Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eat Better

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, an organization dedicated to creating a fair, healthy and sustainable local food system accessible to all area residents, has put together an easy to use 18 page guide to help people plan nutritious meals on a budget, stock their pantries, shop smarter, learn a few cooking basics, and utilize fresh produce. With short sections of text and lots of colorful graphics, the authors- a group of contributors from various educational and medical institutions, government offices and community service providers- deliver a lot of important facts in a very digestible format. There are tips about how to get the best deals at the grocery store, start a vegetable garden, an explanation of how CSA's work along with a list of 13 of them, and details about financial food assistance options.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
Well informed foodies and more experienced cooks will likely not find much that's new here. Though the countywide directory of farmers' markets, which includes locations, phone numbers, months of operation and hours is a keeper, to be pulled out in spring when they resume operation.  If you don't need this kind of information think of others who do. Maybe this is something you want to share with neighbors, workplace colleagues or employees. I also suggest passing it along to young adults you know- your own kids, relatives and friends- who are just beginning to live on their own: there's an entire page devoted to essential kitchen tools, divided into"buy now" and "buy later" categories. In fact, since we're in the gift giving season consider a package that includes the Guide along with a cast iron skillet,  a wooden cutting board, or a Dutch Oven.

The Community Food Guide can be downloaded as a pdf. Single printed copies for individuals or multiples for anyone interested in distributing them can be requested by emailing Nico Boyd,, or calling him at 216-429-8200, ext 212. A Spanish language version will be available in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Old Made New

Grovewood Tavern, open since 1999, occupies the sweet spot between fine dining and neighborhood hangout. The place is a Collinwood fixture that has won a loyal following and its fair share of awards. But that doesn't mean they're averse to change. After months of planning, Chef John Bausone, who's been on the job about 18 months, six of them as executive chef, launched a new dinner menu on Friday, December 5th.

The native Clevelander has breathed life and invention into the comfort food line-up by drawing on the city's ethnic traditions,  his classic French training at Robert Reynolds' Chef Studio in Portland Oregon,  his time down South at The Biltmore in Asheville North Carolina, and an enthusiasm for all things Italian. And he's doing it using mostly Ohio sourced ingredients.

Bausone tells me he's especially proud of the buttermilk fried chicken and greens that comes with biscuits and chile infused honey. The smoked bison brisket is one of his personal favorites. And he's very happy with the vegan stuffed cabbage. "The rolls are filled with rye berries, root vegetables and chestnuts that together have the mouthfeel of meat," he explains. "The spicing for the the tomato sauce is Middle Eastern and of course I plate it with potato puree. The dish is very satisfying, even for meat eaters."

Expect pork osso bucco, duck confit, and an interesting charcuterie selection.The completely revamped list of starters now includes bay scallop fritters, Lithuanian mushroom dumplings and harissa spiked pan fried baby octopus.

I was at Grovewood last week eating off the old menu.  And I'm eager to get back and try all this. The Red Envelope I was given provides additional motivation to return in January. There's a "mystery" coupon inside worth $10, $25, $35, $50 or $70 off the bill. To take advantage of the promotion, now in its sixth year, I have to dine there next month. I won't know how much of a discount I get until it's time to pay the bill: rules require that I hand the server a sealed envelope. Go there in December and you can get your own Red Envelope (while supplies last) along with some of Chef Bausone's intriguing culinary creations.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bourbon, Sweets and Eats

Cleveland Whiskey, a locally bottled spirit that get's age on it in a super fast, ultra-secret process that I wrote about last February, has its fans and its critics. Fortune came in on the enthusiastic side including the distillery's Christmas Bourbon in the magazine's list of 11gifts for alcohol drinkers for 2014. If you don't have an opinion yet, try it for yourself Saturday, December 6 at Cleveland Whiskey's Holiday Open House, from noon to 6 PM.

 It's an opportunity to sample (and buy) all three versions of their product and cocktails made with them, and indulge in bourbon infused goodies: chocolates from Fear's Confections; ice cream from Mason's Creamery; cupcakes made by A Cupcake a Day; and brownies from Wasted! Bakery. The Nosh Box Food Truck will be stationed outside from 1-4 PM, offering sandwiches and tater tots with an optional splash of Bent Bourbon Sauce made with Cleveland Whiskey.

