Monday, December 28, 2015

Countdown: Your Guide to a Rockin' New Year's Eve

First Night Akron
If staying in and watching the ball drop on TV will have you snoozing on the couch long before midnight, check out our list of the top parties that will have you jammin' in the New Year with fireworks, live music and plenty of Champagne. Whether you’re looking to mingle and meet or celebrate with the kids, we’ve got a party for you.


First Night Akron: This is a citywide party you’ll want bring the kids to. Visit the Akron Art Museum’s 16 foot-long Lite-Brite, grab some old-time candy and roasted nuts at the Peanut Shoppe, tune in to local musicians such as folk rockers Shiver Timbers at the Akron Civic Theatre, wander through the ice sculpture garden and wrap up the year with fireworks at midnight. 6 p.m., $10, children 10 and under free; Various locations. 

NYE Get on Up Dance Party: Hosted in Tangier’s cabaret, Akron’s funk band Get On Up will have partygoers on their feet to dance in 2016 with throwback '80s faves. Indulge in an appetizer buffet and Champagne toast at midnight. 8p.m., $70, discounted tickets after 10p.m.; Tangier, 532 W. Market St., Akron, 

Masquerade Ball: Don a mask and add some intrigue to your New Year’s Eve with this ball that has it all: a meal at the Hard Rock Cafe, jazzy pop covers by Final Say and hilarious stand-up from  Cleveland comedian Pete George at Club Velvet. 4 p.m. dinner, $35, $75 VIP, Club Velvet $20-$35;

Canton’s NYE Party: If your idea of a good time is more sophisticated and less flashing lights and confetti, dress up and feast on a full buffet, a midnight helping of sauerkraut, live music from Kerosene and Karri Fedor, and, of course, noisemakers and a Champagne toast. 7:30 p.m., $50 preorder, $60 at the door; Fieldcrest Estate,1346 Easthill St SE, North Canton, 330-966-2222,

Noon Year's Eve at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Music Box Supper Club: Lace up your boots for Honeybucket’s foot-stompin', whiskey-swiggin’ bluegrass party at the concert hall. Admission includes a midnight toast and an after-party with DJ Terkalerk. Alternatively at the supper club, kick back to some throwback with Steely Dan Tribute Band, and fill up on a $30 food and drink voucher. Steely Dan $50, Honeybucket $20-$35; 1148 Main Ave., Cleveland,

Beachland Ballroom & Tavern: What better way to start a new year than with old favorites? The Beachland Ballroom & Tavern rings in 2016 with the sounds of ‘70s with Grateful Dead Revival band Into The Blue. Admission includes hors d'oeuvres and a toast. 8p.m., $15, 15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland,

Cleveland Pops New Year's Eve Celebration: Before you pop the cork on the Champagne, let the Cleveland Pops score your holiday with a lively Broadway Revue by vocalist Connor Bogart O’Brien. Stay for a balloon drop at midnight. 9p.m., $46 -$112, Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland,

Vault's New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball: Nestled under the Metropolitan at The 9, the Vault’s Masquerade Ball is the most exclusive party in Cleveland. General admission gains you access to Cleveland’s most glamorous party scene. For a little extra, join the after-party in Hush Speakeasy, with an indulgent chocolate bar and an open bar. 9 p.m., $110, $160 VIP; 2017 E. Ninth St., Cleveland,

Baz Luhrmann's Deco and Dance New Year’s Eve: Bust a move on the dance floor with contemporary beats by DJ Himiko Gogo & DJ Road Chief, bowl a few games and sip a Sacred Heart cocktail inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Inspired by the films of contemporary film director Baz Luhrmann, the event features video installations and decorations in the style of The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet. 9 p.m., $5, Mahall's 20 Lanes, 13200 Madison Ave., Lakewood,

