Saturday, October 24, 2009


We've been so busy (doing what?) it has taken me a week to post what I created for last week's Serious Eats Weekend Cook and Tell challenge - recreating a favorite restaurant dish. Of course, this entry was too late, but I thought I'd post it anyway.

La Bodega is our favorite sandwich shop. Bug orders the #44 Italian sub ($8.95). The sandwich includes salami, pepperoni, ham, olives, tomatoes, banana peppers, onions, provolone, Italian herbs and dressing.

My favorite for the past 5 years has been the #36 grilled eggplant sandwich ($6.95). The sandwich comes with bocconcini, tomato, and pesto mayonnaise served in a rosemary ciabatta. It's a very sloppy (wet) sandwich to eat. I'm not sure why, but the sloppier the sandwich the more delicious they tend to be.

All sandwiches are panini grill pressed and include a small bag of chips.

For years, I've been meaning to make this very simple sandwich. I almost feel embarrassed to present this as a "challenge," but it is a dish I have been meaning to make. I blame the eggplants sitting at Miles Market.

Bug is the grill master of the house by default, since I don't grill. I believe the eggplant is roasted at La Bodega.

SE Eggplant
Grilled eggplant atop toasted sour dough bread

Basil Pesto
Miles Market has the best fresh basil, price-wise and freshness. We also picked up a chunk of parmesan. When I grated the parmesan, I was surprised it didn't stink like the bottled ones by Kraft that Bug always gets.

SE Basil Pesto
Basil pesto

2 c basil
1/2 c pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c parmesan, grated

In a food processor, blend basil and pine nuts. Add minced garlic. Slowly add the olive oil. Add parmesan.

We didn't make mayonnaise from scratch. I should probably do that some time. For the pesto mayonnaise, I just used Hellmann's mayonnaise and mixed it with some of the basil pesto.

Kenji Alt has an excellent article on basic and animal fat mayonnaise.

SE Pesto Mayo Cheese
Basil pesto mayonnaise and ciliegine mozzarella

As usual, we've made substitutions. I wasn't able to find bocconcini and rosemary ciabatta so I instead bought a container of ciliegine (cherry-sized fresh mozzarella) and a loaf of sour dough bread, respectively.

I chose sour dough because I love the way mayonnaise brings out the sourness in sour dough bread.

SE Grilled Eggplant Sandwich
The ghost of Hello Kitty

So the cheese doesn't roll all over the place, you can either squeeze it flat with your fingers or nuke it for 20 seconds. Nuked, the cheese becomes a hot, pliable goo of gummy cheese but looks presentable. The cheese may look weird squished, but it has a better texture and flavor.

Tomatoes weren't used since I didn't find any worth buying.

I don't have the counter space for a panini grill so I toasted the bread in my Hello Kitty toaster. She decided not to grace us with her countenance.

The sandwich was similar in flavor to La Bodega's. While smaller and not as messy to eat, I liked our sandwich better because the smoky flavor of the grilled eggplant and the sourness of the bread.

- Cassaendra

La Bodega
869 Jefferson Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113-4627
(216) 621-7075

Mad Cactus

For several months, we have been questioning why there aren't any Mexican buffets. Recently, we passed by an "express lunch buffet" banner hanging at the Mad Cactus and had to check out the food that "made [them] famous."

We understand that buffets are often not as good as real food because there's only so much control over quality one can have over a dish sitting under a lamp, even at buffets where we have paid $30-40/person.

I do find buffets, when offered, an inexpensive way to explore how the restaurant is run without having to make a commitment.

On the day we went, for $6.75 we got:
- tortilla bowls, hard shell tacos, tortillas
- salad lettuce
- shredded lettuce
- jalapeno slices
- black olive slices
- diced tomatoes (mashed up)
- shredded cheese
- sour cream
- salsa
- celery sticks
- ranch dressing

Hot stuff:
- seasoned ground beef
- shredded chicken with peppers and onions
- cheese enchiladas
- enchiladas
- churros
- chipotle chicken wings
- refried beans
- rice pilaf

The plates were oval, 3" x 6" at the widest points, so I made 3 trips to the buffet, eating 1 scoop of cheese enchilada, 1 chicken wing, 1 scoop of rice, 1 hard shell taco, 1 soft taco, 1 churro.

