Monday, July 23, 2012

Half Baked?

Tomato soup and grilled cheese baked into a cupcake. Yes, it really exists and it wasn't just tomato cake with a wedge of grilled cheese on top nor a gimmick like dirt Jelly Bellys from 10 years ago.

Tomato Soup Grilled Cheese Cupcake
Tomato soup and grilled cheese cupcake

Wendy and SynDee of A Cookie and a Cupcake phenomenally captured the essence of the savory-sweetness of tomato soup, dialing up the latter, into a moist, tasty, and memorable dessert. Oh, and the grilled cheese was crisp and buttery.

- Cassaendra

A Cookie and a Cupcake
2173 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 344-9433

Friday, July 20, 2012


After enjoying the tacos at Barrio at the Taste of Tremont earlier in the week, despite the last taco swimming from the downpour as we sat alone out in the open, as hundreds of people around us scampered in all directions to take cover. Half an inch of rain collected in our platter within 5 minutes. Bug still enjoyed the wet taco (that sounded awkward).

Conditions were much better on our first visit to Barrio -- low 70s (°F), dry, and windy. We don't normally select patio dining, but we invited Bear and Bear's dad to join us. With it being such a lovely day, dining outdoors in the shade couldn't have been more splendid

Tacos are $3 each and made to your specification by selecting from printed checklist slips of paper available at each table. You choose:
1) the type of shell (flour, corn - hard or soft);
2) protein (various meats, fish, beans, or tofu);
3) numerous cold vegetables;
4) cheeses (queso fresco, manchego, chihuahua); and
5) an abundance of salsas and sauces.

Pre-set tacos are not offered except for the taco(s) of the day, which were $4 each on the day we went. 

Barrio Chorizo Tofu
Chorizo and tofu tacos

I ordered two tacos, one that I was positive I would enjoy and another was an experiment:
1) hard shell with chorizo, lettuce, tomatoes, queso fresco, and Barrio secret taco sauce ("mucho caliente")
2) soft shell corn tortilla with tofu (yes), lettuce, tomatoes, manchego, and guajillo sauce (tomatoes and dried guajillo peppers)

The order slip noted their chorizo is made at the restaurant. It was fantastic -- salty, smoky, spiced, and peppery -- and went well with the crisp lettuce, tomatoes, nutty hard shell, and salsa. There was a nice tickle to the sauce but by no means caliente.

The tofu taco, on the other hand, was a big miss. I don't know if it was the tofu, guajillo sauce, manchego, or the combination, but the sweet barbecue type sauce was unexpected and wasn't my thing. I'll try tofu again, but with more straightforward ingredients, especially if it is not served automatically with that sweet sauce.

Bug created two tacos:
1) flour tortilla with chorizo, lettuce, queso fresco, and chipotle crema
2) flour tortilla with pulled chicken, jicama with strawberries, manchego, and Barrio secret taco sauce

Barrio Chorizo Chicken Jicama
Chorizo and chicken strawberry jicama tacos

I can't think of an application where great tasting chorizo would taste awful. Perhaps dessert, then again I can't knock it if I haven't tried a serious effort. Tomato soup and grilled cheese cupcake was incomprehensible until I tried it at A Cookie and a Cupcake. The chipotle crema added a sultry smoky flavor to the smoky spiced sausage. I haven't decided which chorizo taco was better, mine or his.

The jicama and strawberries were an interesting blend to the pulled chicken taco. I had never knowingly had jicama before so I was looking forward to trying it. It has a texture of daikon with a subtle flavor. The strawberries didn't really contribute much.

BLT and Korean BBQ were the special tacos this evening. Both tacos were made with very thick cuts of pork belly. I love mayonnaise in many things, so I knew these were going to be nifty tacos as both were accompanied by different mayo based sauces. Adding a zestier oomph, the BLT taco was better than an actual BLT sandwich. 

Barrio BLT Korean BBQ
BLT and Korean BBQ tacos

Marinated in Korean barbecue sauce prior to grilling imparted a slight sweetness to the pork, not cloying like many American barbecue sauces. Pickled vegetables mimicking kim chi provided a nice crunch and tartness. The creamy spicy mayo was fantastic binding all the flavors together.

Barrio was much better than we expected for being a new establishment during the heart of dinner rush on a Friday night sandwiched between two parties of 10 and 12 on the patio. I've had a lot worse tasting food and service at other restaurants with much fewer customers. I look forward to our next visit to Barrio.

- Cassaendra

806 Literary Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 999-7714

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Taste of Tremont 2012

The Taste of Tremont took place on a rather warm day that could have been worse. The midday rainstorm that flooded the area was fun.

