Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Red Sox Are Leaving That Bitter Broccoli Rabe Taste In My Mouth

I was on my way to watch the Red Sox try to stop the bleeding that has been their pitiful September last night when a friend called me with questions about broccoli rabe. Also known as rapini, this cousin of broccoli in the brassicaceae family often draws complaints of bitterness. Which is exactly why I love it. The taste known as "bitter" is misunderstood in my book; we're taught to not eat bitter things when we get lost in the woods for fear that they are poisonous. Perhaps, but bitter is also the taste of things good for us--vitamins and minerals--and it also offers us a sharp contrast to the rich dishes it may accompany. And besides--eating bitter berries is merely one of a number of problems that may arise when lost in the woods .

SO, broccoli rabe. Saute it with some garlic and chili flake in olive oil until tender. Blanch it first if you're that kind of person--but me, I get it going in a pan with the other ingredients, then add a splash of water here or there as I cook it if it needs more time to become tender. Perhaps I'm lazy, but to have a pot of boiling water, then a strainer, and an ice bath, well, this just makes too much clutter in a kitchen. Finish it with salt and pepper and lemon, and you're set. Quick and easy. You could also roast it--the slow, dry heat of the oven will rob it of some color but give it some nice brown roasted bits, which will lessen the bitter taste. An article in the current issue of Saveur (October 2011) praises the act of what many perceive as "overcooking" vegetables, that is, cooking them past the popular point of crunch and vitality into a soft, warm hug. Said article has a recipe for broccoli rabe, in which it is cooked with olive oil and water until tender as all get out, and hey, I can get behind that. After all, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

One note--don't be fooled into thinking broccolini is the same thing as broccoli rabe. It'll often get served and sold as such, but it ain't--it's a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli, and is much more sweet and far less bitter than broccoli rabe. If you eat it and like it, fine--it's delicious--but don't let it go on masquerading as something it's not. Serve broccoli rabe with rich pastas and braises, and let it be it's bitter self. I'll need a like-minded friend after this baseball season.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcoming Autumn in The Salon

When autumn rolls around and that feeling of nostalgia starts to seep in, that cool, crisp air always reminds me of my childhood in Colorado. The whole back-to-school thing which I hated then and yearn for now; the changing colors of the trees that had no impact on me as a kid, then, as an adult living in New England I couldn't be without; the sound of the announcer at the college football stadium nearby as we kids played our own game of football in the churchyard across the street. And the food. The braised meats, and the fall squashes. Pumpkins and candy and cider and everything in those earthy tones of autumn. Well, it's here again, and I've got three Salons to greet it:
  • Autumn Vegetarian Salon. We've been lovin' the Food on the Dole Vegetarian Salon! As you know, we're not about replacing meat with boring faux-meats. We're celebrating all the gorgeous vegetables available to us as fall gets underway in several different preparations, letting each vegetable and grain be what they are--delicious and nourishing! Come explore all of the bounty from the local farms in this highly market-driven Salon; based on what I find at the market, we'll prepare a full and delicious meal. The Salon is BYOB, so please bring whatever you'd like to drink. Wednesday, 10/12/11, 7:00pm. $50.00.
  • Autumn Brunch Salon. The Food on the Dole Brunch Salons have been wildly popular so we're going to keep it rolling. As always, we'll visit old classics, and brave some new terrain in our market-driven menu; a perfect way to welcome Autumn. BYOB as always! Sunday, 10/16/11, 11:0oam. $50.00.
  • Welcome Autumn! Salon. We're easing into the Autumn season--and how! Leaves falling and lovely crisp weather to go with roasted apples and braised meats. Hearty vegetables keep coming out of the ground and we're set to welcome Autumn in the Salon tonight! BYOB as always, so bring nice big red wines, or even hearty beer. Saturday, 10/22/11, 7:00pm. $60.00.
So if you can, find some time in between your Apple & Pork and Pork & Apple Festivals and make a Salon! We'd love to see you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hark! A New Menu There Be!

