Thursday, November 26, 2009

TurkeyFest '09

I've been away from the blog for a little while, so I decided to come back with something truly stupendous...

Shortly after moving to Columbus five years ago, I started cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for my friends. The inaugural event happened to fall on the same day as the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game, which would ensure that only the most devoted of my friends would attend. That game almost always falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which also thinned out the crowd, as many wondered why they should get their turkey fix now, when they can just have mom's turkey five days later. The solution to raise interest in the plan was to set a food theme for the party; in this case, it was "Warped" Thanksgiving: Cajun-pepper roasted turkey, green-bean-casserole-stuffed mushrooms, sweet potato fries, cranberry chutney... you get the idea. Dinner was a great success, and nobody left my house hungry.

The next year's theme was "Indian (not Indian)" Thanksgiving: Tandoori turkeys (two, as word of mouth spread from the year before), fried sweet potatoes with yogurt-coconut sauce, potato curry, cranberry chutney (again), and some other stuff with names I can't remember. This all went over quite well, and was actually my first real foray into Indian cooking. I have never used so much garam masala and turmeric in my life.

Then, for a couple of years nothing happened. I made a relatively traditional turkey dinner last year for my housemates, but didn't make a big deal out of it. I desperately needed to make a big deal out of something this year, so I hatched a plan to cook three turkeys: one deep-fried in peanut oil (a staple at my father's Thanksgiving), one smoked with apple wood (because, c'mon, smoked turkey is delicious), and one Cajun-pepper roasted like the very first bird I ever made. And so, TurkeyFest '09 was born...

Early in the morning, I set up the smoker and the deep fryer. I planned to have dinner served at 4pm, so I had to awake at the asscrack of dawn to get that smoker fired up. Luckily, she's an electric, which decreases the cooking time. 6 hours for a 13-pound bird worked perfectly.

225 degrees, the magic number for authentic barbecue. Slow cooking over a long period of time makes meat tender and moist.

Here's what the smoked bird looked like at about 5 hours in. Yum!

Giving some of the attendees a peek (and a whiff) at the roaster.

This bastard is stuffed to the gills with butter, hot peppers, onions, and garlic, and rubbed down with cayenne pepper and salt. The pan drippings from this bird are damn hot!

The oil is just about ready: 325 degrees is the ideal fryer temp when the bird hits the grease. Peanut oil is the ideal cooking oil because of its high flash point (450 degrees) and the subtle nutty flavor it imparts into the bird.

Safety first! So many idiots have seriously burned themselves, or set buildings on fire trying to deep fry a turkey. Always set up at least 10 feet from any building and make sure anything that goes in the oil is dry. Hot oil doesn't react well to cold water or ice.
There they are, my finished prizes. Roasted at the top, deep fried in the middle, smoked on the bottom. Note the cow cutting board...
Celebration on a job well done, except... aw fuck, I have to carve these beautiful bitches.

The entire time I spent carving the turkeys, I had people picking off the platters. I usually remind people that I have a knife and they should step the fuck back, but I had too much work to do.

All that was left: 3 lonely carcasses.
Happy Thanksgiving! Hope your mom's turkeys are this good... (but I doubt it.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Re-Inventing the Classics

Not long ago I got an email from Nicole containing a recipe for Rice-Krispie treats. This recipe, however, was not the standard that appears on the back of the box ( but rather for Salted Brown Butter Krispy treats from the Smitten Kitchen blog (

To say I wanted to go to there would have been an understatement, so with a few days off from work I decided to have a go at them.

The recipe (which follows) isn't too far off from the original, just adjusted slightly.


- 4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan

- 1 10-ounce bag marshmallows

- Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

- 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)


- Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.
- In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty.

- Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.
- As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth. (Author's note: you will need to add marshmallows until they've absorbed all the butter, other wise you'll have greasy puddles. Certainly start with the suggested 10 oz. but keep the rest of the bag handy, I used about 14 oz.)
- Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together.

- Quickly spread into prepared pan. I liked to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, though a silicon spatula works almost as well.

Rice-Krispie treats in general are one of the easiest desserts to make already and now they've gone and made them better.

