Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Chirashi

'Twas a parcel that arrived from Michael,
A bounty collected whilst Foraging Seattle.

I tore open the package with much exuberance, much glee,
Amongst the booty, a packet of chirashi mix bundled in three.

"What is chirashizushi?" Bug inquired,
I explained, "sushi where deft fingers are not required."
Hot rice mixed with vinegar and mirin are laid out,
Colorful ingredients like egg, roe, and vegetables are scattered about.

A ripple of recognition spread across his face,
He exclaimed, "I'd really like some, post haste!"

Chirashi Package
Chirashi mix

The directions were in Japanese,
I was washed with a wave of unease.
Not one to waste time, I rinsed some white rice,
Then placed the pot in the rice cooking device.

While the rice was steaming, we walked Akemi,
Bumbling about in the snow like Fargo's Buscemi.
She leaped in the snow, and ran in circles for a bit,
Shivering in the arctic winds, we waited for her to take

When we finally made it back to our abode,
The rice cooker was already in "warm" mode.

The mix consisted of some Japanese staples - shiitake and bonito,
Also included were carrots, lotus, kampyo (gourd), and takenoko (bamboo shoots).
Steeped in vinegar, mirin, and shoyu (soy sauce),
The combination may sound strange, but the flavor'll grow on you.

Two steaming bowls of rice were incorporated with the mix.
Appearing watery, I added two more bowls to fix.

Mix mixed with rice

The egg was beaten with a generous pinch of shichimi then fried,
Sliced into strips, they were set aside.

Next, a slice of Spam was chopped into sticks,
Fried 'til crisp, for 5 to 7 minutes.

Chirashi Egg Spam
Spam n eggs

A rehydrated shiitake was squeezed, its juices drained,
Chopped in thin strips, with the crepe they remained.

Chirashi Egg Shiitake1
Shroom n eggs

Atop the colorful and piquant mound,
Crunchy furikake, 'twas crowned.

Chirashi Plus1

The crispy Spam was not forgotten,
Injecting salt and fat to the dish, I know I oughtn't.

Dusted with furikake and droplets of sesame oil,
The Spam was flanked by a bead of sriracha and a Kewpie mayo coil.

Chirashi Spam
Spam + Kewpie + Sriracha = Yum

Preparing this dish was quick and a delight,
Happy chirashi to all, and to all a good bite.

- Cassaendra

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Nutty as a...

Kirkland Fruitcake
Kirkland fruitcake

How can anyone not like spiced cake with fruits?

There are two types of fruitcake that I enjoy. No, the two types are NOT a doorstop and one not received!

The first type is the sweet variety, full of fruits and nuts. Kirkland, Costco's house brand, makes a perfect fruitcake of this type -- moist, with an abundance of luscious candied cherries and pineapple, walnut halves, and whole pecans. It's almost a misnomer to call it a cake with the generous portion of fruits and nuts. The cake is but a vehicle for all the fruits and nuts. This is best enjoyed in moderation because it is rather cloying.

The second type, my favorite, is soaked in alcohol and isn't as cloying. The fruitcake made by Gethsemani Farms, an abbey in Kentucky, is the first and only whiskey fruitcake I have tried so it is the bar by which all alcohol fruitcakes will be measured for me, if/when I encounter another one. The cake isn't as laden with fruits and nuts as Kirkland's. The Trappist monks at the abbey bake these moist fruitcakes with walnuts, pecans, cherries, orange and lemon rind, and wine, and finish the cakes with aged bourbon.

The price tag between the two is significant, with Kirkland's ringing up at $12.99 for 3-1/2 lbs ($3.71/lb) and Gethsemani Farms's 2-1/2 lb fruitcake at $34.25 ($13.70/lb).

I'll add a cross-sectional photograph of the Gethsemani Farms's fruitcake when one is available. I sent them as gifts for several years, skipping this year; however, it has been a few years since I had one myself. Perhaps we will get one this year, just for ourselves, to complete this post. Yeah.

- Cassaendra

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sausage Fest

In October, our meeting with Michael and Bill was scheduled to take place at MoJoe's in German Village, an historic district within Columbus that lies in the shadow of technological behemoth Nationwide Children's Hospital.

