The Chubby Cook opens in Beachwood – Carry Out Lunch and Catering

I have been getting pretty excited the last couple of months waiting for my good friend, The Chubby Cook to open. It is official, he is open for carry-out lunches and doing catering around town. Almost 60% of his menu is vegetarian (some even vegan), so as you might guess I am thrilled.

I have tried his carry-out salads the last 2 days and they have been delicious (pictures below). The salad dressings have been delicious and healthy with barely any oil. If the Chubby Cook eats these every day, he may not be chubby for long.  My favorite so far? The Green Dragon. Basically it is your chinese chicken salad without the chicken. The ginger dressing was delicious, it will remind you of the dressing from Japanese restaurants, but the salad will actually be as good as the dressing.

What is the catch? The menu is changing every day. Sign up on the Chub’s FaceBook Page and you will see him posting up the special each day (so far one sandwich and one lunch). You may want to get there early or call in and reserve one if you are traveling. I tried the hummus cup on the right and it is delicious, the carrots and celery are a refreshing change from bread and chips. Will it be there today? Who knows, but I am hoping the slaw is because I rarely like slaw, but when it is good I get very excited…

Amy brought a brownie home for the kids and they loved it (mid cleanse I am not indulging, but the cheese cake was very tempting). What should you get excited about? Chub’s Raw Chocolate Bars. I was more than suspicious when I first tasted one a little over a year ago. They are surprisingly rich and the consistency is thick and fudge like. You can tell yourself you are eating raw food and that is healthy ;-) .

Check out the salads below and if you have the chance swing by his spot and grab lunch to go.

Above is the Big Popper, below is the Green Dragon!

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Flour – The BEST restaurant on Chagrin

For years, I have been a big fan of Krista (formerly working as a waitress at Downtown 140). Really Jamie? Yeah, a great restaurant without great service is simply disappointing. Krista was the kind of waitress that made us request to be in her section when we made a reservation. When she told me they were opening up Flour at the corner of Chagrin and S.O.M, I was excited, very excited. For the last few months, we have grown downright irritable with anticipation (try driving by regularly with your kids who ask constantly “when is Flour going to open?”). Want to find out more from Flour directly? Like them on FaceBook!

As we got closer to opening day, I started bothering Krista…”So, when can I stop by and help you test recipes?” “Are we invited to friends and family night?” “Like, we’re cousins…right?” Evidently I wore her down, because tonight we got to test the menu at Flour!!!

The good the bad and the ugly? Let’s start with the ugly…The risotto was not my style. It was more rice then mush…I like it icky and stickey. This needs more cheese. That said, the Roasted Cauliflower in it is great and a refreshing change from your typical risotto. Was this the bottom? No, the pear salad was not my style. It all looked right and everybody else seemed to like it, but it was just kind of rich to me and I like my salads light and crisp.

Really, Jamie? Are you going to throw your friends under the bus? No, but I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So what is right?

Let’s start with the interior. Flour is contemporary and clean. When you walk in the door you feel the positive energy. The staff is made up of faces you have seen around cleveland. They are experienced professionals and very nice. Is that why you should eat at Flour? No…it is the food.

We started with all of the brushettas, hello interesting bites. Delicious and different. This is not the brushetta I make at home, try them and find what you like! The carnivores got the Calamari and the Salmon. I don’t eat fish, but even in this crap photo, you can see the Salmon is fantastic! We got a cheese plate that I really enjoyed (Chef’s choice). Hard Cheese, Soft Cheese , Ripened Cheese and Crisps. This complimented the Nebbiolo we started the night off with nicely.

We moved onto the salads. Yeah, we tried all of them! They are all worth trying for different reasons. Which one do I love? The Simple Green Salad. The lettuce is crisp and the vinagrete is refreshing. I could eat this salad 7 days a week.

For the next course we dived into the Pasta section. I loved the house made ravioli with ricotta and a sweet red sauce with a hint of lemon zest. The pasta is served al dente and the creamy middle begged for more sauce. The Gnuddi was great, but if I ordered this by myself I’d drop the pancetta (hello…vegetarian). I didn’t try the Bolognese, but it was well received at the table with compliments to the tagliatelle pasta.

What do you mean there is no good pizza in CLeveland? We tried the Margarita, Fungi and Bianca. All of these pizzas share one thing in common. Great Crust. A crisp dry bottom and perfect flavor. I will be a weekly visitor just for the pizza!!! All of us loved the Margarita, I LOVED the Bianca which comes with a wedge of lemon and the mushroom was wild (literally). So, sounds boring? Try the house made hot oil that comes as a side for the pizza. Yeah, olive oil and red pepper…sounds innocent right? Wrong!!! This hot oil is the refined italian version of the junk they have at Chinese restaurants. I could drink this!!! Instead, use your pizza crust to zoup it up!