Here are a few of the things I learned along the way:

- Make sure you have a sturdy, silicon spatula for all the stirring and mixing, anything wooden or metal and you'll end up with a giant treat club.

- Browning the butter takes time and patience. I think killed the heat a little prematurely.

- This recipe requires the better portion of a 16oz bag of marshmallows (I think the minis melt easier).

- Because your are just about doubling the amount of butter in the recipe and adding in an extra dose of marshmallow these will turn out amazing almost regardless of your mistakes (just don't burn anything)

- Give your (clean) had a liberal spray with non-stick cooking spray and use this to spread the treats into your pan. This is your best kitchen tool.

- Reserve a pinch or so of salt and sprinkle it over the top.

So yeah, these are possibly the best Rice-Krispie treats I've ever had (save maybe for the ones served at the Sundial where they glued a Coco-Krispie treat to a brownie with sweetened peanut butter cream... shazam!). The extra marshmallow and butter make these richer, sweeter and stickier than normal and the salt is exactly what Rice-Krispie treats have always been missing, a few pinches of salt are the perfect foil to the treats' super sweetness.

As this takes little baking skill and about half-an-hour of time, max, I suggest knocking off a few batches for the holidays!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Better With Bacon?

Of course it is!

For any number of reasons bacon seems to be enjoying a renaissance period of late. I'm personally none to surprised as I've always loved bacon and probably always will. So, to me, it stands to reason that everyone should want bacon.
But bacon's resurgence isn't just as a popular breakfast side or sandwich enhancer. No, it's being included in all realms of the food world, making some especially surprising guest appearances in the dessert arena. Bacon Baklava anyone? (

Here in Cleveland the Cleveland Cupcake Company is infusing a number of their delectable desserts with the fatty, smokey goodness. Try their award winning Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies (left) - exactly what it sounds like - or The Cave (right), a cup cake topped with a three-chocolate ganache and crumbled bacon.

However, not all bacon-izing is inherantly good. Some bacon-ification besmirches the good name of bacon. This not so Kosher example...
Or this possibly NSFW idea...
But at the end of the day bacon is a wonderful thing, beloved by all. Even vegans.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Liver Punisher: Late Fall Libations

Summer demands tropical drinks, and crisp, lighter beers. It’s a time for margaritas and daiquiris, Tecate and Hoegaarden. Heat and humidity require that libations be cool, refreshing and none too heavy, lest they leave one overly filled and lethargic on a balmy afternoon.

In the winter there are a bevy of seasonal bevs to reach for. Hell, Ohio makes two of the best, GLBC’s Christmas Ale (out now!!!) and Columbus Brewing Company’s Winter Warmer. Both hearty and rich, full of herbs, spices and other adornments to take the chill off a winter’s eve. And if beer isn’t you style there are any number of concoctions that will warm body and soul during you holiday festivities or while curled up by the fire side on a snowy night; an Irish coffee perhaps, some eggnog, or maybe a jigger of amaretto or crème de menthe in your hot cocoa?

Whatever your poison, seasonal beverages abound for the most extreme of seasons, certainly. But what of the interims? What does one imbibe in the spring of fall? Sure, there are Oktoberfest beers and pumpkin ales at first, but most of those finish their runs by Halloween, leaving a dearth of seasonal sippers in the meantime.

This is why Liver Punisher is proud to present your new official late fall beverage:

Sure, I’d heard rumblings and grumblings of such concoctions before, but never believed the magic to be real. Apple cider—and apple juice, too, for that matter—always seemed like poor mixer options. While both delicious, apple is a much too assertive flavor to play well with others. And bourbon is just too good to be diluted by more than an ice cube, or perhaps a splash of ginger ale. But the math is simple: bourbon + cider = delicious.

Since I started tinkering with this I’ve discovered that I prefer this drink chilled, and construct it as follows:
- Place 3 or 4 ice cubes in a rocks or old fashioned glass
- Add a 3-count pour of bourbon (approx. 1.5-2 shots)
- Fill remainder with apple cider, locally pressed if possible
- Top with a dash of ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)
The slightly smokey, slightly oaken cherry/vanilla flavors of the bourbon beautifully compliment the raw, natural apple flavor of the cider.