I'm just finishing up some menu work for a place whose mission and product I truly believe in. The place? Metropolis Coffee, with a cafe in Edgewater on Granville featuring the aforementioned menu and a roasterie that keeps Andersonville smelling great on Clark. Metropolis sources and roasts some of the best coffee around, and deserves the majority of credit for my interest in and (very) limited knowledge of coffee. The passion they put into their product really shines, and for that reason, I'm proud to be behind the conception, sourcing and implementation of a like food program.

It's a challenge, spending but a month creating a menu and a functional kitchen; sourcing the right product and staff; then getting it all up and running. But that's the easy part. Letting go of the program, walking away and leaving it running--in capable hands, it should be noted--will be the true test. I'll admit, I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to things like this. But hey--the food is simple yet well prepared, which should make sense to those of you familiar with the F.o.t.D. ethic and my style of cooking. And it is a cafe, after all. I understand the coffee has to come first, and the food should complement that. After all, they go to great lengths (quite literally--one of the owners just returned from a trip to Brazil to source great coffee) in the sourcing and production of their coffee, and to them, it's all about guiding one of the world's great natural goods into a cup, relying on the quality of the coffee rather than manipulation in the roasting process. There's a good deal of the terroir concept in their work, and we, as humans, are simply guides, or more accurately, transporters in the process. By now you know that's my belief in food as well. So if you're in the neighborhood, please stop by the cafe. We serve from 6:30am-2:00pm; if not, keep cooking that good food you know and love.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Indian Tacos and The Primest Beef

On my way--making a mad dash across the state to hit up the Warren County Prime Beef Festival, which will prove to be this summer's only excursion into the beautiful, unhealthy world that is fair food. Indian tacos, a wonder of dough filled with ground beef, cheese and various other things gets all wadded up and deep fried, nice and crispy and clogging. All kinds of pie, which can be more difficult to navigate--pie is one of those things that despite everywhere advertising it as "homemade", it rarely is. Unless you, like the purveyors of said "homemade" pie, find that label appropriate as long as the can of horse phlegm was opened on premises; the heat applied in your oven. But here, I have it on good authority that at least some of the pies are actually homemade, meaning there was a rolling pin and raw fruit involved at some point. And there's a demolition derby. A demolition derby! Safety way out the window (a most welcome place for it to be in this day and age of soft-foam and brightly colored plastic playground equipment), mud flying everywhere, plastic sheets being held up when the action comes to your end of the track. Or be like one of the tough kids and let the old beat-up derby cars paint it all over your face. It's worth it. It'll be a hearty weekend, to say the least, but there'll be plenty to wash it down, to thin the blood back out a bit. Put some water on that track and grab an Indian taco, and I'll see you at the fair.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Brunch? (with full acknowledgement of the bourgeois nature of the question)

A fascinating question: why do we like brunch? No no, that's not right. Brunch in the home is actually pretty wonderful so, more specifically, why do we like to go out to brunch? I don't really know, as the brunch conundrum goes round and round like so: over-crowded restaurants + long waits + hungover customers + hungover staff and not enough of them + marginal food + a turn and burn, fill those seats as many times as we can then get them outta here attitude + a general "it's good enough so leave it at that" vibe + tepid coffee served in cold mugs - a lot of money = a downright nutty meal to seek outside of the home. It's frustrating, like reading a James Joyce book, only with no reward or enrichment.

Yet somehow, it remains one of the most popular meal periods of the week. Clearly, the main draw is the stumble out of bed/put on brunch uniform of cap, t-shirt, cargo shorts for guys, yoga pants for gals/sit at a table where everything is brought to you and you don't have to do anything aspect of it. But, in the name of good food, and a much better time, can I encourage us all to prepare some things the night before, then roll out of bed to easily do it all at home? I promise that the food will be better and the service unspeakably superior, plus you can do the whole thing naked if you want.