croissant.

The West Side Market, Lakewood Farmers Market and every honest hard working farmer I’ve meet.

Tom, Tiffany, Chris, Dave, Rich, Ludwick, Glenna, and any other of the many purveyors who I’ve dealt with.

The upkeep of the I-90 corridor.

While this list is incomplete, I’m done with it. Thanks to everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This past week

This was our week-end special that I put together; grilled lamb chops, butternut squash-apple risotto, raspberry-walnut mustarda, sauté of snap peas and heirloom carrots.

I’ve stumbled upon the flavor combo of using our house porcini compound butter with sauté mushrooms and a hint of orange, works well with chicken, salmon, and maybe grouper.

All this talk of Thanksgiving and traditional eats made me sit down with a pen and paper to come up with something unique to try in the near future. Here are a few…..

Corn nut encrusted shrimp.

Boneless duck confit, as in remove the bone before cooking, maybe even pound them out in hopes of getting a thin, flat piece in the end.

Rockefeller vinaigrette is something I’ve done before but think the combination of spinach, bacon, and ouzo or fennel is one that should be examined in more detail.

Oven dried strawberries seem like a no brainer since we dry our tomatoes this time of the year because they need some increased flavor intensity. To me strawberries are in the same state this time of year.

Pork butt or 'shoulder' if you don’t want to think of butt. I miss my pork butt.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Big Time Review

I haven’t been out to eat much as money if very tight right now, but I wanted to ‘review’ something. So I’ll give a review of the last meal I cooked at home.

I give myself no stars.

The setting was familiar. I do appreciate a television in the bar area, but to be seated about 8 feet from one is not ideal for a decent meal, but wait, the meal might well be considered sufficient instead of decant. Plus, if the television has anything beside sports on during a meal it is considered a distraction, and I consider OC Housewives a distraction.

The service was horrible. The server (me) had limited wine knowledge, but a good grasp of bourbon…as in he had some in his hand. The flatware was strewn about the table without regard and a single somewhat dirty cloth towel was thrown down in leuw of a proper napkin. Glasses went empty unless you got up and got yourself another drink, and the dirty plates stayed on the table for a good 12 hours or so. On the good side I think there was a candle lit somewhere in the room, for ambiance of course.

The food was digestible at best, not so much nourishing, but edible and tasty. Everyone likes chicken breast right? No, its crap, but it’s cheap. So it’s a sauté of chicken breast with Spanish rice and broccoli. A whole two pans were used to prepare this meal, so that makes it fancy for a home cooked meal. I don’t know exactly what made the rice the chef (me) poured out of the bag ‘Spanish’ but I’m sticking with that description. The heavy additions of butter, salt, and hot sauce made this concoction edible. I would only eat this meal again if I was starving at 11pm…..and this is likely to happen.

We were not greeted by nor sent away with a folly from a matre’d. There was no offer of coffee, after dinner drinks of port of cognac, nor was a single desert offered. While the setting was ‘homey’ and the meal was ‘edible’ at the very best I have s sneaking suspicion that there are many meals like this in my future.

Please call for reservations as we are very busy. BYOB/W/Booze. There is no valet, and there is no elevator or handicap access. The washroom is unisex, and there is only one community table. Absolutely no special request are taken nor are temp’s on steaks or any other special requests that don’t involve a microwave. Gratuity is accepted only in adult beverages, and we are not responsible for anything that happens before, during, or after you leave the premise. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My fearless Thanksgiving suggestion.

Green bean casserole goes down and goes down hard. Sweet potatoes don’t seem to be on anyone’s favorite list either, and a appreciable percentage of you think I’m crazy. Well sort of. At least I completely disagree with removing green bean casserole (GBC) from MY Thanksgiving table.

Honestly, I think Thanksgiving can do without the turkey… you’re thinking I really am crazy, but listen. The turkey is likely the most expensive item, it is easy, and I mean way too easy to mess up, and there is always too much of it left over. The side dishes are what Thanksgiving dinner is all about, next to leftovers. If you are lucky enough to get a moist piece of turkey on Thursday, I can guarantee you aren’t going to be so lucky on Friday. What I can say for my beloved GBC is that it is consistently good. From year to year, and from Thrusday to Friday GBC is good. So what if it comes from a can, and you would never think to make it any other day of the year?

So if I’m going to have Thanksgiving without turkey what kind of meat is going to be at the center of the table your asking? I’m suggesting roast pork shoulder! It’s a white meat, it’s relatively light, easy to prepare properly, inexpensive, and leftovers don’t turn into jerky by Monday.

As for sweet potatoes, let’s face it, once the marshmallows are gone you can just about remove the sweet potatoes from the table. Unless you have a sweet tooth and want to moisten your turkey with sweet potato syrup. Cranberry sauce goes the same way. Either use it to liven up the turkey or push it to the side. What a shame too because cranberry jelly out of the can is really a complex and interesting thing.

Carrot Cake

I found this great recipe in Food Arts magazine and wanted to share it because it's far and few between times when I find solid, quality recipes. The pastry chef from Aureole, Jennifer Yee presented this recipe to the magazine.

Carrot Cake

2 1/4 cup AP Flour
1 tsps baking soda
1 tsps salt
1 tsps cinnamon
2 cup sugar
4 lg eggs
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cup grated carrots
2 tblps fresh ginger grated

Wisk wet ingredients on medium for 5 minutes then add the carrots and ginger. Mix the dry ingredients together first then add to wet mixing on low in 4 additions taking time to scrap down the bowl each time. Cook in floured loaf pans at 350 until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The above list and directions are straight from the magazine. Of course I took some liberties when I prepared my cake. I replaced half the carrot with red beet, and used extra virgin olive oil in place of vegetable oil.

I whipped up a goat cheese frosting to go with mine. To one cup of whipped cream I added about 4 ounces of goat cheese, 1/4 cup of sugar and pinch of salt. Add the cheese before the cream is fully whipped to achieve a smooth end product.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And the wheels are rolling.....

It has not been tough getting the creative juices going again. In fact it is quite motivating to think about food in other ways than, “what am I going to eat tonight.” Which is what I was limited to in the recent past. I was able to put a few specials together for this week;

Braised mushroom and Chicken Linguini consisting of tender chicken breast and Killbruck farms mushrooms braised in a rich mushroom broth with goat cheese, leeks, and fresh herbs.

Sweet soy glazed sea bass with Okinawa purple sweet potato puree and boc choy sautéed with mushrooms and ginger.

Classic carrot cake baked with a hint of red beets served with goat cheese frosting, candied pecans and a Frangelico syrup.

The desert ran one night and was a bust, but I’m not surprised. The other two sold well over a few slower week nights.

For this week end we will be serving a 16 oz Cowboy steak with bourbon sauce, and a braised duck appetizer that Steve is working on. For more details about these and continued weekly specials at Nemo Grille subscribe for our newsletter at the website here.

I’m not sure where my camera ended up as I’ve had nothing to take pictures of recently, but I hope to get things back together and post pictures as soon as possible.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Back on Track

It has been some time now without a full time job, but the time has come to get back on the line and get back on track. I start back at Nemo Grille this week. That might sound familiar to some of you, and it should as I worked most of last year there only to leave regretfully due to economic reasons. Luckily business is on the up and up and the trickle down has finally hit me. I’m really excited to get back to work. The great upside to this situation; there is almost no training to be done, and only a few new faces to meet. It will be like riding a bike, but with hot things that burn, and sharp things that can cut you.

