Monday, May 31, 2010

Paying It Forward At The Big Egg

I had been meaning to get to Melt Bar and Grilled in Lakewood for a while now. I had read of the epic long waits for tables and even longer wait for food once seated. Knowing that I don't like waiting more than about twenty minutes for a table (and even less if I have a reservation), I decided to pick what I thought would be an odd time to go and hopefully result in fewer customers. Seeing that I needed to be in Cleveland on Saturday evening for a party, I thought I'd show up mid-afternoon and grab a meal. Bzzzt! Wrong! At 3:00 PM on Saturday afternoon there was a 90 minute wait just to get a table. And based on anecdotal evidence I'd read from the local food forum, I knew that once I got seated, it would more than likely be another 45 - 60 minutes before I received any food. My visions of the Parmageddon quickly dissipated in my mind's eye.

Needing a new plan, I assessed my location and realized that I was just down the street from The Big Egg. The last time I ate at The Big Egg Restaurant, I waxed nostalgic about the previous incarnation being a hangout spot for my college friends and I back in the early to mid 1990's. We would show up after the bars had closed and we had picked the one (mostly) sober person to drive us across town to fill our bellies with strong coffee and cheese-topped omelettes. While the last time I stopped in for dinner at the updated restaurant I had a classic omelet and hash browns, I was determined to return at some point and try something else off of the menu. Clearly, today was that day.

Compared to Melt, The Big Egg was nearly empty. In fact, I think there were more employees present than customers. The owner seated me at a table by the window adjacent to West 52nd street and I began looking through not only the regular menu, but also the daily specials menu. While I didn't get a shot of the daily specials menu, I have to say that the list was impressive. Each day had somewhere between six and eight additional items either at a reduced price from the regular menu or not on the menu at all. For instance, one of Saturday's specials was a chicken paprikash served over noodles. While that sounded really good, when I noticed that the regular menu offered honey-dipped fried chicken, my mouth instantly began to salivate. When I presented my dilemma to my server, she said that they were both good, but the chicken was fantastic. Chicken it was.

With my entree, I had the choice of a garden salad or soup. Today's homemade choices were chicken noodle or chicken gumbo. I opted for the chicken gumbo:

The flavor was good and the broth seasoned well, but the rice had been sitting so long in this hot soup that it had essentially disintegrated into mush. In fact, the rice didn't even look like rice anymore, but really mushy pasta. I had to ask my server when she stopped back around if the gumbo had rice or pasta in it. She looked a little surprised at the question, but answered, "Rice." Sadly, the vegetables in the soup, carrots, okra, and the like, were equally as mushy. I don't mean to convey that I thought they should be crisp; they shouldn't. But these literally dissolved in my mouth once they hit my tongue.

My soup finished, my entree and sides arrived at my table. First up, a shot of the honey-dipped fried chicken:

My chicken portion today consisted of a breast, a back, and a drumstick. Which, at $6.99 for soup, my meal, and a dessert was a pretty darn good deal. I was a little surprised when this plate was set down in front of me because I had assumed that the "honey-dipped" part of the name meant that after the chicken was fried, it was either drizzled or dipped in some type of honey-like syrup. The coating on the chicken was bone dry. Thinking that maybe there was some other clever trick for deploying the honey, I went ahead and took a bite. I like my fried chicken crust to be substantial, crispy, not greasy, and flavorful. I expect the chicken meat to be juicy and seasoned well. This chicken was nearly perfect. While not quite as juicy as some other versions I've had, it was pretty darn close. After chewing on the crust for a bit, I could definitely get a slight sense of sweet, so perhaps the honey was incorporated into the batter somehow. In any case, I descended on my fried chicken like a vulture and within just a few minutes, it was reduced to a pile of flesh-stripped bones.

I turned my attention to the vegetable of the day (which came with the dinner), peas and carrots:

As you can see from the muted, washed out pale green color on the peas, the flavor more or less matched. Mushy seemed to be the texture of the day for vegetables here at The Big Egg, and this side dish did not disappoint in that regard. I took a bite just to say that I did, but I didn't venture much further beyond that.

With each dinner entree, you get a choice of potato as well. Since I had chosen hash browns the last time I ate here, this time I went with another diner staple, French fries:

Fried nicely, these were crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. They weren't greasy, but I noticed that they were a tad bit bland. A bit of table salt and an application of ketchup to the plate and I quickly scarfed these down, too. While the best French fry title belongs to another restaurant, The Big Egg's version won't disappoint if you like classic diner-style French fries.