A few weeks prior to our meeting, Bug researched places where we could meet. It was at this time he recalled our last meeting and stumbled upon Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant in German Village.

Featured in a Food Network television program, Man vs Food, the take home message from the show was to check out their German Autobahn buffet, and try their Bahama Mama sausages and gigantic cream puffs.

Schmidts Buffet Bahama Mama
Bahama Mamas!

After a few wrong turns along the narrow brick alleys in the tightly woven fabric of European-style brick apartments, we stumbled upon a small parking lot that appeared out of place. It was then that we noticed several Schmidt's signs. The dashboard clock read 11:04 a.m.

Schmidts Fudge storefront
A quiet neighborhood -- Schmidt's Fudge

The lot was almost full, with 3 spaces to spare after we parked. Several Schmidt's signs directed us in different directions. Without a flashing waypoint directing us, we set out toward the most logical direction - forward.

Schmidts Sausage Haus storefront
Restaurant entrance

It was 11:07 when we walked into the restaurant. The place was bustling with the hum of diners' conversations and silverware clinking on platters, as if it had been open for hours as servers walked briskly to and fro.

Before shuffling to the hostess' podium, sausages and desserts in cold display cases were a delicious distraction, oh, the desserts! Beautiful cream puffs lined neatly in a row, ready to march into my belly. I wanted to point to one and say, "You're mine." Bug interrupted my skit and pushed me forward. We were greeted with a warm smile and seated immediately.

Schmidts Entryway
Desserts and sausages galore

Scanning the restaurant, it was already 1/3 full and the bar was starting to fill up all within 7 minutes of opening their doors.

In addition to salt, pepper, and sugar packets, each table was supplied with large glass jars of spicy brown mustard and horseradish (pictured here). Bug was overjoyed.

Bug uncharacteristically threw caution to the wind and did not check the price of the buffet. The siren song of all-you-can-eat German sausages must have called to him. I quickly ordered iced tea, then we marched over to the buffet area.

The central buffet offered German potato salad, creamy macaroni and cheese, corned beef and cabbage, sauerkraut, red cabbage sauerkraut, green beans and spätzle (spaetzle), bratwurst, Bahama Mama sausages (regular and spicy), sausage stew, and two other pans (pictured in the bottom right) of which I unfortunately do not recall their contents; perhaps they were cabbage and noodles and another type of sausage.

Schmidts Buffet Spread
The main spread

The cold table (not pictured) held fresh salads, pickled vegetables and salads, cole slaw, and apple sauce, a necessity to balance all that meat. Adjacent to the salad was a pot of fantastic chicken and dumpling soup.

It may have just been the lighting, but I thought I saw tears of joy streaming down Bug's cheeks as he ate his meal.

Schmidts Buffet Plate2
Bug patiently waiting to attack his plate

I loved the snap of each juicy bite of every sausage. The bratwurst was delicious but, compared with the smoky spiciness of the Bahama Mama, was a bit too meaty tasting for me.

The large pan of sausage stew intrigued me as I have never had "sausage stew." I've had sausage with pasta, sausage with sauerkraut, sausage with eggs, sausage in pizza, sausage in fried rice, sausage in gumbo, sausage in jambalaya...okay, maybe sausage stew isn't all that weird. I haven't had it in the same manner as it is served here -- spicy, peppery, and smoky with a slightly sweet edge, reminiscent of baked beans and rather addictive.

Schmidts Sausage Stew
Sausage stew

German potato salad can be hit and miss with me: too sour, oniony, bland, overcooked or undercooked potatoes, metallic flavored. Red cabbage sauerkraut has never done it for me, for similar reasons. When I returned for a second trip, I revisited the macaroni and cheese, red cabbage sauerkraut, Bahama Mama sausage, German potato salad, and cucumbers. The sauerkraut was mildly sweet and not overbearingly sour, with a slight crunch, not that too often mushy texture. The potato salad was perfectly cooked, appropriately applied vinegar and a touch smoky.

It was around 11:30 when we began hearing names announced for seating for the approximately ten people crowded near the front door.

I was not leaving without having the vanilla cream puff ($2.95 with buffet) so I stopped after my second trip, already feeling sated. Other temptations on their dessert menu were apple strüdel (strudel / struedel), banana, coconut, and chocolate cream pies, and German chocolate cake.

