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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Poll Background

I am a regular reader of the New York Times food section. There has been a string of articles with a common theme which describes city dwellers partaking in what are traditionally country activities. While Cleveland is a far cry from the crowded urban landscape of New York City, perhaps even your upstanding suburbanite would shy away from a few of these fringe foodstuffs.

This story is about illegal bee keepers in big cities.

Another story about raising chickens in the city, a sometimes, someplaces illegal activity.

Yet a third piece about rooftop gardening setting a sci-fi scene in which every available rooftop is considered prime farmable soil.

Home brewing of beer is somewhat more common. I've never done it. Moonshine? Never done that either, but sounds interesting.

Why not push the envelope? If 12 chickens take up such an amount of space, why not a goat that takes up the same area?


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Events this week-end

I'm a big fan of Fresh Fork Market, I like what they do. I cheer for the small guys with big dreams. I can appreciate what they have grown from, and when I saw this I just wanted to re-post it from the cleveland.com food and wine forum so it reaches as many people as possible. I hope to be there with an as yet to be determined dish.

21262. Open Invitation, Fresh Fork Pot Luck by FreshForkMrk, 6/23/09 22:21 ET


Hi all,

Fresh Fork is having our first Pot Luck of the summer. It is to celebrate the successful launch of our CSA...which is quickly approaching 100 subscribers...and to introduce our wonderful customers to our wonderful producers.

The date is Sunday, June 28th from 2 PM to 5 PM at 755 Starkweather Ave, Cleveland OH 44113 in the Tremont community. It will be in the empty lot beside our office. Free parking is available and we will have a large tent (30' by 20') in case of rain!

The event will include tasty local foods (of course) and family games. Producers will showcase their products. Famalies will have the opportunity to learn about the products, register for Fresh Fork events (farm tour), and earn Fresh Fork Ripe Rewards (points to earn savings off future purchases).

There will also be games and announcements. Games will incldue apple bobbing, water balloon toss, and cornhole.

Again, the event is from 2 PM to 5 PM on Sunday, June 28th. Please RSVP to Brittany Gatto atbrittany@freshforkmarket.com. Please bring food to share!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer beverages don’t seem to convey the same emotion that a winter beverage can. Think about how soothing a cup of hot coco is after spending some time in the snow, or coffee on a January morning, or how a shot of whiskey will get you through the fourth quarter of a Browns game in December. Summer beverages are those of desperation “give me something to drink before my mouth seals itself shut and I pass out from dehydration.” On the other hand there is a relaxing feeling associated with a well crafted handmade Ice Tea or Lemonade that is infinitely more than just thirst quenching.

Ice Tea is by far the most popular of the poll. I agree, except for the lemonade I make that I’ll share the recipe for. Sangria reminds me of a suburban hairy buffalo…just through a whole bunch of fruity stuff together and taste, if it’s not good enough add more stuff till you either like it or run out of stuff to add. Beer is neither hydrating nor thirst quenching in my opinion. The addition of salt and lime does seem to freshen up a beer and reduce some of the carbonation. Start with a can of Tecate, rub a lime slice around the rim, dip one side in salt, open the can and insert the lime slice, now that is refreshment.

Water is great, if fact it should be our favorite as it’s free (mostly), the most healthy, and easiest beverage on the list. I drink more water than any other beverage. In the hot kitchen nothing tastes better. I do have a grip about bottled water though; bottles of water should not come any smaller than a liter. I take down a 12-16 oz bottle in two gulps and throw the bottle in the recycling bin. Who drinks 12 oz of water and says, “oh no, that’s it, I can’t drink anymore,” who?

Next time you want to put a twist on you ice tea or lemonade try either of these two ideas. I’ve tested them, and they work great.

Ice Tea

For every two quarts of brewed Ice Tea add: half an orange with the following spices stuck into it;

One cinnamon stick, 3 inches
One star anise
2 cloves
2 green cardamom pods

Since everything is stuck in the orange it’s easy to get out. I like to let mine sit overnight, but if the flavors get too strong for your liking just grab the orange out earlier. Of course there is nothing wrong with leaving it in.


In a pot combine

2 quarts of water
1.5 quarts of sugar
3 lemons, zested, then juiced
3 limes, zested, then juiced
6 stalks of lemongrass, rough chop
4 oz of ginger, sliced thin
4 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 oz mint
1 oz basil

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 15 min. Let sit at room temperature until cooled. This is a base flavor mix that can be kept, covered, and refrigerated for a fair amount of time. If it becomes thick towards the end, microwave it in the container for 30 seconds to get things flowing.