Even without finishing all of my French fries and vegetables, by the time my server came around to ask me what I wanted for my included dessert, I had to decline. I was simply too full. Instead I asked for my check, took one last swig of water and paid for my meal before returning out into the chilly winter Cleveland air. I admit, there were a few misses in tonight's dinner, but that fried chicken was definitely worth returning to the restaurant for another look. And of course, I still want to try the chicken paprikash. I guess I'll just have to plan on not getting into Melt on another Saturday and return to the Big Egg instead.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Brunch At Bar Symon

It's official. I have now eaten at all of Michael Symon's full-sized restaurants in the Cleveland area. While there are still two eateries left bearing his name, I don't see myself getting to either downtown Cleveland and Progressive Field or Detroit anytime soon. I started the journey at Lolita, moved on to Lola, have had several stints at B Spot, and finally over the weekend had a chance to enjoy brunch at Bar Symon out in Avon Lake. Of course, this was a journey of a thousand days, so don't think I did something insane like try and hit all four in one weekend. Even if I could afford to do so, my taste buds would be on sensory overload by the third spot.

Bar Symon was located at 32858 Walker Road, Avon Lake, OH 44012 and can be reached at 440-933-5652. Because Bar Symon was located at the end of a retail outlet center, parking was ample and in front of the restaurant. Also note that the strip mall was located back away from the street, so it was difficult to spot hiding behind the stores lining the actual street.

My best piece of advice for finding the storefront? Look for the flying pig:

Upon closer inspection of the front door, the hours of operation were clearly listed:

What isn't listed on the door were the brunch hours, or 10 AM to 2 PM on Sundays. I'm not sure if Bar Symon added brunch after opening or if the current brunch offering was only temporary, but I've been hearing good reviews about their brunch for a while now. Once inside, I was actually surprised at how dim the restaurant was, even in the middle of the day. Granted, it wasn't pleasant and sunny outside, but it was dark enough that most of my flash-less photos needed some serious doctoring before posting.

The brunch menu came on a single piece of heavy-duty paper. The front side was the brunch menu and the rear side contained the wine and beer selections. Instead of trying to get the entire brunch menu into one shot, I broke it up into the top, middle, and bottom:

Soon after arriving and being seated, complimentary fried donut holes appeared at our table:

These are complimentary for every guest attending brunch at Bar Symon. I think they serve as a sort of amuse bouche to whet the appetite for the impending meal. While the dough itself was only slightly sweet, the cinnamon and sugar coating that encased the fried dough added a lovely sweetness and a tiny textural crunch when eaten. Underneath each donut hole was a pool of lovely chocolate sauce.

While everything looked really good on the menu, the one item that I had been very eager to try was the biscuits and sausage gravy. Having read about them originally on my friend Nancy's blog, her pictures along with the descriptions I've heard on the Cleveland Food and Wine Forum made this brunch item the raison d'etre for me today. Ordering my eggs "sunnyside up" (my favorite), after only a few minutes, our meals arrived at the table:

First up, the eggs:

While the eggs were nicely seasoned (a nice change for once), the barest bit of white around each of the yolks was still a bit undercooked. Other than that, the eggs were tender and delicious. Had I ordered or received a bit of toast with my meal, I probably would've eaten the egg yolks with the toast points. That not being the case today, my fellow dining companion Diane squealed with glee as she watched me eat all of the white around each egg yolk before popping the entire yolk, unbroken, into my mouth. She wondered if I always ate my eggs that way and other than when I have something to smother the yolks over, I agreed that it was. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Here was a shot of the cheddar cheese, bacon, and scallion biscuits:

I tried these on their own and they were quite delicious. Michael Symon seems to find a way to sneak pork into everything he does and in this case, I certainly won't object. By themselves, they had a lovely balance of flavors and were tender and flaky. I imagine that smeared with just a little freshly softened butter, these would be heaven on a plate.

