Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I'm No Butcher

I found this article in today NY Times very interesting. In short the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spend $1.5 million and five years searching for both cuts of meat, and ways to market them, cut from cattle that I thought we had pretty well worked over already. The grocery store meat case is something special. Pre-packaged, shrink wrapped, gassed, brined, marinated pieces of meat with little or no apparent connection to the animal from which it was taken. With the sheer quantity of product available at your average grocery store it lulls your senses that might normally connect an animal to that piece of meat. So when you start to think, there are only two hams on every pig, only two rib roasts or 20 rib-eyes on a single cow. Now you look at the meat case with 20 hams, and a huge stack of steaks, this should awaken some sense of responsibility in most people. This is one reason I think it's a good thing the cattle industry is marketing these new cut, and making available more of the type of cuts consumers want. While taking the long road, it is a means to using more and more animal from nose to tail.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shocking Poll Resualts

Wow, I’m truly shocked by the results of this poll. It evolved slowly, and predictably, until the very end, when a surge from who knows where pushed the results in a totally unthinkable way. With all that happens in Cleveland, we surely cannot count ourselves as trend setters, rather a very health vector of wholesome restaurant patrons who can spot a trend and lift it up, or shatter someone’s dreams. I have my opinion, and from those polled I’m not lucky enough to be looking for change in the near future. A lot of different people all over the world have an idea of what pizza is, and I’m quite open minded to those opinions. I have one simple critique, or observation that a pizza is not a cracker; you should not be able to see through your pizza. Your pizza crust should not be able to cut you. A pizza, like a woman, should not be flat, overly salty, and overpriced. For some reason this is exactly what a lot of people are calling artisanal pizza here in Cleveland. I’m not gonna hold back on this one, but a single serving cracker thin pizza for $16 is just wrong, and unlike most pollsters, I’m not just predicting, but hoping this trend sinks faster than a bucket of pizza sauce, since you aren’t getting any of that moist sauce on your cracker pizza!

Sushi seems to have run its course and entrenched itself in your culinary scene. People don’t seem as fanatic about it as they did a few years back. I think there is a core group of sushi patrons that are educated enough now to differentiate from the good and the bad so quality across the board has risen and will stay there over the long haul. The novelty of eating raw fish has also diminished. Not that it is any less enjoyable now, but those people who where squeamish about it 5 years ago, have just gotten over it. Sushi is here to say, and let us all hope it doesn’t go by the way of the Chinese Take-out.

Mass market coffee is only a few well placed television spots and another shock to the economy from disappearing. Small, local, homey coffee shops will live on, but their evil corporate money eating monster of a brother will not survive. I’m seeing pictures of people in the unemployment line on the cell phone, sipping Starbucks, and I wonder which will happen first…..the coffee or the phone? As soon as CNN runs the story every half hour that describes the hundreds of dollars in coffee you spend every year, I think a lot of people are going to take notice. Not a single one of them is going to stop drinking coffee, but they will make more economically conscience decisions on where they purchase it from.

Green dining, in the height of all it’s glorying, entering the spring harvest season, with the opening of the not at all ironically named Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland and 40% of the poll results concur that Green dining will be the first of the previously mentioned trends to hit rock bottom. Wow, this seems unthinkable, Slow food, Local Food Cleveland; we are all feeling like we just got punched in the gut. I do see where there is a reasonable argument that due to the economy the majority of restaurant patrons with be focused on value over quality. On the other hand, the ‘green’ message has been growing very fast the past few years, and the message has reached a maximum number of people. Not just our dinning choices, evidence found in the Greenhouse Tavern, and not just in restaurants, but everything from cars to toilets are going green. While due to the current economic situation green dining might have, or in the near future reached a platue, I do not see it regressing any time soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fascinating Food

Sometimes, if in the right state of mind, it’s very interesting to just ponder food. Think about what we eat, why we eat it, who chose to eat that specific thing first? Surely we can all agree that on the most basic level we eat for sustenance. But there is so much more, for thousands of years we have manipulated our food. We could, if we chose to, walk out our front door and begin eating whatever green sprouts we find or furry animal we catch, but we don’t! Let me give you a few examples, and examine them with a child like mind because I can Wikipedia their history just as easy as you can. How about your pantry basics….

Flour is something we can start with. So at some point there was a person who out of the blue rubbed some wheat between two rocks transforming wheat into flour. Okay, maybe it was an accident or something, but that person stuck with it and made something with the flour that was worthy of spending energy to rub rocks together to make the flour again in the future.

Sugar has run a full course in the great culinary race and lap’d itself. We have come all the way wrapped around sugar that we no longer want all that sugar and make fake sugar! Why do we even like sweet things anyhow?

Salt…’s a rock, why don’t we grind up any other rocks and eat them?

Salad greens come in all shapes and sizes these days. When we get a fun batch in at the kitchen we run our hands through it, pick out the weird shapes, or bright colors and ponder, just who, where, and under what circumstances did someone pick this leaf out among all the others, put it in their mouth, and decide, “yes, this is good enough to eat again.”