Pâte à choux is my favorite pastry and vanilla is my favorite dessert flavor. Three cream puff flavors are offered, vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter. I was tempted to order the peanut butter filling, but I went with vanilla. Feeling a tinge gluttonous, I rather reluctantly shared the cream puff stuffed with thick pastry cream with Bug even though I knew it was impossible for me finish the whole plate myself.

Schmidts Vanilla Cream Puff
Weighing in at 1/2 lb in the dessert corner, Schmidt's Vanilla Cream Puff

When the check arrived, I picked up the check, glanced at the total, placed it back down, then picked the check up again to register the total. For two buffets, dessert, iced tea, plus tax, the check came to a nominal $25!

As busy as this restaurant was, our server was always cordial, our water and iced tea glasses were never under half-filled, and empty plates were not on our table for long.

We left the restaurant around 11:45, dodged the large crowd of people waiting at the front door and outside, and stopped to smell the flowers for a few seconds in a garden alcove between Schmidt's Fudge Haus and Gifts and the restaurant. Bug was already planning our return trip to the restaurant.

Schmidts Fudge outside
A quiet moment

Near the fudge counter pictured, there is a display that shows how fudge is made. We walked out with a pound of pumpkin spice fudge and a couple of cherry cordials and peanut butter cups.

Schmidts Fudge Case
Fudgepalooza, because everything is somethingpalooza

Michael called wondering where we were. If we walked, we would have arrived at our meeting spot in 5 minutes, but the roads are unkind to strangers with handheld GPS units when driving more than 10 mph, so we circled around the same quarter mile radius for 10 minutes. Every turn we made was met by a recalculation, every straightaway we took was another recalculation.




- Cassaendra

Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant
240 E Kossuth St
Columbus, OH 43206
Tel: (614) 444-6808

Hours of Operation:
Sun - Mon: 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Tue - Thu: 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat: 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Buffet available from open until close
Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas

Schmidt's Fudge House
240 E Kossuth St
Columbus, OH 43206
Tel: (614) 444-2222

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday

After a day of self-reflection for Thanksgiving...

'Tis the season for material conquests, fa-la-la-la-la la-la la la.

Black Friday.

It was our first foray into what we thought would be sheer madness, where nothing or no one is sacred -- kids in flannel one-piece pajamas crying in the corner, orphaned, or lying lifeless, trampled under the boots of possessed shoppers, and little old ladies brandishing .44 Magnum revolvers cocked to your head as you reach for the last Dutch apple pie candle on the shelf for $1.59.

We drove up 30 minutes prior to the midnight opening at a game store. The Old Navy nearby had a line of at least 100 people.

There were 8 drenched loons standing out in the cold rain at the game store. At least the rain stopped as we got out of the car and joined the line-up.

Thirty minutes felt like an hour as I stood there in a t-shirt and sweatshirt with Bug. 30°F wind howled from the north every 3-5 minutes. To make it interesting, large globules of cold rain intermittently drenched us all as if we were standing under a rotating schoolyard sprinkler.

At 12:01, everyone trotted into the store in an orderly fashion, 8 people before us and around 20 people behind us, to stand in line at the register. Requests were fulfilled by either a runner or the cashier. Of the 8 people who came before us, only 3 people were present to purchase games or systems. The first person came with 3 friends, the second person was with their mother, and the third person came with a friend.

We ventured into a Wal-Mart to see for ourselves what hundreds of humans armed with carts thrown together in a Black Friday frenzy would conjure.

It was a mess. Clothes were flung everywhere, draped along cardboard boxes, jammed between crevices, and lying on the floor. Games, DVDs, and toys were treated as poorly. People were standing in lines everywhere. People were crawling everywhere. People were yelling everywhere. Carts were being driven haphazardly like they were possessed.

Those poor employees. I no longer felt miserable for standing out in the rain for 31 minutes.

- Cassaendra

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Aloha

For Thanksgiving, when I was in elementary school at Playmate, we sang the following song each year:

We are thankful for sunshine, for wind, and for rain.
We are thankful for taro and tall sugarcane.
We are thankful for fish, for rice, and for poi.
For my mother and father, and thanksgiving joy.