Nemo Grille has evolved a bit as the dining room has been refitted with a fresh coat of paint and some new artwork which really updates the space nicely. The menu has expanded a bit with a full bar menu offering a few sandwiches and a selection of steaks that rivals any steakhouse I’ve been to. The most important thing to me as a chef is that all the product we bring in at Nemos is quality product, and it is described in an honest, and fairly priced. I’ve been around the block a few times and know that this isn’t always the case, but Bob, Nemos chef/owner is a stand-up guy. One of the few people in this business I have any trust in. This is why I’m so excited to get back on track.

Now, I’m not going to get too intellectual and try to convey that I didn’t mind all that time off. I got a lot accomplished. For instance I bought an X-box 360 and played Madden football 3 full seasons! I’ve also spent a lot of time online, shoot I must have logged on to Craig’s List ten thousand times the past few months. Unfortunately, all non-productive things must eventually come to an end, and here we go again. I look forward to providing more interesting post than poll results in the future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Worst Halloween Treat Poll Results

Halloween has become something more than a single night of supreme indulgence into the world of candy that makes Easter look like a healthy snack break. Now people dress up their houses and yards weeks in advance of the single hallowed night. It’s a sociological phenomenon that a community of people on any other day is willing to kill each other, but on Halloween night is happy to give all the areas children free stuff. In an even more interesting way, we (mostly as children) are not fully appreciative of this offering and have gone on to categorize these free items as some of the worst things ever given to us. I went ahead and made that jump to, “worst things ever,” because who ever decided to mix wax lips into a bag of otherwise digestible items did something truly scary to our digestive systems.

Fresh fruit topped the poll of worst Halloween treats, which is interesting to me. I would have guessed the foodies who read this blog could appreciate some free produce. On the other side, when I was a child the fresh fruit never even made it to our hands as Mom swooped down from above exclaiming, “who gave you this? It’s probably poisoned,” because for whatever reason in the late 80’s sick individuals liked to doctor up their Halloween treats in a very demented, and illegal way. The idea of a ruby red crisp apple has never been damaged more than the dreadful Halloween find of a razor blade hidden inside it. I can’t assure you the majority of that fruit was likely safe, but I can assure you the runner up in this poll is something really nasty. I agree that wax lips are the most disgusting Halloween treat ever imagined. I’m still not sure if you supposed to eat them, just chew on them a little and spit them out, or put them in your mouth and forget about any mastication.

John Campanelli of The Plain Dealer put together a list of Halloween candy and what it says about you if you are giving that candy away this week-end. Thanks for the list John.

Reese's Pieces -- You, like this candy, are still trying to live off your hotness in the 1980s.

Snickers -- It's the most popular Halloween treat, making it (and you) solid and safe. It's also -- as your ex proved -- the first to be traded away for an "upgrade."

Milky Ways -- You are a proud procrastinator, because these were the only candies left at Giant Eagle an hour before trick-or-treating. At least it wasn't 15 minutes before trick-or-treating, or you'd be passing out Nestle Crunches.

Apples -- You enjoy keeping a clean house, and that includes washing soap off your windows.

Mallo Cups -- You stick with things no matter what, whether it's friends, family or Burger Chef, RC Cola and the American Motors Corp.

Necco Wafers -- You're a traditionalist: old-fashioned and old school. Of course, that also means that you're just plain old.

Hot Tamales -- No matter how much you say you love them, it's clear: You hate children.

100 Grand bars -- You aspire for a position of power, like, say, a spot on the county commission.

Bit O'Honeys -- You get more than a bit o' pleasure seeing kids picking away at their molars.

Loose change -- You are generous and practical. Also, your spouse is really good at finding the candy-hiding spot.

Kit Kats -- Like this candy, you are a classic, old standby, which is exactly why your ex texts you at 3 a.m. every Saturday.

Blow Pops -- Your therapist was right: Once you get past the hard outer shell, you're kinda soft and gooey.

Mary Janes -- You are the kind of person who knows a good bargain when you see one, like bags of Mary Janes on sale for 99 cents.

Hershey bars -- You've been hurt before, and you're not about to let anyone or anything into your life, whether it's a friend, a romantic partner or simply almonds.

Gummi Bears -- You love all things rubbery, chubby and soft -- as your last dozen choices in dates confirm.

Tootsie Rolls -- You are a bit impulsive, which is why you are passing out these instead of those 98 Snickers bars you ate last night.

Nerds -- 'Nuff said.

Circus peanuts -- You have such a connection with children that the kids in the neighborhood feel comfortable enough to call you Skip, as in "This house? Skip."

Butterfingers -- You are a wide receiver recently traded to the New York Jets.

Toothbrushes -- You enjoy living a healthy lifestyle, which includes lots of exercise, especially those walks to and from the front door as the neighborhood kids enjoy a year of ding-dong ditch.

Three Musketeers -- Your head, like this bar, is filled with a fluffy whipped matter.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups -- You realize that two great tastes go great together; unfortunately for you, it's sandals and black socks.

Full-sized Baby Ruth bars -- You are a kind and generous soul who sends all your leftover candy to PDQ, c/o The Plain Dealer, 1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Top Chef Restaurant Wars 09

I have two ideas to convey in the post the first is the idea that a reality show in which contests are judged on their cooking skills should not eliminate a contestant based on things other than their cooking skills. The other idea I have is that in a restaurant, as a whole entity not just a kitchen perhaps the chef and his/her cooking is only a piece of the puzzle that needs to come together for a complete experience.

From the beginning I thought Laurine was a middle of the pack kind of cook. I’m happy for her that she made it as far as she did. From listening to her exit interview I can see she is a pleasant sincere individual who most likely isn’t cut out for cut throat reality TV. Chef Colicchio confirms this in his blog where he writes,

“It is noteworthy that while questioning the chefs at the Judges’ Table, we got the very distinct sense from Laurine that, as she herself confirmed at the very end of the episode, she was ready to go home. Cooking for a competition is, indeed, very different than day-to-day cooking at one’s home restaurant, and we have seen people tire of competing at different stages of the competition every season. While we certainly wouldn’t send Laurine home for such an intangible reason, I think her performance in this week’s challenge reflected that she was done with the competition and wanting to go, and we did send her home for the work she did this week. So it all works out: we don’t want to keep someone who doesn’t want to compete.”

All this personal information aside, the job of FOH was made even more difficult in that that person was made responsible for a dish on that night’s menu. Wow, that is a lot to put on one persons plate. Let’s imagine this….you’re a cook and come into work to find the chef in a suit and tie. He explains he is going to run the front of the house for the night. He will host, expedite, and he has a special that needs to be prepped and served to his specifications. Oh and it’s a very busy night with a VIP 8 top at 7pm. Would I expect the night to go smooth? Yeah, smooth like Pamela Andersons chest. You’re asking someone to do three things they aren’t good at. Why can I assume that a chef is not good at those things? Well because if they were then they would do those things and live a less stressful and more financially sound life on the other side of the line.

I think in future Top Chef seasons they should have a quick fire in which there are two winners who have immunity, but are forced to perform the FOH duties. It’s heart breaking so see someone compete as a chef and lose as a host!