Lago’s New Years Eve Masquerade Ball: Attend this premier party to welcome 2016 in style: admission to Lago’s masquerade includes live music from DJ Flaco Flash, an open bar and a buffet of Lago favorites — including Salerno Family Meatballs. Black tie is optional, but this 21-plus event is classy, so expect suits and gowns. 7p.m., $185.62–$561, 1091 W. 10th St, Cleveland,

Graffiti: A Social Kitchen — New Year’s Eve Bash: If you’re craving great food and a vibrant, laid-back atmosphere, head to Graffiti: A Social Kitchen. Nosh on a buffet spread of mini tacos, pasta, salad and more. Sip on a complimentary glass of Champagne and stick around after dinner for the DJ and dancing. 5p.m, $30, 1261 W. 76th St, Cleveland, 

Jumpin’ Family Noon Year’s Eve: Skip the late night and bounce into a fun-filled Noon Year’s Eve at the Jump Yard. Inflatable toys and an arcade are sure to keep your youngster occupied, while the DJ, ball drop, a sparkling toast and party favors satisfy your inner kid. Look out for appearances from the Snow Queen and Patriotic Hero. 10.a.m.-2 p.m.; $5, $10; 13700 York Road, North Royalton,

Big Bang Cleveland NYE Party: Check out the new Big Bang Dueling Pianos bar and jam out to fun covers from Journey to Silento. Depending on your ticket, you and your crew can skip the line, or even have a table waiting for you.  The $400 VIP option gets you apps, a bottle of Champagne and a space for you and your squad to spread out. 5 p.m., 1163 Front Ave., Cleveland,

Ritz-Carlton New Year’s Eve Celebration: Put on the Ritz this year with a swanky soiree where you can try a selection of bar bites, Champagne and cocktails, and take in live entertainment. 9:30 p.m., 1515 W. Third St,, Cleveland,

Thistledown Racino: Break it down with live music from The Benjaminz, King Lou and DJ Haz Matt at Thistledown Racino. Enter into a New Year’s Eve Drawing with a Total Rewards Card, or visit any of the casino’s bars for $2 champagne from 8:00pm to 2:00am. 8 p.m., 21501 Emery Road, Cleveland,

New Year’s Eve at Noon, the Children’s Museum of Cleveland: The last New Year’s celebration in the Children’s Museum of Cleveland’s current location, New Year’s Eve at Noon features noisemakers and a family-friendly DJ dance party. 10 a.m.-2p.m., free for members, $8 children and adults over the age of 1, 10730 Euclid Ave., Cleveland,

Popcorn Ball: Trade in the bright lights of Times Square for the salty aroma of fresh popcorn at the Chagrin Falls popcorn ball drop, where a giant ball of — you guessed it — popcorn made by the Popcorn Shop is dropped in the city triangle at midnight. Slurp free warm and cold beverages, and tide over hunger at restaurants that are open late. Money raised goes to the Chagrin Township Hall Renovation Fund. 9:30 p.m., $25 adults, children free with an adult, 83 N. Main Street, Chagrin Falls,

Noon Year’s Eve at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: Experience an ice-carving demonstration, meet new critter friends at the Wild Animal Show, or make an eco-friendly craft. Enjoy music and dancing leading up to the ninth annual ball drop at the stroke of noon. 10 a.m.-1 p.m., free with zoo admission, 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland,

Ciroc the New Year: Mix it up at the Barley House, with an all-inclusive package featuring music by Cleveland-based DJs Kosher Kuts & Thaiger, a midnight Champagne toast, finger food buffet, open bar, party favors and confetti drop. advance $75 women, $85 men, $100 day of event; 1261 W. Sixth St., Cleveland, 

Additional reporting by Katherine Blubaugh

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My Go-to Christmas Recipes

This Christmas marks my second as Cleveland Magazine's food writer and my seventh as a chef. As such, my family turns to me often for menu suggestions, shopping lists, recipes and techniques. So when that email comes — the one with the subject line "Christmas menu ideas" — I'm usually left straddling a line somewhere between exasperation and terror, anticipation and a sense of pride. I want to bring my gourmet flair to the meal, but despite the myriad Christmas cookbooks and grandma's recipe collections available online, trying something new is a gamble: Surely that four-out-of-five-star review for caramelized onion biscuits means something is wrong with it.