It sums up well how I feel each day, even when it's icy or humid out - just not to the same degree. Putting my adult hat on, I am additionally thankful to have a job that I enjoy, a relatively warm room that blocks most of the wind to sleep in, and my family and friends are in good health and spirit. Unfortunately, food and a place to sleep are still privileges even in the land of plenty and, as such, should be appreciated when available.

Warm Thanksgiving wishes to all!

- Cassaendra, Sicklybug, Yoru, and Akemi

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Last July, when we met with Michael and Bill in Columbus, we were unaware the annual Doo Dah parade was going to be held that day. The line at Jeni's was out the door and past a few storefronts.

After a nice walk along High Street recently, we noticed the coast was clear...

Jeni's Storefront
Jeni's storeside

...and strolled in. With just a few people ahead, it felt like we were somehow cheating.

Jeni's Store
I'd like...yes

Bug and I were awed by the choices of unusual and tweaked standard ice cream flavors. I wanted to try everything. A few that immediately stood out were star anise with candied fennel, celery with rum soaked sultanas, Oakvale young gouda with vodka cranberries, ... I could go on. No, really, I could.

As we gawked around with cameras in hand, a chipper greeting drew my attention to the man smiling behind the counter. With tasting spoons in his hands, the painfully obvious question was asked, "Is this your first visit?"

We were offered sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream, wrapping up its final week of the season. My knees buckled as the dark berry sweetness burst forth and left a light, nostalgic essence of summer.

He would have happily obliged with a spoonful of each flavor, but a logjam had formed behind us of similarly dazed tourists and politely waiting regulars. Michael and Bill had ordered and were already seated. Bug and I ushered 3 families to go ahead of us as we chirped excitedly about which ice cream, yogurt, or sorbet to try.

My jaw dropped when I read the creative sundae and float concoctions. Aside from the scoops, I was torn between:
- Black and Tan (salty caramel ice cream, smoked almonds, chocolate and caramel sauces)
- Manhattan float (bourbon brown sugar ice cream, Maker's Mark soaked black cherries, Boylan's black cherry soda)
- Ohito sundae (mint ice cream with lime, muscovado rum sauce, turbinado)
- pumpkin tiramisu parfait (black coffee and heirloom pumpkin 5-spice ice creams, marsala caramel sauce soaked cake, mascarpone and dark chocolate shavings)
- Chocomole (cayenne ice cream, caramel sauce, Spanish peanuts, cinnamon sugar)

The Manhattan float was at the top of my list, but we were concerned the alcohol would pose a problem for me, so I ordered the Ohito sundae ($6.50). Bug, who had his eye on several other ice cream flavors, was gracious and ordered the Manhattan float ($5.50) so I could try a sip.

Jeni's Ohito Sundae

Standing at the register, I noticed a small glass refrigerator with bottled drinks. It reminded me of the thirst that always follows ice cream, so I nudged Bug to get a soda.

The Dry sodas intrigued us. Should we try the lemongrass? Rhubarb? Lavender? Kumquat? Juniper berry? Vanilla bean? Back and forth. THE DECISIONS!

Rhubarb Dry soda at Jeni's
Rhubarb Dry ($3.00)

Before taking a bite of my sundae, I took a conservative sip of the rhubarb soda. Crisp, dry, effervescent, slightly tart with a fruity tinge, and most importantly, not very sweet. The perfect drink to accompany rich and creamy ice cream.

For flavors that highlight summer simplicity, the Ohito sundae was decadent. The Backyard Mint ice cream was luxuriously creamy, not Day-Glo green. Another creamy bite captured a squirt of lime that reeled me back from the dark, sweet, and smooth rum sauce swoon.

Mint leaves tend to be inedible. To my surprise, I tore a piece to munch on and found no bitterness, just the spritely flavor of mint and the crunch of several rogue turbinado crystals.

Jeni's Ohito Sundae Rhubarb Dry Soda
Lovely afternoon

Before my lips brushed the straw of Bug's Manhattan float, my nose wrinkled. One whiff would make a recovered alcoholic stammer. Oozing with black cherry goodness from the Maker's Mark soaked cherries and Boylan's black cherry soda, the bourbon brown sugar ice cream lent a really sweet, indulgent, boozy creaminess.