It's hard to make melted cheese and corn tortillas look appetizing, especially sitting in a pan at a buffet. At any time there seemed to be 0-3 cheese enchiladas...flat, crusty, and spread out. I cut out a piece like I would lasagna. It tasted like, well, cheese and tortillas.

Each time I went up, the beef enchilada pan was empty. Bug was able to get some. Apparently, they were displayed 3-4 enchiladas to a pan, sliced in small bite-sized pieces. According to Bug, they were "edible," but "nothing to write home about."

The wings weren't bad considering they looked a bit leathery from sitting under a lamp. I am also not a big wings fan because of the skin+work to meat ratio. The batter was peppery.

If you love frozen tv dinner rice pilaf, you'll love their rice.

The shredded chicken for tacos was pretty tasty and what you'd expect since it was simmering in broth, onions, and peppers.

I'm sure the churros would have been great if they were fresh out of the fryer. Since we walked in at 12:45 p.m., an hour after they opened their buffet, they were hard-shelled, dark brown, 1" nuggets of dough. The texture was off, but they were edible - crunchy and sugary with a touch of cinnamon.

Service was poor. Bug ordered soda and saw the server in the area twice the entire time we were there. Once, 2/3 through the meal after he waved her down when his glass had been empty for 10 minutes, and the second time was to drop off the check, ignoring Bug's empty glass.

I'm not sure what we expected from a Mexican lunch buffet. Bug didn't feel the need to ever return.

- Cassaendra

Mad Cactus
9175 Pearl Rd
Strongsville, OH 44136-1401
(440) 234-7427

Monday, October 19, 2009

Urban Ninja

We decided to get rid of both of our air conditioners because they were going to cost more than we were willing to pay to clean and service. The air conditioners worked fine and were high end energy efficient models. They just need serviced and cleaned in a really bad way after 8 years of heavy operation each summer.

Bug wanted to set them outside early in the morning, minutes before the rubbish truck would arrive. I put my foot down and asked that he set them out as early as possible the day prior to pick-up, since people religiously go through our rubbish each week.

Bug took 2 trips, huffing and puffing as he lugged each air conditioner alone down 1 long and steep flight of stairs and down a short set of steps. It was raining, so I was concerned he was going to fall.

Bug hobbled back upstairs and waited 7 minutes for me to get ready so we could go out and get some pet supplies. Yes, 7 minutes. It's only pet supplies!

By the time we stepped outside, the patch of grass where Bug left the air conditioners was empty. I looked both directions on our street. It was clear of traffic. The grass didn't even have a chance to remain pressed from the weight.

While I expected our stuff to be taken, I didn't think it was going to disappear that quickly. I'm sure the person who took them will be pleasantly surprised they actually work.

- Cassaendra

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Top of Linguine

This week's Serious Eats Weekend Cook and Tell challenge is to create a spaghetti and meatball dinner paired with wine.

I have always felt cheated when ordering spaghetti with meatballs because it's frequently 1 or 2 large meat-anvils weighing down a sparse bed of spaghetti and runny marinara. For this reason, I avoid ordering it unless there is nothing I desire on the menu.

SE Spaghetti Meatballs
Not covered in cheese

Since this is our first time making meatballs for pasta, we will not be teaching anyone any secrets.

1 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb spicy ground Italian sausage
1/2 c plain breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
black pepper
olive oil

26 oz roasted red pepper pasta sauce (Bove's of Vermont)
28 oz diced tomatoes with sea salt (Dei Fratelli)
1/4 c red wine (2006 Chateau Malbat Bordeaux)
2 shiitake, minced
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
1/2 c kalamata olives, pitted and minced
1/2 c sun dried tomatoes, minced
3 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp thyme, ground
2 c zucchini, diced
2 c yellow squash, diced
1/4 c basil, chopped
black pepper
crushed chili peppers

1. In a large pot, simmer pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, bordeaux, shiitake, roasted garlic, olives, sun dried tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, and thyme.