While the biscuits were good on their own, they belonged to the third element on the plate, the sausage gravy:

While certainly a homemade version of sausage gravy, Bar Symon's lost some of the sweetness that a milk gravy should have. To my palate, it didn't have a traditional balance of sweet and spice from the milk sugars and the spice from the sausage. Don't get me wrong, the gravy wasn't bad. It was just different from what I was expecting. Combining a bite of biscuit and a generous lathering of gravy on my fork, I took a bite of the combination and discovered that sometimes there can be too many flavors going on. In my mind, the sum of the whole was less than the combination of the parts. Technically I think this dish was executed well, but I began losing flavors when eating the biscuits with the gravy.

My friend Diane decided to order the Eggs Benedict and gave me a small bite of hers for me to try:

Between the crispy English muffin, the slice of moderately salted ham and the nicely poached egg on top, this was a nice bite. The next time I return for brunch at Bar Symon, I may just have to go with this dish instead it was so nice. My other dining companion gave me a bite of his entree, the stuffed French Toast, too. It was tasty, but what surprised both him and myself was the very reserved level of sweetness in his dish. It could be due to the use of reduced balsamic vinegar drizzled over the plate; either way, both of us missed a certain level of sweetness that most French Toast normally has.

Because we arrived later in the brunch service, we actually managed to close out the service by the time we were done. Chef Matt Harlan came out to say hello to our small party and started talking about some of the upcoming specials. The topic quickly turned to seafood and he admitted that he had been surprised that the fresh oysters that he had acquired recently hadn't been selling very well on the dinner menu. After describing their preparation to us, he went back to the kitchen and returned with a complimentary oyster for each of us.

Here was a shot of my oyster:

Fresh and cold, each oyster was dotted with just a bit of wasabi and a drop of sriracha. Having never had this combination before, I was surprised at how well all of the flavors worked together. You could actually taste the flavor of the oyster, the sharpness of the wasabi and then the lingering of the chili and garlic from the sriracha. Had I not already eaten a full meal and the fact that the restaurant was now closed for brunch, I might have ordered a full dozen just based on that flavor combination alone.

I'm glad I finally had a chance to complete the Michael Symon "set" of Cleveland-based restaurants today. While some aspects of today's brunch seemed to fall in the "miss" category, others were squarely dead on. Perhaps my experience today speaks more to the blow-you-away flavors I've experienced at Symon's other eateries than to a sub-par meal at Bar Symon. Either way, I recommend the restaurant and I know that I intend to return again for brunch and for a proper dinner meal as well.

Bar Symon on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two Return Visits To The Golden Goose

I had been meaning to get back to the Golden Goose restaurant for a while now. Every time I visited my friends in Cuyahoga Falls and drove down State Street, I would see the sign posted outside of the restaurant and make a mental reminder to get back there for lunch. Obviously my mental notes didn't seem to stick very well as it took a good four or five months before I decided to do anything about it. Today, having returned from an interview in Beachwood, my thoughts drifted to the Goose. Seeing as I didn't have anything on my schedule until later that afternoon, I pulled into the parking lot around noon wondering what tasty treats lay inside.

When I walked in, I looked across the room and spotted Michael Bruno, pastry chef and son-in-law of the owner. I could tell he noticed me because he basically fixed his gaze on me for a solid minute. He had one of those "I know I know you!" kind of looks on his face. When he finally approached, he had managed to piece together who I was because he correctly called me by my first name. We chatted for several minutes about how business had been going. Apparently he has been trying to get customers to stop in first thing in the morning to pick up a cup of coffee and a croissant before heading off to work. When I asked him if he was taking advantage of the various social media like Facebook and Twitter, he admitted that he hadn't. I told him how places like Flury's Cafe, Vaccaro's Trattoria, and AMP 150 were using these networks to spread the word about daily specials. He seemed intrigued, but like most people who aren't used to using the latest and greatest technology to reach people, a little apprehensive.

After our conversation ended, I sat down and started looking at the menu. While most of the menu remained the same from my previous visit, there were a few new items. Deciding that I was more in a lunch mood than a breakfast one, I turned my attention to the sandwiches. When my server came over to take my order, I asked about the fried fish sandwich. "Pollock," was her answer when I asked what kind of fish. When I asked about the freshness of the fish, she assured me that not only was the fish fresh and not frozen, but it was hand dipped in the batter before being fried. Perfect! The fish sandwich came with potato chips, but I decided to add the French fry / coleslaw upgrade for an additional $1.50. Even better, one of today's lunch specials was the fish sandwich with fries and coleslaw for only $6.95, which was cheaper than doing the upgrade.

