Friday, February 27, 2009

Cooking with wine and life

You know when you are adding wine to a pot and sometimes you just turn the bottle upside down and let it glop out, 'glop' then air in 'glop' then air in, and it takes like 30 seconds for the wine to come out but you don't care. Then other times you just swirl the bottle a little and a vortex forms and all the wine rushes out of the bottle in like 3 seconds. Life is like that sometimes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Headcheese, part two the finale

The final dish looked like this; a slice of chilled country style pork pate, mustard, cornichone, and toasted bread. Of course those are pickled red onion up front.

This cross section of the headcheese loaf gives a good look at what was previously pictured in the bowl. I pressed the mixture into small loaf molds overnight. I'm really glad I went through this technique because I found the texture and flavor of this headcheese far better than the pork pate I've made in the past. The texture of this was pleasantly soft and palatable; the favor was subtle, yet adequate. Where I can get the aroma of cinnamon and clove in the headcheese, I was smashed in the face with it like when I made the pate previously. The texture of the pork pate was hard, tough, and greasy tasting where this headcheese was very meaty yet soft, almost melt in your mouth. I lucked out for a first try and let the aspic reduce perfectly, not chewy, yet firm, what can I say, "Sometimes you get lucky."

This was a special scallop entree for the night; seared diver scallops over celery root puree with Swiss chard and carrots topped with a truffle hollandaise. A very good looking, well composed, tasty dish that didn't perform. I have a bad feeling the front of the house falls behind on the weekends because ironically I sell less specials when we do twice as many covers.

Our cheese plate had alot of thought and tasting put into it. The final, at least the current rendition is pictured here. Warm Lake Erie Creamy Chevre is in the cup, around the clock we have, a hard raw sheep's milk cheddar, Blooma a soft rind aged goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery, and a grass-fed cow's milk Swiss with apples, nuts and almonds to round out the plate.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sustainable Seafood

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has put together a very nice resource for anyone who purchases seafood with an eco-friendly conscience. The Seafood Watch program informs us on what to avoid most importantly, along with best choices and a middle of the road alternatives category. The information can be accessed here. At the Black River Café we use these guidelines in purchasing our seafood, and in line with the Restaurant Program do our very best to not use anything in the ‘avoid’ category.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Headcheese, part one

This is my little story about making headcheese. This kinda thing always raises eyebrows in the kitchen; whats the pig head for, where is that on the menu, or that's disgusting are all responses we know so well. I've come across different versions of headcheese recently by way of Cory and Daniel on hulu. It was time for me to give it a try. I already had a cow tongue in the freezer for some added bulk, and a skinless pig head cost us only $9 from the butcher. Shoot, the parsley to finish it cost almost that much. Pictured here is the cooked pig's head. As you can tell the bottom jaw bone comes away from the rest, while the cheek meat is rather plump and stands out as the prize. I say this in spite of the fact the tongue will make up a good percentage of the total take of meat off the head.

This the the head picked clean. I'm sure I sorted the meat from the fat far better than need be, but I really wanted a dense meaty end product. Since the head was skinned when we recieved it there was no snout, but the eyes did hide a nice little treasure chest of meaty goodness.

This was our take of the meat off the head. The large tongue on the right is the calfs tongue from the freezer I added for bulk. The meat is all very succulent and moist at this point. I started the head in about 3 gallons of water, mire poix, and a sachet of cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and black peppercorns. After removing everyhing I reduced that liquid down to about one quart.

Here is our final product pre-molding. I chopped the tongue into a nice 1/4 inch dice, and minced the rest up rather fine. This blend was annointed with about a cup of very rich stock, parsley, sherry vinager, salt, and a heavy hand of black pepper.

Soupy Poll Results

So it’s a smooth, velvety, and creamy soup that is most desired on restaurant menus. There are two pieces of equipment that make this happen, and I’m not sure they can be found in many home kitchens. A Vita-Prep blender is the muscle that can turn almost anything into a puree. It’s a rather pricey machine with a narrow range of uses at home, but in the restaurant kitchen it can get a really good work out even on a slow day. The other thing necessary for a smooth and velvety textured soup is a chinois. This is the finest strainer in strainer family, anything finer and you’re looking for some cheesecloth. With a little pushing, the effort is well worth the results. So many of the soups I’ve made in many different restaurants has culminated in me standing in front of the Vita-prep ladling hot soup into the top, buzzing it for a minute or so, then pouring it into a chinois and using a ladle to push the soup through into a bucket and discarding the solids left in the bottom of the strainer. I’ve done this hundreds of times. I’m not at all surprised it’s in high demand.

What I am surprised by is the lack of votes for the classics. It’s true, they are the classics for a reason, and they are very popular. Any day of the week, any time of the day, any kind of weather and Lobster Bisque will sell! Creamy tomato with blue cheese….you better have made a large batch, French onion….no, you probably didn’t slice enough onions, and Asparagus soup….in Cleveland, in December, ohhh who cares!

