Friday, May 28, 2010

Got Wood?

A few weeks back there was a discussion on the Cleveland Food Forum about barbecue and the subject of where to get wood (for smoking) came up. You can go to pretty much any grocery store around the city and pick up the expensive little boxes of chips. If you've actually barbecued with these highly overpriced bits of wood you know that because of the exposed surface area to the coals they don't last very long. (If you soak them in water, you might get an extra 10 minutes out of them.) So the question on the forum was where to get larger pieces of wood?

Dave from Live to Cook at Home mentioned a place south of Detroit Road that he claimed had "a mountain of wood". If there was, in fact, a place that sold woods native to Ohio like oak, maple, hickory, apple, and cherry in large pieces that would fantastic from a cost standpoint.

The Mountain of Wood

I went out on a Wednesday just to see if I could find it. Driving down 83, I was on the lookout for a mountain of wood. Coming from the south I passed a number of nurseries and then on my right was the towering pile of wood.

Center Road Wood

They're only open on Fridays and Saturdays; since I was there on a Wednesday I don't have any price information, but I do know exactly where it is now. By the looks of things the wood is going to require a little time to season since it's just sitting out in the weather. If anyone has any price information please leave a comment and let us all know. Right now I'm pretty stocked up, but I definitely want to stop by so I can start drying it out while I burn through what I have.

View Center Road Firewood in a larger map.

riverwinerat on Cleveland Food Forum had this to offer in terms of pricing. "approx $10 for a large handful of planks (sorry, I didn't catch the weight - about 2 ft. long and about 6-9 in the bunch). Also, prices varied when I was there. I think they had "Buy one, half off the second" of cherry pieces. I bought a small bag of apple logs, say 3 in long, about 7 in the bag, for $4."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tucky's (rhymes with "Yucky's")

Make sure to check here for more Cleveland posts

I was driving down Mayfield Road and decided to grab a quick bite while I was out. Always up for an afternoon dog, I decided to give Tucky's a try.

As I walked up to the front door I noticed a sign thanking Clevelanders for voting them "Best Cheap Eats". This is a good sign, no? I mean, if the good people of Cleveland voted them the best, they've got to be right, right?

I walk into the store and I'm absolutely waylayed by a massive wall of frying oil smell. I'm being completely serious, the place was filled with the heavy odor of deep fryers. I knew if I didn't get in and out quickly I was going to need a shower when I got home.

I hurried up and ordered a Chicago that consisted of a skinless Old Vienna hotdog on poppy seed bun, with sports peppers, emerald relish, diced onions, tomato wedge, pickle spear, yellow mustard and celery salt. What can I say? The hot dog would have been fine sans toppings. The tomato, pickle and peppers are not easy to eat when laid on top of a hot dog. Come on man, if it's worth eating, dice it up so I don't get a solid mouthful of tomato, pickle, or pepper. I hardly thought there was $3.50 worth of effort put into this thing.

Ringing endorsement? Hardly. I don't know what the Cleveland Magazine readers like, but this visit was hardly Silver Spoon worthy. I don't normally pan places outright, but Tucky's isn't even in the same country as Seti's Polish Boy or Happy Dog. As for the CM readers - What were you thinking?

6232 Mayfield Road
Mayfield, 44124

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Macarons in Ann Arbor? Who Knew?

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t always the biggest fan of French food. Looking back, I think it stems in part from a bad experience my husband and I had at Charles De Gaulle airport in 2001 on a layover to Rome. We encountered some less than friendly Parisians, and we wrote off just about all things French (the exception La Chatelaine in Columbus; always was a favorite, always will be).Well, I now admit, that closing our minds to French food was a mistake. Somewhere within the last several years, we’ve discovered that the French aren’t so bad and they really know what they are doing when it comes to food. I’m not sure of the exact moment of our “epiphany,” but it’s fair to say that we can thank Chez Francois, The Perryville Inn, Eric Ripert and Jean-Georges for their contributions along the way. Now, believe it not, we actually talk about traveling to France.

So, imagine our delight when on a cold, blustery day in March while visiting Ann Arbor for the weekend, we happened upon a French woman selling pastries at the local farmer’s market. Despite the frigid temps, she had a steady stream of people snatching up all types of baked goods – almond cream tarts, eclairs, macarons, etc. We struck up a conversation with Cecelia and her husband, who happens to hail from Ohio. We discussed her background as a pastry chef, the farmers markets she frequented and most intriguingly, the pastry classes she taught through a local cooking school and at her home. We made a mental note of her website – We bought a fruit tart and her last two coffee macarons.We made our way back to Cleveland and ate said macarons. We promptly fell in love at first bite and found ourselves quickly looking up her next scheduled classes. Unfortunately, a trip back to Ann Arbor would have to wait…until now.