After a quite short period of time, my lunch arrived:

The tartar sauce is hidden behind the crown of the Kaiser roll. Here was a shot of just the fish sandwich:

This was a very tasty fish sandwich. The coating wasn't quite as crispy as I would've liked and the fish wasn't the ultimate in moistness, but overall this still had a nice flavor and was meaty. The bun was nicely toasted and added a nice textural contrast. The shredded lettuce was a bit of a pain to keep on the sandwich, but it was fresh and crisp. I spread a thick layer of the tartar sauce on the crown of the bun and it added a nice creamy counterpoint to the sandwich.

The French fries, clearly fried from frozen, were a bit overcooked and not quite as crispy as I like them. On the positive side, they weren't greasy at all and had been nicely seasoned. I applied some of the tableside bottled ketchup which had been placed into generic plastic squeeze bottles. I'm not sure what brand of ketchup the Golden Goose was using, but it was a bit thin and runny. The flavor was good, however.

When I finally got to the coleslaw, I could tell immediately that this was homemade. The way the cabbage and carrots had been shredded and had irregularly shaped bits of vegetables triggered my culinary Spidey sense. The dressing was the standard mayonnaise-based variety, but it was well balanced and tasted good. When my server returned to check on me, I asked about the coleslaw and she confirmed my suspicion that it was indeed made every day in the kitchen.

Finally, I wanted to include a shot of the tartar sauce. After seeing how chunky the sauce was and after tasting it, I also suspected that it, too, was homemade. When my server returned to check on me, she confirmed that it was. The tartar sauce was nicely balanced between creamy, sweet, salty, and tangy and was a nice foil against the fried fish.

As a final treat to myself during this visit, I decided to finish not with a pastry, but the "Gourmet Hot Chocolate" that was offered on the menu. What constitutes a gourmet hot chocolate, you ask? Valhrona 70% bittersweet chocolate for one. Whole milk that has not been treated with bovine growth hormones for two. And topped with either a homemade marshmallow or chantilly cream for three. Here was a shot of what I received:

And just like when ordering an old-school style milkshake, the remainder of the hot chocolate came out in an additional pitcher:

This was enough hot chocolate for two full mugs. The hot chocolate itself was rich and delicious. But honestly, I felt it was missing something ... perhaps a dusting of Vietnamese cinnamon on top would've been the perfect counterpoint to the rich chocolate flavor. If you are going to be decadent, be DECADENT. At nearly $4, this was a bit pricey, but you could easily split this with another diner at the table and it would be much more reasonable.

On a separate visit, I decided to stop in for a late lunch. After careful consideration, I decided to go with the chicken schnitzel sandwich. The last time I upgraded my sandwich to the French fries and coleslaw. This time I decided to just go with the potato chips that are served with every sandwich. After a short wait, this was what I received:

And here was a shot of the homemade potato chips:

Although the tomato slices on the sandwich weren't the greatest (it's not quite tomato season yet), overall the toppings on the sandwich worked well. Besides the lettuce and tomato you can see in the picture above, a layer of mayonnaise had been applied to the nicely grilled crown of the bun. Additionally, a honey mustard dressing was provided with the sandwich:

Applied normally to the pork version of this sandwich, my server thought it went well with the chicken, too, and brought me a side of it. After applying a liberal dose to my chicken, I packaged the sandwich together and took a bite. The flavors worked quite well together and the chicken was nice and crispy. The chicken breast wasn't the ultimate in juiciness, but neither was it the Sahara desert either. I did have to cut the chicken breast in two pieces so that it would lie flat on the sandwich bun, but that wasn't a big deal. The freshly made potato chips were crispy, seasoned well, and quite delicious. I realized that upgrading to the French fries in my previous meal because I didn't want something so pedestrian as a potato chip with my sandwich was a mistake. I think I'll stick with the potato chips next time.

I also wanted to mention that besides all of the wonderful pastries and sweet treats that Michael is turning out of his kitchen on a daily basis, he is also making some wonderful breads, too. On Wednesdays he turns out a European sourdough bread and on Fridays he is offering challah. I'm not sure about the challah, but the sourdough can be bought in 1, 2, or 3 pound loaves. I purchased two 1 pound loaves, one for myself and one to give away to some friends. I didn't get a shot of the bread before eating it, but I can tell you that it was delicious. It had a lovely tight crumb, a nicely caramelized crust (a darker European crust) and the sourdough flavor was tangy without overpowering the flavor of the wheat.