On to the second point. While the chef is responsible for the food, and increasingly so the vibe and reputation of a restaurant, there are many other factors that go into a quality dining experience. I don’t think I’m touching on anything unique here. From the host to the bus buy to the sommelier to the prep cook there are a lot of hands that go into even a few diners having a quality experience. You are going to say to me, “yeah, but the show is Top Chef, not Top Restaurant Team,” and I can see that viewpoint. But this is my opportunity to open even a few people’s eyes to the fact that a chef, no matter how great they might be, what medals or awards they’ve won, or how many hours they spend on TV, they too have a great many of people surrounding them that are getting their hands dirty and deserve more of the praise than they will ever get.

If Laurine would have smooched the judges table, checked on the lamb temp. and buttered them up out the door then I guarantee the outcome would be different. Then again if she was a top chef she wouldn’t have allowed herself to leave the kitchen and leave her comfort zone. I guess it all works out in the end.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Skillet Cake

The hard squash season is upon us. Rest assured pumpkin pies, butternut squash ravioli, and acorn squash bisque are being prepared across the mid-west in all types of kitchens. Every year I try to come up with something a little different using these obviously seasonal ingrediants. I have been making a butternut squash risotto with apple cider the past few years, and that comes out quite nice. I found a recipie for a sweet pumpkin waffle, but since I don't have a waffle maker I tweeked the recipe till I got a savory pumpkin skillet cake. They might have a bend toward savory, but a little syrup and they jump right back to the sweet side.

Pumpkin Skillet Cake

1 cup flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon corriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup bacon fat/duck fat/or more butter
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Combine the wet and the dry ingrediants seperatly, then mix them together and wisk untill just incorperated. A few lumps is ok. Have the oven pre-heated to 350, and a well seasoned cast iron skillet on a burner set to med-high. Melt a little butter into the pan, pour the batter into the hot pan and put it right into the oven. Cook this for about 10 minutes, maybe more if you are using a small skillet. The cake should pull away from the sides of the skillet, brown up nice on the bottom, and firm up nicely.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

For dinner tonight

Tonight I'm making dinner at home. This is a bit on the special side since I usually don't cook unless I'm getting paid to....hey, does a doctor go home and do some surgery on the family just cause he's good at it? No. I've put alot of thought into things all afternoon. I finally decided on a classic, yet modernized French dish, "Poulet avec tout dans le réfrigérateur." Which roughly translates into, "chicken with everything in my refrigerator." I'll share the recipie.

Poulet avec tout dans le réfrigérateur

1 part too broke to go our proper
1 part sick of fast food
1 part delivery is overpriced
2 part don't even have a job
2 cups of motivation since I've cleaned the kitchen
1/4 tsp spent all my money on bourbon
pinch of anti-social feelings

4 boneless skinless chicken breast
whaterver I find in the fridge

Stir all emotions together till hungery. Sear chicken breast in oil, mix in everything else. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, serve hot. Don't save any leftovers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Polls, Polls, and more Polls

It seems like every other post is in response to a poll. I’m sorry for this. I haven’t had much to say lately due to my lack of work. Not being in a kitchen kind of leads to a lack of trials and tribulations, and if you want to read about being unemployed just open up the newspaper, so I’ll stay clear of that, trust me. I also have been getting a good number of responses to polls so instead of letting them roll for 2-3 weeks as I’ve done in the past, I’m keeping them open for just 7 days. So look for a new poll soon, and I’ll do my best to find something interesting to post. I’m pondering a personal “best of” post as well as a trip into my personal recipe books.

On a ratio of two to one those polled find cooking a good meal is more rewarding than eating out. I do like these results. Don’t get me wrong. I encourage everyone to go out to eat as much as possible. Then again there is something ultimately wholesome about a good home cooked meal. There is a lot to be said for the theatre of a restaurant; the celebrity chef in an open kitchen with a never ending pantry of unique items along with the wine list, interacting with the server, maitre de, and sommelier, the fancy table top, cloth napkins, crystal stem wares, variety of plates, and most notably the lack of any cleaning up! Sure you may pay more than three times the cost of the food, but the food is only a small part of the experience. The home cooked meal is all about good food and good company. As a chef the food is number one for me also so I completely agree that an awesome meal I cook at home for my family is much more enjoyable, on a very peaceful, Zen level opposed to a night out on the town.

My favorite things to cook at home for myself and my family are very simple things. I have almost perfected the frittata. I absolutely despise browned eggs, so getting a nice tight end product without browning the outside take a bit of patience. And patience isn’t always in surplus when your starving in the morning. That said, I’ve been known to break down on a sweet frittata after a long day work around mid-night. For the family it really is the simplest things: caramelized onions, steaks cooked to temperature, potato gratin, perfectly cooked vegetables, and cutting up anything which makes what they are making go smoother.

Of those who find enjoyment in cooking for themselves I would be interested to hear what you like to cook, what challenges you’ve overcome, or what nagging shortcoming keeps haunting you.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A few random ideas

I went to the Lakewood farmers market this week only to find an empty parking lot. Wow, time flies.

I’m hooked on Bison Burgers. They are available at K&K Meats in the Warren Village Plaza. They seem to stay moist more than beef. I will keep buying them.

If you ever cook something and it doesn’t really come out perfect, especially baked goods, just claim that the recipe is ‘heritage’ from your grandmother and everyone stops complaining about dry biscuits.

Be careful swallowing your gum. I’m still feeling the ill effects.

The wings at the Tradesman Tavern in Parma are some of the largest I’ve ever seen.

Why is the Food Network doing a Next Iron Chef? They are doing fine with Chopped. There is only so much time in my week for reality TV cooking and I’m happy with Top Chef.

Last of the season raw green beans have the perfect snap. I’ve been dipping them in a whole grain mustard and dill cream.

Shortribs might be the most over rated comfort food on the menu. It’s such an insincere cut that gets dressed up for the party, but just isn’t the party girl she used to be.

Have you ever seen cottage cheese on a restaurant menu? I haven’t, and I must ask, why not?

Soup is more than just pureed vegetables. That is what baby food is. Soup is a creation, a balance, something that is more than just the sum of its parts.

SavoryTV is a great webpage I've just discovered. Tons of video content, recipes, and all very well organized.

I’m working on a personal ‘Best of’ post. If you have any suggestions please comment!


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You can't have pudding unless you eat your meat!

As it turns out we often don’t mind missing out on the pudding. Quite surprising to me the dessert poll ended with ‘almost never’ getting the most votes. That is 41% of those polled say they almost never order something sweet off the restaurants dessert menu. In a close second 35% of the pollsters claim to be tempted with sweets only half the time they eat out. I’m also somewhat interested in the fact no one was interested in cheese to end their meals. Manchengo cheese topped with goat milk caramel and truffle honey at Momocho was one of my favorite ways to end a meal ever.

Since I have this platform I can explain myself. I am much more inclined to order dessert at a restaurant that either employees a pastry chef, or operates a bakery. Sure we could stick with the no-brainers….crème brulle, molten chocolate cake, or berries blah blah blah. But what’s the point; it all tastes the same everywhere. I almost always order dessert if there is a pastry chef, and never order any of the 3 options previously mentioned. The French toast at Lola is one that I’ll never forget.