Artichokes are dear to my heart as they are in season and my fingers are currently stained from cleaning them. Upon embarking on cleaning a case last night I started to wonder how desperate the person must have been who grabbed a big thorny flower bud, stripped off all the leaves only to eat the base and choke on it, get another thorny flower, strip off all the leaves, remove the choke eat the base and decide it was worth all that work?

Eggs make me wonder as well. It just doesn’t make sense to me at any point to take an egg that weights maybe 4 ounces and eat it instead of waiting 6 months for a 4 pound chicken?

There are endless examples if you look around that will make you wonder, why, who, or how when it comes to food. There is a history to all these things now, but if you can make your mind think about things before this reasonable history existed, then you will find a lot of the food we take for granted very fascinating.

New poll

When a trend is no longer a trend what is it?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Top Chef Poll Results

We all agree there are great expectations put on the Masters series of the forthcoming Top Chef saga. The idea of throwing roughly two dozen accomplished chef/personalities in the Kitchen Aid, turning it up to 10, and seeing who flies out first is oh so tantalizing. Why will we watch is a more personal question. Will we watch for a masterpiece to be created, or a faux pas, exceptional knife skill or a sliced finger, imagination run wild or re-hash of the classics…do we want to see the masters triumph or succumb to the familiar failures we find in our own kitchens so often?

What scares me is how bad this idea can run amuck. Nobody wants to watch thirty people cut apples again, especially not the pick of the litter. Please don’t send the masters off to cook cafeteria food in Beverly Hills, on a ten dollar budget with guest judge Mr. Puck. With hundreds of years, thousands of menus, maybe a million services under their accumulative belts accomplished in restaurants kitchens, please don’t take them out of there! There will be no joy in watching, nor any sense of quality competition to watch this status chef cook breakfast on a beach over a charcoal fire for example.

There is a bright side! Assuming the silly competitions are eliminated….ok, limited at least, and the product placement doesn’t carry on to any more extreme measures, the opportunity to see a little bit of these chefs’s personality is very cool. Throw out the, “I’m so mean and yell at everyone. I’m supreme leader!” fake persona that most chefs tend to convey to the masses until you find them on a bar stool half in the bag. Even a twinkle of fascination, passion, or admission of fatigue or pressure will reassure to us their humanity. What emotion or who it comes from doesn’t really matter at this point; let’s just hope it can be incorporated into the show.

I’m looking forward to the next season of Top Chef, as are most of those who responded to the poll. I really hope we get to see the best of the chefs competing. I am looking forward to seeing something great come from their kitchens. With any luck, the best chef will win.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Weekly Specials Anymore???

Specials are something that I’ve enjoyed sharing on this blog. At the Black River Café I am doing 2-3 different specials or fish preparations nightly and things are a lot less planned out than in the past. That is not to say they are not thought out, properly composed dishes, just that they tend to morph, and change daily based mostly on what vegetables I have prepped on that particular day. I’ll try to catch us up a bit with a list of what we’ve been doing the past few weeks.

Organic salmon over horseradish mashers with fresh artichoke, beets, and peas in leek vinaigrette

Shrimp and scallop pasta in a roasted mushroom cream sauce topped with crisp pork belly

Rainbow trout, kohlrabi slaw, garlic rosemary frites

Rainbow trout, fried chick-pea, roasted pepper and spinach salad, chili-almond reduction (mole)

Crispy braised chicken wings, citrus glaze, sweet potato fries

Vegan potato gnocchi from Ohio City Pasta with lemon oil, English peas, and fresh herbs

Seared scallops, cauliflower-almond puree, Breezy Hill Farms baby Swiss chard, leek vinaigrette

Spinach salad, Lake Erie Creamery goat’s milk feta, lemony onions, crisp pork belly, fried Amish egg

Herb encrusted wild stripped bass, braised salsify and young carrots, tomato-fennel confit

Slow roasted leg of lamb, lamb jus, garlic rosemary frites, braised Swiss chard

Crispy fried rabbit livers and loin, romesco sauce, pickled onion salad

Pork and Pea tasting, ham hock and pea soup, fried pork belly ‘BLT’ in a pea profiterole, ham, Swiss and pea quiche

Milk chocolate pudding with baked banana

Peanut butter parfait with fresh banana and strawberries topped with chocolate streusel

Lastly, Ben added an improved vegan entrée to the menu; crispy white bean croquettes, red pepper coulis, braised chard, and sweet potato fries.

Simple Cornbread

Good, solid, tested recipes are hard to come by. Even more so when they need not be committed to the written page and everyone/anyone can log in to their favorite web space and leave a list of ingredients and ratios that are a recipe for nothing but disaster. Fortunately, I stumbled across this recipe online, I can’t remember where. The facts are that it is quite a nice recipe, I’ve made it twice now with great success and thought “why not pass it on.”