My birthday present from my husband was a surprise – Macaron making class with Cecelia. I was nervous. Research I had done on macaroons revealed that they are hard to make and often end up in failure. Such simple ingredients…sugar, egg whites, almond flour are very formidable in the world of macarons. Those who know me will attest…I am not a fan of failure. I’m a perfectionist, hard on myself, etc. Upon learning of my gift, I told Cal that he needed to attend for me because he’s much more precise and better under pressure. However, in the end, I decided to suck it up and see for myself…with some guidance, could I be successful at making Macarons? It would appear, I couldn’t have a better teacher.

The Classroom

Cecelia has a great set up for teaching classes. To the side of her garage, she’s built a modest sized kitchen for her own baking and teaching classes. She limits the participants to 2-4 people. Her approach for this class was to explain and show in detail how she makes macarons. She provided a very rudimentary recipe – the ingredients, the temp and the cooking time. She stated, in her darling French accent, that she’s added some of her own personal touches, such as using buttercream filling vs. ganache. Her husband was on hand to translate the few times she was at a loss for the right French to English translation to explain the process. Her husband was also available for a much more important task -cleaning up after us as we went along, constantly washing, drying and whisking items in and out of their industrial grade dishwasher. He was at the ever ready, understanding all too well that time is of the essence when dealing with such temperamental pastries as these.There were 3 of us in the class. Cecelia first demonstrated as we took notes and asked countless questions. Then, she let us loose to make the first set of macarons as a group. We chose vanilla. I was impressed with how well we worked as a team. Cecelia explained that macarons aren’t hard to make, they’re just complicated. There are a lot of little steps that go into the finished product and they need a lot of attention. She confirmed my observation that there’s a lot of gray when making them…they are not black and white. Personally, I’m a black and white kind of girl, so it’s understandable how such a little cookie could make me so nervous!

For our first batch, I’d say we did a decent job. The precision that’s needed to perfect piping and “breaking” the tops of the cookies only comes with a lot of practice. We produced a fair amount of “Hershey’s kiss” appearing cookies, but with some vigorous tapping of the pan, most of them faded away, and into the oven they went.

Ready to put together

Our final assignment was to each make our own batch. I chose coffee and my classmates chose raspberry and almond. We all feverishly worked to crank out our first solo batches, referring to the scribbled notes we had just taken and asking for reassurance as we went. Cecelia was often looking over our shoulder to offer advice and make sure we were on the right track. Once our cookies had formed the perfect crust and began to bake, she walked us through the flavoring of the buttercream and showed us how to fill them. The first example was the batch she made…vanilla buttercream (flavored with vanilla beans – no extract here!) with a rum soaked cherry sandwiched between the 2 cookie layers. We couldn’t eat them fast enough …light, chewy cookie and velvety smooth filling. We thought that they were perfect. However, Cecelia quickly commented to her husband that next time she would add 2 cherries to intensify the flavor and ensure a bit of cherry in each bite.

Piping Buttercream

After making almond, coffee and raspberry buttercreams, Cecelia sent us off to our stations to finish our work. Again, once they were assembled, we couldn’t wait to try each flavor. The coffee, vanilla and almond flavors were intense. And good! The raspberry was certainly more subtle, flavored with several fresh raspberries.

In the end, we decided to share our creations amongst one another. Cecelia announced to the class that she better not see us buying macarons from her in the future because now we all know how to make them! We each went home with an assortment and being that class was from 6-9 pm, I ended up having macarons for dinner on the car ride home. I was on a bit of a sugar high, to say the least!

Assembling the Macarons

Overall, I was extremely impressed with this class. Am I the next Pierre Herme? Uh, no. However, I can say that we were all successful in creating these finicky little pastries and we gained a ton of insight from someone with real, in depth knowledge of the process. Not only were our creations edible, they looked and tasted good too! I served some at work the next day and everyone was impressed. Cecelia encouraged us to not rest on our laurels and to make sure we try them at home again as soon as possible. I have already purchased my almond flour and will be working on recreating them over the upcoming holiday day weekend.