Need something a bit warmer on a chilly November day? Try this recipe:
- In a saucepan or microwave heat 6oz. of cider per person
- Add a 3-count pour of bourbon to the bottom of a mug
- Top with hot cider and serve with a cinnamon stick
A calming night cap to be sure, using Wild Turkey 101 in this recipe yields what my friend Keith dubbed an “Irish Thanksgiving.”

You may be thinking, “This sounds great, but what kind of bourbon should use?” And you would be correct to wonder such things. I recommend using a good quality bourbon, but nothing terribly fancy; Jim Beam, Evan Williams, or something of comparable price and reputation. Anything more expensive, say a Maker’s Mark or the like, would be some what a waste since so many of a finer bourbon’s qualities will be lost to the cider. On the other hand cheaping out and buying bargain basement bourbon will create a cocktail that is astringent and unpleasing. If bourbon is not readily available any good quality American whiskey will work fine, anything along the lines of Jack Daniels should be almost as good. On the other hand, I wouldn’t suggest using Scotch or any of the Irish whiskeys. The smokiness of Scotch would certainly overwhelm the drink, creating something that would likely taste of burnt apples, while Irish whiskey generally has s thinner, lighter flavor which would certainly be lost to the robust taste of the cider. No, the flavor profile of this drink demands that one buy Kentucky!

However, should one find themselves overstocked with hard cider and cinnamon schnapps, try one of these recipes on for size:

The classy route:
- Pour ½-1 shot of cinnamon schnapps into the bottom of a pint glass
- Top with a sweeter hard cider (e.g.: Woodchuck or Strongbow)

The less-classy route:
- Fill a pint glass half-way with hard cider
- Fill a regular shot glass ¾ with cinnamon schnapps (e.g.: Hot-Damn, Goldschlager) [full shot if you skip the next step]
- Top shot with 151 proof rum and set ablaze! (optional)
- Carefully drop flaming shot into pint glass…
- Chug!
The latter shall be henceforth known as a (Flaming) Cider Bomb, the former remains nameless. Suggestions?

Hopefully these recipes give you some inspiration and refreshment this season, thoughts, adjustments, and augmentations are appreciated.


Liver Punisher

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Road Trip: Eating and Drinking in Rochester, New York

Nicole and I recently made our way to Rochester, New York, to see fiery haired chanteuse, Neko Case. Of course coffee and junk food were consumed on the way; it was a road trip after all, but nothing terribly remarkable. Although, I will say that McDonald’s ice cream is actually much better than I remember it being, same goes for their caramel sauce.

Anyways, after the 4 hour journey, give or take, and a brief respite at the hotel, we ventured out in search of food. Whereas we could’ve roamed the streets of Rochester for hours looking for some tasty vittles, Nicole had planned things out ahead of time and we made a b-line for Dinosaur Barbeque!

After parking, mostly just on-street parking, or in our case on-bridge, we were greeted by numerous motorcycles roaring off into the night, a loud, but by no means dubious, indicator of what we were in for. As we got closer and the motorcycle exhaust dissipated we could smell the smoke. If you’re ever headed into a barbeque establishment and you can’t smell smoke of some sort, run. But the smoke was pungent at Dinosaur Barbeque so we ventured on.

Entering the building we were met by a large room of boisterous guests eating, drinking, and enjoying their evening. There was classic rock and Americana on the stereo, and a couple dozen beers on tap. So far, so good. We ordered a pitcher of the house brew, Dino-Ape I believe it was called. A light refreshing ale that tasted like, well, beer. A beer that tastes like beer doesn’t seem that strange but if you consider what is mostly available at bars and restaurants these days beer flavored beer is a bit of an anomaly. Choices are usually between rich, heavy micro-brews and bland, watery macro-brews. While the former certainly has a time and place, that latter leaves little choice when it comes to something tasty and simple. Luckily Dinosaur Barbeque has seen to it that their delicious `que is complemented by a tasty but not overwhelming brew.