Jeni's Milk Bottle Lamps
Milk bottle glasses

On the way out, I noticed a small refrigerator filled with ice cream sandwiches near the entrance, and wanted to kick myself for not noticing it earlier.

Earl grey ice cream with cherries sandwiched between almond macarons?!?!

My fingers extended fruitlessly toward the treats as Bug pulled me across the threshold onto the sidewalk. I cried out, as a tear welled up then trickled down my cheek, "Earl grey ice cream sandwich! I will be back for you!"

(Played in my mind, of course.)

- Cassaendra

714 N High St
Columbus, OH 43215
Tel: (614) 294-5364

Sunday, November 7, 2010

On Paper

Even as a child, I have been enamored with paper and collected all sorts of stationary made in Japan, Italy, and India to name a few.

I grew up watching my mother writing on delicate handmade Japanese paper with flowers she pressed. My father created customized stationary for me out of postcards, pictures, maps, adding his own line drawings, and taught me to write in gothic calligraphy.

For the past 25 years, my correspondences have crept away from handwriting on stationary to clicking away on my keyboard along with the rest of the world. I still buy stationary and crafted paper, but have succumbed to collecting -- hoarding -- as stationary stores have slowly disappeared.

While sightseeing in Columbus, Michael and I became giddy when we peered into the doorway of On Paper, a stationary store on N High St. The space is small, but well utilized, and beautiful with it's creaking wood floors and red brick walls. Many of the stores in Short North have creaking wood floors and red brick walls, it's almost a cliche.

Short North On Paper
On Paper

Bill and Bug humored us by walking in. Bug, an avid reader, was disinterested once he reached the back of the store having seen nothing but blank paper, quickly walked out. Bill was more interactive with the table props.

At the entrance, various contemporary paper hang likely printed in Italy judging by its texture. For me, images and color are half of the stationary. The other half, the half that ultimately draws me in, is the texture.

For serious writers, I am sure the preferred texture would be an extremely smooth finish. I prefer paper with rough textures, knobs, crevices, imperfections...earthy (an overused word, I admit, but it perfectly describes my tastes, in art and food...or is it one and the same?).

Along with the large variety of paper, hung on display, over racks, and stored in long wooden shelves, printed paper from rococo Italian to Bauhaus, there are numerous small batch, handmade cards for every occasion.

On Paper Menagerie

Recently, I read a poll asking whether it should be mandatory for schools to teach children to write in cursive. The first thought that comes to mind is, "why bother when everyone sends email or text messages?" It may be my old age showing, but a handwritten letter means considerably more to me than a typed response. I have received and been guilty of quickly shooting off an email response without consideration. I believe that teaching children to write in cursive is a form of meditation - teaching one to focus, to think before one "speaks."

Well, if it is just about meditation, why not replace it with yoga or tai chi? Hmm, I'll get back to you on that.

- Cassaendra

On Paper
737 N High St
Columbus, OH 43215
Tel: 614 424-6617


After our lovely meal at Northstar, we walked along High Street and came across a boarded development.

Short North Board Beehive

When I tried to locate this spot on Google maps, it showed the original boards for the development which included just the tall boards shown above.

Short North Board Alice

This is the site of the apparently stalled Ibiza condos. I ran across a write-up that mentioned that the spaces will be apartments instead, once built.

Short North Board Beholder

Short North Board Bombling

Reading a couple of local Columbus blogs and magazines tell a story of the Short North neighborhood that came about much like Tremont in Cleveland, a shady neighborhood no one felt safe to visit during the day 25 years ago, vitalized to a destination with art galleries, restaurants, and luxury condos.

Short North Board Uniworm

Short North Board Kitsune

I'm rooting for the apartments to be built!

- Cassaendra

Monday, November 1, 2010


Bug and I traveled to Columbus to meet with Michael and Bill visiting from the Northwest. The months couldn't come quickly enough when I first heard they were planning a visit.

We met in German Village and strolled the beautiful rows of European brick apartments and alleys that were made more stunning by the searing red and golden brilliance of the fall foliage.