Using this base mixture of any amount I like to use a 1:1:1 ratio of lemon juice, base, and a mixture of tonic water and club soda for bubbles. I know it’s easy in the restaurant to walk over to the soda gun and get whatever I want so unless you like tonic water already stick with the club soda. There is nothing wrong with using purchased lemon juice, just stick with the fresh squeezed thing. If the word concentrate is anywhere on the label, skip it.

Enjoy you summer with a great beverage!


Friday, June 19, 2009

Episode 2, links, and other musings

Frequent reader Scott had been anticipating the demise of Wylie Dufresne on Top Chef Masters, and all I can say is, “sometimes dreams do come true.” Wylie wowed use with a load of foul language filled grilled cheese amuse. Proceeding to top this effort by not completing the judges dishes with all it’s components. Ok, one dish, but it was the protein. And if to insult a broken man the judges seemed to convey an overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for his molecular knowledge, while bandaging that wound with what has become a common judgment on the Masters of, “but it taste good at least.” Cheers Scott as the mighty have fallen. Poor Wylie as the producers took to him hard handing out a drubbing in one episode most Top Chef contestants would streach out over a few weeks.

Graham Elliot Bowles was in my opinion the big winner of this episode, even if he isn’t moving on. He brought a charisma, energy, and style combined with hands on cooking skill that will win over a ton of viewers. If we don’t see more of this guy on TV, it’s because he doesn’t want to do it.

I came across this blog of antique recipes, with photos of hand written classics. Check it out here at Recipecurio.

The new blog, and then we eat, caught my eye due to a unique mix of home cooking, restaurant styling, and increasingly good photos.

It occurred to me after reading the most recant Food Arts magazine that if every single new restaurant is touting local products then why aren’t the big boy mass distributers posting losses, losing customers and/or crying for help?

Even the local strawberries this year seem to be very uniform in size, flavor and texture adding up to something not nearly as appetizing as years past. Time to pass the torch on to ‘heirloom strawberries’ sounds like a reason to raise the price!

The Black River Café just got two Curly Tail Organic pigs delivered. These where some massive hogs. The loin itself has to be a solid 4 feet long. Great tasting too!

Of all the recent menu changes the pesto gnocchi and the lamb salad are hits, while the daily risotto and rabbit ragout sales have fallen off as of late.

This week-end I’ll be working on duck confit perogies, seared scallops over marinated carrots, rainbow trout on bacon and horseradish fingerlings in a herb coulis, and pork tenderloin with snap peas, sweet potatoes, soy roasted pineapple.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and consists of basil, parsley, cheese (usually Parmigianino), pine nuts, and olive oil. There is a French equivalent called pistou, with the major difference being the lack of pine nuts. That being said there are many, countless variations and ratios used the world over in which a combination of cheese, nuts, and major flavor ingredient come together with some oil to form a paste we as chef’s liberally call ‘pesto’.

Basil pesto is the mother of all pesto. There is no denying that a well made basil pesto is very tasty. But it isn’t just that easy. Store bought bottles, jars, and tubes are almost always inferior to what can be made from scratch. A well tested recipe is only the beginning, every leaf of basil is different, garlic can be very pungent, or flat, and while not one of the more traditional ingredients, acid be it lemon juice or red wine vinegar can give a flat pesto the exact punch it needs. Texture is another variable that stretches from a grinding or chopping the ingredients by hand to using a food processor, or the fine puree you’ll get from a blender. At the end of summer, when the basil plants have taken over the garden, remember this!

So there is a never-ending list of pesto recopies, but let me share mine.

1# basil picked from stems
Salted water to blanch
Ice water to chill

1 cup Parmigianino cheese
1 cup toasted pine nuts
One small clove of garlic
Juice of one lemon
¾ cup high quality EVOO
Salt and pepper

So, we’ve all seen the brown pesto with an oil slick over top. Not this way. Blanching the basil will keep the pesto green for as long as it’s ever taken me to use it up. It is essential that the pine nuts get roasted to a nice even brown, your nose will tell you when. A pesto with raw nuts will be completely different. On garlic, I hate the flavor of raw garlic, but the bite a small bit in this case brings something sassy to the pesto. The number one mistake in most pesto is too much garlic. Everything can go in a food processor together. I like a fine pesto, but the blender goes too far in my opinion, so I let the food processor go for about 5 minutes. The acid helps emulsify the relatively small amount of oil eliminating that unappetizing glop that usually covers a chilled pesto. Keep this paste in the refrigerator and use it on pasta, meat, bread, or anything else you like.