Finally seated, my biggest complaint with D.BBQ was the fact that while waiting to be seated it was incredibly difficult to hear the names called over the PA, with music playing and people behaving as if they were at a backyard barbeque it’s hard to hear your name being called, some of those vibrating pager/coasters might be a better caller here, but I digress. In a table with menu in had we poured over the options. As a BBQ joint Dinosaur’s has struck a balance between too-many and too-few options. A few platters of their specialties, a selection of sandwiches, a bevy of burgers, and appropriate appetizers made the choosing a little easier, but not much since the whole place stinks of sweet, wonderful `que.

Platters, it was stated, arrived with a choice of two signature sides and honey cornbread. Wanting the most bang for my buck I knew that my destiny was in platter-town. But which to choose: Brisket? Pulled pork? Ribs? Ultimately it came down to the either the ribs or the pork/brisket plate, and the ribs won out. For sides I picked the BBQ beans and Mac-n-Cheese. Nicole supped on pulled pork with mashed-potatoes-and-gravy and beans-and-rice. While we waited we drank and talked and examined the décor. Dinosaur BBQ as opted for a kitschy, throw-back vibe, so the walls are adorned with old advertisements for movies, beer, alcohol, movies, and so on. Charming and laid back, really the only appropriate set dressing for a BBQ restaurant.

Our food arrived and it was well worth the reasonably short wait. The beans were rich and spicy, having cooked for who-knows-how-long in a meaty sauce spiked with jalapenos. The Mac-n-Cheese was creamy and delicious, topped with a spicy dust I fell pretty certain is the house rub. Oh, and the ribs? Well… they were pretty good. I guess. If you like ribs, at least. And I do. Like ribs that is. Especially these ribs!

All kidding aside Dinosaur BBQ does what they’re supposed to and they do it right. Their meats are marinated of 24 hours, then dry rubbed, smoked and sauced. All this means a succulent, meaty, smokey, fall-off-the-bone, juicy rib. The real key to all this is the smoking. Yes, you can make great ribs on a charcoal or hard wood fire. Yes they are delicious. But for a truly special rib, slow-smoking is the way to go. It’s the only way to really infuse that “BBQ” flavor throughout each bite, not just in the bark, and it’s the only way to give the meat that pinkish ring just inside the crust that lets the eater know that this has been slow-cooking for a while. And I know there are some out there that say a dry rib is the only real rib, but truth-be-told I kind of like the mess of a wet rib, finding myself slathered in sauce, in search of post-meal wet-wipe is all part of the barbeque experience. I managed to sneak a few bites of Nicole’s meal and discovered the pulled pork (Boston Butt, natch) to be just as moist and tasty as my ribs, while her beans and rice were spicy and still had great texture. So often beans an rice become starchy mush while sitting in a warm pot all day. These, however, were superb.

Sated by pork and beer we toddled off to the show where we were treated to one of the best concerts I’ve seen this year (and I’ve seen a few this year). Case’s voice filled up the venue, blanketing guests in her velveteen sorrow. Her band did what seemed impossible at the beginning of the show, and made the large, high-ceiling concert hall seem like a much smaller, more intimate venue. Instead of trying to fill the space with sound the restrained and made the room seem to shrink, like each of us was getting a private performance. Case and her band worked through the bulk of her two most recent releases (Middle Cyclone and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood) and a handful of older tunes. Simple, direct, and one of the best live acts around, Case’s sorrowful songs are delightfully counterpointed by her disarming stage persona and wonderful sense of humor.

Post show we were still in the mood for some night living so we trekked a few blocks to Lux Lounge. At 666 South Avenue, Lux plays up their eerie address, with dark décor and Halloween leftovers. Cute, charming, $1.50 PBRs, and a hell of a juke box, Lux is a great late night stop in this sleepy little New York community.

After a good and well deserved night’s sleep we awoke to hungry bellies despite the previous evening’s repast. Breakfast was further mapped out by Nicole and we drove to the Highland Park Diner. A diner in the most iconic sense, Highland Park offers all the standard breakfast and lunch diner far you could want, with a few surprises. Nicole opted for an omelet, bacon and cheese, which was tasty but nothing terribly new. The English muffin that accompanied it, however, was something altogether different. Dwarfing in size most commercially available English muffins, this thing had nooks for days and crannies for weeks. My choice was the Mexican Alarm Clock. A tortilla muy grande topped with refried beans, cheese, and scrambled eggs making a sort of open faced breakfast burrito. Both breakfasts came with sides of seasoned potatoes which, oddly, had a certain fishiness to them that neither of us could put our fingers on. The Highland Park Diner also serves a pretty decent cup of coffee which, thanks to the friendly wait staff, I never saw the bottom of.