2 oz butter, melted
1 sprig of sage
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt

Chop sage and heat with butter until melted, add to sugar and whisk, combine egg and buttermilk. Finally add dry ingredients. Cook in a buttered dish at 350 Fahrenheit for about 30 min.

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Top Chef

The contestants of the next installment of Top Chef have been announced, and with a star studded line up of chefs the coming season has gained the "Masters Series" moniker. For a list of chefs check here. From what I can tell, Rick Bayless might be the only chef with any relation to Cleveland. What do you expect from the next season, vote in my poll.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


I've had the opportunity to work some SOS events and I'm happy to promote there cause. Michael Ruhlman does too, and you can read about it here to get involved.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Poll Results, a Tie?

What a letdown, the first tie in my short polling career. I thought the ‘goes’ where going to pull through against the old timers, but in the end a few stray votes made things neck in neck. My vote…well…I guess those of you who know me, know my opinion already, but for sake of conversation I’ll leave my personal feelings out of this one. I want to examine the many ways to judge temperature of a steak.

The cheek method, where one pushed his/her finger against the steak and moving from rare to well, feels similar to pushing against ones cheek from the middle of the cheek up towards the nose. The cheek part has a lot of give, where the nose area is stiff.

The thumb web theory; here is an example of the same tactile extrapolation just starting at the inner web of the thumb and forefinger and working up toward the wrist where the wrist area is rather stiff signifying well done, and the web area rather soft and thus signaling a rare temperature.

The thermometer holds a whole new mathematical realm to the equation, where cooking something to 90 degrees is medium rare, assuming a resting period in which the heat permeates the meat. Kind of scientific, but only as good as the thermometer, and the thickness of the steak.

Lastly, and the overall best way to judge steak temperatures at any restaurant is to have a great broiler man. This person is willing to throughout his own perceptions of doneness and based on experience provide a consistent doneness based on the clienteles desires. The broiler man has a lot of pressure, every steak he cooks gets judges, and it either passes or fails, and when a steak fails it gets paraded back into the kitchen, managers poke at it, the expo gives it a nod, other cooks wince and count their blessings it isn’t one of their plates. Other areas of the brigade don’t always fall under such scrutiny. Working the broiler is no glorious job, it’s the hottest spot in the kitchen, it’s bloody, and very much underappreciated. Can a great broiler man provide a steak that is something between medium rare and medium? Absolutely. So why not ask him to do it? I can’t think of one, sorry broiler man, your job just got a little bit more difficult.

Enjoy this podcast from linecook blog, including a discussion about steak temperatures.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

This weeks veggies

Kohlrabi gets its name from the German "kohl" for cabbage and the Latin "rapa" for turnip. It looks like a root, but it's actually a tuber and cruciferous like cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli.

Kohlrabi should be no larger than a tennis ball, they tend to get woody, and hard the larger they are. The leaves can be used along with the base. Weather green or purple they need to be peeled and both varieties have a cream colored inside. As you might imagine from its name, both raw and cooked kohlrabi has a sweet cabbage flavor with a crisp toothsome turnip like bite.

On one occasion this week I simply diced the kohlrabi, blanched it, then sautéed it with English peas, and braised pork belly. Secondly, and in a way to maximize the flavor of the kohlrabi I made a slaw with raw kohlrabi that was shredded, a chifinade of the kohlrabi leaves, some onion, and a dressing that included a bit of ginger for spice, and caraway seeds. One very pleasant surprise about raw kohlrabi is that it doesn't oxidize, or turn brown once cut.

Salsify has something of a fleeting history and definition. What is commonly called Black Salsify in the American market has a colorful variety of names including; Spanish salsify, also known as black oyster plant, serpent root, donkey dick, viper's herb, viper's grass and that's only the beginning. A closely related genus of plants is also called ‘salsify’ and generally includes anything which we would consider a 'wild flower' of which the small roots and young shoots are edible.

So, enough of the confusion. Black Salsify originates from southeastern Europe, but by 1600 was grown through Europe cherished for its hardiness in cooler climates. This salify plant has a taproot that can grow up to a meter long, but most available are about a foot long and one inch diameter. They have a dark brown skin that needs to be peeled revealing an astonishingly ivory white inside. Unfortunately peeled salsify quickly oxidizes so if a white product is desired the peeled root should be submerged in acidulated water. Salsify is described as having the flavor of oyster, but I don't taste it. I get a rather earthy, sweet, nutty flavor that reminds me more of artichoke and potato skin.

Salsify is commonly turned into a soup, which is nice. I like to caramelize batons of salsify in butter and serve them as a starch. I've also used them raw, cut very thinly and marinated with sherry vinegar and a touch of vanilla. This week I made salsify-potato latke. I used about twice as much salsify as potato, an egg, a touch of flower, some nutmeg and sautéed them in butter. They came out very nice, the nutty flavor came through nicely and there was a perfect amount of starch to hold things together.