Sadly, we were too full to order a main course. Happily, we had room for 2 desserts! The brownie above with Basil ice-cream was perfect. Yeah, I was suspicious of the basil ice-cream. The ice-cream is rich and smooth and the flavor enhanced the moist rich brownie. The secret ingredient? Sprinkled chocolate covered pop-rocks. Holy Fun Batman! It is nice to see Chef Chris’s pastry chef has a sense of humor to compliment the serious business of eating. I LOVE the pop-rocks.

What else? A controversial call was the Espresso Semifreddo. Why? Partly because we can never remember what a Semifreddo is. Notice the bite missing in the picture? Yeah, Amy dug in while I was trying to take the picture, the rest is history. The crispy spoon is cute, the carmel sauce is to die for. Rich and Smooth, do not wait to make the first move (yeah, that rhymed).You will LOVE this dessert!!!

O.K. What else can I tell you? I had a great night and felt truly happy for Chris and Krista. I know this has been a project of love and I am very excited to have a delicious restaurant near me. There is even a rumor there will be a kid’s menu, keeping my entire family happy. Am I still excited about Flour? Heck yeah. The East side just got a great restaurant!!! If you want to try it, I’ll join you!

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Green Lasagna

This lasagna is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the vegan nor the lactose intolerant. There, you’ve been warned. It is however,  for the dinner party, the special occasion, when you want to impress your friends.

Lasagna al Pesto is from that old well I dip into – “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Molli Katzen of Moosewood Restaurant fame.

Here’s a picture of the result, to whet your appetite:

You will need:

1 lb fresh spinach, cleaned, chopped
1 c minced onion
3 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 c grated parmesan
1 c. pesto
2 lbs (4 cups) ricotta
1/4 c toasted sunflower seeds (you can toast them in a small, dry frying pan)
green lasagna sheet noodles
1 lb mozzarella, grated

Saute your onions in olive oil, in your largest frying pan, for 5 minutes. Add some salt and pepper. Throw in your clean, chopped spinach. Move it around the pan until it wilts. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix together your ricotta, pesto (I use the stuff I froze last summer), sunflower seeds, and half the parmesan. Add in the onions and spinach.

Now, assemble. But first, a note on the noodles. I’ve started using fresh green lasagna sheets that are made locally (for those of you in Madison – RP’s Pasta, of course!). They are not only delicious, but because they’re fresh, I don’t need to pre-boil. For this recipe, you’ll need one full package and if you have two sheets left in the freezer from a past project, you’ll need those too. If not, just re-jigger the assembly process to only use 3 layers of noodles (skip the top or bottom layer). If you do not have a source of fresh noodles, and if you can’t find green ones, just boil some regular dried lasagna noodles for a few minutes, rinse and drizzle with a little olive oil.

OK, now we’ll assemble:

Layer of noodles on the bottom of an oiled 9 x 13 pan
Spread 1/3 of the filling over the noodles
Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella
Another layer of noodles
Another layer of filling
Another 1/3 of the mozzarella
Another layer of noodles
Rest of the filling
Rest of the mozzarella
Final layer of noodles
Rest of the parmesan
Drizzle with olive oil

Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Remove the foil near the end.

Like I said, this dish isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s rich. Serve it in modest pieces, to a party of 6 to 8 people.

This is actually a really easy dish, especially if you use fresh noodles and if you have the pesto on hand, either from your freezer, or a brand you trust from the store. It’s just sauteing the onions and wilting the spinach. The rest is just mixing and assembly. So it’s entirely possible to make this for a weeknight dinner. If it’s just the two of you, make a half recipe in a smaller pan. You’ll still have plenty for lunch, or to freeze for emergencies.

Perfect sides are: garlic bread, salad, and roasted vegetables.

Enjoy it, and I hope you impress your friends!

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One Red Door – The Only Reason to Visit Hudson

What will get you to visit Hudson, Ohio on a Saturday night? One Red Door. I used to answer this question with Downtown 140. Why? Because Chef Shawn Monday rocks. I was thrilled to hear he was moving on, opening a new restaurant. Yet, I also had a little fear of the unknown.

What I discovered last night, is the core has stayed the same. The wine list was interesting with a nice mix of wines, I am guessing Tiffany is doing the wine list. The wine list at DT 140 was great, Tiffany has a great eye/nose/palate and consistently stocks a good list. I’d love to see more great Cabernets at reasonable prices, but I also know this is a tough challenge. We settled on an expensive Charbono by Robert Foley. Hints of chocolate and a smooth round body immediately confirmed we were going to party.We followed that up with a Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc, surprisingly light after the Foley. The wines were easy to drink and the food was even easier to eat. We snacked on baguette and a plate of olive oil with pepper in it. This was strangely tasty, or we were really hungry. We kind of missed the bread baskets of DT 140, but the oil was perfect.