 There will be a free-to-enter raffle, gifts for purchases of $100 and $120 (while supplies last ), and a complimentary pulled pork slider from the truck for those who pony up for a bottle of Cleveland Christmas Bourbon or Black Reserve Bourbon.

The party's inside the Magnet Building (1768 East 25th Street) with parking available at no charge in Lot #56 on East 24th. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cheesy Connoissership

Courtesy Whole Foods Market

Sommeliers are wine experts and they can get the credentials to prove it. The equivalent when it comes to cheddar, Brie, Gouda, Gorgonzola and all the other forms that milk curds can take is to become a certified cheese professional, a status awarded by the American Cheese Society to those that pass a rigorous exam. There aren't that many of them − approximately 408 − and local cheesemonger Jim Shalala recently joined their elite ranks.

He works for Whole Foods Market at Cedar Road in University Heights, overseeing an array of over 400 cheeses, domestic and European, including many less familiar varieties and a selection from small artisanal producers. A former bread baker and graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Shalala came here in 2007 to help open the store and has been the cheese buyer for the past four years. He's often out on the floor, at the ready to answer customers' questions and offer advice on gifts, plating, storing and pairing with wine, meals, and even other cheeses. Right now, he's offering free personal cheese consultations on the weekends. Appointments can be made by calling 216-932-3918.

Bayley Hazen Blue, Courtesy Jasper Hill Farms

Asked to name a few of his current favorites, Shalala mentions Cabot Clothbound, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue, Beeler Appenzeller, and Peluso Teleme. For this holiday season, he is recommending Mons Camembert with Truffles or CĂȘpes, Carpenedo Blu 61, Petit Vaccarinus, and Sottocenere.  

That's a professional opinion I have every reason to trust.

Friday, November 21, 2014

For Cleveland, by Cleveland: Downtown New Year's Eve plans announced

“Cleveland is on fire,” declared John Gadd, co-chair of Cleveland Rocks New Year's Eve at a press conference this afternoon. Yes, we've been hearing it all year, but Ohio Homecoming wants to show people that this is not a rage-and-fizzle comeback but a people-backed embrace of a city that believes in itself. Part of that is building the mentality that we are a city where people want to be on New Year's Eve. Or as reggae singer Carlos Jones said: “The city was treated like that girl in high school that everyone overlooks, and now guess what—she's modeling for Victoria's Secret and might even go on to run the company.” Last year's Cleveland Rock's New Year's Eve with Krewella and Drew Carey ranked No. 2 in TV ratings, second only to the Dick Clark version. This year's party is Cleveland-focused from the food trucks to music. Check out the upgrades below.

Movin' on up to the Lakeside: One of last year's drawbacks was the cold: a blizzard and 21 degrees. The new location at Mall B — a 12.5 acre green roof atop the Cleveland Convention Center — will provide a better space for party people to keep the blood pumping to the beats of Cleveland bands, while the switch to a ticketed event (reasonably-priced) means revelers don't have to spend the whole night waiting in the cold — like many got stuck doing last year.

Baby, it's fun inside: Freeze babies can take the party indoors with a festive VIP soiree in the atrium of the new Global Center for Health Innovation.

 2013 NYE celebration on Public Square
Local love: The bill has been cleared of national acts to make way for local heavyweights. The leader of the local reggae scene, Carlos Jones & The P.L.U.S. Band top it off. “He brings everybody out," said Alonzo Mitchell III, managing partner of Ohio Homecoming. "A little bit for the young people, a little bit for the middle, and a little bit for the late.” Rapper Machine Gun Kelly and DJ EV will also help build excitement for the countdown — and keep the party rocking into 2015.

For ticket information, visit the Cleveland Rocks NYE website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ad Nauseam Reconsidered

What's so wrong with repetition? There's some truth in the old adage "practice makes perfect." Why not do things the same way over and over again if nobody's complaining? In fact, there's a case to be made for continuity even if people do gripe and whine because kvetching offers its own weird kind of pleasure.

