Friday, November 27, 2009

The Thanksgiving Post Mortem

This was the year my sisters and I decided that the hosting of Thanksgiving would rotate between the three of us. Since Darcy hosted it last year, and Bridget is nearly eight months pregnant, it made perfect sense for me to put on this year's feast.

I don't think too many people would argue with the notion that this holiday is logistically the most difficult to host. I think it's one of those things that doesn't really dawn on people just how much work goes into hosting one of these things until they're faced with the task. Since this was the first time we had hosted this holiday since coming back to Cleveland, I decided to try and address some of my pet peeves from Thanksgivings past.

Eating off of paper plates with plasticware whilst sitting on a couch with three other people.

This was the year that there would be a seat for every man, woman, and child. With the help of Mike aka Cheesecake (my brother-in-law), we were able to shuttle chairs, tables, china, and silverware from the west side to my place. Moving some furniture around at the house we were comfortably able to fit fourteen *scratch that* fifteen adults and a kids table of two. My mother is famous for bringing last minute additions without asking first. The same thing happened at our wedding. The key is to take as many things out of her control as possible, thus removing as many holiday monkey wrenches from her bag as possible.

Cell Phones
Texting at the dinner table pisses me off. Are you that disinterested with the rest of us that you need to constantly glance down at your phone? I'll tell you what, you fix the food and get everything ready and I'll text. Let's see where things go.

I collected them all at the door, and they went into a glass vase. As was predicted, the teenagers were gobsmacked, immediately breaking into a cold sweat. Everyone, but my brother-in-law Walt, gave there's up. He refused. I lost face with the teenagers (who were in obvious pain), but what can you do.

A Vase Full of Cellies

Being stuck talking with the same two or three people the entire time because no one wants to give up their prime seat
El Bulli this was not. They have twenty course meals, we had three. After each course everybody had to take their plate and silverware and switch to another table. My Dad, who is a confirmed seat planter, seemed very uneasy with switching seats. He had plucked a prime seat at the head of one of the table and thought he had it made for the next four hours. It was after the salad bowls were cleared that everyone was instructed to change tables. My mother, who had been stuck at the smallest table, chortled with joy at the announcement, while my dad tried to figure out a way to hang on to his precious seat. I think in the end most people actually liked the idea; the pleasure (and the pain) of conversation was equally spread amongst everyone.

People who arrive late.....way late
If there is one family member who falls under the category of "way late", it's my sister Jenine. She is typically brings a dessert to any family function because, well, that's usually when she arrives. This year I impressed the fact that we were sitting down to eat at 1:30 sharp and would begin eating with or without the habitual offenders (Jeanine and my mother being the other.)

This was the year that we made history, both of the way laters arrived on time. We witnessed history on Thursday. It was like seeing not one but two black swans in one day. We all savored the moment, unsure of when it might ever happen again.

Everyone bringing a dish, but either doesn't bring what they said they would bring (thus leaving a void in one spot and doubles of another), not making nearly enough to feed everyone, or the worst... bringing some sort of store bought cookie or veggie tray from *gulp* Giant Eagle
We commandeered the ship. The instructions were simple: Bring something to drink. My sisters have young kids, my dad has a penchant for under and overcooking pies, my mother likes to change her mind about what she's bringing depending on the amount of time she has.

This year WE were responsible for the food. Most purists would call what I did a cop out, but this is the way it went down. We decided on a salad course made from the Chef's Garden salad box, a quart of Moxie's cheddar vinaigrette, candied walnuts (which we made), bacon lardons cut from a 3# slab of smoked bacon in Fire's tandoor oven, and dried cranberries. This actually turned out better than I thought it would. I would kill for the dressing recipe because it's that good. We also served the epis from On the Rise with whipped thyme honey butter (which we made). It was a success all around - no salad, rolls, or butter left over.