SouthSide Home Wrecker
SouthSide's Home Wrecker

We walked the entire length, extended from last year, of the festival first to get an idea of what we were going to spend our $20 on, if anything. The extension was made up mostly of food trucks.

I've wanted to try Michael Symon's famous macaroni and cheese at Lolita's stand ($5). It was a lot like alfredo. We washed down our food with Lolita's mint lemonade ($2). 

Lolita Mac Cheese
Lolita's mac and cheese

Barrio, a taqueria that opened recently, was one of the busiest stands serving three types of tacos for $4 each or three for $10.

From left to right:

House made chorizo -- Thai basil summer slaw, Asian barbecue sauce, flour tortilla

Barrio black beans -- Thai basil summer slaw, Avocado goat cheese spread, flour tortilla
Cilantro lime grilled chicken -- Thai basil summer slaw, queso fresco, spicy mayo, flour tortilla

Barrio Tacos
Barrio's taco trio

Since the Thai basil summer slaw was mixed with raw red onions and the chicken had a cilantro sauce, I took a small bite of black beans and chorizo.  I am typically underwhelmed by black beans, but these were tasty (perhaps cooked in broth and garlic or onions) but a bit salty. It left an impression on Bug to encourage him to want to go to Barrio when, previously, he was disinterested at least for another few months.

- Cassaendra

900 Literary Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 771-5652

806 Literary Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 999-7714

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quiet Time

52-02 Akemi Zonkered
Week 02/52

With everyone napping, the house was quiet with only the buzzing of and water dripping from the air conditioner, two fans oscillating, and keyboard tapping. Perhaps the house wasn't that quiet. It felt still without racing critters and slamming doors. 

- Cassaendra

Sunday, July 8, 2012


My father and I went to Tsukuneya for dinner last November. As is always the case in our adventures, he chose a great spot. What makes this restaurant different from other Japanese restaurants is the region-specific cuisine of Nagoya and tsukune.

Across the street from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I felt like I stepped through a wormhole as I walked into a structure I passed by daily for 8 years and, instead of entering a standard-build Pizza Hut, arrived at a warmly lit izakaya.

Tsukuneya Interior

This was my first trip to an izakaya where I actually perused a menu. My previous visit was during a visit to Japan, when I was too young.

Not being a fan of raw radishes as a main ingredient, as opposed to grated into a sauce, due to its overwhelming bite and peppery flavor, "shiso gelatin" was all I needed to read in the description of their daikon salad to place my vote for this dish with only a bit of trepidation.

Tsukuneya Daikon Salad
Daikon salad + sake (background)

My first serving of daikon was a pinch, small in proportion to the other ingredients. Expecting a sharp snap, I was surprised when the crunchy daikon sticks were sweet with an essence of daikon and a subtle peppery finish. The shiso-yuzu gelatin lent the salad an acerbic spark with a hint of licorice. If I were still a student at UH, I would definitely stop in for this dish many times.

To my father's disappointment, chicken cartilage was unavailable. Instead, he ordered grilled gizzards and chicken thighs. The gizzards were pretty tough and gamey as I expected.

Tsukuneya Gizzard
Gizzards and thigh

I don't recall having ever eaten grilled musubi (nigiri) with soup before. I gobbled up the nigiri before my father could explain that I was supposed to eat the rice in soup. Since the rice is grilled with shoyu, it won't get too soggy from the soup as well as it contributing a nutty flavor.

Tsukuneya Musubi Soup
Grilled musubi with soup (not pictured)

For this vocal onion despising person, I proclaimed to my father that the onion kakiage was my favorite dish next to the daikon salad. What is so special about this batter fried onion stack? Sweet and mild Maui onions. It really helped that the onions were cooked completely through. I was a bit peeved there was only one piece of shrimp. It was good, but why even bother?

Tsukuneya Onion Shrimp Tempura
Onions + 1 shrimp tempura

I didn't get a great shot of the dengaku tofu, grilled tofu basted with sweet miso sauce. An order comes with four rectangle pieces skewered with bamboo, shown in the background to the left of the tempura stack (above). 

We ordered another type of nigiri, tenmusu, another specialty of Nagoya. "Tenmusu" is a shortened form of tempura musubi. M and n are interchangeable in Japanese much like in English, depending on what follows. Rice at a real Japanese restaurant is always delicious. Our musubi were filled with shrimp tempura.