We ordered a mess of small plates. Like DT 140, there are small plates that are “bites,” small plates to “share,” and entrees. We started with a delicious mushroom pizza. This reminds me of the mushroom pizza at Fire. These are fancy pizzas, but delicious and worth the price. This pizza has a hint of truffle oil, which is my new favorite topping on pizza. I would have liked a larger “hint” of truffle oil, but that is just me being greedy. Check out a picture of the pizza and a lunch review by my friend, The Chubby Cook.

Everybody split the Tuna Taco, plated with Tuna Sashmi (we ordered an extra taco). These were also at DT 140 and a staple favorite. I used to love these when I ate fish, Amy confirmed they were actually better now. Not sure if she said that to make me jealous, but the Sashimi looked beautiful – deep red color and cut square. I tasted the edamame on the plate, guacamole the taco is set in and the aoli which is worth licking off the plate. You can order extra tacos, and if you are a fish eater you should. The tartare taco is a signature dish and Shawn has kept this just for you on the menu.

The pear salad was good, but this is more of an Amy thing than me. Truth be told, I never really get the pear thing.  I ordered a Bibb salad later, it was dressed perfectly, light and refreshing.We tried the sauteed Shishito peppers which were a “bite” and enjoyable along with the Sherry mushrooms. The mushrooms are my kind of dish, not soaked in oil, creating the illusion of a healthy “bite.” I liked the mushrooms a lot and got an extra plate to eat. Would everybody like these? Probably not, but I will get these every time.

I watched plates of mussels disappear across the table from me and Amy’s Scallops looked delicious. There was a vegetarian pasta on the menu with a shrimp option, but I love getting the small plates so I skipped it. Shawn also knocks steak and frites out of the park. Amy decided to save this for next time, incentive to return!

The stand-out? French Onion Soup. Do you know how rare it is to get delicious French Onion Soup? Rare. So rare, it is usually a painful torture I put myself thru as I pray the soup will be delicious – only to revel in disappointment as I remember the handful of times I have had great French Onion Soup. Shawnn makes great soups, no doubt about it. They are always flavorful with excellent consistency. This French Onion Soup is perfect. Amy asked why anybody would want a soggy piece of bread in their soup. If you have to ask, order something else. The Gruyere was melted perfectly on the bread, the richness contrasted the sweet/sour onions creating delicious spoonfuls. I resisted lifting the bowl over my head and pouring the last drop down my throat, you may not be able to.

Dessert was a miss, we ended with a chocolate crepe with banana stuffed in it. I assumed they were trying to keep me on my diet (what diet) when they ordered this. If we hadn’t drank and ate so much I would have insisted on another dessert, now I have an easy excuse to go back. It is a strange compliment, but the miss on dessert didn’t change my mind on the meal. As you may know, I was a huge fan of Downtown 140. In reality, I am a big fan of Shawn and his wife, Tiffany. They did a great job at Downtown 140 and I am excited to enjoy the fruits of their labor at One Red Door. See you in Hudson.

This is a really dark photo, sorry. As you can see we basically shut the restaurant down. The restaurant looks great with open beams contrasting the stone walls (there previously). The big windows and outdoor deck will be great for lunch and keep One Red Door the perfect summer time excursion.

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L’Affriole – French with a hint of Spain?

We had another amazing meal in Paris, this time at L’Affriole, located at 17 rue Malar. A contemporary interior and decent prices made this an appealing choice for dinner. The service was friendly, the food was delicious.

Have you ever seen red cauliflower? How about green? How about a delicious mustard/mayo dipping sauce to start the meal? This was a GREAT way to start the meal.

We both got Gazpacho for starters, this had crab meat rolled in melon on the side. The presentation was contemporary and clean with every dish. The Gazpacho was delicious, love the bowls. Amy enjoyed the crab, but did not rave about it.

If you say “WTF,” when you look at this steak, you are right! Amy chowed down this massive steak glazed in honey, vinegar and red wine. Yes, the Pommes Frites were delicious. We are not really Bernaise sauce people, but it was good.

I LOVE a restaurant that serves me up a good veggie meal. The salad was 2 tiny pieces of romaine heart and it might be my favorite salad EVER. Underneath the mashed potato pancake in the back are a mess of herbed mushrooms, soooo delicious and perfect over my risotto (not shown). The beans were warm and flavorful, just the protein I wanted!!!

Dessert sucked, but the bonus chocolate and vanilla custard served, followed by fresh grapes and bizarre fresh lavender flavored marshmellows, made up for it in some strange way.