Yet here is the best tip I've picked up through the last half-decade of pulling off elaborate holiday dinners for upward of 20 people with a range of preferences and dietary restrictions: You can spend two days in the kitchen whipping up maple gastriques, herbed leg of lamb and brunoised parsnips, and the family will still scan the table for your aunt's lumpy mashed potatoes and the HoneyBaked Ham your mother in law bought. Meanwhile, you've missed out on the last four bottles of wine, your nephew's newest magic trick and at least one tenner slipped from grandma's wallet and into more available pockets.

In fact, it's tradition and time together that everyone really wants.

Here, then, are my tried-and-true picks for updated favorites that will warrant heaping helpings of seconds but won't bind you to the kitchen.

If You Like Sweet Potato Casserole, Try:
Sweet Potato Classic
Adapted from's Gourmet Sweet Potato Classic
Serves 8

Marshmallows are nixed in favor of a more sophisticated crumb topping, while eggs and cream create a smooth, custardy potato filling.

4 sweet potatoes (I like the pale white ones rather than ruby sweet potatoes or yams), peeled and quartered
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use oats ground in a food processor for gluten-free version)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-inch square or 10-inch round baking dish.
Add sweet potatoes to a large pot of heavily salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain, allow to cool and finely mash.
Mix the mashed potatoes with the salt, 1/4 cup butter, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar and heavy cream and transfer to the prepared baking dish.
In another bowl, mix the 1/4 cup softened butter, flour (or oats), brown sugar and pecans. Using a fork, blend until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. Sprinkle over the sweet potatoes.
Bake 30-40 minutes, until topping is crispy and golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

If You Like Stovetop Stuffing, Try:
Savory Sausage-and-apple Dressing
Adapted from Jasper White's Country Sausage and Sage Dressing
Serves 10

Using a rustic loaf rather than white bread ensures this savory, fragrant dressing, which is safer baked outside of the turkey cavity, can hold its liquid.

2 loaves rustic bread, such as French baguettes or sourdough, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound seasoned pork sausage (not links)
1 large yellow onion, large diced
4 stalks celery, medium diced
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and large diced, skin on 
1/2 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, destemmed and roughly chopped
bunch fresh sage, destemmed and roughly chopped
4 eggs
2-3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Dry out the bread cubes by toasting about 1 hour in a 250-degree oven (or dice bread up to two nights before and leave out on a baking sheet).
Heat olive oil in a large skillet. When shimmering, add the sausage, crumbling into bite-sized pieces. Don't overstir, allowing the meat to brown.
Remove sausage from the pan, leaving the drippings. Add onion and celery, stirring to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cook about 2 minutes. Add apples and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes more.
Combine vegetable mixture and reserved sausage in a large bowl, then add bread cubes and herbs.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs into 2 cups stock. Slowly pour over bread mixture, tossing as you go. The mixture should feel slightly spongey but not mushy. Add more stock if needed.
Butter a large baking pan and fill with dressing. Pinch off small chunks from the remaining butter and sprinkle over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, or until a golden brown crust forms.

If You Like French's green bean casserole, Try:
Green Bean Gratin with Bechamel
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman's Green Bean Casserole
Serves 8

Crisp-tender green beans introduce texture into this old standby, while a bacon-and-cream-sauce base keep the mixture cohesive and delicious.