Ann Arbor is a small foodie heaven. I’d highly encourage you to spend at least a day or two eating your way around the city, Then, take a pastry class from Cecelia. She doesn’t just teach macarons, although the classes are in high demand and just about always filled. Actually, Cecelia confessed to us that her true favorite dessert to make is éclairs and she feels that hers are some of the best around. I think I smell a birthday present for my husband and another trip to Ann Arbor…

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pavé Potatoes

These little suckers are absolutely awesome. Mashed potatoes are about as generic as it gets. You definitely need a fair amount of time to make these, but in the end the reaction you get from your guests is well worth the effort. This is a wonderful potato option that doesn't include the word "mashed".

Pavé Potatoes
Pavé Potato
from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes (3 1-pound potatoes if possible)
  • 5 tablespoons (2 ½ oz.) unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon softened and 4 tablespoons (2 oz.) cut into ½" cubes
  • Canola oil
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed, skin left on
  • Minced chives

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

1. Pour the cream into a large bowl and season with 1 tablespoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Peel the potatoes. Cut a thin lengthwise slice off one side of a potato so it will rest flat on the mandoline. Lay a Japanese mandoline or other vegetable slicer over the bowl of cream and slice the potato lengthwise into very thin (about 1/16 inch) slices, letting them drop into the cream. (If you can’t lay your mandoline across the bowl, slice the potatoes, adding the slices to the cream as you go.) Stop from time to time to toss the slices in the cream to keep them coated and prevent them from oxidizing. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.

2. Brush a 10 x 6½ x 3 inch high pan with half the softened butter. (Don’t use a shallower pan – need the depth this size pan gives the pave.) Line with parchment paper, leaving a 5-inch overhang on the two long sides. These extensions will be used to cover the potatoes as they cook and later serve as handles when unmolding. Brush the parchment with the remaining softened butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Trim the potato slices to form a solid even layer in the bottom of the pan and lay them in the direction that works best to fill the pan. Repeat to from a second layer. Dot with a few cubes of butter and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Continue layering the potatoes, adding butter and seasonings after each two layers. Fold over the sides of the parchment to cover the potatoes. Cover tightly with a piece of aluminum foil (to allow the potatoes to steam as they bake).

4. Bake the potatoes for 1 hour and 50 minutes, or until completely tender when pierced with the tip of knife or a wire cake tester. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Put a weight on top of the potatoes (see note), cool to room temperature, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or up to 2 days.

5. To serve run a palette knife around the two longer sides of the pavé to release it from the pan, and use the parchment handles to lift the potatoes from the pan, or invert onto a cutting surface. Trim all sides of the pavé. Cut the pavé into 12 equal pieces and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes cut-side down, add the thyme and garlic, and cook, basting with the liquid in the pan, until browned on the first side, then turn carefully and brown the opposite side.

7. Arrange the potatoes on a serving platter, browned side up. Put a small piece of butter on each piece to melt, and sprinkle with chives.

Serves 6

Note: The easiest way to weight the pavé is to cut a piece of cardboard just smaller than the top of the pan, so that it will cover the top of the pavé without resting on the sides of the pan. Wrap the cardboard in aluminum foil, set it on top of the pavé, and place a few cans or other weights on the cardboard for even weight distribution.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nantes Carrot Stew

What is it about getting your hands on some really good produce that makes you want to look extra hard for a good recipe? In the past we’ve gotten the Chef’s Garden Family Box and been really impressed with what was sent to us. Because the boxes vary from shipment to shipment, you’re never quite sure what’s inside until you open them. In a recent box we received some rather large carrots that required some breaking down into smaller chunks. The hunt was on for something that cooked utilize carrots in “chunky” form, but more importantly was really tasty.
Not to sound like a broken record here, but the Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home has some monstrously delicious recipes in it. I’ve done a number of his creations in the past and with the exception of one, they’ve all been above average in the visual appeal and taste categories.

For these carrots I chose the Nantes Carrot Stew recipe. The recipe is actually very easy to execute and one of the quicker ones from the book. One of the things I really like is that you can make it the day before and finish the last step right before you serve it. This would be great for a dinner party where you’re already stretched for time.

The Nantes Carrot Stew has definitely been added to my list of “go to” vegetable sides.

Nantes Carrot Stew

Nantes Carrot Stew
By Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc at Home

  • 2 pounds sweet carrots, preferably Nantes
  • 1 tspn coriander seeds
  • 1 tspn caraway seeds
  • 4-6 Tbsp (2-3 ounces) unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp dry sherry or Madeira
  • 1 cup fresh carrot juice
  • Large pinch of Yellow Curry Powder or Madras curry powder

1. Peel the carrots and cut them into oblique shapes.

2. Make a sachet of the coriander and caraway seeds by wrapping them in a piece of cheesecloth and tying it with kitchen twine.

3. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the carrots, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until the carrots begin to give off their juices, about 7 minutes. Lower the heat as necessary to keep the carrots from browning. Add the sherry and cook for 2 minutes. Add the carrot juice, curry powder, and sachet and, and cook, swirling the pan, for 2 more minutes, or until the carrots are just tender. (The carrots can be cooled and refrigerated in the liquid overnight.) With a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to a bowl. Discard the sachet.

4. Simmer the carrot juice until reduced to a light glaze. Whisk in the remaining 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, depending on your preference, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt, add the carrots, and swirl to glaze the carrots. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Serves 6

Friday, May 14, 2010

Northeast Ohio Barbecue Classes

I love all things barbecue. I love reading about it. I love talking to others about it. I love cooking it. I love sharing it. Most of all, I love eating it.

I recently finished reading Mike Mills’ Peace, Love & Barbecue, and went to the KCBS website that was listed in the back of the book. While I was wandering around the site I noticed a link for classes. To my surprise The Heat Exchange Hearth and Patio Shoppe was holding a class taught by award winning pitmaster Chris Marks of Three Little Pigs in Kansas City, Missouri. I knew this was something I really wanted to do.

It’s been my experience that barbecue classes (like food) can range from the very expensive (Myron Mixon from Jack’s Old South offers a three day course for the low, low price of $750) to the extremely reasonable five hour course with Chris Marks for just $75. A cursory search through the KCBS website showed that classes offered by these experienced pitmasters hovered in the $200-$300 range.

If you haven’t been to Heat Exchange Hearth and Patio Shoppe in North Ridgeville, you’ve got to go. If there’s a store in northeast Ohio with a better selection of barbecue and grilling gear I’d like to know where it is. They sell an absolute ton of grills, smokers, tools, charcoal, and smoking wood. Most places carry either chips or chunks, but I was pretty stoked to find quartered logs of apple wood that measure roughly 6” in length.

Piece of Apple wood from a bag of Good One brand

The two main subjects covered for the class were ribs and chicken. We started the class off by prepping ribs the way Chris likes to do it. We removed the membrane, tenderized the meat with a fork, covered them with mustard, and then applied the rub. I personally had never used the mustard or the fork methods before, so I was interested to see how they worked.

Without giving the blow by blow of the entire class, all I can say is that there really wasn’t a point where you weren’t talking about barbecue with either Chris or your fellow classmates. In fact, I found the exchanges between some of the others at my table equally enlightening. A guy at my table, who also has a Big Green Egg, was telling me about how great the BBQ Guru works. The value of the class wasn’t just what the instructor was sharing, but also the exchange of information from the other attendees.

At the end of the class you took home the ribs that you prepped (that had been smoking during the entire instruction) to be finished in the oven. I can say that I walked away with a few more tricks than I had come with. I think what I liked most was that the lessons weren’t being delivered as the absolute right way or wrong way. Chris Mark does a great job of patiently answering every question that is asked of him. It was just a great experience.

So is all lost? Did you miss your opportunity? Well, yes and no. Chris will be coming back on Friday September 24th for a 3 hour grilling class that covers meat, fish, and vegetables. The next day he will be holding a Brisket and Pork Butt class that covers everything from marinades to rubs to injection to finishing techniques. If it’s anything like the Ribs and Chicken class, he will answer any and every question that relates to the subject.

I typically don’t post anything that I myself am not going to, but literally three days before this Brisket and Pork Butt class was scheduled we booked our vacation to San Francisco. My recommendation is that you sign up sooner rather than later (there’s only 30 seats). There were people who had come from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and even one from Canada who ended up not showing. I have no financial interest in any of this, but walked away so impressed with both the store and the class that I want people who truly love barbecue to know about this.

These are some other classes that are a little more expensive (Viking) and a little cheaper (OCBC) for those who might live on the east side or in Akron/Canton. If you haven’t been to Old Carolina you should try it.

Other barbecue classes currently available (Click class title for links to the class):

The Heat Exchange Hearth & Patio Shoppe - $75.00 Brisket and Pork Butt, $50.00 Grilling Class

Old Carolina Barbecue Co. (at Belden Village Store) - $29.95 Basic Barbecue, $19.95 Creative Grilling

Loretta Paganini - $55.00 How to make four different kinds of ribs (4 seats left)

Viking Cooking School - $135 Barbecue Basics