After catching up a bit and getting lost within the eclectic Book Loft's maze of 32 rooms stuffed from floor to ceiling with books, we headed to Northstar Cafe's Short North location.

Northstar storefront

Northstar Cafe is a fast food restaurant that serves locally sourced (as possible) New American organic dishes with vegetarian, vegan, and free range poultry options at a modest price.

When ordering, no one can miss the flames flickered in the large pizza oven churning out ~14" flatbreads ($7.50 for tomato and cheese + $2/topping) behind the counter.

Despite the reasonable prices, I was taken aback by the price of a single glass of ginger ale ($3.50). What arrived was not a tan bubbly fountain drink, but a translucent off-white effervescent slurry of crushed ginger and a touch of sugar. Bill liked the drink as is, but Michael would have preferred it sweeter.

Michael enjoyed his smoked turkey breast sandwich with applewood bacon, rosemary aioli, and focaccia baked on the premises ($13.00). A blend of wild rice, brown rice, red peppers, nuts, and parsley accompanied the sandwich that went half eaten.

Northstar Turkey sandwich
Turkey sandwich with rice

Having food remaining was not a sign of displeasure, but a result of the humongous serving size. This is not a complaint!

Bug and Bill ordered the sweet basil burrito ($9.50 each). Bug ordered the rotisserie chicken, while Bill ordered his with seared tofu.

Northstar Chicken Sweet Basil Half
Chicken sweet basil burrito

Both were pleased with the freshness of the red onions, lettuce, and red peppers, the tofu/chicken filling, and the basil pesto. We all agreed that there was quite a bit of brown rice.

Bug loves tortilla chips and salsa, but didn't eat much of it, so I figured it was probably not particularly exciting. I figured right.

The aroma of my bowl of chicken korma ($9.50) was probably a tease (or curse) to those who could smell the spicy cumin and tomatoes.

Northstar Chicken Korma Bowl
Chicken korma bowl

The tangy sauce with cashews was ladled over chunks of roasted Bell and Evans chicken and brown rice, and topped with blanched broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and red cabbage. With the discrete flavors of each ingredient and crunchy (yet cooked!) vegetables, it was as if someone created this dish just for me.

I, okay, Bug must make this dish at home!

Northstar's dining area can be a bit loud from the music and other patrons, but the food was tasty and fresh. Had we been from the area, we would have all had enough to eat 2 full meals for under $50 -- not a bad deal for four adults.

- Cassaendra

Northstar Cafe
951 N High St
Columbus, OH 43201-2406
Tel: (614) 298-9999

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Home is Where the Mabodoufu is

Mabodoufu over brown rice

Japanese mabodoufu is one of my favorite comfort foods. I have fond memories of eating this over white rice on cool winter evenings.

My mother did not cook spicy food so we ate the mildest version using House's deliciously saucy mabo tofu packets; one of possibly 2-3 dishes she did not make from scratch.

While in college, I frequented Sanoya Ramen and was delighted to discover mabo tofu ramen! Ramen in broth with mabo tofu poured on top.

When Bug and I were at the library recently, I stumbled upon a beautiful yet down-to-earth Japanese cookbook by Harumi Kurihara, Everday Harumi. Flipping through the pages, her mabo dofu recipe leaped out.

Ms. Kurihara warns that with the addition of the dashi, her version results in a much lighter sauce than the thicker sauce one typically finds at Chinese restaurants. I enjoyed this lighter version for that very reason.

Recipe for Mabo Dofu adapted from Everday Harumi
6-10 servings

2 c dashi
1/2 c shoyu
2 T sugar
2 T sake
4 T mirin
vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 oz fresh ginger, minced
1 lb ground pork (beef is okay too)
1 c bell peppers, red preferably, but any color will do
4 fresh birds eye chiles, trimmed and sliced (any chile pepper you are comfortable with)
2 lb tofu, rinsed then cubed
1 T potato starch (any thickener will suffice)
1 T cold water
cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Mix dashi, shoyu, sugar, sake, and mirin. Since I used a powdered dashi, the broth was warm so the sugar dissolved quickly. Set aside.

2. On medium high heat, add some vegetable oil to the skillet and fry the garlic and ginger for a few minutes until aromatic. Add ground meat and cook through, then add bell peppers and chili peppers.