I’ve taken the liberty as a chef to remove basil and/or pine nuts from the basic pesto ratio and replace it while still calling my end product a pesto. I’ve done it will bell peppers, in which brunoise bell peppers replaced basil. Most recently I’ve been making Ramp pesto. I use the green ramp tops in place of basil with great success. The ramps don’t need to be blanched either. I do leave out the garlic in the ramp pesto as the ramps bring enough pungent flavors to the party. Arugula-walnut pesto is another modern interpretation of the classic pesto that has seen success in a variety of markets.

The process of making pesto is very easy. While the cheese and pine nuts might be pricey to begin with, pesto is a great way to stretch them out. Lastly, with the blanching method, beautiful pesto will last forever.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Top Chef Masters Season Permier

It’s been a few days now, so anyone who wanted to see it has by now, speaking of Top Chef Masters. Different and interesting are the two words that come to mind to describe the premier episode. I wrote about the prospects of this seasons Top Chef two months ago here. So how do I think things played out……?

Triumph –vs- Failures: We will not see many failures this season. This falls in line with the wishy-washy judging that we will see as well. For example, over cooked risotto, at least it’s cheesy. Salty steak and kale dish, “salty, but we loved it.” Or the collapsed chocolate cake and liquid ice cream debacle….just aren’t gonna talk about that one!

Taking restaurant chefs out of the kitchen, Check. Overt product placement, Check. Which backfired since every chef complained the hot plate couldn't supply enough heat to sear a pork chop.

On the good side the chefs where portrayed as very humble, approachable, and emotional. This was more a part of the show than I expected. It worked well in my opinion.

Lastly, will we see something amazing from the chefs? This remains to be seen, but if the likes of Girl Scout judges and dorm room kitchens are the indicators, we will have to settle for untapped potential.

For another opinion of the Top Chef Masters I found this interesting from Christine Fu, of the National Examiner.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Poll results

While the grass may not in fact be greener on the other side of the fence, it sure does look that way from here.

Why are you gazing over toward the other side and not tending to your work anyway.

If the sun falls on both sides of the fence and no one is there to see it, is the grass still green?


Monday, June 08, 2009

June Photos

This is our new lamb dish for the summer menu. I marinate the chunks of lamb with lemon oil, juice and zest, dried oregano, and black pepper. I like my greek salad to be naked. All the vegetables are cut to order, seasoned, then I like to beat them up in a bowl a little bit so they all give up a little juice and that becomes a dressing in and of itself. The syrup is a tangy red wine vinagar reduction with honey added to level it out.

Scallop special: Seared scallops, English pea risotto, roasted tomato coulis, ramp pesto. Sometimes the bite of ramp tops hits me over the head too strong, but when tempured with parmasean and pine nuts it's pungent, but enjoyable.

I just love fresh peas, what can I say. I was in the middle of shucking these when I looked up, saw my camera, and said, "what the hell," snapping of a few photos.

Another Scallop Special: Seared scallops, lemon-parmasean risotto, sauteed spring vegetables including fresh artichokes, ramps, and asparagus. Fresh artichokes are alot of work, but I'm very disappointed with them as a selling point at the Black River Cafe. They so obviously aren't the canned ones, or even the really expensive oil marinated ones. It's nice that I get a chance to snack of them, but I'd rather sell them. Even local asparagus has produced a resounding "thud" as a selling point. I've worked places, and eaten places where local asparagus and fresh artichokes where reasons to celebrate.

This is something like our summer salmon dish on the menu. This is Copper River Sockeye Salmon which is really nice. There are shoestring vegetables under there, which have become our default summer vegetable replacing the wintery swiss chard. I use the mandoline to cut carrots, zucchini and squash, julienne red onion and chopped garlic round the mix out. The dish as pictured started out with salt and vinagar chips, but on pay day my name is in the middle of the check, not the lower right corner, thus our summer salmon dish has orzo now. We make our own version of tartar sauce which I whipped up for a special last week and everyone liked it so we stuck with it. Basicly it's equal parts cornichones, capers, parsley, shallots, egg yolks, a little lemon juice, salt, Frank's red hot, and prepared mayo.

Things Ben Makes

Ben made this dessert as a way to use up some very ripe apricots. There is an apricot-chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse, chocolate-goat cheese sauce, and sliced apricot. This dessert sold very well Saturday night.