Chef's Garden Goodness

Bacon....Smoky, Smoky Bacon

The dinner course was almost entirely purchased from Route 62 BBQ in Johnstown, Ohio. This is my absolute favorite barbeque restaurant in the state. A couple months back I tried their smoked turkey and was completely blown away. For Thanksgiving I wanted to go to there (an Office reference.) As luck would have it they offer Thanksgiving package that included a 12# smoked bird, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn pudding, cranberry apple chutney, green bean casserole, and a choice of pumpkin or pecan pie. A pan of jambalaya (which is absolute sex in a dish) was thrown in by Route 62BBQ for driving down from Cleveland and getting two of these Thanksgiving packages. I'd do it again in a heartbeat - low stress and delicious food. Regina also added a cooked carrot dish since green bean casserole isn't her thing.

Dessert consisted of a pecan and a pumpkin pie that was included in the package from Route 62 BBQ, cranberry upside down cake (we made), and a pumpkin gingerbread trifle (we made), pumpkin loaf, and cranberry loaf (On the Rise). It turned out that there was plenty to go around. The cranberry upside down cake is very easy to make and will probably be in a future post because it's that good and that easy. The trifle was nice because all you have to do is make the gingerbread a day or so ahead and then literally whip up the rest the day of.Dessert
The Conclusion
Would I do it this way again? Yeah, I think I would. It's a pretty big undertaking. Without the collective help of others, it's a pretty daunting task. Lucky for us we are on the three year rotation, so we don't have to worry about it until 2012.

Thanks for all your help (the shuttling of the furniture, the picking up of the food, and even going back and picking up more knives for you frantic sister.) I told Regina afterward that this was the first time in a long time we had 100% of the old Mike back. It felt like old times. If I remember anything about this particular Thanksgiving, it will be the time we spent getting this thing read, (for that I'm very thankful.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What to do with a Monster Cauliflower

Yeah, all of that is from a single head of cauliflower

At the Shaker Market I laid eyes on one of the most incredible heads of cauliflower I'd ever seen. They were big and absolutely filled with florets. Usually when I buy cauliflower you get a smaller head and thirty percent of it is usually waste, for this thing I'd say it was closer to fifteen percent. In fact, the one I picked up was just over four pounds and was enough to make this recipe (which calls for 2 heads totaling 4 to 5 pounds.)

Is there a better way to spend a Sunday morning?

Like most everything I've made from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, this one is a keeper, (admittedly the only stinker was the chocolate chip cookies, but I think the problem was the amount of flour. I hate baking recipes that use volumes for dry ingredients.)

While this soup is not exactly low fat, it is an irresistible bowl of goodness. I've always found cauliflower to be a pretty boring veggie that is difficult to find good recipes for. As was the case last weekend, the locally grown vegetables at the North Union Farmers Market continues to dwindle, but all of the items used in this recipe can still be found here in Cleveland. This soup is one that should have broad appeal. It's sophisticated enough for the foodie, yet homey enough that my dad wouldn't be afraid to eat it.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Red Beet Chips
by Thomas Keller from "Ad Hoc at Home"
  • 2 heads cauliflower (4 to 5 pounds total)
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 C coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
  • 3/4 C coarsely chopped onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon Yellow Curry Powder or Madras curry powder
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 C milk
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 2 cups water
  • Peanut or Canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 medium red beet
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • Torn Croutons (see recipe)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, and cut out the core. Trim off the stems and reserve them. For the garnish, trim 2 cups florets about the the size of a quarter and set aside.
  2. Coarsely chop the remaining cauliflower and the stems into 1-inch pieces so that they will cook in the same amount of time. You need 8 cups of cauliflower (reserve any extra for another use).
  3. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, curry, and coarsely chopped cauliflower, season with 2 teaspoons of salt, cover with a parchment lid, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the parchment lid.
  4. Pour in the milk, cream, and water, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time.
  5. Working in batches, transfer the cauliflower mixture to a Vita-Mix (leave an opening in the lid for the steam to escape). Begin pureeing the cauliflower on the lowest speed and blend, slowly increasing the speed, until smooth and velvety. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed. Transfer to a large saucepan and keep warm. (The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
  6. Fill a small deep pot with 1 inch of peanut oil and heat over medium heat to 300 degrees. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line the rack with paper towels.
  7. While the oil heats, peel the beet and slice off about 1/2 inch from the top. Using a Japanese mandoline or other vegetable slicer, slice the beet into rounds that are slightly thicker than paper-thin. Reserve only the full rounds.
  8. Carefully add a few beet rounds to the oil and fry, turning them with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon as the edges begin to curl and pressing gently on the chips to keep them submerged. You will see a great deal of bubbling around the beets as the moisture in them evaporates; when the bubbling stops, after 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, the beets will be crisp. Transfer the beets to the paper-towel-lined rack and season with salt. Fry the remaining chips in batches. The chips can be kept warm in a low oven.
  9. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the vinegar and the reserved cauliflower florets and blanch until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. The vinegar will help keep the cauliflower white. Drain.
  10. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a rich golden brown. Add the florets and saute until a rich golden brown. Set aside.
  11. To serve, reheat the soup. This is a thick soup, but if it seems too thick, add water to thin it to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  12. Pour the soup into a serving bowl or soup tureen. Top each serving with a few cauliflower florets, several torn croutons, and a stack of beet chips. (If the beet chips sit in the soup, they will become soggy and discolor it.) Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Serve the remaining florets, croutons, and chips in separate bowls on the side,

