Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Pawpaw Adventure

After eating a lunch of Rocky Mountain Oysters last Friday with my new foodie friend Sarah, she and her hubs celebrated their 4th wedding anniversary dinner that same night at Revolver, my all-time fav restaurant. For dessert, Sarah had pawpaw creme brulee. Then she had a pawpaw meltdown-turned-obsession, which I completely understand and am grateful for because her food "crazies" inspired a wonderful food adventure.

The kind folks at Revolver shared with the Sarah the name and phone number of the farm from
which they acquired their pawpaws. Dave Resse owns Kaleidoscope Farms, a fantastic, glorious, maticulously manicured, award-winning Christmas tree farm. When we arrived in Mount Cory at the farm, he warmly greeted us with a pawpaw infused soft pretzel, which only heightened our enthusiasm for this rare fruit. With our old jeans and ready-for-action boots, we followed a neat trail lined with Christmas trees to a opening of woods. Through the woods we hiked along a beaten path of burrs and thorns until we arrived at the first pawpaw tree. Dave pointed to a little green-ish jellybean dangling from a thin branch: "There's a pawpaw." Using his extension scissors, he cut the fruit from the branch, and Sarah precisely caught it to break its fall.

The pawpaw fruit is very fragile. It bruises easily and seems to burst open even easier. When the fruit is ripe, it has a little give much like the top of ripe pear. Dave told us that he never planted the pawpaw trees; they've just "been here." Meaning, native Ohioians, the original people of the land, Native Americans, probably ate fruit from these same trees. The history-lover in me couldn't contain a sqweal of delight! The meat of the fruit is bright yellow, and it's layered with flavors: citurus, mild nuts, mango, a hint of sweet grape, and earth. It's succulent and wild but also elegant and distinguished.

Because most of the pawpaws trees were extremely tall, Dave abandoned the extension
scissors, and we resorted to gently shaking the
trees, hoping all the ripe pawpaws would fall
lightly. For me, this was the best part of our adventure. I loved spotting those little pawpaws that blended into the green of the woods, gingerly rocking the thin trunk of the tree, alertly watching where the ripe pawpaws fell, and quickly gathering those little tasty treats. My gatherer instinct kicked in, and I was on fire. It was immensely rewarding and satisfying to gather something in the wild that would become a dish I would eat.

But Sarah is going to have to cook the pawpaws; she has the pawpaw cookbook. Dave had just been to an Ohio PawPaw Growers convention where he kindly picked up a copy of The Edible Pawpaw cookbook for Sarah. This isn't a fruit I would wing a recipe for. I don't know much about it, so I'm leaving the cooking to Sarah. But I guarantee I will be a taster as she works through the 7 lbs of pawpaw we gathered. And I guarantee I will be buying the cookbook and buying pawpaws next year when they are in season for the small window of weeks from September through October.

While gathering the last of the 7 lbs, Sarah and I dived to the wood's floor to save several pawpaws and emerged stung by nettles. Resourceful Dave immediately found jewelweed, which he rubbed on our stings, and which healed our minor run-in the nastier side of nature.

After trekking back through the woods and through the tree farm, Dave took us for a ride in his Kubota, one of my all-time favorite vehicles, to show us the rest of the farm. The best part of our ride was watching the sunset over perfectly lined pines. I remember breathing so deeply and feeling purely happy and at peace, at home in my home state.

On our way home, unintentionally coming full-circle but intentionally craving good food, Sarah and I stopped at Revolver for the pawpaw creme brulee. Unfortunately, they were closed for a private party, but ever-awesome chef Michael made us two helpings for take-out. (Thank you, Michael and the whole Revolver gang, espeically Jonah!!!!)

Outside on the dusk-and-candle-lit patio, we gleefully cracked through a perfect sugar coat and celebrated the success of our pawpaw adventure.

While our adventure further strengthened our friendship bond and brought Sarah and I closer to our food-souls, the one thing that really became more clear to me was my love for Ohio. I know a lot of people think our state doesn't have much to offer or they think that there's nothing special about Ohio. But I beg to differ. I'm finding that while living in a rural Ohio community, the more resourceful I am, the better my life here in rural Ohio is. Finding true family farms, like Dave's and Luginbill's, or local cheeses and breads, or taking a driving tour of Wood County to learn its history, or participating in local community projects and activities only further connects me to the land, my land, the state I love. I'm a Cleveland-girl at heart, but I'm learning to appreciate all the communities of Ohio, which in turn only fuels my love of Ohio as a state with lots of something-specials to offer. I'm learning that the appreciation of place helps me live in the present moment, and the present moment helps me build a home for where I am right now in my life. And my heart is at home in Ohio.

***This post owes a special thanks to Dave Reese, Micheal Bulkowski, and Jonah. Without these three good-hearted men, our adventure wouldn't have been as safe and as wonderful as it was. Thank you all!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Cooking Spree Before This Week's Grading Spree

This week is a busy one in the McRz household, so rather than being tempted by getting take-out I took matters into my own hands.