I encourage you to stop by and check out the Golden Goose for breakfast, lunch, or just some pastries or bread to go. They are committed to making so much of what they are serving from scratch and honestly, it comes through in the flavor. This is exactly the kind of locally owned mom and pop restaurant I love to find for myself and to tell others through the blog.

[Ed. Note: Since I wrote the above blog post, the Golden Goose has not only established a Facebook fan page, but they update it on a quite regular basis. Good for them!]

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Nutty Muffet At Bishop's Fine Foods

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on her tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Fortunately, the Nutty Muffet has nothing to do with the mental state of the little girl in the nursery rhyme and much more to do with an unusual creation at Bishop's Fine Foods. When I first started writing about Orrville's tightly knit collection of eateries, I hadn't intended on including Bishop's with that crowd. Being located south of Orrville at the intersection of Routes 30 and 57, it existed in a very small area labeled as Riceland. However, when I pulled up the actual address of the restaurant, it was listed on Yahoo Maps as an Orrville eatery. And given the feedback I've received from other locals, it is definitely considered to be part of the Orrville family, if on the outer edge.

Bishop's Fine Foods was located at 34 Wadsworth Road, Orrville, OH 44667 and can be reached at 330-683-9922. There was no website associated with the restaurant at the time of this review. Parking was available in a lot just outside the restaurant and along the side of the building.

Here was a shot of the front entrance to the restaurant:

Once inside the front door, I was greeted warmly and escorted to my table where I was handed the menu:

There was also a breakfast menu on the very back:

While I was definitely here today to try the much lauded Nutty Muffet, I had also been told that Bishop's was equally as well known for their homemade onion rings. Since I consider myself to be somewhat of an onion ring aficionado, I could almost predict what I was going to order being even looking at the menu. For only an additional $3.49, I could put my burger in a basket with a side of onion rings and my choice of any additional second side. Noting that the homemade coleslaw was already going to adorn my sandwich, I decided on going with another homemade side, the baked beans:

This was brought out almost immediately after placing my order, as if it were my salad course. First off, let me state that these were very good baked beans. They were saucy without being soupy, the beans were creamy without being mushy, and the balance between the sweetness, acidity, and smokiness from the bacon left me enjoying this pleasant, if not fairly large and filling, side dish. I only ate about half of this dish because I wanted to make sure I left room for my dinner.

Only a few minutes later, my dinner basket arrived at my table:

Here was a close-up of the Nutty Muffet:

And here was a shot of my Nutty Muffet with the crown of the bun removed:

A Nutty Muffet was essentially a double cheeseburger that had been topped with a combination of the homemade coleslaw and the same toasted and ground nuts used for the sundaes that are served up at the counter. When I first peeked under the crown to check out the interior, I noticed a fairly surprising lack of ground nuts. I called over my server and she indicated that sometimes the kitchen places the ground nuts underneath the coleslaw. While I looked for the missing topping, my server volunteered to go off and get me small cup that I could administer myself.

Once I had rectified the problem, I took a bite. The burger patties, while hot and juicy, were on the thinner side. It honestly reminded me of the SkyHi burger at SkyWay drive-in. What made this burger unique, however, was the addition of the coleslaw and the grounds nuts. You could actually taste each component quite distinctly and strangely enough, they all worked very well together. The nuts had a predominant hazelnut taste to them, but when I asked about them specifically, I was told that they were a blend of different nuts that had been toasted and ground. The acidity from the coleslaw worked well to cut through the fattiness of the burger.

When I was up paying my bill at the cash register, I asked about the origin of the burger. It seems that one of the original owners, Mr. Moffet (I believe she said Moffet and not Muffet) was looking to put a unique burger on the menu. After trying a number of different toppings, he settled on the homemade coleslaw and the ground nut blend that they already used for their sundaes. Through what I'm sure was only a small evolutionary nomenclature change, the Nutty Muffet was born. Was this the best burger I've ever had? No. Was this a good burger with a unique flavor? Absolutely.

