Monday, November 29, 2010

Raise a Glass of Christmas Cheer!

I hope everyone had an enjoyable fulfilling Thanksgiving shared with great food and loved ones.  I was very pleased with how my feast turned out and will post pictures once I figure out how to add pics to a blog entry (yeah, the joys of being a rookie blogger)  Anyways, Friday and Saturday also had their fill of good food.  There was no better way to finish off a successful Black Friday shopping spree then a BLT and Christmas Ale from B-Spot.  Saturday included a trip and lunch at a true Cleveland food landmark, The West Side Market.  However, my holiday cheer was brought out in full force at the first annual Winter Wine and Ale Fest on Saturday evening.  

This event was held as a part of Downtown's Winterfest which highlighted the lighting of Public Square.  For $40/person, guests were able to sample 20 craft beers or wines of their choice from 19 different Ohio breweries and wineries.  My approach was simple, do not taste anything you already had and know you like.  This provided me the opportunity to sample other brewery's Christmas Ales since every time I go out, I remain loyal to Great Lakes Christmas Ale.  Also, there were appetizers and deserts to enjoy with the winter libations.  While tasting, we were able to rate our drinks on a scale of 1-5 (I did mine as 1 = lowest, and 5 = highest).  Now, I am not going to present everything I rated, just the 4's and 5's  Please keep in mind, these are based on my personal preferences.

My overall favorite was the Cleveland Chop House's White Chocolate Brown Ale.  I love a good chocolate stout (I mean, it is a combination of two things I and chocolate).  I think if I had this as the first brew of the night, the remaining 19 tickets I had would have been used on this beer.  It was not the bitter stout that most people would think of, and there was a chocolate flavor throughout, not just at the end.  Next time I am near by the Chop House, I must stop in for a White Chocolate Brown Ale.

My second favorite is Hoppin' Frog Brewery from Akron's "Frosted Frog".  This is their Christmas ale which features my favorite Christmas flavor, gingerbread.  I would be up for a trip to Akron to sample their other brews.    

Other beers worth mentioning: Cellar Rats "Field Rat Wheat", The Brew Kettle's "Blackjack Porter", and Buckey Brewing Company's "Witless" (maybe I should get some for Thursday's Cavs/Heat game)

And now for wines:
My overall favorite was Firelands' Pinot Grigio.  Would love to enjoy with a pesto dish since I love pinot grigio with pesto.  

For something easy to drink and fruity, I would recommend any of the Virant Frosts (I sampled strawberry and blackberry).  They were a little thicker then most wines, but enjoyable if you are looking for a fruity wine.

I also want to mention the carephilly cheese I enjoyed from Great Lakes Creamery.  If you enjoy parmesan and provalone, I would recommend looking for this particular cheese.  It would be a great addition to your holiday cheese platters.

I am looking forward to many more holiday culinary adventures.  The Christmas cookie list has been started, and the holiday party invitations are starting to pile up.  It truly is the most wonderful time of they year.  With that being said, I am going to start something new on the blog, "Question of the Week".  Feel free to comment below.  

What food/drink really makes it feel alot like Christmas?

Until next time...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my loyal readers!  With it being the BIGGEST food holiday and all, I decided to give you an overview of what I will be prepping and serving tomorrow.  It will be my second year preparing it solo since I used to cook with my grandma.  She is now my personal culinary guardian angel (amongst other guardian angels too).

Roast Turkey (of course).  I don't brine.  I stuff it with citrus, herbs, and butter and cover it with butter soaked cheesecloth.  Now, the most important part to ensure your bird is not dry would be basting.  I may have mentioned in an earlier cooking blog I am not one for timers.  Roasting turkey would be my exception.  I religiously baste every 15 minutes and with everything else going on, I have to set the timer.  I remove the cheesecloth about a half hour prior to dinner to give the bird a nice golden glow.

Cranberry Cornbread Stuffing (I may attempt Michael Symon's cornbread stuffing recipe he tweeted earlier today and just add the cranberries)

Candied yams, complete with brown sugar reduction and marshmallows: Make sure to remember the marshmallows will plump upon roasting.  If you squeeze too many on, you will have one sticky mess to clean up

Sweet potato boats: This is a family recipe not too many people have heard of.  Cook the potatoes then cut in half.  Hollow out and mix the potato with cranberry relish.  Top with walnuts and a brown sugar cinnamon blend.