Torn Croutons

  • 1 loaf of country bread
  • Garlic Oil from Garlic Confit (see recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
  1. Cut the crusts off of the bread. Tear the bread into irregular pieces no larger than 2 inches. You need about 3 cups of croutons; reserve any remaining bread for another use.
  2. Pour 1/8 inch of the the garlic oil into a large saute pan and heat over medium heat until hot. Spread the bread in a single layer in the pan (if your pan in not large enough, these can be cooked in two smaller pans.) Add the butter. The oil and butter should be bubbling, but if you hear sizzling. the heat is too high. Adjust the heat as necessary, and stir the croutons often as they cook. Cook until the croutons are crisp and a beautiful rich golden brown on all sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Move the croutons to one side of the pan and keep warm until ready to serve. Torn croutons should be used the day they are made; you can reheat them in a low oven before serving if necessary.
Garlic Confit
  • 1 C peeled garlic cloves
  • About 2 C of canola oil
  1. Cut off and discard the root ends of garlic cloves. Put the cloves in a small saucepan and add enough oil to cover them by about 1 inch - none of the garlic cloves should be poking through the oil.
  2. Set the saucepan on a diffuser over medium-low heat. The garlic should cook gently: very small bubbles will come up throught the oil, but the bubbles should not break the surface; adust the heatas necessary and/or move the pan to one side of the diffuser it is cooking to quickly. Cook the garlic for about 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the cloves are completely tender when pierced with the tip of knife. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the garlic to cool in the oil.
  3. Refrigerate the garlic in a covered container, submerged in the oil, for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Caffe Roma

Make sure to check here for more Cleveland posts

I had to drop Regina off at the airport last week so we figured we’d try someplace on the west side for lunch. We had driven past Caffe Roma a few times and weren’t quite sure what it was all about.

If it’s one of those places that is a bit of a mystery due to just opening, to lack of grapevine info, or not having a website, we’ll generally test drive it at lunch. The strategy has seemed to have worked pretty well because the time and money investment is lower than dinner.

Located at the intersection of West 130th and Lorain, Caffe Roma occupies the end unit of an old shopping strip. There is parking around the back and on the two side streets that straddle the block wide shopping strip.

As you walk inside you notice that the décor is fairly spartan. Sicilian and Italian National football team photos and Italian artwork adorn the walls. The acoustics aren’t particularly inviting nor is the draftiness of the space, but the regulars who were eating there didn’t seem to mind much.

Looking at the menu one thing really stands out – lack of lighter options. There is no antipast0, fresh veggies, or grilled anything. The lion’s share of the menu is either deep fried, pasta, Italian Sausage, or Sicilian style pizza. When asked if there were any veggies, our very accommodating server told us that she could give us a side of the peppers and onions that they use for the Italian Sausage.