Lest I forget the other item sharing my burger basket, here was a shot of the homemade battered onion rings:

I could tell when they were put down in front of me that these were batter dipped. The onion inside each ring was tender and cooked properly. The batter was a little uneven, but this didn't bother me too much as they were a sure sign of being dipped before fried. The fried coating, however, was a little too doughy and a bit on the greasy side. They did not have the nicely crisp exterior that I've come to expect from a great onion ring. Don't get me wrong: these were definitely good, but just not exceptional.

When the check came, I was also pleasantly surprised. For only $7.50 plus tax and tip, I had eaten a very filling and surprisingly cost-conscious meal. The fact that the food was quite good and had largely been homemade was another positive for Bishop's Fine Foods. In my mind, Bishop's does not qualify as "destination" dining if you live more than twenty minutes away. However, being that it is located on Route 30, if you are headed down into Amish country, and most definitely if you are heading to someplace like Kidron to visit Lehman's, this might just be a nifty side stop to make along the way.

Bishop's Fine Food on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kitchen Challenge: When Life Gives You Green Tomatoes

One of the great things about shopping at a farmer's market is that I don't always have a clear idea of what dish will spring forth when I actually get to the kitchen. Sure, that forces you to be creative sometimes, but that is what makes life interesting, don't you think? Saturday, May 15th was the first of many farmer's markets at the Howe Meadow location near Peninsula, Ohio and I am eagerly looking forward to going back many times this summer to not only support my local farmers and merchants, but also to buy and prepare some really tasty meals. This early in the season, there wasn't a whole lot of choices in the vegetable categories and were literally no choices in the fruit category. Fortunately, I managed to snag a few finds.

Knowing that I would be coming over the next day to cook my grandmother a meal, I loaded up on some goodies, green tomatoes, a homemade loaf of spelt bread from Ms. Julie's Kitchen, and a wonderful local Ohio apple pie from Humble Pie Baking Company owned and operated by a dear friend of mine, Diane Sikorski. Last year she was selling her pies at the North Union Farmer's Market on the campus of The Cleveland Clinic every Wednesday and I can tell you, she developed an amazing following. While Diane is a personal friend and that might taint my objectivity about her products, damn, if her pies aren't fantastic! That I now can get them every Saturday at a market much more local to me is a big plus in my book.

Originally I had thought of doing a simple fried treatment to the green tomatoes, but as soon as I loaded up my car and headed out of the market into the cool spring air, it immediately hit me: Grandma can't do seeds. And even though green tomatoes have smaller seeds than when they are fully ripe, seeds are still seeds. When I talked with my grandmother about our dinner plans, she indicated that she had some pork chops she needed to use up. Hmmm ... it sent my mind spinning for a little bit until I came up with turned out to be a very tasty solution. Tonight for dinner I would be making a panko crusted seared pork chop and top it with a green tomato salsa! Yes, that's it. I decided to wait until I got to the grocery store to see what else could inspire me.

The whole point of a salsa is to mix up the flavors a little bit; you want it a little sweet, a little sour, a little heat, and a lot of herbaceous cilantro flavor. With the discovery of an actual ripe mango in mid-May at the grocery store, here was the list of ingredients I assembled:

Starting in the rear and rotating clockwise, you have a single ripe mango, fresh cilantro, green tomatoes, a Jalapeno chile, three Persian limes and right in the middle was a Vidalia onion. Other than that, the only additional ingredients I used were salt and just a bit of honey to balance the acid from the lime juice. Here was the ratio of ingredients I used for the resulting green tomato mango salsa:

2 green tomatoes, seeded and diced finely
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced finely
3/4 mango, diced finely
1/2 Jalapeno, seeded, ribbed, and diced REAL finely

After pulling out my mad knife skills and trying my best to brunoise everything so that it was all the same size, I ended up with a bowl of finely chopped fruit and vegetables:

To this I added the juice from 1 1/2 limes, roughly 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro (you can use the stems, too), sea salt, and just a touch of honey, maybe only 1 teaspoon or so, enough to cut through some of the acidity of the lime, but not enough to make it "sweet." Toss gently with a spoon to combine all of the ingredients. Taste and readjust as necessary. Since salsa really is a pretty straightforward dish, change the amounts of any of the ingredients to suit your taste.