Homemade cranberry relish grinded with a 100+ year old grinder (one of my favorite kitchen tools for sentimental reasons)

Mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, steamed cauliflower, homemade dinner rolls, gravy

And of couse pumpkin pie (Nana's recipe of course)

To drink: Elena Walch, 2009 Gewurtztraminer (highly recommended for Thanksgiving by Little Italy Wines, one of my favorite wine shops) and of course, Great Lakes Christmas Ale!

So now, all I have to do is prepare this lovely feast, sit down, raise my glass and be thankful.  And I am NOT ashamed to admit I ALWAYS clean my plate on Thanksgiving.

Until then...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger (and gobble till you wobble)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bon Appetite a la Bruell!

One of the big names on the Cleveland culinary scene would have to be Zack Bruell.  Owner of four wonderful restaurants, Table 45, Parallax, L'Albatros, and Chinato, Zack offers Clevelanders a variety of food and cooking styles.  In all of my dining adventures at Bruell's restaurants, I have yet to have a less then fabulous meal.  The service and selection also is nothing short of wonderful too.  If I only paid a bit more attention (or joined Twitter sooner) I would have participated in the Tour de Bruell, a promotion running through December 3 to dine at all four restaurants with the chance to win a four course meal for eight people with Zack Bruell.  My most recent dining adventure happened to be at Bruell's French Brasserie on University Circle, L'Albatros.

When going to restaurants, I love to try new things.  I hate falling into the always ordering the same thing rut may tend to fall into when dining out.  Yes, I do have my "stand-by" dishes just in case something does not capture my curiosity and spark my appetite.  When going over the extensive menu at L'Albatros, which has a large variety of poultry, seafood, beef, and vegetarian options, one thing definitely caught my eye, "sauteed skate wing".  Now I like to think I am quite familiar with various poultry and seafood options, however I never heard of skate.  My boyfriend clarified it was a type of sting ray but never tried it himself.  I asked our server, who was very helpful and friendly, about the taste.  She explained it as a very mild seafood almost like a whitefish or shellfish.  That made my decision for me.  I must say, I am very pleased with my adventurous pallet because I LOVED the skate.  It was sauteed in a brown butter sauce and accompanied by zucchini and tomatoes cooked in cheese.  

I must also mention the puree of eggplant, mushroom, and tomato soup that we had was the perfect starter to the meal.  A bit of future advice for those wanting to have soup but not wanting it to fill you up.  Ask if it could be split into two or more portions and share with your table.  Much like Bruell's other restaurants, a basket of bread is not placed on the table, yet brought to you, as needed, to enjoy with the olive oil and herbs.  I also must commend our server too for being very friendly and attentive.  After asking about a huge cheese tray I saw being taken around and mentioning my love of truffle, she brought me what is now my new favorite cheese (I will tweet the name later to ensure proper spelling).  It was very mild had a perfect perfect buttery texture.  I was later told, this particular cheese was brought back to Italy by Marco Polo.

Overall, I would recommend any of Bruell's restaurants for a date night or night out with friends who are in town.  The food and service will exceed any expectations.  Bruell's restaurants, specifically L'Albatros, are worth repeat visits to truely experience all it has to offer.

I now want to apologize for not updating recently.  As we all know, Thursday is Thanksgiving and I have been a bit busy preparing the menu for the big day.  I am so ready to talk turkey!!  Also, I would like to mention Cakes Plus bakery in Rocky River.  I am a recent winner of one of their Facebook contests and will blog about the Ultimate Brownies I have won once I pick them up.

Until next time...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy (early) Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving dinner...the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce.  Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (or candied yams), green beans.  Finally, the pumpkin pie.  In two weeks, I will be preparing this feast for my family while watching the Macy's parade in the background.  Then, when the last timer goes off, the table is set, and "Grace" is said, I will indulge in my favorite holiday meal.  Every year I look forward to the preparation and then the enjoyment.  I dream of turkey with cranberry sauce in the middle of April.  Thanks to Melt Bar and Grilled, I was able to get my taste buds even more excited with their November Sandwich of the Month, "The New Bomb Turkey".