3. Stir in the broth mixture and bring to a boil. Add tofu and stir, being careful not to smash the tofu.

4. Mix potato starch and water in a small bowl, then add the starchy liquid to the mabodoufu in the skillet, quickly mixing to avoid clumps of potato starch from setting. Serve.

I prefer my food to be a little spicy, but not searing. A sprinkle of cayenne adds a little heat to this dish on top of the birds eye chiles. Bug adds sriracha to his bowl.

When fresh green beans are available, we may add it. As with many Asian recipes, ground meat is not absolutely necessary. Bug adds oyster sauce to his bowl for a darker, deeper, and saltier flavor.

This recipe has been added to our regular rotation of dinners. Not only is this a good example of a dish that is greater than the sum of its parts, its simplicity is brilliant and the cost is nominal.

- Cassaendra

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gimme Your Kibbeh

Sittoo Kibbeh
I love kibbeh. How about you?

Driving south along Ridge Road in Parma, it is difficult to miss Sittoo's sign. Perhaps it is the simplicity that makes it so striking. Along the edge of their 6-space parking lot, the maroon sign stands at eye level with "Sittoo's" printed in simple white lettering with a minimalist pen illustration of a stereotypical grandmother - bespectacled, utilizing the "oo" in Sittoo's, hair tied in a bun, and a smile. "Pita & Salads" is subtitled in a black.

For the ~3 years Sittoo's has been at this location, we assumed it was a hippie-health food mart with alfalfa sprout filled tofurkey pita pocket sandwiches based on the "Pita & Salads" advertised on their sign. Grassy pockets aren't a bad thing (no sandwich is complete without alfalfa sprouts!), but that description wasn't exactly enticing Bug to veer off course and walk through those doors.

Our friend, Goksga, mentioned one day that Sittoo's is owned by the same family who owns Aladdin's Bakery, a local Middle Eastern bakery, and Aladdin's Eatery, a local fast casual chain of restaurants serving Middle Eastern fare. My ears perked up when I heard this news.

Bug overcame the mindset that Middle Eastern cuisine consisted of loathsome chickpeas and couscous from his dining experiences the past year and a half at Nate's Deli and attending the Middle Eastern Festival.

After going through the double glass doors of the former pizza joint, you are met by a parlor table displaying a menu with descriptions of each dish in large print. The brown hues give the place a comfortable and classier look.

A few feet beyond the table is a counter similar in set-up to a fast food restaurant with a high stainless counter separating the cashier and the kitchen. Soda and tea dispensers stand to the right. On the counter to the left of the cashier is a tower of cookies and baklava. The place is immaculately kept, not stained with the stench of old grease, rubbish, and soda syrup.

As I ordered our food, I poked around the baklava display and shamelessly snagged a container ($2.95) with the most crushed pistachios, as a snack while we waited for our food to be delivered to our table.

Sittoo Baklava
I've never met a baklava I didn't like

The one item that is a constant, the four times we have eaten there, is their kibbeh ($3.95). Fried in peanut oil, the bulgar wheat and spiced beef parcel is filled with spiced ground beef, onions, and pine nuts, and served with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and yogurt.

Kibbeh is often made with ground lamb and complements hummus and harissa-spiked yogurt.

Sittoo Kibbeh open
I don't now what you are going to eat

Bug is a big fan of kofta since his visit to Istanbul Turkish Grill. His order of spicy kafta sandwich ($5.99) was prepared with finely ground beef formed and grilled on a skewer then nestled in a pita with onions, tomatoes, hot sauce, pickles, and lemon tahini dressing.

No words were uttered by him, at least intelligibly, as he savored the first half of his wrap. The portion may appear small, but the kofta are generously sized and pitas have a way of filling the belly.

Sittoo Beef Kofta2

When I caught a glimpse of my platter, Sittoo's Combo ($6.99), my first thoughts as the rice-noodle pilaf moved toward me was Rice-a-Roni and disappointment. Skimming my fork over the grains, I took a small bite and found the pilaf to be lightly salted and nutty, firm but not undercooked. Hooray!

I love grilled food, so it should come as no surprise that a well prepared dish of grilled meats would be nothing short of fantastic. The chicken was perfectly charred (not burnt!) and moist, the beef was peppery, moist, and tender, and the kofta was spiced and firm.