Here was a picture of the salsa right before I covered it with a lid and it went into the refrigerator:

Next, I moved on to the fresh Brussels sprouts I had found at the supermarket. While they weren't local (being from Mexico), they did look fresh and enticing. Tonight I was going to do a sweet and sour Brussels sprouts treatment which involved steaming the halved sprouts in a bit of water, then pan searing in a combination of olive oil and butter and finishing off with a tossing in balsamic vinegar until the sugars in the vinegar caramelized and glazed the finished sprouts. Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper, et voila!

Let's start with a shot of the ingredients required:

Here you see the two basics to any savory dish, salt and fresh pepper. In addition were the fresh Brussels sprouts, extra virgin olive oil, unsalted butter, and balsamic vinegar. First, I prepped the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the stem end and removing any extraneous outer leaves. Because these sprouts were fairly good sized, I cut each in half. Here was what I ended up with after prepping the above bag:

Having finished prepping the vegetable, I turned to my starch. My grandmother had originally suggested potatoes, but neither she nor I were feeling the love for potatoes tonight. So, when I went to the grocery store, I was looking around for an alternative when I came across these, Sophie's Choice Potato and Cheese Pierogi:

Sophie's Choice Pierogi is a local company based out of Garfield Heights and I have seen their pierogi in many Akron supermarkets. I had made pierogi for myself one other time before at my grandmother's condo and told her that I would make them for her the next time I had a chance. Well, today was the day. Being fully cooked, one can simply saute them in a bit of butter. Over the dozens of times I've made them, however, I tend to prefer the quick boil and then saute. This dual treatment renders them crispy on the outside and nice and creamy on the inside. Had I had any of the wonderful pierogi that Posh Pierogies sell at the Tremont Farmers Market, I would've gladly used those instead, although honestly, there is certainly nothing wrong with Sophie's brand.

Once I had all my ingredients prepped, I turned my attention to cooking equipment. My grandmother has a toaster oven that she uses primarily for toast. I, however, thought that it would be the perfect place to finish off the pork chops and keep them warm for service, freeing up the pan to saute my boiled pierogi. In addition, I wouldn't have to heat up her regular oven, keeping the kitchen cooler.

One thing to keep in mind though is that toaster ovens can vary wildly from what the thermostat is set at. Hers ran 50 degrees hotter than the setting on the dial, so I adjusted accordingly and set it to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the stovetop tonight were three pots and pans:

On the back burner was a pot full of simmering water for the pierogi. On the front left was her non-stick skillet for the Brussels sprouts. The front right burner was for her stainless steel saute pan that I was going to be browning the pork chops and then sauteing the boiled pierogi.

Now that the food was prepped and the pans were placed, I turned my attention to the star of the plate, the pork chops. Here was a shot of them sitting on a paper towel, dried and ready to be breaded:

Note that I took the chops out of the refrigerator about thirty minutes before I needed them to let them come to room temperature. Next up was a shot of my breading station:

From left to right were all purpose flour, eggs, and Japanese panko dried bread crumbs. I really dig how well panko works as a coating for chicken and pork chops when sauteed in oil. To the flour and beaten eggs, I added a healthy pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper which I stirred into each. The breading procedure, in case you've never done this before, consisted of dredging each chop through the flour, tapping to remove excess flour, then a dip in the beaten eggs, and finally placement in the panko bread crumbs where I made sure the entire surface was coated. The reason for all three is that the panko won't stick directly to the pork; the flour sticks to the meat, the egg sticks to the flour, and the panko sticks to the egg.

Here was a shot of the breaded pork chops:

Alright, time to get cooking! I put about two tablespoons of olive oil and a pat of butter into the saute pan, waited until the butter melted and went slightly brown (buerre noisette), and added my chops:

When you first put the chops into the pan, let them sit a minute before you try and move them about because you want them to form a nice golden crust. You should also hear a nice sizzle when you put the chops into the pan as it means the meat won't stick. After two minutes on the first side, I flipped them

and seared them for two additional minutes on the second side. I then removed the chops from the pan, transferred them to the small baking pan that came with the toaster oven, and simply put them into the toaster oven to finish cooking the rest of the way through, low and slow. If all you had was your regular oven, I would've simply put them into a 200 degree Fahrenheit pre-heated oven.

