Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hooked on Cooked

 I got a review copy of Michael Pollan's latest book,Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, (Penguin Press) last summer. Twenty three pages in, at the end of the Introduction, a meditation on cooking and why we do it (or should), I was totally engaged. This is his best one yet, in both the quality of thought and writing. Pollan weaves together stories, science and speculation with his own deep and deeply personal contemplation of what we eat and why, how we prepare it his hands on experiences in the kicthen and what these efforts mean. It's a big book, in every way, and rewards the reader with a wealth of information, entertainment and inspiration.

 The content is divided into four sections, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, representing the basic elements that alter and enhance raw ingredients. I learned something from every chapter, including what I've been doing wrong in the kitchen and what I could do better, plus many new vocabulary words (that will up my Scrabble game considerably). The text is immensely erudite and yet, completely accessible and very practical. He tells you how to do things, like make a perfect soffrito or sour dough starter and do justice to a pork shoulder, contemplates the essential role of bacteria in our lives, and waxes philosophical on the requirements of a true, slow braise- patience, presence and practice- and the delicious rewards. Reading made me want to read more and cook more.
  I couldn't stop talking about the book, which made the husband want to read it. We loved it so much that we gave copies to our adult twin sons, along with cheese making kits from Leener's, for their December 22nd birthday. One of the boy's called me 24 hours later to say he was already into it and fascinated.
  Now that all the gift buying and bestowing for others is done, you'd be wise to give yourself a copy of Cooked as a present. I have no doubt that will deliver many hours of pure and profound pleasure. And prompt a desire to bbq, bake, and saute and ferment.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Toasty Treats

Ice cream can be a tough sell in Cleveland this time of year. Spooning up a frozen treat doesn't seem so appealing after an hour spent shoveling snow that leaves you with numb fingers and toes. But Sweetie Fry, a Cleveland Heights ice cream shop that opened in 2011, had a plan from the start to keep customers coming even in the coldest months. Hot, crisp, deep fried potatoes are the shop's winter attraction.

Idahos and orange sweet potatoes are served with sides of chipotle mayo, honey mustard or barbecue sauce. They're wonderful on their own — but owner and culinary inventor Keith Logan has expanded the concept, and the shop's menu now includes entree fries. Get them topped with chicken tenders or chicken Parmesan, bacon and melted cheddar or a Chicago dog. There are even reuben fries, pepperoni pizza fries and chili fries. It's a great idea, like nachos reinvented. Logan also pairs the potatoes with his recreation of the locally loved Mawby's cheeseburger, complete with grilled onions and thin slices of pickle.

No matter what the temperature is outside, it's warm and cozy in Logan's little Lee Road shop. So you might be tempted to follow-up with a scoop of Brown Butter Walnut, Turkish Coffee — a personal favorite — or Mango sorbet. Or perhaps you'll crave something more seasonal, such as a chili chocolate or candy cane cone that will make you forget what awaits on the other side of the door.
Gift cards are available and there's still a week to score some before Christmas. Who wouldn't want to find that in their stocking?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Polish Please

I first met the Jaworski family back in 1994 when I was doing research for the first edition of Cleveland Ethnic Eats. At that time, their Fleet Avenue meat market was one of the many stores and restaurants in Slavic Village specializing in Eastern European food. Jaworski's Meats was among the oldest. The butcher shop and grocery store had character, from the worn wooden floors and the shelves stocked with imported pickles to the smell of smoked meats that perfumed the air. I chatted with Fred, who started the business in 1935, and his wife, Dorothy, and they took me into the kitchen behind the glass-fronted meat cases where they cooked up such Polish favorites as stuffed cabbage and flaczki. I went home that day — and many times afterward — with a bag filled with kielbasa, sauerkraut and pierogies. Fred died in 1996, but Dorothy and their son, Mark, kept things going.

In 2005, after 68 years in Slavic Village, the market and deli relocated to a bigger, more modern space in Middleburg Heights. But the store still continued to prepare old world ethnic specialties. I ran into Mark last week — he attended the fundraiser my husband and I hosted at Taxel Image Group for the Cleveland International Film Festival. He told me that the market is busier than ever, especially during the holiday season. That's because so many people get a craving for the flavors and dishes that remind them of family gatherings from the past — the foods their parents and grandparents put on the table. So while some of us search out recipes for exotic and unusual fare or new and different ways to prep the turkey or standing rib roast, others seek out more humble and traditional things to eat. Mark expects to make and sell 8,000 pounds of sausage and gallons of bigos and czarnina (duck's blood soup) between now and New Year's Day. It was fun to chat with him, reminiscing about the Fleet Avenue place, and nice to know that his family business is thriving.

Keep in mind that these days a trip to Jaworski's Meats can include a roast pork sandwich, consumed while Mark or one of his nephews, who are being trained to take over when he's ready to retire, hand-cut your steaks to order and pack up containers of their chicken noodle soup and stuffed peppers.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Best of Both Worlds

Loren Sonkin is a Cleveland attorney specializing in estate and planning and elder law. He is also a serious, methodical note-taking wine drinker, who gradually became a wine writer on the side. Now, his opinions are highly regarded by those in-the-know. He added vintner to his resume in 2007.

The second and third careers represent "a really geeky hobby that got out of control," Sonkin says.

But on a recent evening spent together in the tasting room at The Wine Spot, his wife, Jane Flaherty, begs to differ. "Wine is his mistress. And that's fine with me," she notes with a smile, taking a sip of Sonkin Cellars Persona 2010 Santa Barbara County Syrah and clearly enjoying the side benefits of his passionate relationship with grapes. That vintage earned 91 points from Wine Spectator's James Laube, who described the wine as "fresh and snappy with a mix of wild berry, fresh turned earth and savory herb notes, gaining complexity and nuance, ending with a bright cherry and tobacco leaf touch." I'll put my impressions of the wine more simply and succinctly — incredibly delicious.

The Wine Spot has bottles of the label's limited production blended reds. It was the end of October, and the 2011 had just been released. Sonkin Cellars' complex, flavorful and distinctive Syrahs are the result of careful combining of the varietal grown in two distinct California temperature zones. "I decided to blend cool and warm climate grapes to make something distinctive and tasty," Sonkin says. "In the right percentages we get the best of both worlds and something that's so much more than the sum of its parts." He also adds a little Viognier for the aromas.

Sonkin and his partners in this venture, who are mainly supporters that leave the work of wine making to him, don't own any land in Sonoma, California. They don't have a winery you can visit. Grapes are purchased from selected growers and crushed, aged and bottled in a leased space. But Sonkin is very hands on from harvest to finish, going out to the space six to eight times each year. "I've always known exactly the kind of wine I want do," he says. "I have a style, then I do what's needed to achieve it. The wine is very European, low in alcohol and food friendly."

He doesn't produce large quantities of wine. Most is sold online directly to consumers. It's also on the menus of The Greenhouse Tavern, Lola, Fire and Fahrenheit.

Sonkin wants to increase production and fantasizes about buying a vineyard. And though retirement is nothing that's coming soon, he now has a plan for how he wants to spend those years. Until then, he'll continue to mix and mingle his Cleveland and California efforts.