Yesterday I used up almost all of our local produce and made 3--not to brag--fantastic meals.

1.) Spinach Ricotta Pie from The Moosewood Collective. I cheated and purchased a pie crust at the grocery store. I just neither had the ambition or the time to make dough.

2.) Eggplant Parm. We loved this dish when I made it before, and I knew something hearty like it
would help us throughout the week. Sides for it are really easy too: some noodles with leftover sauce, brussel sprouts, or salad.

3.) For dinner last night I made Jamie Oliver's Juiciest Pork Chops with roasted beets and parsnips, which we given to us by our friend Sarah, from his cookbook Jamie at Home. And I
pan seared some brussel sprouts for the heck of it. It was a perfect dinner if I do say so myself, and the added step of added lemon to the pork chops' juices made a huge difference in the taste of the dish--another worthwhile step.

It's time to get to all that grading and the busy week ahead of us. That is, now that we have some good food to help us through it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Canada Goose: It's What's for Dinner

Waterfowl is season approaching, so we're determined to use up the wild game in our deep freezer to make room for this year's prizes. (Go, FD!)

For a long time I haven't been a fan of goose, until FD prepared it with this recipe:

Spice-Rubbed Canada Goose

The Rub: equal parts of coarse sea salt, ground pepper, cumin, chili powder, & garlic powder. (If you feel adventurous consider using coriander, cinnamon or any other spice you like.)

1.) Filet breasts horizontally so that you two equal pieces.

2.) Rub goose with spice rub.

3.) Grill in hot pan with EVOO until medium-rare, usually about five minutes a side. It's better to undercook than overcook goose. If it seems undercooked to you, just place it back on the grill and cook it a few more minutes. You don't want to overcook goose; that's when it will taste gamey.

4.) Slice against the grain like London Broil.

5.) Serve on its own, in a sandwich, taco, salad, etc. Spice-rubbed goose is great with a hot mustard or sweet jam.

I know wild goose isn't widely available to folks unless you have a waterfowl hunter in your household, but I wanted to share this recipe with folks we've given goose to and with those who do have it on hand but haven't found a good way to cook it.

If you have a goose recipe you like, please let us know. We're always looking for waterfowl recipes!

Pork: My Favorite White Meat

Last weekend, FD and I picked up our half hog from Luginbill Farms in Pandora.

Petunia the Pig.

She's one tasty treat.

I made Jamie Oliver's Spicy Pork and Chili-Pepper Goulash with one of many shoulder roasts. This recipe was fantastic, but it was truly even better the next day and the day after that. The trick to this recipe is to make the sour cream with parsley and lemon zest. The sour cream helped to cut the heat a bit and lemon brought out the taste of the pork. We made basmati rice with ours, and its nutty flavor added another layer to the dish.

It's been a busy last few weeks, which is obvious based on how little I've been posting. So any make-ahead dinners I can make I'm making. I will make this one again and again, especially when I have tons of hot peppers I need to use.

Jamie Oliver is one of my favorite chefs right now too. Yes, partly because he is HOT! But mostly because I feel like our food values are most compatible. He's really into local, organic, free-range, sustainable, from the wild, including mushrooms and game, foods. And his recipes, while a bit more intuitive than Cook's Illustrated, always turn out for me. Always.

And I feel like I learn something new about them each time I make them. I like that. And I like him. He seems like a cheery mate.

And he makes me feel cheery, even when I'm stressed out and busy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Flank Steak, Blue Potatoes, & Seared Braised Brussels Sprouts

Even though I haven't been in my own kitchen for a couple of days I haven't lost it.

One of the best dinners of summer.

Ever since the deep fried brussels sprouts at Bar Symon, I carve those little cabbages. Tonight I made me own after buying local ones at The Anderson's.

My recipe brussels sprouts with help from my Asparagus to Zucchini cookbook:

Trim ends & peel away first two layers of brussels sprouts outer shell. Blanche for 2 minutes. Put in medium bowl of cold water and ice cubes for two minutes. Remove from ice bath to dish rag. Let dry. When ready to cook, cut in halves. Bring cast-iron pan to med-high heat. Add olive oil. Add brussels sprouts when oil simmers. Sear for 5 minutes or until sprouts are blackened. Add sherry vinegar & remove from heat. Let sit 5 minutes. To finish add parm cheese. Tasty treat!

Lovin' Luxe Kitchen & Lounge

Sunday Brunch with my sis-in-law Suz, in Cleveland, at Luxe, where dogs are welcomed on the patio=HEAVEN!

Luxe Kitchen & Lounge on Detroit Road in Cleveland, Ohio is open for Sunday brunch from 10am-1pm. And yes, dogs are welcomed and even offered their own Bow-Wow brunch bone-shaped menu with such specialty dishes as Mint Hamburger w/ Carrot & Rice or Fish & Potatoes. For dessert, Chicken Liver Fudgies or Peanut Butter Fudgies. These doggie dishes (literally served in doggie dishes) run $3 for a small, $5 for a medium, and $7.50 for a large.