I think I may have found my new favorite Melt sandwich, which is a shame because I may not be able to enjoy it after November 30.  The sandwich consists of roasted turkey, stuffing, butternut squash, muenster cheese, and a side of cranberry dipping sauce.  In other words, heaven between bread.  All that was missing was the sweet potatoes, but I really did not miss them much.  The stuffing was just like homemade and perfectly cooked.  The squash and the cheese complimented each other perfectly.  With each bite, i drizzled on the cranberry sauce adding that sweet-tartness to my dinner.  And of course, the star of the sandwich, the turkey.  There was NOTHING dry or bland about this bird.  With every bite, I was getting more and more excited for November 25.  To substitute for the pumpkin pie, I tried the pumpkin pie martini.  Overall, it could have used a bit more pumpkin and slightly less Bailey's.  Otherwise, it was still enjoyable.  Personally, when you get this sandwich, I would recommend pairing it with the Southern Tier Imperial Pumking Ale which is still on tap.  I also recommend saving room for dessert (the pumpkin cheesecake) which we unfortunately did not.  I usually limit my visits to Melt to once a month, however, the New Bomb Turkey may lead me to go back once more in November, this time leaving room for pumpkin cheesecake.  Another successful and delicious trip to Melt.  Matt Fish, you never disappoint me.

With that being said, I would like to take time to thank all veterans on this Veteran's Day.  Because of your sacrifices, we Americans have freedoms unmatched anywhere else in the world.

I also would like to inform you, Hungry in Cleveland is now on Twitter.  Follow me @HungryInCLE to see where I am eating and what I am cooking.

Until next time...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger.    

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cream of the Crop

So I often wondered what it would be like to be a judge on Iron Chef America.  Having some amazing chefs, both the Iron Chef and the challenger, presenting their dishes to me, explaining how they made it and their inspiration for it.  Of course, there would be the evaluation of their use of the secret ingredient.  Well, maybe one day I will be lucky enough to have this experience.  For now, the closest I have gotten is sitting at the Chef's Table at Crop Bistro and Bar in the Warehouse District.

Recently, a friend and I were looking to catch up over dinner.  She suggested Crop since she knows one of the chefs there.  This made me happy since I wanted to go to Crop for some time.  I have heard of some of Chef Steve Shimoler's innovative techniques and Crop's reputation for using the freshest and highest quality ingredients but never experienced it for myself.  I also heard good things about Crop from other foodie friends, so my expectations were quite high.  Crop is tucked away on West 6th next door to the late Dick Jacobs' favorite spot, Johnny's.  Unless you are specifically looking for it, it is easy to pass up.  However, this is all going to change early next year when Crop moves across the Lorain-Carnegie bridge to it's new home on West 25th and Lorain, in an old bank building.  

Since I was a bit early, I had the chance to enjoy a "Spooky Spice" martini and chat a bit with the bartender about the unique martini offerings.  The Spooky Spice was their take on a pumpkin martini and everything a pumpkin martini should be.  I have had my share of pumpkin martini's and this one takes the cake...or pie in this case.  A pumpkin martini should be like drinking spiked pumpkin pie.  Crop's "Spooky Spice" used fresh pumpkin puree shaken with pumpkin liquor and rum.  It was garnished with nutmeg and a cinnamon twist.  Other martini's that caught my eye were the  "Bloody Devil" (pepper infused vodka, and chipotle bloody Mary mix), "Anthony's Caprese Martini" (a caprese salad in a glass), and, not that I would drink it, "The NASCAR" (Wild Turkey, BBQ sauce, peanut butter, and beer...I kid you not).  This also gave me time to take in the intimate, cozy atmosphere which I hope will not be lost once they move to their bigger location.  And now for the food!