I will admit that most of the time I go out it’s a stop for ice cream on the way home that rounds out the evening. There is a dual purpose to this. First, most times eating out means putting a lot of food down the hatch in a short period of time. Think about it, apps, salad, and entrée all in 45 minutes or so. I’m stuffed after that. Even if I have a taste for something sweet I need to take some time relax. The drive home provides exactly that. Second, I can get a whole lot of ice cream for $8. Two or three helping at least compared to a one time shot with that restaurant dessert. Pure economics. Mitchell’s blueberry chocolate chip is really good, but my all time favorite is a classic mint chocolate chip.

I strongly encourage everyone to support their local pastry chefs and bakeries. I’ve worked with a few very talented pastry chefs and recognize the great work that a few others are capable of. Plan ahead when you dine out. Try sharing an appetizer to save room for dessert. Be brave and try something new or creative. I’m guessing that you’ll be disappointed a lot less than you think.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Top Chef, just as planned.

Oh yes, I’ve been watching Top Chef all this time. This is a really great season. There are an unusually high number of chefs who seem to really have a chance at winning it all. Likewise, every week it’s a tossup as to which of the weaker chef’s obvious and/or glaring oversight will get them sent off. Ashley has been something of a surprise the past few weeks, but I don’t have any faith in her for the long term. The brothers have no clashed as I predicted. Jennifer has come through safe and sound all the while providing a volley of insecurities over her deconstruction of lasagna. Eli likewise has always come to the table with a sound, interesting, quality dish.

I’m not sure what I missed, or when it happened, but doesn’t it seem like overnight Robin grew horns, a tail, hooves for feet and traded her santuko in for a long handle sickle? I was turned off by her in the first episode where she chose not to cook and relish in her gold coin luck. It seems like others; specifically her co-contestants have ill feelings toward her as well. Is it all real? I’m not convinced. It is that time in the season where the producers decide to spice things up. They have enough footage shot by now to piece something together and create a villain. Genius! We will have to follow this in the coming weeks. It’s all good fun until someone gets sent home!

On a different topic, I have been getting comments to one of my posts in Japanese. Almost every day for a month now, I don’t post them, but I have translated them with Yahoo Bablefish. They don’t make any sense. Does anyone know how to make it stop?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Parsnip-pear Bisque

Parsnip-pear bisque with pecan-maple pesto

Equal parts parsnip and pear
1 medium sweet onion
1 cup sweet white wine
Water to cover
Cream to consistency
Pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander

…and Pesto
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons maple syrup
10 leaves basil

Peel and chop parsnips, caramelize in butter over medium-high heat until nice and golden brown. Add onions and cook until soft. Mix in the spices then add pears that are peeled and cored. Let this cook for about 10 minutes. If the pears don’t give up enough liquid to deglaze the pan add the wine, if they do then just drink the wine. Add just enough water to cover the ingredients and cook for half an hour. This mixture will be very thick after pureed, adjust the consistency with a dairy product of your choice. I like to use at least a small amount of heavy cream.

Put the pecans in a plastic bag and smash them very well into ¼ inch size pieces. Toast them in a hot pan, off heat add the maple syrup and chopped basil. Toss in some chunky sea salt, and if needed reduce the syrup just a bit. The salt and herbs should help this to not clump up too bad.

I like to add the pesto right into the soup, but it’s also nice to leave that up to the person eating the soup and serve the pesto alongside the soup with a nice hunk of bread.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mobile pics

Smoked Duck Breast, Heirloom cherry tomato salad, strawberry-basil-bourbon gelle

Shrimp and Black Bean stuffed Squid, spicy tomato sauce, olive, parsley, caper berry garnish

Swine Flu Stew

The current Swine Flu situatation is a unique one. There is a whole lot of speculation, a whole lot of pseudoscience, some witchcrafts, zombies, and living undead. But what we know is that it’s not really all that bad. It’s the flu, so try as hard as you can to not get the flu!

What makes me feel safe is that the upraise that happened a few ekes ago when collage students went to their dorms. The scare never emerged into anything. The strongest young people of this nation didn’t have a problem with this swine flu.

Let me present you with a few facts:

The outbreak of what is popularly called swine flu involves a new H1N1 type A influenza strain that's a genetic combination of swine, avian and human influenza viruses.

This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs (swine) in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs

Influenza viruses infect the cells lining your nose, throat and lungs. The virus enters your body when you inhale contaminated droplets or transfer live virus from a contaminated surface to your eyes, nose or mouth on your hand.

Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products

To avoid a nasty flu, wash your hands often. Stay away from sick people, and if you do get sick stay away from others. It’s that easy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I have a dream

I had a dream last night about working in a unique kitchen that was rather interesting. Let me explain. The scene started with a group of chefs sitting at a picnic table discussing chef things in a very relaxed atmosphere, this same feeling transferred over to a kitchen where I was told, “this is work now, put your game face on.” I was part of a team that was set in a large room standing at a very large circular white table with very bright lights overhead, think hospital setting. I know there were ovens and heat around us, but it was not the center of the kitchen, this white table was. As it turned out everyone around the table had a specialty, something that made them unique in the group. I was paired with a young lady whose specialty was shrimp and couscous. But we also had a box of brightly colored sauces that we applied to plates and food by either paint brush or hypodermic needle.

Customers sat in a rather informal setting with only a short wall separating us. There was no menu, customers suggesting things they wanted, or pairing they anticipated and when an order came in, the table of chefs talked quickly about what to make, and just as swiftly went about creating a dish that would circle the table until the chef accepted it. All the time the chef was more a part of the group than a separate figure. Every plate had all 12 chefs hands on it, and communication was very open. Not like reality.

So in my dream the perfect order came in for couscous and shrimp so we went to town. I injected the shrimp with basil, and crusted it with pine nuts while my partner made a couscous and shrimp dumpling that was wrapped in plastic wrap and steamed. The plate went around the table everyone adding details with the lightest touches.

It was very weird because nobody stressed, and everyone was calm and had their prep ready. Everyone was able to add something to every dish without conflict, in a timely matter. Everyone was happy to be working.

Oh, and there was no dishwasher. Nothing got cleaned. Due to sanitation everything went down a trap and was ground up into a powder that used to burn in the stoves so there was no energy cost. A dirty pot, down the trap to be burnt and they bought a new one. I was upset by this and wanted to take a pan home.
And then I woke up to feed the cats.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Booze Poll Results

So classic cocktails is where it’s at! Wikipedia says that “A Classic cocktail is defined here as a cocktail which appeared after the publication of Jerry Thomas' 1887 Bar-Tender's Guide but before the end of Prohibition in the United States in 1934.” I didn’t really mean this when I posted this poll, and I don’t think most of you who voted thought this way. To me, a classic cocktail is not only one filled with a history, but one that is simple, and made with simple or standard ingredients. I’ll go ahead and say a classic cocktail shouldn’t have more than 3 ingredients, unless there is a history to one of them that trumps the rule of 3.

When I was 21 and living with a roommate we often shared liquors in a very respectful manner. On one occasion I can vividly recall this chap bringing home a citrus juicer, 3 very large grapefruit, a container or kosher salt, and an expensive bottle of gin. Way too much for my taste at the time, but after he gave me the whole Hemingway story, I was down with it, and we shared what I later learned is in fact a classic cocktail known as a Salty Dog.

When I was only 20, in college, and walked to the liquor store only so often since I had to cross a very busy road and carry everything in a back pack. I had some extra cash and decided on a bottle of scotch. I had no idea what scotch was so I went mid-level. A bottle in a box seemed very classy to me at the time. A seal and a cork top made my mouth water as I opened my prize after a long trip home. A few ice cubes, and my first sip…..I almost spit out, tasted like charcoal to me. I went to work the next day and asked a few guys if scotch tastes like charcoal, and they said, “Only if you bought some good stuff.” I think I gave the bottle away.

I like most mid-American men have come to the conclusion that fancy cocktails are not necessary. We have our own cocktail we call a shot and a beer. Maybe the most perfect drink imaginable. Mix it yourself, cheap, manageable, and manly, no frills here, no garnish, no sword picks, cheese stuffed fruit, not even any ice!

No matter if it’s a salty dog or a shot and a beer “Cheers” to you and thanks for voting.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Random Thoughts

$1 beef tacos and $2 Cuervo shots at the Riverwood in Lakewood every Wednesday, what a deal!

Finally every tomato I pick up is perfect. I’m eating the little cherry ones like grapes they are so tasty.

The classic reuben might be the most perfect sandwich every created.

Frank Bruni is now ‘former’ NY Times restaurant critique.

The Bristol in Chicago looks like a very interesting place.

Thin mint Blizzard is available at Dairy Queen, and it sure is good.

Linden Tavern is a 25 year old restaurant that we just discovered, and I’m glad we did. Pot roast, perogie, and perch…you can’t go wrong.

Salmon Dave’s Happy Hour is a good one. King Crab Potstickers blew us away. Chilled shrimp cocktail was also very good.

Nature’s Bin in Lakewood has seems to have an increased selection of local produce that is labeled with a farms name and location. I had some small Italian plums and local grapes that were surprisingly very good.

I’m contemplating ending my subscription to Art Culinaire. It seems so distant from the cooking I do on a daily basis. Then again, it’s nice to dream.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Overload

I was all wrapped up in Top Chef yesterday. Not only did I commit to, and go out of my way to view the three hours of prime time, but my day was filled with watching old Top Chef Episodes throughout the day. This was a commitment there is no discussion. Watching Top Chef for longer than your average extra inning baseball game is a commitment in my book. Was I glad to have made that commitment, well yes I am?

By 7:30 or so I was online reading up on the bios of the Vegas contestants. I planned on making some predictions, and I did. Thankfully I wrote them down, and they will show up eventually. At 8 pm on the dot I got the call from the living room, “mike!!!! Are you watching Top Chef?” as if there was a question about it at this point. I quickly shuffled my papers, made my predictions and settled down to a mini Top Chef marathon complete with cheap Chinese delivery food and plenty of bourbon.

First up, the second to last episode of the Masters series. I am very happy with how the Masters episodes turned out. There was a huge focus on the chef’s food, and their reaction to things became a big part of the show. Skip ahead an hour and the final is a perfect example of this. These accomplished chefs are asked to present a culinary biography. They embraced the task with such enthusiasm. It was great to see that they really had something to convey, and where able to do it the best way they knew how…through cooking. The final twist, and a positive one was the arrival of their second hand men, their partners, the Calvary sent in to up the ante. The most difficult thing about the Masters was that in my opinion the final three where of such tight competition the discussions must have quivered on certain subjective observations, which in some ways was out of the chefs hands.

In a lot of ways Michael reminded me of Stephan. Having seemingly topped every challenge he entered, perhaps a little more effort at the end was all he needed. I saw a lot of Harold in Rick meaning a cool confidence running through his veins. Lastly, Hubert, who I will remember on Top Chef Season one sent off the first contestant for using his finger to taste a sauce. Somewhere out there a chef who’s name none of us remember was screaming into the television every time Hubert so much as breathed in an unsanitary way.

Finally my predictions. I really thought Zavala would have lasted a little longer. She seemed like a middle of the pack kind of chef, but she took the bait. You know damn well there is some Top Chef Production assistant who snuck that seitan onto the set and is laughing is ass off today.

First to go:
Ron ‘two tongues’ Duprat
Robin’golden chip’ Levanthal
Mattin the frog

Last three:
Jennifer ‘the golden child’ Carroll
Michael ‘my brother sucks’ Voltaggio
Eli ‘I’m cooler than Richard’ Kirshtein

And my pre-season pick for winner of Top Chef Vegas is Jennifer Carroll! Good luck to the chefs, and all of us watching.

By the way, did you every wonder after a commercial brake that maybe you hit the wrong button and went to the National Geographic show Taboo about tatoos and body piercing?

Seitan, are you kidding me!

Seitan is a food made from the gluten of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten.

As prepared in macrobiotic practice, seitan consists of powdered wheat gluten, which is extracted from whole wheat flour by washing the flour and rinsing away the starch. The gluten powder (also called vital wheat gluten or gluten flour) is then mixed with just enough water to form a stiff paste, which is then kneaded in order to produce a firm, stringy texture. The dough is then cut into pieces and cooked via steaming, boiling, frying, or other methods. While seitan is itself rather flavorless, it holds a marinade very well.

Bet you didn’t know that! I’ve tried seitan. It’s not very good. I tried it in the shape and under the guise of bacon. It didn’t taste or feel like bacon. I’ve been to some nice restaurants in my time, and never have I been offered seitan. The stuff is funk. Tofu looks like a prime cut of dry aged rib eye compared to seitan. If my bike had a flat tire I would use a piece of seitan to patch it up with…if you know what I mean. Does seitan have a niche to fill, sure it does, and that niche is far, very far from mainstream.

Who's Welcome Back Poll Results

Wow, the most recent poll is an absolute blow out, a straight forward single winner drag race. It’s like Forest raced his Beamer against my Explorer…not a chance. Anthony Bourdain is the single most adorned foodie TV personality to visit Cleveland recently. Give Guy a chance since his Cleveland show hasn’t aired quite yet, but the buzz that he was in town reached volcanic proportions. Once, in an era long long ago, a single pretty lady named Rachel Ray ruled the airwaves. She came to Cleveland, taped at the restaurant I was working in, and I managed to get my face on FoodTV. Okay, a split second of my back, but still, I know it was me. Unfortunately for her, time has wasted on that gimmick and we have moved on.

My vote went with Mr. Bourdain like most of you. I can assure you though; this decision is not based on his previous work about Cleveland. While upon my first viewing of the No Reservations Cleveland edit, I was neither impressed, nor deplored, I’ve become more and more critical of that episode to the point it’s difficult to watch again. The ‘Cleveland is a dump where Ruhlman lives so I’m gonna make fun of it on the down low and hang out with Peekar and his slow friend’ storyline is thin, and only makes for an occasional awkward giggle.

No Reservation is a show that is only so much concerned with food. There are plenty of social, political and environmental insights. From getting rolled over by an ATV on a sand dune, to freezing in Norway, Anthony comes across as someone who after a few beers would have a great story to tell. Could he riddle a better story about Cleveland, I think so, but does anyone outside of North East Ohio care? I don’t think so. Bon Voyage Tony, when you want to sit in a dark bar, watch loosing sports teams, sip booze at record pace, and watch the world whirl around you, then we are here for you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

At Least Something is Selling

While restaurants in Ohio continue to suffer devistating losses liquor sales are through the roof. For the complete story check here, or for the highlights.........

The total gallons sold this fiscal year was 10.6 million gallons, 3 percent more than last year, which also was a record high year.

The top ten selling bottles:

• Kamchatka vodka, 209,661 gallons
• Jack Daniel Black, 181,143 gallons
• Bacardi Superior Light, 164,552 gallons
• Jagermeister, 142,919 gallons
• Captain Morgan Spice Rum, 142,604 gallons
• Smirnoff No. 21, 140,128 gallons
• Crown Royal, 137,822 gallons
• Absolute vodka, 135,660 gallons
• Black Velvet, 129,509 gallons
• Korski vodka, 123,030 gallons

New Season Starts Tonight

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Search and Explore

With the close of the last poll there are no surprises. We admit to searching the internet up and down to cure our itch for foodie adventures. There is an endless amount of information. With blogs that get updated multiple times daily it doesn't take a long list of favorites before you have a daily reading list that just might take a bite out of your daily routine. Technology is in our favor though sifting through and sorting through what you actually want, and finding what you’re looking for is quite efficient.

There is something wholesome about the printed word. There just seems to be more importance, more truth once something is committed to paper, even a periodical, let alone a hard bound book. I would prefer to flip through the pages of Food & Wine instead of point and clicking. Classic editions like The French Laundry cookbook are so special, it's impossible to deny their overall importance in our foodie explorations. But with the endless stream of information we can find online it's only fair that we go there 9 times out of 10 for a quick fix.

I've added 5 new sites to my 'Links' section to the left. Hopefully you find something new with them.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The State of Cleveland's Restaurant Scene

The Plain Dealer Business section gave us a nice article about the state of the restaurant scene in the area. The piece can be found here.

In short: Over 200 restaurants have closed in the area this past year which is above the national average, which in turn is the worst so far this decade. Customers admit to going out less and spending less when they do. Panini's bucks the trend opening 2 new outlets this year pushing under $10 sandwiches. Doug Katz praises local restaurants for their ability to quickly adjust to the situation.

The article is well written from a neutral point of view presenting facts, and letting the opinions of those interviewed move the story along.

What's lost in this piece, or to continue the discussion would be to consider the little guys, the workers who are affected. Considering just the kitchen, if every restaurant that closed this past year averaged 12 employees then about 2,500 people are unemployed. Specificly in my situation the market is now flooded with people looking for the same job I am. The optomist might say, "but restaurants have opened," but inreality they are not opening at nearly an equal pace, and what can be added to the number of restaurants that closed are the numbers from restaurants that closed for lunch, or cut back staff. It looks fairly dismal if you look at it too long, so look away and go cook something!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Amazing Chick Pea

While chickpeas might not be the sexiest food stuff around they have a lot going for them along with a long history. Chickpeas are high in protein and one of the earliest cultivated vegetables. 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East. For those of us you look for protien from alternative sources the chickpea is perfect consting of nearly %25 protien and almost no fat.

Over 8 million tons of chickpeas are harvested anually with three quarters of the yield taken from various Asian nations. Most chickpeas are processed. They are either dried, canned, or ground into a flour. I've used fresh raw chickpeas a few times. Pinching each pea from it's single lonely pod is a finger numbing job in and of it self. Fortunatly the resulting pea is unique from it's processed cousins. Fresh chickpeas cook and eat much like other green peas, have a light fresh flavor and lack any hint of starch.

Hummus, or hummous--chickpeas mashed to a paste with lemon juice, olive oil, and sesame paste--is widely eaten in the Middle East as a sauce and dip for bread. Mashed cooked chickpeas are formed into small flat cakes and fried for falafel, a popular Israeli snack. In southern Europe, chickpeas are a common ingredient in soups, salads, and stews. A kind of meal or flour is also made from chickpeas. Canned chickpeas can be fried to a light crisp consistancy.

I've stumbled upon some nice flavor pairing with chickpeas recently and wanted to share. By no means are they unique, but sometimes we need to be reminded of what's good.

Curried Chickpeas with Spinach and Tomato.

2 onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tblsp oil

1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp corriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 cloves
3 green cardamon pods

1 cup water or chicken stock
1 8 oz can chicpeas, drained
1 cup fresh tomato, rough chopped but small
4 oz spinach

Carmalize onion in oil until very dark, this should take about 20 min. on low-med. heat. Add garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add all the spices and stir into mixture, once fragrant add water and chickpeas. Cook this mixture for half an hour, season with salt and pepper. Search out and remove cloves and cardamon. Add the tomato and spinach right before serving. The spinach should hold some texture, and the raw tomato/acid flavor is what we want.

This curry has no heat, but is inviting some cayenne to the party. I turned an old batch into new with the addition of sweet corn. While nice on it's own, this makes a great summer side dish to grilled meat, specifily lamb.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Random Thoughts

I’ve been contemplating becoming a vegetarian. Not for any political-social reason, just to help ensure I make more healthy dietary choices? Most likely I’m lying to myself here.

What is healthy to drink these days? Water I guess, but even Gatorade is being diluted due to our over indulgence. I think of that situation like this: For every full strength Gatorade I buy I get a G2 free if I fill it up with water once I’ve drunk half of it. Brilliant!

I haven’t had a coffee drink on over a month, it’s just too hot! I don’t feel tired, lazy, or lagging. Caffeine, it’s all in your head.

Jobs are like pebbles on the beach. You just walk over most of them. A few catch your eye, and if you’re really lucky one looks good enough to put in your pocket to take home…..upon which you forget about it for 6 months till you step on it in your bare feet in the middle of the night and curse it out. Once morning it is gone.

Cabbage, bacon, and sweet corn are a nice combo! Good job sis. If you’re reading this try some vinegar!

Working on a farm would be nice. I mean it would be a nice little break from the norm. If all I had was working on a farm I don’t think I’d be so excited about it. Do you think it works the other way?

I watched ‘Life Aquatic’ the other night, it’s very similar in style to the Royal Tenenbaums…What do you think a movie like that centered in a kitchen would look like. I’m laughing already.

Would it be funny if a vegetarian got trampled by stampeding cows or chased by a wild boar or attacked by a goose?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Market Safety Poll Has Closed

It’s a real breath of fresh air how this poll has turned out. It seems that a little common sense goes a long way with these pollsters. While the government might have strict guidelines to enforce, the average market going customer has the most powerful input in that they will choose to purchase perishables at the market or they will not. While a few people are skeptical of the market, this seems the saver option in my opinion compared to those with blind faith in farmer’s implementation of food safety.

I do not have a long history of buying meat, dairy, or prepared food at the farmers market. I have bought eggs, ground chicken, and ground beef far and few between. The meat I bought was taken from a cooler and handed to me in a rock hard frozen state. Eggs on the other hand come right off the table, but I’ve had no problems with them. The table top farmers eggs are of higher quality than the ice cold ones at the grocery store any day. Surely if I was handed a warm mushy pack of ground beef I would think twice, but that isn’t what’s happening at the farmers market I frequent so I’m not worried. As long as I can see a cooler, and continue to be presented with frozen meat I’ll continue to purchase these types of products from the market, and I suggest it’s in everyone’s best interest to use common sense over government enforcement in how our local farmers market is run.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Good Idea

Using Veggie Trader is free and easy. It works like classified advertising. You post a listing describing the excess produce you have and what you'd like in return, and then you wait for a response...

Or, if you're looking for local produce, you simply enter your zipcode and see what your neighbors have available.

Sounds great right!!!

I stumbled upon this very cool website in the early spring when not much produce would be available in my area. Unfortunatly it hasn't caught on as there is not a sinlge listing within 60 miles of Lakewood, Ohio. Maybe there is some activity in your area, or you might want to use the Veggie Trader in the Lakewood area.

Beer Cheese Soup

I'm not a big soup eater. Kari almost always chooses soup, especially a French Onion, or Beer Cheese. I usually taste it after watching here add an unthinkable amount of salt, and I'm almost never impressed. The beer cheese soup is usually overly thick and bland. For this reason I've never taken on the task of making a quality beer cheese soup figuring such a thing was left for those who consider 'making' soup nothing more than pouring it out of a bag. Here is my recipie, and like always, starting with quality ingredients is key.

Porter and Chedder Soup

1 onion
1 tblsp flour

2 quarts each chicken stock, heavy cream, Great Lakes Edmond Fitgerald Porter

1 1/2 pound Cabot extra sharp chedder
1 tblsp Frank's hot sauce

Dice the onion and carmalize in butter. Make a quick roux with the flour right before adding all the liquids. Bring the liquid to a boil, then simmer for half an hour. Add the cheese, hot sauce, and salt to taste. Ideally using an immersion blender the cheese needs only to be large diced. If you want to shread it then a wisk is fine.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Poll About Food Safety

The question of food safety at my local farmers market isn't exactly a new one. The vegetables are usually dirty and need a good wash for starters. The idea that all this food is sitting out in the hottest part of the day lays down a second layer of inquiry. Moving from just fresh vegetables more and more we find prepared food, dairy, and meat at the market. Fortunatly fresh picked fruits and vegetables are hardy, so is the human body, and unfortuantly for us in this situation so are bacteria.

Last week the Plain Dealer let us know about a few instances where the Department of Health sent vendors away for inappropriate refrigeration. The article can be found here. Insisting on mechanical refigeration might be a step too far? How concerned are you?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Farmers Market In Full Swing

Yesterday the Lakewood Farmers Market, and I'd assume all of them across the area are currently running at full capacity. I really enjoy the Lakewood market because of it's size and available parking. I don't want to park a mile away only to walk through 12 vendors all with pretty much the exact same vegetables.

Finally the market has just about everything you could want such as, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, bread, beets, beans, squash, cukes, broccoli, berries, onions, apples, and even fresh corn!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Event Food Poll Final Results

The ‘event’ food poll closed with a flurry of voting near the end that put ball game dogs ahead of gyros by a single vote. The two together compromised slightly over seventy five percent of total votes. When I posted this poll I was thinking about which food is made better by the event part of the equation, and I think those voting understood that by how they voting. Ribs at the cook-off aren’t really all that much better than you can get at a variety of restaurants around town. Meatballs at The Feast are good and all, but a letdown after walking 3 miles to get there and forking out 8 bucks for them. Popcorn at the movies is such a classic combination I would have guessed it to have garnered more votes, but in reality fresh popcorn at home is so much better tasting. Even the stuff out of the microwave, don’t even get started with the idea of fresh butter or parmesan cheese.

The gyro has a relatively short history. The earliest interpretation arrived with a cook from Constantinople who landed in Greece during the 1950’s, with the first gyro shops showing up some 20 years later. The gyro’s origin can be traced back to the Turkish doner kebab, which originated in Bursa in the 19th century. The international gyro can be described as meat, tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce served on a pita. In the United States gyros are almost always served using a processed meat combining beef and lamb. The introduction of the gyro to the US occurred through Chicago in 1968. Since then the iconic spinning cone of gyro meat has spread coast to coast. Recently, pre-cut loafs of gyro meat have started to become popular as no special equipment is needed to cook them. All the while the classic tzatziki sauce of cucumber and yogurt has stayed the same.

In my opinion freshness is what makes a good gyro. The tomato and onion need to be crisp. The meat should have a sear, but not dried out. The tzatziki should be thick, and well seasoned. I’ve become a big fan of the gyro at The Mars Bar in Lakewood. From what I can see they slice warmed meat off the cone then sear it on a flat top to get really nice carmalization, and cut to order tomato and onion. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Unfortunately this kind of care can’t be given to the hundreds of gyros made at any Greek festival, which is why it perplexed me the adoration for the Greek festival gyro.

The idea of putting a sausage between bread and eating it must have came only seconds after the first sausage and loaf of bread where in the same room. Let’s just assume that happened a long long time ago. Fast forward to 1870, on Coney Island where a German immigrant began selling small sausages served on a sliced roll from his small shop, not long after that in 1893 a businessman named Chris von der Ahe, owned the St. Louis Browns, a brewery, and sausage shop introducing the trinity of sport concessions for years to come.

There are only two instances where I, and most people think to themselves, “Wow, lets get a hot dog.” They are while at a cook out, and at a baseball game. While freshness was important for the gyro, a hot dog can take a beating and keep delivering. If you are into the ball game, the dog comes to you. I remember when the vendors carried around small boxes filled with water and hot dogs and put them on the bread just before handing it to you. These days hot dogs come pre-wrapped, but seem to hold up rather well considering. A regional difference in the topping of hot dogs varies enormously. Luckily, in Cleveland we keep it rather simple, start with a hot dog, top it with stadium mustard, and raw onions, that’s it.

The connection between the hot dog and a baseball game has a 115 year history. A hot dog is a weird bland sausage on soft bland bread, unless you are at a ball game, then it’s something special, something you can’t do without. People take pride in their dogs, from their stadiums, just like their teams. Besides, shopping for hot dogs is a crap shoot; you have to match the number of dogs to the number of buns, not to mention you have to buy 8 of them at one time. Now that’s a commitment.

All the little facts and dates came from Wikipedia.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Cleveland Ethnic the Book

I’ve seen the book Cleveland Ethnic Eats on the rack before. I’ve even picked it up, flipped through a few pages only to put it back on the shelf declaring, “I’m from Cleveland, what do I need a ‘guide’ for.” Well, as it turns out in its 8th edition, there is plenty to learn from Cleveland EE, even for a home grown foodie like myself. With over 350 entries, almost 60 of them new since the last edition, I have a whole new perspective on the vast landscape of ethnic eats in my own backyard.

You don’t have to go far into the book to find a great explanation of why this guide is so good. On page XI of the Introduction a section labeled, “How the restaurants and market were chosen” explains things clearly, and includes all the points that make this book a great reference. First, all the restaurants are chosen because they exemplify a discernable ethnic character that is authentic and appreciated by its local following. Just because it’s popular or new in town, you are not going to find it in this guide. Ethnicities are not twisted or manipulated to find space for the newest, hottest burger joint by calling it German either. Sticking to this strict idea keeps the guide focused on why we picked it up in the first place.

In a similar statement, the book lacks acknowledgment of national chains, and ‘fusion cuisine.’ This guide is about Cleveland, by Cleveland, for Cleveland and leaving out the big chains encourages all of us to support our local restaurant scene. Without saying anything bad concerning major chain restaurants the guide stays focused and what we want to know about the local scene. We already have the chain restaurant national catch phrase hammered into our head all day long through commercials. Turn off the TV, and pick up this book!