Suz & I discussed in length brining our BIG dogs to brunch, and we decided it would be a disaster. For purse-size dogs who aren't food-obsessed, people-obsessed, or other-dog-obsessed, I'm sure it's a great time.

But enough of all this doggie talk. Let's get to the heart of the our experience: the FANTASTIC food! Suz and I began our food journey with a bread bowl of homemade muffins and breads. The muffins were to die for: a poppyseed and a cherry-walnut. The breads were good, but not all that special. We devoured them anyways.

For brunch, Suz ordered the cherry-and-cream cheese stuffed french toast ($9), which halted our conversation and continued to halt it until the plate was clean. Suz did manage to tell me that it was divine with the homemade whipped cream but the maple syrup was too overpowering with it. I had food envy until I tasted the hanger steak in my Steak and Eggs with Roasted Potatoes ($14). I could have eaten 4 more portions of the hanger steak; it was cooked to a perfect medium. We got another Steak and Eggs for carryout for Suz's hubby, and the rest of the day he and I obsessed about that steak. It was PERFECT.

The mod atmosphere of Luxe and its completely awesome staff (We love you, Candace!) made our girl time even more special. But the one drawback was no brunch alcohol until 1pm. Candace said this was because of a city of Cleveland law, but Suz and I both remember drinking alcohol in Cleveland at 10 a.m. in times past. Anyone reading know the scoop on this ri-dic-u-lous law? A Bloody Mary with Shrimp for Suz and a blueberry Bellini for me would have heightened our heavenly meal to pure nirvana. I wish Luxe would just take these drinks off the menu if they can't serve them until they close at 1; the torment is too much to bear.

Thankfully, the lemon tart we shared for dessert was divine. However, both of us wanted to taste more of the basil.

At this point, I'm just splitting hairs in the name of unbiased journalism.

If I lived near the Detroit Shoreway in Cleveland, Luxe would be my new hang out. But lucky for me, FD is so jealous of my Steak and Eggs I don't think I'll need to twist his arm to take me there for dinner (served from 5pm-2am every day) during our next visit. And when he sees the reasonable prices, high quality food, and artful atmosphere, I think he'll demand we go there.

Other Cleveland restaurants I'm dying to try: Lucky's Cafe, Lolita, Crop Bistro and Bar, The Greenhouse Tavern, and Three Birds.

It looks like I'll be helping Suz organize her closets and attic about once a month, if she'll have me and feed me. Thanks for a great brunch, mama, and a fun weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

One Success. One Failure.

This coming weekend I'm fleeing to the Cleve to help my sis&bro-in-law with the little burrito & Miss L. (And I'm helping her organize, which some of you know is seriously one of my favorite OCD things to do!) To give us more time together and to give them some quick meals, I'm going to come bearing the one thing I feel that expresses true love.

I come bearing food.

In the quiet moments of a really busy work week, I've been plotting, planning, and searching for fab cook-ahead recipes that could freeze well. Of course, I headed to my Cook's Illustrated Make-Ahead magazine and found there a great recipe for Mac & Cheese--something I know Miss L adores.

When I discovered the Whole Foods app for the iPhone, I immediately found a make-ahead recipe for meatloaf, the perfect protein for Mac & Cheese. I got a head of organic lettuce and some organic veggies from our local farmer and now I've got a side salad. Perfect for one night.

For another night I'm going to make Jamie Oliver's roasted chicken. That way they can use the leftover chicken however they see fit.

But I wanted to give them something frozen to have on hand in a pinch. I bought the September 2009 Everyday Food and found just what I was looking for: a one-pot beef stew and freezes really well. Bullseye.

Tonight I made the beef stew and it looks exactly like the pic in Everyday Food, and the flavor is out of this world. I'm really really really pleased with this recipe! And it was the easiest, cleanest beef stew I have ever made in my life. This one is a keeper, for sure!

Then I got ambitious and the cookie crumbled. Literally. To further impress my niece Miss L., I wanted to make her a special cookie--a dog-shaped cookie. I have the cutter; all I needed was a recipe. I found a sugar cookie with lavender I've been meaning to try. Good.

Everything seemed to be going good until I attempted to cut the cookies. I couldn't get them to stay in their forms. And then I overcooked them. I'm thinking next time the butter should be even more so at room temperature before I begin baking. And I'm thinking I'm going to need to ask Babs, the dessert-ess herself, to oversee my baking.

But one out of two ain't bad...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Check Out Connotation Press' First Issue!

I feel like a proud mom.

Or food diva.

The first issue of Connotation Press went live today. Check it out here!

I can't thank enough the contributors to my column "From Plate to Palate with Amanda McGuire." Melissa, Sarah, and Carly's fabulous recipes bring the whole dish together. Thank you, ladies.

If you're interested in submitting a recipe or food/wine/travel narrative, please contact me at