It would have been nice to end on a high note with dessert, but truth be told we were so full we did not care. This restaurant was the perfect combination of friendly staff and delicious food. Keep the strange jelly out of dessert and it is perfect! Did I mention I love eating in Paris?

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Best Falafel in Paris – or maybe the world!!!

This is the BEST Falafel I have ever had, 3 times in Paris (L’as Du Fallafel). We walked an hour to get this amazing creation for lunch. There is usually a line down the block in front of the window to the left. Why? Besides the delicious and obvious amazing falafel, you can save 2 Euros by ordering at the window and getting it to go. Why is it so good? The total package!!! The pita is perfectly soft, stuffed with mini crisp FRESH falafel balls, cole slaw, jullienned red cabbage and cucumbers and lavished with tahini sauce. But wait, there is more…the secret is the roasted eggplant which is truly to die for.  If you are going to Paris, DO NOT SLEEP on this one.  Best Falafel in the world, or at least Paris!!! Supposedly Lenny Kravitz agrees with me…

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Dinner at La Fontaine de Mars – Obama ate here

Down the block from our apartment is a restaurant called La Fountain de Mars, an old famous restaurant which gained noteriety among Americans after Barack and Michelle Obama ate there last year. It was a slightly chilly night but we were lucky to get a table outside under the heat lamps.

Since I had an amazing Tomato Gazpacho chilled soup last night, I figured why not try another one and compare. This was AMAZING. The goat cheese on top was creamy, blending in with bites of crunchy vegetables (cucumber, carrots and maybe zucchini?). A few drops of olive oil on the top of the soup and surprisingly little actual soup. The bread crust was perfect for scooping bites into my mouth, 3 pieces would have been even better!

Amy started with a salad, it was large enough for both of us and lightly dressed in a strangely pleasant way. She wanted to try new foods tonight so she ordered chicken, which she never does at restaurants. This was served with morel mushrooms and a morel mushroom cream sauce, really was this taking a risk? I tasted the sauce on some rice and agreed I could have had a plate of that and loved my meal, it was rich and flavorful. Amy was not thrilled with the chicken as it was firm and not exciting (remember, every block we walk down has rotisserie chicken dripping with fat). That said she chopped up the chicken (with the steak knife provided) and mixed it with the rice and mushrooms and promptly cleaned her plate.

I ordered 3 sides for dinner, the gratin dauphinoise was hands down the best potato gratin I have ever had. It was creamy and cheesy and overwhelmingly rich. The melted cheese on the top was exciting to break into and perfectly cooked. The rest of my meal was a little boring as I ordered french green beans and a green salad with tomatoes. I put the french green beans on the salad and enjoyed eating it, complimenting the French on their tender elegant green beans. Halfway thru the meal, the guy behind me started chain smoking, with the wind blowing in our direction. Really? Are you kidding me? Disgusting! This was the absolute worst way to destroy the simple flavors of my salad. If we had been able to get a table inside, this would not have been a problem. If you are a smoker, Paris is a great place to eat. If not, you can almost guarantee your meal will be ruined. Dessert was supposed to be amazing. We tried their house dessert, Les Fontaine. If you like soft merringue, a delicate caramel sauce and nuts, it is probably amazing. I remembered that I am a simple beast and should stick with chocolate.

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Boulangerie – Warm Baguettes and You

I am a HUGE fan of On The Rise on Fairmount and South Taylor in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. However, in Paris, my favorite Boulangerie is Des Delices located at 127 Rue St. Dominique. It is amazing to get a warm Baguette at 10 am and at 5 pm. They are perfect for munching while walking down the street and tearing apart to taste a spread of fromage (cheese).

As I sit back at 6pm drinking a 2006 Chateau Magnan-Figeac Saint Emilion Grand Cru, with a fresh Baguette from Les Delices and sample cheese from Fromage (c’mon could it be named)…I know that Paris is truly in my body! So far, my favorite cheese is Boursault. It is perfectly creamy and delicious. Maybe that is because of the 41% Fat?

The President Wilson market is a great farmer’s market, that was enjoyable to walk thru. It is an easy walk from our apartment and feels just like what you would expect a Parisian market to feel like. Vegetables, Meat and Fish with a healthy side of Flowers. I had no Euros, nor desire to purchase anything, but enjoyed walking thru the market.

From here we walked back to the Marais neighborhood and had an amazing falafel for lunch. Well worth walking past the gardens, Louvre and Notre Dame. After lunch we wandered over to the most famous ice-cream shop in Paris, Berthillon. We hunted down the original store which is tiny with a line out the door. I broke down and got a scoop of coconut (sacrilegious?) with chocolate on top. The waffle cone was delicious, but the Chantilly Cream on top was extraordinary! As I said to Amy, this is the total package. I should have listened to the lady in front of me who said her daughter told her to avoid the famous fruit flavors and stick with a double scoop of chocolate. This is truly the best advice! Please note, I do not party hard enough to actually double fist my ice-cream, one was Amy’s!!!