2. Hand-mix beef and sausage with breadcrumbs, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix egg into meat mixture.

3. Shape meat into 1" spheres and fry the meatballs in olive oil (~15 minutes per batch).

4. Add meatballs, zucchini, and yellow squash to sauce and simmer (~45 minutes).

5. Add basil a few minutes before serving.

6. Sprinkle fresh ground pepper and crushed chili peppers to taste.

We normally have larger chunks of vegetables and add carrots, broccoli, green bell peppers, fresh mushrooms, and celery to our spaghetti sauce in addition to the vegetables used tonight, but our broccoli crowns were yellow and we forgot to get celery, green bell peppers, mushrooms, and carrots, and didn't feel like driving out to the grocery store. Fortunately, we always have shiitake in the freezer. The omission of cheese was due to my dislike for cheese, specifically, parmesan and romano.

The sauce was sweeter than usual and not as meaty tasting. We also prefer our vegetables firmer, but I wanted to make the sauce as normal looking as possible.

The meatballs were more subtle in flavor that we expected. We were thinking of adding caraway or fennel seeds, but not knowing the flavor intensity of the sausage, we decided to err on the side of caution.

After Bug made up the batch of meatballs, I noticed a few meatball recipes that included water. While I am not ecstatic about revisiting meatballs, this has piqued my curiosity. I may make a small batch to find out what difference (assume textural) adding water will make, and add it to meat sauce.

As for drinks, Bug drank iced tea and I drank water. I don't drink alcohol. The bordeaux used in the sauce was a gift. I don't recall how long we've had it, just that it's no more than 3 years old.

- Cassaendra

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hold the Mustard

Bye Mustard
Auf wiener-sehen!

After 5 weeks of fun and turbulence with Mustard, we've given up on the little guy and returned him to the Mutt Hutt.

Mustard was my first experience of having a dog off a leash in an unfenced area and at my heels where ever I turned. He was a crowd pleaser and always rolled on his back when a dog or human walked near him. When he was off-leash outside, he looked like the happiest little thing in the world where nothing could poop on his parade. That was the fun part.

The not so fun times quickly engulfed the good...

When we received him, he had a persistent cough that wasn't actively treated. There was some speculation that he had kennel cough. We were quite concerned, watching over Akemi to see if she would develop a cough since she was never administered a bordetella vaccine, as we were advised against having it by our veterinarian if she wasn't going to be boarded.

From day one, he piddled every time he was let out of his crate and urinated on the carpet and bed, even 30 minutes after being taken outside. The only place we have carpeting is a strip under our computer chairs, and he always picked my chair.

We bought a lot of toys in an attempt to avoid the two fighting over toys. We were concerned that Akemi would feel that he was intruding on her turf. Unfortunately, it was the other way around. Any time Akemi picked up a toy, Mustard would drop the toy he was playing with, snarl at her, and take her toy away. The ferocity tapered as time passed and it became a friendly tug-o-war competition.

In hindsight, scolding Mustard when he did bad things netted the best result. It kept him at baseline, but his behavior did not improve. We also learned how protective Akemi was over Mustard. When he was scolded, she would run from any part of the house and come between us and him.

When we tried rewarding him for better behavior and scolding him for bad behavior, he reacted poorly to discipline. If we picked him up prior to being scolded after he did something bad, he would scream. If he wasn't being scolded and picked up the same way, he would react indifferently.

This confirmed to us that he knew the difference between bad and good behavior. Our initial thought was that he was just an honestly dumb dog.

We removed the discipline component by ignoring his bad behavior and rewarding good behavior, which began the quick spiral downward to unacceptable behavior.

Mustard would swallow his treat and take Akemi's treats from her mouth. We were already separating the two dogs during mealtime, where Mustard would eat in the crate and Akemi would eat outside. He would whine after he scarfed his food down and saw that Akemi was leisurely eating her food. If we let him out, he would eat all of her food. The treats were administered separately with one dog caged. Mustard would cry from inside his crate watching Akemi savoring her treat. It was too much drama, so we ceased giving them treats.