Next up were the Brussels sprouts. The method of cooking the sprouts was a combination steam / saute. First, I put the sprouts in my non-stick skillet which already had about 3/4 cup of boiling water in the bottom:

I slapped on the cover and steamed them for about 4-5 minutes until they were just a wee bit crunchy and looked like this:

Notice how the green color locked itself in after the steaming? I drained the water from the pan, added some extra virgin olive oil and a pat of butter and returned it to the burner. I then cranked the heat, which evaporated the rest of the water and began to saute the sprouts. To this I added salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. To glaze them, I added a little bit of balsamic vinegar right at the end and tossed (or stirred) them around until the sugar in the vinegar began to caramelize slightly. The resulting sprouts aren't sweet, but have a nice balance between sweet and sour. If you don't have balsamic vinegar, you can use a different kind of vinegar, but I would add a bit of sugar to the pot, too.

The final component of our meal tonight, the pierogi, was the only remaining item to be completed. I started by placing the pierogi into the gently boiling water:

I adjusted the temperature under the pot so that the pierogi gently simmered in the hot water. If you boil them too hard, they have a tendency to break up. Once the pierogi floated, I removed them with a slotted spoon and put them into a temporary container in which I had placed a small piece of butter:

The butter served as a way to prevent the boiled dumplings from sticking to one another until I was ready to saute them. Having wiped out the stainless steel saute pan I used to sear the pork chops, I added a tablespoon of butter, let it melt and once the bubbling ceased and the butter solids turned a nice brown color (once you know what buerre noisette smells like, you don't even have to see it to know that you are at the right stage), I tossed in my boiled pierogi. Every few seconds, I would swirl the pan and flip the pierogi. It takes about 4 to 5 minutes to completely fry the pierogi to the right color and texture, but they were definitely worth it. The goal was to get the outer skin of the pierogi to be golden brown.

While I was working on putting the finishing touches on the main meal, my grandmother unmolded her cranberry Jello salad:

She took care of plating the salads while I plated the main meal. Each plate got a pork chop (or two), several pierogi, a scoop of the Brussels sprouts and a line of the freshly made green tomato salsa spooned over each chop:

Not to try too hard to pat myself on the back here, but damn, this was tasty! The acidity from the salsa worked wonderfully to cut through the fattiness of the seared pork chops. The Brussels sprouts were crisp-tender and the flavor from the caramelized balsamic vinegar added a nice flavor contrast to the slight bitterness from the sprouts. The pierogi were exactly as I had wanted them, crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. I asked my grandmother what she thought and other than the pierogi, she thought everything was wonderful. It wasn't that she didn't like the pierogi, but this being her first one ever, I think I had pushed her food comfort zone in a new direction.

And the meal wouldn't be complete without a shot of my portion of cranberry Jello salad:

I won't say too much on the cranberry salad except to maybe point you to my previous commentary.

After dinner, we cleaned up the kitchen and gave ourselves a chance to digest before turning to dessert. Here was a shot of the label on the apple pie I had purchased at the market earlier:

I have been in love with Diane's pies since she first started baking them several years ago. Besides her commitment to using local Ohio fruit, her non-hydrogenated lard/butter crust is one of the best pie crusts I've tasted in a LONG time. I'll be the first to admit that her pies aren't cheap, but with the level of ingredients and the quality of the end product, I personally feel that they are worth paying that little bit extra. If you have a chance to get to the Howe Meadow market this summer, treat yourself to a delicious slice of heaven. The nice thing is that she will make you whatever kind of fruit pie you like and have it ready for you the following Saturday, as long as she has the fruit on hand to make it.

Okay, okay, enough promotional talk. Here was a shot of the entire pie:

While I normally would've taken a shot of my individual slice of pie, I didn't manage to get one before getting a bite or two into it. And then, I couldn't stop eating it until it was all gone. The crust was both flaky and tender and the apples were both tart and sweet. Diane likes to control the amount of sugar in her pies and this lets you taste more of the fruit and less of the sweet. The apples still had a nice little bit of texture to them as well. My grandmother opted for a scoop of ice cream with her piece, but I ate mine as it came.

Our dinner finally at an end, I packed up the leftovers to take home with me. It turned out that the salsa greatly benefited from an overnight sit in my refrigerator as I ate them the next day with tortilla chips. If you make nothing else from this posting, try the salsa. I greedily gobbled it up with the chips until it was gone. It is interesting to me that going into this dinner, I had such a preconceived notion that green tomatoes could only be prepared one way: fried. Today's little experiment proved to me that when life gives you green tomatoes, make salsa instead.
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