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Christian Constant – Master Chef

Wow!!! Dinner in Paris, France can be unbelievable. Tonight we walked down our block and had dinner at the most popular of Christopher Constant’s restaurants Les Cocottes. It was Amazing!

The wine was all good, I had a few random glasses that were all served out of anonymous bottles. Why? Because they have some kind of bag like kegulator system. I decided not to stress about it as all 3 glasses were 5 Euros each and delicious.

Turns out the still water cost us 7.50 Euros, kind of a bummer – but not as much a bummer as discovering we had no Euros with which to leave a tip. Embarrassing? Yes.

Amy started with the Crab Salad, the finely chopped salad was lightly dresses and presented in an urban contemporary jar. The crab salad was a thin layer on the top of the lettuce and proclaimed delicious upon tasting. When I was a fish eater, I would have loved tuna presented this way!

I started with the Gazpacho, clean and delicious. I really enjoyed tossing in the mini croutons. The Gazpacho was smooth with tiny chunks of veggies. The drops of olive oil on top provided an elegant richness. If Gazpacho was always this good, I would always eat it!!!

You can see Amy’s steak was cooked perfectly. She loved the salad, mixing bites of green and steak. She did not love the potatoes, but I must say they were perfectly tender and herbed du provenance (I might have made that up). I ate half her potatoes and only stopped because I really wanted to taste dessert.

Risotto with Chanterelle Mushrooms and a Saffron Sauce, can you say amazing? I was the annoying vegetarian American who did not want the crock pot legumes. I asked for a special dish and the kitchen agreed. Did Christian Constant deliver? In an amazing way. The Risotto was the whitest creamiest Risotto I have ever had. The Saffron sauce was to die for. The mushrooms were perfect, I’d like to eat these every single day for the rest of my life. For Real. The annoying guy next to me who answered his phone 10x during the meal tried to order my dish 5 different ways, but the waitress politely said no – pointing out that it was specially made for me as a vegetarian. Awesome!!!

I barely remembered to whip out my iPhone for a quick picture of Christian Constant’s perfect chocolate tart. The pretentious name completely delivered. I wanted to try the waffle with chantilly cream and salted carmel sauce, but how could we pass up the “perfect” tart. This tart was exactly the way you want to end a meal. It is rich, decadent, smooth and chocolate. The name is actually not pretentious, it is the right name for a dessert that ever fine restaurant should serve.

Why did I share this meal? Because usually I am not a fan of French food with their heavy cream based sauces and expensive prices. This was a meal that I loved!!! I drank too much and ate too much and left feeling guilty I could not leave a tip (we will return tomorrow to tip). I am grateful I have to travel all the way to Paris to eat this ridiculously. My faith is renewed…

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On Paris and Fromage and Wine

3 Days into Paris and our fridge defines Paris. I have 6 kinds of cheese (fromage), a bottle of Mutard Rose Champagne, a bottle of Chardonnay and a bottle of 2005 Les Reinages Gigondas (half empty). Days are made up of long walks thru an amazingly old city, until your feet are exhausted and your senses vibrating from the mini skirts and excessive smoking (ok maybe your feet are vibrating).

I have been overwhelmed by style, food and drink. A half carafe of Rose from Provenance with lunch and a glass of Kir to whet the appetite. Four and a half meals a day to offset the walking. Stinky affinois, a few variations of goat cheese, a soft blue and another random smelly cheese from Fromage 31 located in the middle of the Rue Cler market (possibly the best cheese store ever).

The highlight of every day is the warm baguettes from directly across the street on Rue St. Dominique where we are staying (the croissant is also fantastic). It is amazing how something so simple as delicious bread can make wine and cheese come together as one. The line out the door and rude owners are worth surviving to soothe the cheese as you wash it down with fine French wine. So far, Paris is a blast…

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Saag – My new favorite dish!

Recently, I hit the lunch time buffet at India Garden on the Westside of Cleveland. The food is delicious and it is easy to lose control and fill your plate repeatedly with a variety of traditional Indian dishes. There are always 4 vegetarian dishes and 4 meat dishes, what got me excited was the Saag. On both visits the Saag was different yet equally delicious. But enough about their Saag, have you ever made Saag? Tonight, I made one of my favorite vegetarian dishes ever and it was really easy!