Sittoo Combo
Sittoo's Combo

As I broke the crispy falafel in half, I was surprised to discover a green-yellow mashed filling. In my previous experiences, the filling has always been grey-brown. I must have eaten it at the wrong places. As I peruse through the photographs on Google images, there are numerous pictures displaying a green-yellow filling.

To complete the ensemble, crunchy salad greens, cucumbers, and peppers with tomatoes, parsley, and a citrus dressing gave the seriously delicious grilled spiced meats, curried falafel, and pilaf some bounce.

Our visits to Sitto's and Istanbul Turkish Grill have ignited a culinary spark in Bug to make Levantine cuisine. Having already made hummus several times, kibbeh and kofta won't be far behind.

- Cassaendra

5870 Ridge Rd
Parma, OH 44129-3643
Tel: (440) 885-2525

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall Festival

When I see a banner with the words, "cultural" and "festival," I instantly think of food. The Tremont Arts and Cultural Festival took place a couple of weekends ago (Saturday - Sunday, 09/18 - 09/19/2010).

In previous years, there were tents with a handful of artists selling their work and a scant few food tents. This year there was a lot more of everything - artists, stores, organic and locally grown vegetable vendors, food vendors, and civic organizations; a festive atmosphere versus a neighborhood shindig.

Of course, I made a beeline toward the busiest area - the food corridor.

TACF No Whey
No Whey

I wasn't able to familiarize myself with several of the stands like No Whey Chocolate because they were busy, so I could not get in to snoop. Of course, when I took this picture, it didn't catch the 3 people who swooped right in after I put my camera down.

A few of the food stands were represented by churches, community organizations, and politician campaign booths, while others were area restaurants like Dish, Tremont Treats, and Grumpy's.

TACF Pizza
No pizza

I wanted to try the Greek pastries, Russian cookies, empanada, gyro, freshly made kettle corn, and, and, and... We brought $10 so I had to spend our money wisely.

TACF Original Gyro
No deniro for a gyro

While I like empanada, I wanted to try something different. The potato balls seemed intriguing and only $2. Who can say no to a cute ball of potato?

TACF Learn Quest
Potato balls and empanada

Of course, I burnt my tongue on my first bite. The potato was a little sweet and tangy. I hope this doesn't sound too insulting, but it reminded me of those McCain Smiles (no, not the Congressman) sold in the frozen food section.

TACF Beef Potato Ball
Beef potato ball

Ordinarily, I would have scarfed the beef and left Bug with the potatoes, but the opposite occurred as I bugged Bug to eat the beef so I could have the potato back.

TACF Beef Potato Ball Morsel
Beef potato morsel

When we walked through Lincoln Park after the stalls had closed for the evening on Saturday, the sign at the Korean Christian church tent posted a marinated beef platter for $5. When we returned on Sunday, the sign read bulgogi platter for $6. I felt a little ripped off.

TACF Bulgogi Plate
Bulgogi $6.00

The meal was all right. When we were seated, it reminded me of sitting at Ala Moana Park eating a plate lunch, just without the potato macaroni salad, sand, and 80 degree weather.

We didn't walk through each of the avenues. Many of the vendors who were not artists were stores that advertised fair trade items or exotic-to-Northeast-Ohio items from far flung regions like Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as church shops that sold Russian and Greek idols and souvenirs.

TACF City Buddha
City Buddha tent

There were a number of political booths for politicians and agendas. The one that I remembered but did not stop at was the tent with a sign condemning capital punishment.

TACF Vegetables
Vegetable man in stand

TACF One World
One World stand

TACF Arts Crafts2
Chalk art

TACF St Theodosius
St Theodosius gift shop of Eastern European treasures

Aside from vendors were several tents that gave free health screenings and one from the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo. A woman was giving a presentation as we walked in to the festival area, informing the crowd of children about owls.

A cute owl

I was delighted to see the felt goods artists with their lovely cloche and purses, with Bug standing behind me with a wary eye. Above all, I enjoyed seeing the festival grow as much as it has with thousands of visitors, and the presence, as well as acceptance, of a broader variety of dishes.

- Cassaendra

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