Our first day at the dog park was embarrassing. We found out Mustard still had issues sharing. When one of the labrador retrievers ran with a stick with other dogs in tow, Mustard screamed and lunged at the dog. He did the same thing to two other dogs as they ran with the stick. He also scratched a little girl, who was standing in front of us, unprovoked. We left before things escalated.

The next day, we returned to the dog park. A different group of dogs were there. Mustard began screaming and attacked one of the dogs unprovoked. We left the dog park immediately.

Late that evening, Bug noticed a tuft of fur in Mustard's mouth. Puzzled, he kept an eye and observed that Mustard was pulling clumps of fur from Akemi's backside. For whatever reason, Akemi did not react.

This was the last straw. Bug was getting rid of Mustard ASAP.

Before we informed Mutt Hutt our intentions of returning Mustard, Bug received a call the next morning to drop Mustard off. An accusatory conversation took place with Rebecca regarding a conversation on UTIs with our neighbor the night before. Bug wanted to quickly be rid of the dog, so he ignored her instead of arguing.

I hope Mustard is able to find a home. He would be better off where he:
- can be kept outside so he can pee anywhere to his heart's content
- is the only pet so he doesn't go into a jealous rage over food or toys
- isn't scolded
- can be pampered, since he is an extremely needy dog.

On a positive note, we better appreciate Akemi's charming and aloof nature. She appears not to be affected by Mustard's absence. It was worth the $200 "rental" fee to see how Akemi would react to another dog in the household. We've decided that our next dog will be another shiba puppy.

- Cassaendra

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bun Rieu

We stopped by our regular Vietnamese haunt, #1 Pho, for the purpose of having a sinus clearing meal. Bug was having major issues with congestion likely due to allergies, and I was on the verge of delirium tremens from not having had their summer rolls and pho in ~3 weeks.

No1 Pho Pork Summer Rolls

Their chargrilled pork summer rolls are the absolute best appetizer/finger food I have ever eaten. I am not a fan of pork, but I could eat 10 of these myself.

The pork is sliced thin, marinated, then char-grilled. Crisp lettuce cools the warm meat. Perfectly cooked vermicelli and rice wraps balance the saltiness of the pork and the salty-sweet piquant nuoc cham.

These rapturous rolls are an excellent marriage of salty, spicy, tart, sweet, crunchy, warm, cool, fresh, and smoky!

No1 Pho Bun Rieu
Plain Jane

Instead of ordering my usual pho tai, hold the onions and cilantro, I opted for bun rieu -- tomato crab soup.

I have never been to Vietnam to know how close this is to the real ting. I really doubt pig's blood is used here, and I've never asked. I suppose all that matters is that it tastes good.

Go ahead, point that accusing finger at me saying I'm a hypocrite with regard to authenticity. I'm Japanese so I can be a little bitter about restaurants touting authentic Japanese cuisine and serving beef broccoli, egg rolls, hot and sour soup, and cap the meal with a fortune cookie. Prideful? Maybe.

I have no problem with people experimenting with food, mixing several cultures, or calling it fusion. Don't pass it off as authentic (I'm looking at you, restaurants)!

No1 Pho Bun Rieu Fixings
All dressed up and ready to go...into mah belly

The bun rieu served here has an oily sheen, but doesn't (lip)smack of grease. The soup is nothing like pho, and has an obvious tart tomato component. Pieces of tomato can be fished up along with an abundance of small seasoned meatballs that break apart easily. Also, the noodles are round instead of the flat sticks associated with pho.

A side platter of bean sprouts, lettuce, jalapeno peppers, and a wedge of lime is brought with the soup. Lettuce in hot soup seems weird; however, the lettuce served isn't your wimpy buttery lettuce, but a hearty, crunchy variety.

Bun rieu is a wonderful soup, but my heart is still with pho tai. Sadly, I no longer press the issue about getting the meat raw in a platter (to manage meat doneness to my preference) for fear that my topmost important request of no onions and cilantro be overlooked. Not ordering pho is a very serious decision. Bun thit nuong cha gio (cold vermicelli with char-grilled pork, spring roll, Thai basil, mint, bean sprouts, lettuce, chopped nuts, and nuoc cham) is another favorite.