What's prompted this line of thought is the predictable annual onslaught of ideas for the Thanksgiving table. I've been swamped with press releases trumpeting products that will "kick it up notch." Everywhere I turn I'm encouraged to get creative and follow suggestions that are sure to lure and tantalize family and friends. I don't know about anybody else, but at my house nobody ever seems to need encouragement when it comes to eating. Wherever I turn, online and in print, recipes promise to liven up everything from side dishes to stuffing. I read headlines and teasers such as "tempting new creations to try," "fresh take on a classic," "change-up your usual menu," "make it memorable," and "break with tradition."

I'm not buying it. I think there's value in putting out the same feast year after year, a comfort in familiar ingredients and flavors, a compelling reason to pull out the old, tattered, grease-stained recipes for dressing and gravy that have been used for years. It doesn't matter how you do your turkey or your sweet potatoes, just that they don't change much over time. Experimentation and adventuresome cooking have their place. It's fun to find different and better ways to prepare foods, but not now, not for this occasion. I'm convinced that a big part of what turns a holiday dinner into more than a meal is the ritual of recurrence and reappearance.

That's why I'm not out to impress anyone with twists on the standards. There won't be surprises at my house. There won't be any cranberry gelee or pumpkin pie spiced with chipotles. I'm confident no one will have a problem with this. We don't need pancetta and hazelnuts in the green beans to be be happy — though I am sure it would be tasty.

The real truth — the dirty little secret of all this seasonal fuss and bother — is that the food is secondary. It's really about the who's sharing it. This is the 44th Thanksgiving my husband and I have celebrated as a couple. Our three sons and their wives, who live in three different cities around the country, will gather in Cleveland. My mother, who will be 90 years old in a few weeks, will be here too, along with one set of in-laws from out of town. Being together — and not how original or even how delicious the vegetables are or how moist the bird — is what matters most to all of us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Russo Brothers' Sister to Launch New Education Nonprofit

The Russo Brothers are coming back to Cleveland. Don’t worry, West Side commuters, it’s not to close down any streets. It’s to host a fundraiser for their youngest sister Angela Russo-Otstot’s new nonprofit preschool and support center, The New Foundation for Children, which uses a fresh curriculum based on the latest research in early childhood education.

Angela Russo-Otstot
“For all the great things about Cleveland ... one of our most challenging areas has always been education, especially urban education,” Anthony Russo says. “To find new and innovative ways to better our schooling experience, that’s a really noble way to spend your time and energy.”

On Nov. 22 at Michaelangelo's in Little Italy, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., Russo-Otstot will present her vision and help raise money for to develop a preschool curriculum that requires parental involvement and can be open-sourced to classrooms across the region. New Foundation plans to open a support center for parents and teachers in spring 2015 and its first school in fall 2015. We asked Russo-Otstot to teach us what the nonprofit is all about.

Q. Why did you get involved?

A. Like many parents, I started out being concerned about where my son was developmentally. Is he going to be able to read by kindergarten? Soon, it became apparent the things I was truly concerned with were character-based. I wanted my son to be motivated, to develop a deeper understanding of other people’s feelings and to communicate his feelings better. An assistant to a teacher at my son’s Montessori school had this wonderful idea to start this new school and form a curriculum that focused on building up characteristics, such as perseverance, independence, understanding of others.

Q. How is this different from other high-quality preschools?

A. This type of early childhood education is very expensive to implement. We believe we have a more cost-effective, sustainable solution. And we will use all of our profits to basically gift this cost-effective curriculum to schools throughout Cleveland. We will give them the materials and train their teachers on our methodology and provide them with continued education. The more support centers we open, the more classrooms we can gift. We want to make this curriculum accessible to everyone.

Q. What does your curriculum aim to achieve?

A. Children develop 90 percent of their brain by the age of 5. This period is very critical for setting the stage for the rest of their life. We hope to equip them with the tools they need to face any sort of challenges that life throws at them, whether it’s economic or personal. A child who doesn’t have those tools mastered may not be able to thrive in certain situations. And we want to equip the parents with the tools to help their children throughout their life.

If you're interested in attending, call 216-30-CHILD for more info.