We've had a little spare time on our hands lately and in a way to amuse ourself Ben made these dice out of parmasean cheese. We grate the cheese into a powder because it melts into things better, and looks better than strings of cheese as a garnish. This powdery cheese tends to be fairly moldable, but weak. To keep the shape Ben glazed the dice with the blow torch to perfetion.
Two ideas came out of this; instead of ice sculptures, how about cheese sculptures? Or, instead of sugar and chocolate show pieces, how about cheese and....crackers for instance?

Ben used a recipie that called for shredded beets, but sub'ed out apricotes. The cake was plesantly light and spongy. He thought it was dry that is how the mousse came about, but I thought the cake was nice on it's own. We also sell of chocolate lava cake that is rather heavy, so I enjoyed the contrast of this light cake.

I've tried to sell grilled flatbreads at the Black River Cafe a few times now, and it just doesn't go over well. We had 3 out of 6 left after Saturdays service so I made this my dinner. Ben took it out of the over so I decided to post it here. The toppings are fresh artichokes, ramps, smashed English peas, roast garlic, and Lake Erie Creamery Carphilie cheese.

While Ben didn't bake this bread from scratch he has taken on the responsability of looking after our daily bread service. It's quite and agrivation at times, and I'm glad he took over this task. I like this pic, there is alot to see if you click on the pic to enlarge.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Menu Changes

We made some seasonal changes to the dinner menu at the Black River Café. I’ll try to snap off a few photos sooner than later. Remember, we do our best to source everything locally, organic, and/or environmentally responsible.

Seared Scallops over ratatouille

Vegan Pesto Gnocchi with artichokes and roasted red peppers

Pork loin chops, black bean-sweet corn relish, fresh tomato salsa

Country style Greek salad topped with marinated leg of lamb

Wild Salmon, shoestring summer vegetables, salt & vinegar chips, house made tartar

Roasted half chicken, orzo, grilled summer vegetables, herb brown butter


Monday, June 01, 2009

Back to the Basics

I consider myself somewhat of a creative person. I try my best to be the most creative chef I can be, with restraint and cause as conditions of time and place. My customer base has very little interest in molecular gastronomy, along with the show and lack of sustenance it seems to convey. Middle America, North East Ohio, Cleveland, Oberlin, these people want a meal, not entertainment. I play with flavor pairing, juxtaposing different ethnicities, but increasingly am interested in getting the best product I can and just plain making it taste good by cooking it properly. It’s easy to glaze over mistakes in the name of ‘creativity’. Yet it’s quite difficult to take a dish everyone is familiar with and prepare it perfectly.

This got me thinking. What flavors, or dishes, or preparations do we come across quite often, that tend to be lacking most of the time. Sure there is the perfectly ripe peach at the end of summer that will just blow your mind away, but what else out there consistently lacks to wow us?

Shrimp, I like shrimp, but almost all the shrimp I eat is, well, not that great. Carolina pink shrimp, fresh never frozen are the best shrimp I’ve ever tastes.

Popcorn, we all will shovel handfuls of popcorn in our mouths at a movie, but does it really taste good? Not to me. I remember when a pot with oil was needed for popcorn, topped with real melted butter.

Apples, yeah, I told myself to stay away from produce, but apples seem to be on the shelf all year long, and they suck all year long. Why? Why do we buy them when they are so far from good?

Chicken, this is more of a preparation obstacle. I have had very few experiences where I ate a piece of chicken and said, “Damn, this chicken is good.” And with all the chicken we eat you would think we would learn how to cook it consistently good.

Bread, this one is a real kicker if you dare to contemplate it. Out of convenience we decided that sliced white bread would we our standard preparation. Ok, wheat, multigrain, and rye are also quite common, but from the major manufacturers, they are all pretty much the same. Yet there are bakers, and bakeries, and restaurants turning out amazing bread that is cared for and nurtured, and looked after. Making bread for yourself it not all that difficult, and I guarantee would provide a ‘wow’ above and beyond even the finest sliced buttercrust. Sure, I’ll make my next bologna sandwich on white, but it’s not going to wow me.

I do have answers for a few other lack luster products. If you don’t like what you’ve been buying then try:

Murry Hill Farms Eggs at the Kamm’s farmers market on Sundays
Haltzer’s Milk, unbelievable product, Nature’s Bin in Lakewood has it for sure
Lake Erie Creamery Goat Cheese, full flavored and fresh, available at the west side market.
Meat, bologna for example for that next sandwich will be that much better from Chef’s Choice Meats
For bread try Zoss, who has a storefront in Cleveland Heights, but travels to the North Union Farmers Markets including Lakewood on Wednesdays.