I like pizza, but Sicilian is my least favorite kind. I just don’t like the doughy heaviness of that particular crust. It seems like 80% of a single piece is bread.

If Caffe Roma does anything well, it’s Sicilian Pizza. With the ability to order by the slice, which is cool, I ordered a slice of pepperoni and one with sausage.

Fresh out of the oven, the crust had the hallmark thick Sicilian crust. I thought to myself, “Oh boy, here’s another heavy piece of pizza.” But when I bit into it, the crust was actually really crispy and airy. If you come here I would try the pizza. It’s actually pretty good.

Desserts consist of gelato from La Gelateria, assorted Bindi offerings, as well as house made tiramisu. Since it was lunch we decided to skip the dessert.

They don't have a liquor license, so needless to say - no vino. One thing that does suck is Ohio's lack of a BYO law that legally permits you to bring your own wine. Perhaps you might call ahead and see if they'll let you bring some on the sly.

I can’t say that it’s anything that really reminded me of Rome, per se (maybe Caffe Palermo). I do think the very reasonable prices and down-to-earth service fill a niche in the surrounding West Park neighborhood.

Caffe Roma
13000 Lorain Ave
Cleveland, OH 44111
(216) 889-9999

Caffe Roma on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Unlike Thomas Keller, I don't have the Central Valley's bounty beckoning at my back door. Each week as I peruse the ever shrinking offerings at my local farmers market, I'm constantly faced with the question of what to make with fewer and fewer locally available vegetables.

There comes a point where you just get tired of the same base seasonal dishes that have only a small twist to them. I'm not saying it has to be "Fancy Food", as some people call it, but give me something different and tasty.

I can't say enough great things about Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home". Armed with the limited number of vegetables that were available to me, this Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup fit the bill for different, tasty, and locally available Ohio fall vegetables.

I originally decided to make this for my wife, but after tasting it myself I was more inclined to stash it away for myself. Trying to taste this thing with your eyes does it no justice. The combination of the bacon fat, the small amount of mild curry, and the punch of the red wine vinegar really creates a satisfying taste to the dish.

When it's all done this soup is more like a quasi-chili than anything else. The lentils absorb nearly all of the stock so it ends up being fairly thick.

Is this the way Keller intended the soup to look like? I don't know. There wasn't a picture in the book, but I bet it came pretty close.

One last thing, don't forget to make some extra bacon. The crispy saltiness makes the perfect bite!

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home"

  • 8 oz. applewood-smoked bacon
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil
  • 2 C thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 C coarsely chopped leeks
  • ¾ to 1 tspn Yellow or Madras Curry Powder
  • Kosker salt
  • 1-½ lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 2 Sachets (1 bay leaf, 10 peppercorns, 1 peeled and smashed garlic clove, and 3 sprigs of thyme wrapped in cheesecloth)
  • 2 C (about 8oz.) Spanish Pardina or French de Puy lentils, small stones removed, rinsed
  • 8 C Chicken Stock
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Cilantro leaves

Cut the bacon into lardons that are 1 inch long and ½ inch thick.

Heat the canola oil in an 8 to 10 quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon, reduce the heat to low, and render the fat for 20 to 25 minutes. The bacon should color but not crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.

Add the carrots, leeks, onions, and curry powder to the pot and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Season with salt, reduce the heat to low, cover with a parchment lid, and cook very slowly for 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard to the parchment lid.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes. Trim them and cut them into a ½ inch dice. Put the potatoes, one of the sachets, and 2 teaspoons of salt in the large saucepan, add cold water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and spread on a tray to cool; discard the sachet.

Add the lentils, second sachet, and stock to the vegetables, bring to a simmer, and simmer for the 30 to 40 minutes *mine went every bit of 40 minutes*, until the lentils are tender. (At this point, the soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 day.)

Spread the bacon in a small frying pan and crisp over medium-high heat.

Add the vinegar to taste to the soup, then add the potatoes and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup garnished with the bacon and cilantro leaves.