Tsukuneya Musubi

For dessert, there was a choice of various Haagen Dazs ice cream flavors, Japanese gelatin, housemade annin tofu (almond jelly), and Monkey Ice. While I certainly love almond jelly, the choice here was obvious: Monkey Ice. It didn't matter what was in this dessert. How could one not select a dish named Monkey Ice?

Tsukuneya Monkey Ice
Monkey Ice!

My father and I enjoyed the fried banana with vanilla ice cream. Our love for vanilla ice cream must be genetic. I think I may have enjoyed this dinner more than my father. Each dish was new to me, so it was definitely an adventure.

- Cassaendra

1442 University Ave
Honolulu, HI 96822
Tel: (808) 943-0390

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Bug and I were startled to see a lithe black and white cat racing across the street toward Akemi as we crossed the street this morning. We'll assume the friendly feline is a she and name her Curiosity.

When Curiosity reached within two feet of us, she halted as if rebuffed by a reality check bubble. She took a cautious perimeter around us as we walked over to a bench, then hid in the bush next to us. She appeared to be contemplating her next step, or wanted some privacy to poop.

52-01 Wandering Cat Bush
Week 01a/52 - I am not here

Akemi had been on her hind legs leaning along the bench back anxiously watching her new friend who happens to look like our cat, Yoru. A few minutes later, the curious kitty rustled out of her hidey spot and crept forward along the cement planter border. Akemi strained at her leash to nose Curiosity from the side of the bench. That dog is fearless...or naive.

52-01 Stray Cat and Miss Akemi
Week 01b/52 - Aww...

Satisfied with meeting Akemi, our new friend quietly sat with us suffering under the sweltering morning shade. At 06:30, it was over 80°F!

52-01 Cat Sits Towards
Week 01c/52

The cat slunk around from behind and sat before us. She had a dusty head and I didn't know how she would react to me touching her, so I resisted the urge to scritch behind her ear. This went on for several minutes, until I leaned forward and apologized, "Sorry, we don't have any food."

Seconds later, she sauntered off toward the doorway behind us, where she sat watching cars go by for several minutes, then disappeared into the yard next door. Did she really understand what I said?

52-01 Stray Cat Stairs
Week 01d/52

Curiosity didn't kill or scratch the cat-dog (Akemi) today.

- Cassaendra

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Last but Not Least

Bug was thoughtful and took me to Istanbul Grill on the last day of my 365 project, as it was with the sign outside of the restaurant that we embarked on this little-over-year long pictorial chronicle.

365-1 Istanbul Grill 
Day 1 of 365

It was thundering and pouring out so we scurried through the door and handed the hostess the newspaper in its wet plastic sleeve that was left at the doorstep. At the bar were two patrons and one table with diners, more than I expected 30 minutes after opening on a stormy day. The restaurant was refreshingly cool, contrasting the steamy rain outside.

Ayran was on my mind, even though I made a glass two days ago. The salted yogurt drink has a dry and cleansing sensation on my palate, yet is thirst quenching. Aside from being a great drink, I desired it  more to confirm whether I correctly remembered the flavor and texture from the last/first time I tried it 15 months earlier. Alas, ayran was unavailable.

Bug selected patlican dip ($5.95), better known as baba ganoush, to start our meal. Smoky from the mashed eggplants with a thick, garlicky blend of tahini and a bit of lemon, this appetizer is substantial as a meal with the soft and toasty warm pitas that arrive in abundance.

365-365 Patlican
Day 365/365 - Patlican (baba ganoush)

When we ate here the first time, which was the second day the restaurant opened, we were offered a second basket of pitas after we gobbled through our first basket, having ordered the mixed appetizer that comes with 7 items from their cold appetizer offerings. The basket was just as plentiful as pictured below. At the time, I felt embarrassed.

365-365 Pita
Day 365/365 - Pita

As is my tendency, I made a few substitutions to my order. These substitutions were listed on the menu, so I did not expect any issues. Substitutions are soup in place of fries for an additional $1.50, and rice in place of pita for an additional $1.00.

With a choice between chicken soup with mushrooms and red lentil, I selected red lentil. A large bowl arrived several minutes after the patlican dip. The soup had a thin yet full texture with a light flavor of mint in the paprika-seasoned spicy tomato soup. A thinner soup, even with blended lentils, this is a beautiful summer time soup that is dissimilar to thicker, sweet American tomato soup.

365-365 Red Lentil Soup
Day 365/365 - Red lentil soup

Several minutes later, our "sandwiches" arrived. Bug ordered a kofte sandwich ($8.95) with no substitutions, so he received a wonderful batch of batter dipped fries and a grilled pita to wrap his kofte, ground, seasoned, then grilled lamb, and salad. To Bug's disappointment, the platter came with (only) three pieces of kofte. He enjoyed the moist kofte separately, making a sandwich out of his and my salad and cacik, a thin yogurt sauce made with fresh dill and cucumbers similar to tzatziki.  