If I had to give this a title like an Iron Chef battle, I would call it "Battle Innovation".  Waiting for us, was a basket of buffalo style popcorn.  Think movie-theater meets corner bar.  The popcorn was drizzled with a blend of buffalo seasoning, sriracha sauce (a personal favof mine), bleu cheese, and celery.  Everything came together perfectly.  Now sitting at the chef's table we were able to chat with the chefs as they were cooking.  Even Chef Steve came and talked with us throughout our meal about some of his innovative cooking methods.  One menu item seemed to jump out at me and I had to ask "What is Lobster Latte".  I love lobster and I love latte but how do the two come together?  The name comes from the method used to prepare Chef Steve's interpretation of lobster bisque.  He has discovered a way to use a cappuccino machine to prepare the dish.  The bisque itself is not the thick, creamy bowl of goodness you are used to.  Instead, it is a lighter broth, served with a claw and foam in a latte glass.  A perfect appetizer.  Next, we were served braised pork belly with a tomato based broth.  I will admit, I am not a huge pork person (aside from bacon), but I enjoyed the crispy saltiness of the outside and the middle was so tender, it melted in my mouth.  For my entree, I decided on Crop's interpretation of a soul food classic, chicken and waffles.  I knew I was not going to get the traditional Southern fried chicken on top of a Belgian waffle drenched in maple syrup.  Instead, I was presented with two deep fried chicken breasts on top green beans with bacon, and a rosemary infused waffle on the side.  The plate was drizzled with a maple syrup based reduction to add just the right amount of sweetness to compliment the crispiness of the chicken with the saltiness of the bacon in the green beans.  I also must add, there was enough to share or have for lunch the next day (and yes, the second piece of chicken made a fabulous lunch).  The presentation was visually appealing however, the dish would have scored perfect with me for taste bud appeal.  Another reason I wanted to take the second piece home was I spotted pumpkin strudel on the  dessert menu and just had to have it.  Again, it did not disappoint and met this high expectations of pumpkininess set by the Spooky Spice martini.  If you are looking for a unique experience for date night, or a night out with the girls (or guys even), I would recommend Crop Bistro and Bar.  For a truly memorable experience, make reservations for the Chef's Table.  Either way, come hungry, prepared to share with friends, or take home a doggie bag.

Until next time...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Ate...Part 1

Happy November Everyone!  I hope everyone had a great Halloween full of their favorite treats and pumpkin libations.  With that said, let the days get shorter, the temps get cooler, and the thoughts of TURKEY fill our minds and pallets.  November is a great month for foodies.  A few events worth noting before I get to the point of this blog.

*The Fabulous Food Show will be at the IX Center November 12-14.  This is a wonderful time to meet celebrity chefs (Guy Fieri, Michael Symon, and Giada De Laurentiis to name a few), taste treats from local businesses, and do a little wine tasting.  Tickets are $25 in advance (wine tasting is $5 extra).  For more information visit:

*Christmas time is here...well, sort of.  A Cleveland Christmas favorite is now on taps and will soon be on store shelves this week.  The elves at Great Lakes Brewing Company have the 2010 edition of Christmas Ale ready to bring holiday cheer to all.

*Cleveland Independent Restaurant Week November 1-14.  For two weeks, many local favorites are offering three courses prix fixe  for $30.  A complete list of participating restaurants and menus is available here:

*Thanksgiving: November 25.  Need I say more??

Ok, so one of my favorite shows on Food Network is "The Best Thing I Ever Ate".  Each episode, Food Network personalities and other famous foodies give their best of list related to a particular topic.  Every time I watch this show, I often wonder how I would answer "What is the best (fill in the blank) you have ever eaten?  Some are hands down easier then others.  Last week, while dining at Lola, I came across a dish that would answer that question.  If I am ever asked what is the best dessert, sweet surprise, etc. I have ever had, I would hands down say the 6 a.m. Special at Lola on East 4th Street.  As we all know, Chef Michael Symon loves bacon and finds unique ways to work it into any dish.  When I first heard of the bacon ice cream served at Lola, it immediately topped my list of things I MUST eat.  The ice cream is actually maple bacon ice cream.  This combination of sweet, salty, crunchy, and creamy is making my mouth water as I type this post.  It is served on top two pieces of brioche French toast and drizzled with maple syrup.  On the side, it is paired with caramelized apples.  I already love the "Breakfast for Dinner" concept, but the "Breakfast for Dessert" idea takes the cake.  I may even recommend ordering this first just to make sure you have room for it.  I was also informed this ice cream is the base for the apple bacon bourbon milkshake at B-Spot.  Iron Chef, you once again succeeded at infusing bacon into a very unlikely treat.

Until next time...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger.