SummerDine

 

 

How does a citywide dinner party sound to you?  I’m in!  Dine with a couple (dozen) of your closest friends and participate in a culinary celebration stretching across Cleveland. 

Les Dames

Courtesy: Les Dames Cleveland Chapter website

The Cleveland Chapter of Le Dames d’Escoffier (made up of women in the food-service industry) is hosting one BIG dinner party on August 24th.  Fine restaurants throughout the region have ponied up a table for 2-10 diners, and the meals at every establishment will be served at 6pm, at a unique location in the dining room.  Each guest will be treated to a 4-5 course meal, paired with two glasses of wine (or a signature cocktail and a glass of wine).

 

edwins salmon

Participants can chose from the menus at Edwin’s, The Emerald Necklace Inn, Fire Food & Drink, Greenhouse Tavern La Campagna and Michaelangelo’s.

The SummerDine event supports an organization that includes Northeast Ohio’s top women in the culinary and hospitality industries.  With the purchase of tickets, Les Dames can continue funding their Green Table Initiatives outreach and grant programs.  Past beneficiaries include the “Take Charge and Learn Food” program at the Coit Road Farmers’ Market, the Case Western Reserve University Farm, Veggie U, the Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market Junior Chef Program, and the Tremont Urban Learning Garden.

Tickets for this citywide culinary celebration at $75 each, and are sold directly though the Les Dames d’Escoffier Cleveland event page.

Eat, drink, and toast to your dining companions and to those eating elsewhere in this tasty city, all for a good cause!

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Fire Spice Company

Want to be more bold with spices? But maybe you’re a little intimidated.  Or you don’t want to drop $7 on a 5 ounce container of an exotic spice you only need a pinch of for that recipe you want to try.  Now’s your chance.  Enter Fire Spice Company.

Chef katz

Another one of my favorites in the Cleveland food scene, and celebrated chef, Douglas Katz (of Fire Food & Drink, Provenance, and The Katz Club) has been developing his line of spice blends for about a year now.  And he’s only a little more than a month away from a scheduled March launch.

Katz wants to make it easier for home cooks to be more adventurous with spices (with both your taste buds and your cooking skills), eliminate the anxiety that can come with experimenting with more exotic varieties, and take some of the expense out of working with a certain spices.

He and his team have developed 12 blends, which they toast and grind in house.  The blends have been tested and are intended for specific recipes.  The packaging is clever and makes it easy to execute.  Printed on the box is a list of the ingredients you’ll need for the associated recipe, and the detailed directions.

During my visit with Katz, we gave his Jerk Spice mix a go, marinating chicken leg quarters in a combination of the spice packet, and fresh ingredients.  After they sat for about 30 minutes, it was time to roast.

Fire Spice roasted chicken

The finished product was spectacular, succulent, savory.  And I was doubly surprised, as I have NEVER liked jerk seasoning on anything.  But man, was this good.

For dessert Chef Katz presented a French Spice Cake that he’d prepared using his Quatre Epices blend.  To prepare the frosting for top, he also used the same blend.  If the speed in which my two girls gobbled up that cake was any indication, consider that recipe “tried and true.”

I love the idea of dabbling in cuisines and flavors that I’ve traditionally not been equipped to handle.  His Masala variety, and accompanying Ground Lamb and Tomato Masala, Pho blend and accompanying Vietnamese Beef Noodle Pho recipe, and Massaman spice pack for the Thai Shrimp, Potato Peanut Curry recipe are on my short list of “must try” recipes.

The Fire Spice Company blends are available now at Fire. (1322o Shaker Square, Cleveland, Ohio 44120) Katz aims to have them available online nationally soon, and has plans for availability at local farmers markets and demo classes.  There’s also a “Spice Blend of the Month” membership in the works.  Sign me up!

Now, let’s expand our horizons and our palate. 

 

 

A Tater Tot Tribute

While others are adhering to New Years resolutions to eat better and loose weight, I’ve been experimenting with my new deep fryer far more than a person should. 

This weekend I was inspired by my friend, Chef Eric Williams, who appeared on-and won–Guys Grocery Games on Food Network.  He got his start at his Mod Mex restaurant, Momocho.  But he has since made an even bigger name for himself with tasty tater tots and gourmet topped hot dogs at his two Happy Dog locations, and followed it up with Momocho’s sister location, El Carnicero, and pair of Jack Flaps (Urban Breakfast Shoppe and Luncheonette).

I took a look at what I had in the fridge on a cold Sunday afternoon…among the things that caught my eye…a couple of stadium dogs, a bunch of potatoes, couple of jalapeños and the last of a nice chunk of smoked Gouda.  I decided to figure out some sort of tasty topping for the hot dogs, and take a crack at home made cheesy tater tots using the Gouda and jalapeños…in honor of Eric’s appearance on the show. A fromage homage, if you will.

GGG potatoes in cheese cloth

I peeled and shredded 5 small potatoes, then wrung them out using a cheese cloth. To that, I added 1-2 T. seeded and finely diced jalapeño peppers, and 1/2-3/4c. shredded Gouda. To bind it all, I added a beaten egg and 1/2 c. flour. After I seasoned the mixture, I formed it into two 2 inch round logs, on parchment paper, and placed it in the freezer to set.  (I’d give it at least 30 min)

I fired up my deep fryer, set at 350* and sliced the logs into bite-sized pieces, popped them in the fryer a handful at a time and let ’em get golden brown.

While those were working I played around with my hot dog topping.  I sliced equal parts cucumber, red peppers and radishes into matchsticks and made a quick slaw dressing using olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, a smidge of honey and pickle juice. (Heck, pickle relish belongs on hot dogs…right?! Why not play on that?)

I topped my hot dogs with this bright, crunchy slaw and added some Sriracha to ketchup for a great tot dipping sauce. Sweet Thai Chili would be good too!

GGG Chef Eric

Photo Courtesy foodnetwork.com

By the time I poured a drink and plated this at-home bar food, it was time to tune in to the show.  And Eric knocked it out of the part, scoring $16,000 in the prize round and advancing to the finale of this special tournament, (airing Sunday, January 31st at 8pm) made up of All-Stars from Fieri’s other hit show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  For highlights from Chef Williams’ episode click here.
I was proud to witness the success of a guy who works hard, takes care of his staff, and elevates his community.  Best of luck, Chef!

Dinner Lab: Anthos

Opa!  This most recent Dinner Lab experience was the most fun we’ve ever had at one of their communal tables.  Anthos was a Greek-inspired menu concept served at a cool venue.  So nice to share inspired food with interesting people.

DL Anthos crowd

The venue was Borrow, a vintage rental furniture business.  So we were surrounded by eclectic pieces, and seated at farm tables and old barn doors converted to table tops.  Plus it’s amazing what a couple strings of lights will do for the ambiance.

Our party sipped on a pair of bourbon based specialty cocktails, one garnished with fresh rosemary, the other with fresh sage.  Tasty and potent.  Then it was time to dig in to the five courses offered up by Chef Russ Bodner.

First up was a crisp Greek salad with winter vegetables, red mustard and a red wine vinaigrette.  Didn’t taste particularly “Greek” to me, but it was good nonetheless.

DL Anthos tuna

Second course was a lightly seared tuna with fennel pollen crust, thassos olives, dehydrated feta and an orange vinaigrette.  Not sure why the feta, a dry cheese as it is, was dehydrated.  I loved the olives, the tuna was nicely cooked and the portion size was good.  But the dressing wasn’t as bold as I would have liked.

DL Anthos dumplings

The third course was a favorite table-wide.  The ricotta dumplings with crab, crispy tobacco onion, spinach and leek.  It was Mediterranean comfort food as its best.  I liked every element of this dish and gobbled it up.

 Just when we thought we’d had the chef’s best…then came the lamb.  Fourth course was a slow roasted leg of lamb.  Even people the table who don’t eat lamb, liked this lamb.  What set it apart of the bulgar trahan and the harissa.

As we bargained for a second helping of the fan favorite, Chef Russ Bodner addressed the crowd, explaining the inspirations behind his menu concept.  Of all the chefs we’ve dined with at Dinner Lab, Bodner was by far the most engaged with his diners, going table to table and spending significant time with everyone to gather real feedback.

DL Anthos dessert

I dreamt about the decadent dessert that was the fifth and final course, a sticky toffee pudding with a metaxa toffee sauce and mahlepi ice cream.  To. Die. For.  It was just sweet enough…to make you want to lick the bowl.

This wasn’t necessarily my favorite menu of all the Dinner Lab events we’ve attended.  But it was the first time we spent much time talking to the other diners at our table and I really loved that part of it.  I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with other local food fans, swapping restaurant recommendations and chatting about unrelated life lessons, like “what not to say to your pregnant wife.”  It reminded me what the experience is all about.  And I can’t wait to dine again  

Fabulous Food Show: Cooking Competition, Culinary Gala and an Iron Chef One on One

The Fabulous Food Show is indeed that, a fabulous celebration of good food, celebrity chefs and innovative vendors.  It was an incredibly busy week for me, making good use of time and access to some big players.

fab food show chef michael symon

I got some one on one time with Cleveland’s own Iron Chef, and cast member of The Chew, Michael Symon.  We chatted about how the food show is evolving, his new cookbook (5 in 5 For Every Season) what Cleveland needs to do to continue its trajectory into the upper echelon of the food world, and spoke about the long-awaited Mabel’s, (a sore subject!) Symon’s East 4th St. barbecue joint.  He tells me it is about a year behind schedule and way over budget, but yet still on track to fill a void in the local food scene.  This will mark his 12th restaurant-he has 8 B Spot locations, Lola Bistro, Lolita, Roast (plus 2 Bar Symon locations)  The man is busy but still as gracious, and down to earth as you’d expect.

I was also an honorary table host at the Cleveland Culinary Awards Gala, which recognized industry leaders and icons.

Culinary Ambassador: Michael Symon

Restaurant Vangaurds: Parker Bosley from Fresh Fork Market, and Sokolowski’s University Inn

Beverage Trailblazer: Paulius Nasvytis of The Velvet Tango Room.

culinary awards menu

I was treated to a four course meal and the company of some of the most creative and delicious dinner companions I could dream up.

fab food show contestants

The “main event” of the weekend for me was a Media Cooking Competition on the main stage, pitting WDOK 102.1 FM personality, Jeremiah Widmer and Chef Matt Fish, of Melt Bar and Grilled against me and Chef Matt Mytro from Flour Restaurant.

fab food show cooking with matt mytro

We were given a surprise “main ingredient” to work with, salmon, plus access to anything in the main stage pantry and fridges.  Which, if I’m being honest, was pretty meager.  It was the last cooking event of the last day of the show.  The cupboards were awfully bare.

The pressure was on.  The judges were Gail Simmons of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, Food Author and Host, Mark Decarlo plus newly minted judges from the World Food Championships.

We had 30 minutes.  The instructions from my partner, “stay busy and entertain the crowd.”  I did my best to assist in our salmon poached in chili oil, with a butternut squash puree and creamy apple/celery slaw… including trying to distract our competitors, and bribing our judges with ice cream.

When time was up, we tasted everything we’d made (the most important key to good cooking according to Mytro) and presented it proudly to the judges.

In the end, team “Euctownninjas” (we’re both from Euclid) came up short.  But even as the loser, I still feel pretty good because I have to pay up on a bet I made with Jeremiah, and participate in their station’s annual charity radioathon, benefitting  UH’s Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital.

 FFS panel

To cap off a very busy and productive couple of days, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion about the Cleveland culinary scene.  I got to sit alongside Chefs Michael Symon, Chris Hodgson, Jason Roberts, Izzy Schachner and Rocco Whalen to talk about what the city is doing right, what challenges they’re facing as restaurateurs and what they’d like see next for the local food scene.

fab food show jen and jeremiah

After an eventful week filled with such incredible and talented people , I’m exhausted and hungry for more involvement in the local food scene and beyond.  Look out, world.

What’s for dinner? Mod Meals!

Chef-inspired, restaurant quality food can now be delivered to your doorstep.  Goodbye greasy take-out.  No more cardboard pizza.  Time for delicious, delivered.  Mod Meals is sourcing great food from familiar Cleveland chefs and bringing the meals right to you.

mod meals packaging

This week I attended the launch party for Mod Meals.  It’s a new service that gets you off the hook for dinner, offering a healthy alternative to drive-thru… soggy, lukewarm take out, or slaving over the stove after a long day.  It provides locally-sourced quality meals developed by four of the city’s favorite chefs.

mod meals launch party

The Chefs

Eric Williams of Momocho Mod Mex, El Carnicero, Jack Flaps & Happy Dog

Karen Williams from The Flying Fig 

Ben Bebenroth, the man behind Spice Kitchen and Bar, and Spice of Life Caterers 

Brian Okin of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti Social Kitchens

Through a free app, customers will be able to browse the day’s menu.  Creators expect each chef will each offer three items daily (entrees, snacks and kid’s meals) They will change them up regularly.  Users can view the ingredients, for diet or allergy concerns, and price.  There will also be bios and backgrounds on the chefs for those who are interested.  Mod mealers will then choose the dish(es) they’d like to eat, along with a delivery time (cut off time will be about 3 or 4pm…they will work out those kinks as the first orders come in)

I have to admit, this sounds both easy and appealing…especially as those cold winter months descend upon us, when the thought of leaving your house to get food seems as appetizing as cold leftovers.

The chefs who attended the launch party were all excited about getting their cuisine out to people who may not have sampled them before, and furthering their brand.  And they were all genuinely interested and challenged by the process of developing food for “at-home finishing.”  Chef Okin said he actually had to buy a microwave for his restaurant’s kitchen so as to properly write the heating instructions.  Chef Small told me that during development, they had to work with the ingredients and the dishes to develop them to a certain stage, then chill them…factoring in re-heating that would be going on either in a conventional oven or a microwave.

mod meals-mac n cheese

Cost is also a factor, obviously.  To keep prices points for customers within a certain range ($10-15 for entrees, $5-10 for kids meals) the chefs have to sell the dishes to the company for about $5 each.  So the kinds of ingredients they’re using for their Mod Meals are not going to be exactly the same that you’ll see at their establishments.  But still, the dishes they offered as tastings at the event certainly echoed their established menus.

mod meals tamales

Eric Williams sampled corn tamales with roasted chicken and steamed corn tamales with eskabeche.

mod meals braised beef shoulder

Karen Small provided braised beef shoulder pot roast with celery root puree.

mod meals seared salmon

Ben Bebenroth cooked up some seared salmon with ginger broccoli and wild rice, and squash mac n cheese.

mod meals chicken confit

And Brian Oken offered chicken confit, creamy polenta and bacon braised collard greens.

mod meals instructions

Now…for an at-home taste test.  Launch party guests were sent off with packaged samples of what Mod Meals will deliver to its customers.  So I brought home a pair of braised pork chops and celery root puree dreamed up by Chef Small, and followed the instructions on the packaging.

mod meals test drive

The meat was tender.  The sauce was flavorful.  The sides were not an afterthought.  All the things you’d expect from a restaurant quality meal.  I ate it in my pajamas, and I didn’t have to do any dishes.  Not a bad Tuesday night.