After googling Saag and looking at a few recipes, I decided this was an adventure I could try. I sliced up a large onion and started sauteing it in olive oil. All of the recipes said to saute the onions until they turned clear. BORING!!! I cranked up the heat and got them lightly browned, really bringing out that delicious onion flavor. Next, I crushed and chopped in 3 cloves of garlic and added 2 cans of organic chick peas. Ok, none of the recipes called for chick peas, but they are delicious and I have been craving protein.

This is where I cheated. Garam Masala, I have been holding onto a packet I scored from The Occasional Gourmet at the Marin Farmer’s Market 2 years ago. I have had no idea what to do with the stuff until tonight. I opened the vacuum sealed packet and a gorgeous scent wafted upwards. I took 2 heaping teaspoons and mixed them in with my chick peas, onions and garlic. Instantly my kitchen smelled like India Garden, awesome! Feeling a little wild, I grabbed the cinnamon and dashed a little in letting everything cook for 10 minutes, covered. Wow, liberating!!!

The chick peas/onions were looking good, so I moved them to half the pan and added in a massive container of fresh washed spinach from Costco, covering the pan. I then sliced 4 smallish tomatoes in half and added them to the spinach. After a minute or 2 I stirred the spinach, adding more until it was all cooked. I took out the Spinach, a lot of the onions and 1/2 the chick peas and pureed the mess in the cusinart for approximately 10 seconds. I squeezed in half a lemon, wondering if Indians used lemons (probably not). I added medium thin sliced of Firm Whole Foods Tofu to my pan, covering it in the sauce and chick peas onion mixture. I then added the pureed spinach back into the pan covering the tofu completely.

The spinach was tasting good, but looking a little to healthy. Every recipe called for yogurt, so I scooped out to nice size tablespoons of Fage 2% and added it to the spinach stirring lightly. I kept looking at the cayenne, not really feeling it but wanting that heat that makes Indian food clean out your system. In a moment of clarity, I grabbed my bottle of Crystal Hot Sauce and dumped a mess of it. Yeah, that’s a technical measurement, mess. If you don’t know Crystal, get some. It blows all of those B.S gourmet hot sauces out of the water and it is cheap, like hot sauce should be. They have the perfect blend of vinegar and heat that is addictive and delicious on just about anything. The consistency and color was looking good, so I did something bizarre, I started stirring.

As the Tofu broke up, I started wondering if soft Tofu would be even better, maybe. I pulled the bottom of the pan up into the spinach making sure I got a nice uniform consistency. As you know, Saag is not pretty to look at.yet the scent and flavor was getting me excited. I added some salt, mixing the Saag gently but firmly with a large spoon. I toasted up some Pita bread and used that to eat the Saag. Delicious. Easy. Exciting. I felt a mild euphoria as I realized I have officially made my first curry. I kept it healthy and it came out delicious. If you are a vegetarian or simply like Indian food, you must make your own version of Saag!

6

Pssst. It’s a Secret Recipe.

You come across people who hold on tightly to a secret recipe. Coca Cola. Your Aunt Linda. Your coworker Cindy. Those people are annoying. But not me. I’m going to share a family recipe with you and I’m fine with that. First of all, I don’t think you’re going to try it. Chopped string beans, after all, sounds pretty weird. So I challenge you — make it!

The recipe for chopped string beans comes to the Michaels family from our matriarch, Bubbi, aka Anna Michaels. Most of Bubbi’s recipes come from the Old Country. But this recipe contains peanut butter, not exactly an old-world ingredient. So I once asked her what they used instead of peanut butter in Poland. That’s when I learned that she’d gotten the recipe in this country. They served chopped string beans at a certain deli in the neighborhood. She was friends with the wife, who shared the recipe with the other women.

So here you go, Chopped String Beans from the Lower East Side (of Manhattan):

1 can garbanzo beans
1 can string beans, French-cut or whatever is fine
1 onion, chopped
4-5 hard-boiled eggs
A few tablespoons of peanut butter
Salt and pepper

Get your chopped onions good and caramelized in more vegetable oil than you’re really comfortable with. Meanwhile, de-hull your garbanzos by squeezing each one. In a wooden bowl, chop together your de-hulled garbanzos, your string beans, and your eggs with a chopper (fancily called a mezzaluna these days, not so fancily called a hackmesser by Bubbi). Add in your browned onions. Season with salt and pepper. When it’s good and chopped, add your peanut butter, chop it in and taste. Might need more salt or more peanut butter.

The chopping is really important and it’s a workout. Bubbi once grabbed the bowl away from me because in my New World sissy way, I wasn’t chopping vigorously enough. At ninety, she could still chop better than me.

A note of warning: you need to eat your chopped string beans within about four days, otherwise it starts to ferment. The above recipe makes quite a lot. On this particular day, I made a half-batch. I had garden green beans, so I just steamed a few. And with the other half-can of garbanzos, I made some hummus.