I should take back the comment about fortune cookies, since it has been ruled in a court of law that someone of Japanese descent invented it.

- Cassaendra

#1 Pho
3120 Superior Ave
Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Monday, October 5, 2009

TV Party

Serious Eats Weekend Cook and Tell project this week focuses on what we eat while we watch television.

I initially thought we could get plates reminiscent of the aluminum platters used in TV dinners with sectioned areas. I thought I saw some at Target, but when I didn't, I wasn't compelled to look anywhere else and decided to use a long pastry tray.

My next thought was to make something that was slightly thematic as ChefTomMohr brought up. The tv shows I watch these days don't lend themselves to food themes -- Castle, CSI, Dexter, and Mentalist...or cooking shows on PBS. I don't have satellite or cable tv.

SE Dinner
TV party tonight

So, I threw some food we had leftover or were quick to assemble between commercial breaks.

SE Spinach salad
Spinach salad

Spinach salad was topped with a locally made gorgonzola pear dressing with riesling wine by Vino de Milo. I'm NOT a fan of gorgonzola, but this wasn't bad. It wasn't as pungent as I expected, but maintained its stinky presence. We bought the dressing to see if we should buy more bottles to give away as box stuffers.

SE Pasta
Pasta salad

The pasta salad was left over from a side the other night. Ziti and rotini mixed with olives, roasted red peppers, artichokes, zucchini, yellow squash, olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper.

SE Sardines

The sardines were canned with tomato sauce, which I simmered with cayenne pepper and black pepper, then garnished with nori and sesame seeds. This was really easy to put together, I almost felt guilty. Almost.

This was a lot of food so I brought leftovers for lunch the next day.

Fun song, but I still don't like Black Flag

- Cassaendra

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Nate's Deli

Several years ago and each party since, the office has catered food from Nate's Deli, a restaurant that serves primarily Lebanese food, as well as deli sandwiches. We usually have several trays of shawarma, shish tawook, and falafel wraps, tabbouleh, hummus, baba ghanoush, and fattoush.

Our office party is where I met and fell in love with fattoush, a refreshing blend of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions and parsley, tossed with oil, vinegar, and sumac, and served with toasted pita chips.

Nates Fattoush

Since the order is catered at work, the pita chips are delivered separately instead of mixed into the salad. Serving the chips separate is my preferred style of eating this, scooping the salad with the crisp toasted chips. The chips and the tart sumac take the edge off of the onions for me, a raw onion hater.

The heaping platter that you get at the restaurant is only $4.25. This and a side of stuffed grape leaves is probably all you need for a filling meal that won't feel like you ate bricks.

Nates ShishTawook
Shish tawook

Another dish I enjoy is shish tawook ($4.75), skewered marinated chicken. I've never had it as a platter, only served as a sandwich wrap in fresh pita with garlic mayonnaise and lettuce. It is traditionally served over rice.

Nates Pickles
Pickled turnip and peppers

I believe the pickled turnips came with the shish tawook. The turnips were crunchy and probably pickled in vinegar and something to make it pink, as I didn't detect any other flavor. The pickled peppers were a touch spicy and unexpectedly salty.

We also ordered a shawarma sandwich, beef strips sauteed with finely chopped onions. I forgot that it came with chopped onions, so Bug ate the whole sandwich.

Nates Stuffed Grape Leaves
Stuffed grape leaves and yogurt

The grape leaves were stuffed with rice and ground beef. The flavor of the leaves were atypically subtle unlike our numerous experiences at other [Greek] restaurants and at home. I wonder if it's the brand of grape leaves used or different preparation. They were well made and, for $7.50, the portion was generous.

Bug walked in not expecting to like it as much as he did. I'm glad that he likes this place, since their food is modestly priced and the people there seem happy to be there. Good food, good vibe, good prices.

- Cassaendra

Nate's Deli
1923 West 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 696-7529
*cash and check only, closed Sundays

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