With the exemption of one specific paragraph in the Introduction the word “I” is almost never used in this guide. It’s much appreciated. The summary of every restaurant is written in a very honest way, but lacks any form of judgment or rating. There are clear descriptions of the food, service, and décor of every restaurant. Examples of menu items are given, some items seem to be suggested as what the restaurant has best to offer, but never is anything negative said. Certainly every restaurant has its ups and downs, and a lot of times these are a matter of perspective. What the guide lacks in comparing and contrasting restaurants is an objective statement about the restaurants atmosphere, pricing, and neighborhood. If you read this into the full description you can get a good feel for the type of place you’re headed into.

The first time I took a good look at Cleveland EE I missed a lot, the second time around this is what I found most interesting….. The Introduction is worth reading. I usually skip over this part as it’s a sappy story about the author’s family or experiences writing the book, but not in this case. Very important issues like described above, as well as a section called “Using this book” will help clear up any confusion about how many money signs means what or why pilo is spelled phyllo. Also, a nice little map puts all the neighborhoods and major streets into perspective. Ideas of ‘near east’ or ‘farther south’ are kind of arbitrary. From a guy living on Lake Road in Lakewood, Lorain road in Cleveland is South, Parma is far, and Akron is almost a day trip…fortunately a map is provided in the guide so we are all on the same page, and not my page as it goes.

So you have a short attention span, don’t want to read a bunch of reviews, or maybe you know exactly what you want? The Index of Cleveland EE is great. Restaurants are segregated by name first, then a list by area, then by ethnicity, then into themes, such as romantic or al fresco, lastly by street, yes street since a lot of ethnic restaurants are grouped together entrenched in a few block radius of specific ethnic area. This Index far exceeds my expectations, and is quite useful in and of itself.

One unique quirk in all the descriptions of the restaurants is a quick synopsis of the storefront and parking situation. Not that this would sway my decision to go to any specific place, but to know there is plenty of parking around the corner, or the storefront is set off the street behind a sign, down a dark alley just helps me get there.

I suggest before you go searching for parking at your local ethnic restaurant you park yourself on the couch and take a long hard look at the ethnic Cleveland you’ve seen, but have yet to really look into via Cleveland Ethnic Eats.


Cleveland Ethnic Eats is authored by Laura Taxel who has her finger on the pulse of Cleveland’s dining scene. Her book is published by Gray & Company which is one place you might find it available for purchase as well as and many local retail bookstores, at quite a reasonable price I might add.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

New poll of summer events

With summer in full swing we are knee deep in outdoor activities. Like every good foodie I associate some type of food with every event. I mean what's it worth if there isn't any food involved? So I tried to pick some of the areas popular summer events, pair them with the food most connected with it, and I'm asking you; which summer food activity combo do you most enjoy?

You can select more than one answer.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poll Results, quick hits

Bees, yeah right, some kid is going to get stung and you’ve got a lawsuit on your hands.

Bees give you honey and wax, two things that take quite a bit of refining.

Chickens….well, simply put, chickens shit.

If I could get a few chickens to lay an egg every two days off table scraps, I’d do it. But I’m sure it’s not that easy.

Rooftop gardens are all the rage, but we are in Cleveland, Ohio where there is still plenty of room on the ground!?

Potted gardens are nice. Herbs and lettuce grow well in them. My sister has a nice collection of those upside down things. They are all over Lakewood doubles. We will see how they produce, and if they are back next year?

Home brewing seems like a very straightforward idea, but like baking, recipes and techniques need to be followed with great precision. Some people aren’t so good at precision.

Having a 5 gallon still in your house would be so cool. I understand a lot has to do with what happens after the booze is distilled, but still the idea is very interesting to me.

Not a single vote for goats, lamb, or rabbits. I think a goat on every lawn would lower the use of lawnmowers, thus carbon emissions, and noise pollution. I’d rather have to step over a goat patty than listen to 2 hours of ‘vrooom, vrooom’ every Sunday morning.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Looking for work

Currently unemployed chef looking for work here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

June Dinner Club

Last night I had the honor of being invited to cook for a group of foodies as this month’s pick for their traveling dinner club. It’s quite a challenge, and equally rewarding just putting an interesting menu together. Executing it to anything near perfection is almost impossible. We did a good job this time around. This is the second year I’ve done this and last year was a great learning experience. This year I did as much prep work, and cooking as possible in the restaurant kitchen. While the host kitchen is mind boggling well equipped, it was nice to need only a few pans, and a few dishes off their shelves. Oh, and a cherry pitter. I said to myself, “If there is anyone who has a cherry pitter in their cupboard I can find it here,” and sure enough the first drawer I opened. That saved me 20 minutes of finger staining work alone.

The menu went like this:

Hor’s derves of;

Foie gras mousse
Ceasar salad satay
Classic shrimp cocktail

Chilled Gazpacho, celery aquavit

Sautéed soft shell crabs with lemon and sea salt

Grilled cherries salad, Lake Erie Creamery chevre, baby greens, smoked salt, pickled kumquats

Scallops sliders, apple-vanilla slaw, espresso-balsamic syrup

Grilled hanger steak, roasted marrow butter, lobster tater tots, spinach-gorgonzola fondue

The satay went over very well praised as such a simple idea that came out quite well, not to mention the exquisite Italian white anchovies. The gazpacho had celery flavored vodka with it. The idea was to sip the vodka then pour the rest into the soup adding a little zip to it. I had a gut feeling we filled the cups too much with vodka, and that’s the only thing I would have changed, less vodka, who would have guessed….LESS vodka?

Simple soft shell dish was all about the crab. There are times where you just have to show some restraint. The cherry salad went over well, but the chevre was the star. Once again finding good product is key and Lake Erie Creamery does a great job. I got some of the best scallops in on Friday; they were firm, dry and cooked up with nice carmalization. I like the apple-vanilla-coffee-balsamic flavor combinations, especially with scallops. The marrow butter was tasty, but I wish I could have melted it a bit more before sending it out. Lobster tater tots went over as a nice starch, but they weren’t perfect. I used a recipe that included pate choux, and the ratio of dough to potato resulted in a very moist, mushy, almost undercooked consistency. They cooked for an hour and a half, but at least they weren’t dried out.

Grilled Hanger steak was great; it really is a nice cut of beef. I went to the West Side Market Friday looking for hangers and didn’t see any. There are about 15 beef vendors, and on my second time around I started asking people if they had hangers. Everyone kind of looked at me weird and offered up Flank instead, but they are completely different in my opinion. Finally I come across a very talkative butcher who goes on to tell me, “these damn chefs come up with fancy cuts and go on TV, now everyone comes looking for things you never heard of.” I just smiled at him, nodded, and walked away shaking my head. Kari on the other hand thought it was great fun.

On that note, thanks Rachel at Three Birds for getting some hanger steaks for me. She must be one of those damn chefs going on TV and stuff. Also thanks to Kari for helping me shop. Thanks to Sharon the server on this night who did an excellent job helping both me and the guests. Lastly, thanks to the hosts for the opportunity to come to their house and cook for them in a way that makes everyone happy.