Personally, I’m not very fond of eating soup. I almost never order it when I go out to eat. I do stop off at the Souper Market sometimes, and I almost always get something chunky, something that’s more stew than soup. As for making soups in the restaurant I try to think of soup as a liquid appetizer, that doesn’t necessarily stop with what’s liquid and goes in the bowl. I’m interested in pairing a soup with something else, on the side, for instance a petite sandwich. This seems very approachable, and has worked well in the past. Most recently at the Black River Café we did a creamy chicken soup juxtaposed with crispy chicken skin served alongside. The possibilities are endless; the combinations are what make soup interesting to me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top Chef, finally a good episode

What a missed opportunity this season of Top Chef in NYC has been. Casting is the most glaring problem. They didn’t start with a full line up of contestants who could possibly win. Flat out they picked some people who wouldn’t deserve a job in my kitchen. With a line of qualified, proven, tested chefs the TC crew picks a kid just out of CIA for example. What a waste of a spot for someone who might have been a contender. We have had to wait until this week, with only 4 chefs left, for an episode lacking some obviously stupid or otherwise glaring shortcoming. Still nothing stunning, nothing unique, but this is part cast, part challenge. Some of the recent challenges have eliminated creativity (something this cast completely lacks) in favor of imitation. From the trip to Le Bernardin, to the last meal, to Creole cooking this week, no allowing for creativity. The cast as a whole is a boring lot that played into stereotypes and fallowed party lines, just like their food. The show would be much more entertaining if a group of qualified cooks competed against each other with a stricter more orderly system for judging was in place. Five seasons in and I can’t figure out what the judges are looking for. They seem to concentrate on a single event one week and eliminate a chef, then the next week glance over the same situation. It must be doubly aggravating for the chefs.

The wrong man was sent home! Fabio was robbed by his slacker euro trash buddy. Although Stephan has done a great job in the past, the attitude and food included in this week episode was rather disturbing. Prepared sausage, standard food, crappy arrogant attitude all are things we’ve seen other chefs get dismissed for. Fabio baked bread, and made pasta from scratch, in five hours! Assuming their food was equally tasty, the technique, and range Fabio showed far exceeded what was portrayed as a sloppy Stephan taking smoke breaks and patting himself on the back.

While I’m willing to stay a fan of TC, there are a good number of ways they can improve the show overall. The casting, judging and the challenges could all use an update. I’m hoping next season brings something new to the table because if I want to watch a bunch of un-inspired cooks wallow away at the ovens, I’ll just go to work.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Breakfast Hot Spot Black River Cafe Opens for Dinner

Our first press over the Black River Cafe's new dinner offerings has been inked and is the hands of the Oberlin Community. The Oberlin Review article can be found here. A very honest, straightforward, un-opinionated piece that sets the tone for what's to come.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Music and Dining

The verdict is in, and that is an overwhelming desire to hear Jazz music while dining out. I’m not at all surprised that the great musical traditions of Jazz are welcomed to be a part of our dining experience. I do wonder how many of those pollsters who chose Jazz are listeners outside of the dining room? Jazz seems like such an easy choice. With roots that go back almost 100 years to modern interpretations the variety of styles and emotional states is almost never ending. While I’m sure Jazz can be appreciated even if it’s the first time someone has listened, I wonder how many jazz votes might have been, “something, but I won’t remember,” just as easily. It’s nothing offensive toward Jazz or the voters, just an observation that my own vote would go for that which I wouldn’t remember, and for the most part, 3 hours of Jazz that I find in the moment very pleasant during a meal, completely forgettable the next day.

I’ve learned the best way to enjoy the music of those around you is to be as open as possible, and never get attached. I’ve responded many times in the past as to my musical tastes, “it is all good unless I don’t like it.” That is how I feel about music in the dining room. As long as I don’t hear something and say to myself, “wow, I don’t like this music,” then I’m perfectly happy. I’m perfectly happy in my completely ambiguous, vague, self serving definition of what I find acceptable that it can only be defined by its opposite. Simply and boldly states 80’s pop and/or country makes my skin crawl.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fresh Pics From Black River Cafe

This was our daily bread select, from front to back; baguette, gougeres, foccocia, and brioche.
This is our Braised Pork Shoulder with butter braised cabbage and herb spatzle in the back.
Our chicken is served as a half boneless chicken in a lemon-thyme marinate with boc choy, and roasted root vegetables consisting of carrots, parsnips, celariac, and rutabega.

A little twist on the classic, Steak Frites, but we use sweet potato fries, with swiss chard, and pictured is a rib-eye.

One of our more popular dishes so far, mushroom risotto. We cook the rice in a rich vegetarian stock with porcini mushrooms, then finish the dish with butter and parmasean. On top we put spinach and whole mushrooms, in this case oyster and shitake. Truffle oil, parmasean and black pepper finish the dish.

The daily fish was Rainbow Trout, pan seared over sweet and sour cabbage topped with ricotta gnocchi and almond brown butter.

Monday, February 02, 2009


We went to 2for1 burger night at The Drink in Lakewood tonight. Of all th places you thought the menu would never change, this was one of them. So when our favorite tender handed us newly pressed, laminated, and bound copies of the menu, my heart skipped a beat. No longer can we feast on the pork potstickers or the western burger, they are gone, long gone but not forgoten. We tried some new burgers, and they are still good. You can't go wrong with quality meat cooked to temp on a soft bun with fresh veggies and generous toppings. I had the bacon&gouda. It was good, the sweet potato fries are unchanged which is good. The beer as always is cold and the service is supberb. Every Monday night at The Drink in Lakewood!