365-365 Kofte sandwich
Day 365/365 - Kofte sandwich

I ordered the chicken adana sandwich ($8.95) and substituted the fries and pita with soup (above) and rice. The lightly seasoned rice was nearly perfectly done. I'm also a perfectionist when it comes to rice texture.

The chicken adana (ground, seasoned, then grilled chicken) was beautifully spiced with paprika, along with red peppers, onions, and garlic. I believe my order came with cacik, since we received two cups. It was fully utilized as a dip for the pita that came with our appetizer and fries I stole from Bug's platter.

365-365 Chicken Adana
Day 365/365 - Chicken adana

We were sated, but Bug saw the kazandibi dancing seductively before my eyes. This semolina milk pudding dessert that apparently means "bottom of pot," a description of the scorched (caramelized) layer creating the uniqueness of the dessert, not scraps or undesirable elements. The slight bitterness with the lightly sweetened custard melds harmoniously with the dusting of cinnamon.

365-365 Kazandibi
Day 365/365 - Kazandibi

While I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken adana with pilaf, kazandibi is always the highlight of my meal. Indian ras malai is my favorite dessert. Kazandibi is not far behind.

As far as what the next 365 days hold for me. Bug and I have tossed around of a few weekly project ideas, start date unknown. Since we have begun receiving our vegetables from Fresh Fork Market, at least over the summertime, a short-term project could center around our bag of goodies -- cooked with recipes or posed.

Another idea would be posting a salad/soup meal per week, which would also include chili, stew, and curries. I'm poor about precisely documenting made up or heavily altered printed recipes; although, the latter probably fairs a bit better. Recipes with an abundance of "a bit of this" and "to taste" is rather tedious to follow...

- Cassaendra

Istanbul Grill
2505 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 298-4450

Monday, July 2, 2012

Simple Concept?

With the Independence Day holiday coming up, I'm astonished how quickly time flies. I am most certainly getting old when a month feels like a week. Does time need to be consumed this quickly?

When I am not so busy running every day (toward what?), I turn back to see the changes over the past 10, 20, 30 years. It is incredible what technological leaps have taken place. A ripple in one part of the world can be felt in seconds instead of days or weeks.

365-364 Flags Offset
Day 364/365

However, as humans, I can't help but think we're degenerating. We have little patience to listen to one another, understand others, cherish and savor our lives. Personal correspondences, face-to-face and handwritten, are the exception. Email and anonymity are the rule. I am a part of the problem.

In America, it feels as if our freedoms are being chipped away for a false sense of security and individual entitlement. Someone is offended; another law is created. I find it amusing how we enjoy undermining ourselves. To use a moderately known expression that Bug has been using of late to describe our political climate, we seem to thrive on "cutting off [our] nose to spite [our] face."

If everyone were open-minded, respectful, and patient, this life we share would be better. Simple concept?

- Cassaendra

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Last Copper

Breakfast was made up partly of leftovers from dinner last night; namely, the last of the Copper River salmon. The majority of the ingredients were from our Fresh Fork Market bag -- zucchini, beet greens, and tomatoes from last week; lettuce, radishes, and eggs from this week.

The pan-fried salmon was warmed on the stove with a teaspoon of shoyu and black pepper, then sprinkled with shichimi togarashi. The fried egg was dusted with shiso furikake for a bit of salted tartness. Crisp lettuce, peppery radish slices, sweet tomatoes, and seaweed salad satisfied my need for something cold and crisp. The sizzling zucchini and red peppers were sweet and crisp. Steamed beet greens (originally with sliced beets) were too beautiful a shade of maroon to not include. Its addition was also an easy way to serve 5 items instead of 4 (bad luck - some habits are hard to break).

365-363 Salmon Beets Seaweed Breakfast
Day 363/365

After breakfast, I had a taste for ayran, a savory Turkish yogurt drink. In our bag this week, we also received a quart of Velvet-View yogurt. With a much thinner consistency than most factory yogurts, this is best poured rather than spooned into a receptacle. Also, it is not as sour. Hooray!

I didn't feel like taking out our 64 oz carafe blender to make 1 cup of ayran, sacrificing the froth. Instead, I mixed a pinch of salt into my cup of yogurt. Additional water was unnecessary since the yogurt was already velvety. A wonderful cap to breakfast.

- Cassaendra

Fresh Fork Market

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