Chopped string beans is delicious served with challah bread, but any kind of bread or cracker will do.

When chopped string beans is mentioned in my family, we all go crazy with nostalgic food lust. I’d be curious to know if it becomes a tradition in yours. My nine-year-old granddaughter tasted it the other day and said, “Bubbi! I like it!”

“Good,” I replied. “It’s my Bubbi’s recipe and someday it’ll be yours.”

Chopped string beans is a great vegetarian alternative to chopped liver, and can be substituted in any way in which chopped liver is normally used, as in the following: “So what am I? Chopped string beans?”

1

Hot in Cleveland – Cool Hand Cuke

I am a “celebrity” Margarita maker this week at a fundraiser South of The Border party. Below is my recipe for summer fun and madness.

Hot in Cleveland – Cool Hand Cuke
1 slice fresh jalapeno chili (cut lengthwise into slices that are 1/4 inch wide, seeds removed)
1 ounce freshly squeezed cucumber (seeds removed if any are present)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces Tequila
3/4 ounce agave nectar

Garnish:
Rub edge of glass with left over lime dip edge of glass prior to filling in chili salt dip.

Procedure:

1. Place jalapeno and agave nectar in cocktail shaker. Muddle to break up jalapeno slice.
2. Add lime juice, cucumber juice, tequila and ice.
3. Cover and shake vigorously.
4. Pour into garnished glass.
5.Drink with friends.

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Gnocchi – You Can Make It If You Really Try

Recently, the family and I traveled to Bass Lake, right below Yosemite (California). My cousin Cristian got married to Courtney and we got to enjoy a long weekend with family in the Sierra Nevadas. Besides, vistas, family time and perfect weather, I enjoyed talking food with my uncle Claudio who is a fantastic cook. What did we tlk about? Pesto and Gnocchi.

For some bizarre reason I was thinking about this conversation as I headed into Whole Foods today. I picked up some Potatoes and decided to try making Gnocchi. I made mistakes right from the start, yet still it kind of worked out. First mistake, I got Yukon Gold potatoes. Next time, I will get good old Russet potatoes. My second mistake, I used whole wheat flour. Next time, I will use good old white flour. So, what happened?

I boiled 6 potatoes, and mashed them up. Why? Because I discovered that I don’t have a “ricer.” Claudio told me to “rice” the potatoes, if you have a ricer you will get the fine consistency that will make your Gnocchi better than mine. I added a heaping teaspoon of baking soda, a splash of salt and a splash of vegetarian broth. I mixed and mashed while I added handfuls of flour until the consistency became that perfect non-sticky dough. I have fear of doing things like this, but for some reason Claudio gave me the confidence to try it. What is the secret? Put the love in.

I rolled out the dough and my line chef, Eileen cut off little chunks. Dropped the “Gnocchi” into nearly boiling water and cooked them. I added my olive oil and spices and called it disgusting. Turns out the little chunks were way too big. I didn’t account for them growing. I made six more batches experimenting with size and cooking time. The missing ingredient is the sauce. I should have made the Pesto sauce or even a red sauce.

It was really fun to make potato pasta, I am feeling motivated to make some normal pasta and even try some wild mushroom ravioli. The Gnocchi was not delicious, but it was edible. It reminded me that experimentation and the thrill of cooking something new is AWESOME. Sometimes you have to leave the books and take a risk. Screw things up. Have fun. Then hit the books, the internet and talk with your people. Next time will be delicious.

2

It’s Pesto Time

Thousands of years ago, Romans took ingredients they had readily to hand – basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and hard cheese – and ground them together. I owe them a gigantic debt of gratitude. Pesto is a staple in my house. Every summer, we make a vat of it, freeze it, and use it all year long. You probably do the same. But if not, here is a recipe to get you started.

Basil

This is what I call "pesto on the hoof," aka basil

Ingredients:

Basil leaves, about 3 cups
1/2 tsp salt
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp lemon juice
Olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or pecans or mixed

Wash and spin

Wash and spin, sort of like laundry but without the soap

Ingredients

It's this simple

Wash and spin dry your basil. Put it in a food processor with the salt and pressed garlic and grind it up. Add cheese. Add lemon juice. While it’s spinning, add the olive oil through the top and listen for it to sound a little sloppy. Add the nuts. I like the nuts to still have some recognizable bits, so I don’t grind it that much after adding them. Throughout the process, scrape the sides down so all the leaves grind up and so all the ingredients get mixed together. Taste!

Add olive oil

I don't measure the olive oil, I listen to it

Taste the pesto

Yum. But does it need more garlic?

We make pesto on a nearly industrial scale. It takes several hours (which is an improvement from the early days, when it took a full day). For this particular batch, we harvested three or four basil bushes (of the size pictured above), used two heads of garlic, over a block of cheese, over half a pound of nuts, and about a liter of oil. Ben picked and washed the leaves. I mixed batch after batch, mixing each batch together in a large mixing bowl. Pine nuts were very expensive this year ($32/pound), so I used all pecans. I tried one batch with walnuts and when we did a taste test, Ben thought the pecans were better.

Bowl of pesto

Vat o' pesto

We let that bowl sit in the fridge for a day, so the ingredients have time to come into their flavors before we freeze it.

The final step is to top each container off with olive oil, after it has set in the freezer, to protect the product from freezer burn.

Pesto in freezer containers

Top off the frozen pesto with a protective layer of olive oil

This is about 7 pounds of pesto, and will get us through to next summer. I use a large, sharp knife to hack off a portion from the frozen block. You need surprisingly little to be plenty for spaghetti for two. Use it on pasta, pizza, lasagna, soups. Just dip crackers or bread into it!

I said the final step was to top it off with olive oil, but of course, the final step is to enjoy the fruits of your labor and your garden. Buon appetito.

1

Paladar – Better you than me

I am somewhat experiencing road rage against Paladar. They should be my favorite restaurant in town. They are 6 minutes from my house, serve contemporary Latin food and have an outdoor patio. Unfortunately we have an issue.

On the menu they claim to serve “Fresh Made To Order Guacamole.” On Wednesday night I watched the person at the Guacamole station bring out a VAT of Guacamole and put it under the counter in a fridge.  Suddenly the brown edges on the Guacamole started to make sense (prolonged exposure to air turns avocado brown, kind of like it does to apples). My buddy Mike put the hard questions to the waiter and he truthfully confessed the guacamole is made every 3 hours. Freash? Made To Order? Drop the BS and just call it Guacamole. It doesn’t taste fresh or look fresh (this should be embarrassing for any Latin restaurant).

I try and support restaurants that are locally owned, especially by young people. This is a deal breaker, however. The most important ingredient you put in any meal, is the LOVE. Without the love you might as well be any other crappy chain. I am officially done with Paladar. See another equally scathing review I posted about them on Yelp, my account is http://sonicallstar.yelp.com

2

Safeway – Best Place to buy Wine Randomly?

As I headed out to visit Tracy and Theo, I felt the urge to pick up a bottle of wine. Stopping at Safeway is a desperate attempt, it is the last stop in San Anselmo as you head out to Woodacre. Why shop at Safeway/ The deals! I picked up a 2006 Groth Cabernet for $40. Yeah, I saved $20. Is that amazing or what? This is one of many deals waiting for you at Safeway. I also saved $9 on a bottle Tequila, not bad for a Saturday. Did I mention that Groth is a spectacular wine?  We opened it and let it sit for 3 hours, it is a full bodied red that drinks smoothly. At $40, I’d drink this once a week. Thank you, Safeway, I love California.

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Migration Rose – Could Be A Love Affair

In the middle of a perfect afternoon in Woodacre, California, I twisted Theo’s arm and we opened a bottle of 2006 Migration Rose. He described this as “gift wine.” Wine that he brings to people as a gift. On a perfect summer day in California, nothing works better than a delicious Rose. This is that wine. It is sweet and smooth and easy to drink. What was missing? Temperature. We pulled it out of his storage cellar and drank it (approximately 58 degrees). Chilled this wine might be perfect. If you are looking for a California Rose, give Migration a try. It is delicious and a perfect way to pass the afternoon.

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2006 Pride Cabernet – Hold for 2 more years

I headed out on a Man Date with my buddy M.Deminico. We hit Fire, mostly because the food is delicious, but partly because we can sit at the Chef’s table and watch the food come out. The food was above average tonight. I hit a Beet Tart that was the perfect combination of dry and succulent with a side of greens that was exactly what I wanted. The cheese plate was good, not great but good. My finisher was Tawney’s Veggie plate. This was the second time in 5 days that I had this dish and I would have it again tonight if I could. Cumin coated eggplant with chick peas and greek yogurt is ummmmmmmmm delicious.

But the focus of the evening when Mike and I get together is usually drinking. The 2006 Pride Cabernet is not ready to drink. That is all there is to it. This wine is ok. It needs to breathe and we just drank it. Blame us, or just say let this wine sit for 2 more years and it might deliver upon the promise that lays below the muddled mess of body and soft tannins. Mike has tried this wine twice and says it under performs. For me, I think it is just a matter of time. Hold this wine for 2 years and it may be ready to drink. Or, invite me over and we can try your bottle whenever you are ready, I’ll bring the cheese.

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Make Cookies, Not War