2 pounds green beans, trimmed and halved
4 slices bacon, diced (it's easier when bacon is slightly frozen)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, small diced
1 pint fresh button mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, then add green beans and cook until bright green, about 3 minutes. Drain and plunge the beans into a salty ice water bath to stop the cooing process. Drain again and set aside.
In a large, dry skillet, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
Add onion, mushrooms and garlic to bacon drippings and cook until onions are translucent and the liquid from the mushrooms has been evaporated. Remove from heat.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Sprinkle flour over the butter as you whisk, then cook for several minutes until sandy blonde.
Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan, stirring as the cheese incorporates. Remove from heat.
Combine the bacon, mushrooms and onions and beans in a baking dish. Add bechamel sauce and gently toss, then top with panko crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Photos: A Six-Year-Old Boy Saves Christmas in Cleveland

Six-year-old CJ DeJohn was born with half a heart, but on Dec. 17, he showed Cleveland just how big a heart he really has when he became chief of police for a day and solved a crime that saved Christmas.

The Lakewood boy was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare disease which slows or sometimes prevents development of the left side of the heart. The Special Wish Foundation granted him his wish of becoming a police officer for a day, and made his dream come true of wanting to help others.

CJ, dressed in a uniform with a badge and hat, began his crime-fighting journey at Tower City Center where crowds of families and onlookers gathered. The little hero sat on a bench while being serenaded by Mrs. Claus and Tower City's Toy Soldier. Near the end of the performance, Fox 8 News interviewed CJ and the DeJohn family posed for photos before riding off in a colorful train.

CJ and his sister take a ride in Tower City Center
The family then took a pit stop at the new Cleveland 3rd District Police Headquarters to break for lunch, where CJ spoke with his fellow police officers about their "cool belts" and bad guys.

CJ rides on a policeman's motorcycle 
CJ went on a scavenger hunt around the city and found clues that led him to catch the Crump, a Grinch-like criminal, who was trying to destroy Christmas. Along the way, CJ discovered a series of clues that led him to his next destination including a small toy soldier, a key to the city, a basketball, a baseball, and a plush guitar, leading him to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Moondog and CJ bond at the Quicken Loans Arena
CJ's work paid off as he apprehended the elusive, maniacal Crump at the Rock Hall. CJ told the Crump to stop doing bad things. When the Crump asked for forgiveness, CJ gave it to him. The crowd erupted into applause.

The Crump begs forgiveness of CJ, 
CJ saved Christmas and his wish showed everyone what kind of city Cleveland is.

"This gives him a little hope," said Capt. Keith Sulzer. "Everybody's pitched in and I think it's the little things we do that make us a better place. It's a big city but we act like a small city that all these people would come together for this."

The S.W.A.T team and CJ pose for a photo. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Guilty Pleasures

If you're anything like us, you're still working on your Christmas list, and New Year's Eve is still just a twinkle in your eye. So here's our gift to you: the perfect event for your rapidly filling calendar.

At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 29, Bistro 185 is hosting their Pre-NYE Guilty Pleasures Champagne Dinner. Five courses with all the premium, pre-resolution ingredients you crave are paired with five distinct champagne pours for $80 (plus tax and gratuity).

Read on for more on this decadent dining experience, plus a recipe from sous chef Kevin Moore.

Course 1: Caviar and roasted marrow board with pickles, jams an dips paired with
Larmandier-Bernier Latitude 1er Cru, Extra Brut

Course 2: Seared scallops with foie gras sauce and butter-poached fungi paired with
Domaine Bott-Geyl Cremant D'Alsace

Course 3: Veal sweetbreads with corn pudding*, red onion and pickled mustard seeds paired with
R.H. Coutier Tradition
* recipe follows

Course 4: Lobster endive shoots, vanilla and pomegranate seeds paired with
R.H. Coutier Rose

Course 5: Dry-aged beef carpaccio, toast, truffle and quail egg paired with
2013 Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel

Call for reservations.
Bistro 185, 991 E. 185th St., Cleveland, 216-481-9635,

Bistro 185 Corn Pudding
5 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
1, 15.25-ounce can whole kernel corn
2, 14.75-ounce cans cream-style corn

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add melted butter, sugar and milk. Whisk in cornstarch. Stir in corn and creamed corn. Blend well. Pour mixture into buttered casserole dish. Bake 1 hour.