Well fed once again and with a long journey home we pulled up stakes and made for Ohio. While we didn’t find much in the way of afternoon entertainment in Rochester, NY, we certainly ate and drank well during our few hours of vacation.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fine Dining on a Budget in Cleveland

Fine dining and reasonable budgets don’t always mix, but if you know where to look you can find exactly that in the Ohio City neighbor hood of Cleveland. Located on West 25th street, around the corner from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, is Sam McNulty’s mini-empire. The most recognizable portion of this is Bier Markt, a bar modeled after Belgian beer halls, serving a variety of beers with a focus on beers from Belgium. Also located within the building is Bar Cento (pronounced chen’-toh) which is where my friend Kate and I ended up eating an amazing meal last night.

Originally we had planned on getting Indian food, but there is a dearth of decent sub-continental cuisine on the near west side of Cleveland. Hungry and undeterred we wracked our brains for food ideas. Ultimately we decided that (A) we weren’t hungry for any certain food stuff or ethnic cuisine so (B) any and everything was on the table and that (C) our destination should offer the following:
1. Good eats
2. Decent prices and
3. Beer
We also stipulated that dinner could not be too heavy as we both had post-meal plans.

Finally Kate suggested Bar Cento, a place I had heard of (it’s owned by my landlord) but had never been. Kate vouched for the tastiness and reasonable pricing of their food, so we made the trek. On our arrival things were jumping, but we were told there would be but a 10-minute wait for a table. This seemed reasonable for a Friday night so we grabbed a seat and some beers from the bar. The beer: Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale; rich, spicy, and with a hint of orange, this is the beer to drink this winter, hands down. But be warned its ABV is 7.5 so they can, and will, sneak up on you.

We noticed a few of our other bar mates were happily munching away so we decided to grab some menus and eat at the bar instead of waiting for a table. Bar Cent has a nice, big, heavy bar so this is not a problem. The menu is short but solid, boasting a variety of Italian fare, a strong beer selection, and a huge wine selection.

After a few minutes of scanning the menu we came to the conclusion that we wanted pizza, narrowing our choices from Bar Cento’s 10 pies down to 2. The finalists: Apple Prosciutto with gorgonzola or Sunnyside with provolone, pancetta, eggs, and black pepper. The victor: Sunnyside. While Bar Cento’s pizzas would make a fine meal for one, split two ways they might not make it so we ordered some anti-pasta, too. While there are a number of meats, cheese, olives, and pickles to choose from, we decided to try a bit of them all with the Big Board, a sampling of all the meats and cheeses.

Having ordered we sipped our Christmas Ales and waited. When our food arrived, and promptly, too—considering the number of people in the bar that night—we didn’t know where to start. The pizza looked like the dream of the breakfast lovers everywhere and the anti-pasta board was loaded with incredible looking fare. We tucked-in to the meats and cheese first sampling a little bit of everything. The Spanish chorizo was at the top of my meat list, along with the prosciutto. I was pleasantly surprised by something called bresola and Italian cured beef, with a tangy bite. Cheese wise I was pretty into all of them but there were two nutty, hard cheeses reminiscent of Romano and Parmigianino, and a delicious few slices of a cheese that tasted like a hard brie. The few slices of pickled cauliflower that came along were tasty but no mach for the rest of the board. The big surprise of this portion of the meal: prosciutto wrapped dried cherries, wow!

As for the pizza, well, I love few things on this earth more than pizza and breakfast. Sure, you can eat pizza for breakfast and it’s great. You can have breakfast for dinner, that’s great, too. But the two have never fully reconciled, until the Sunnyside. Rich, tangy provolone and pancetta set a delicious foundation for the 4 sunny-side-up eggs baked on top. This was really a perfect bite almost every time, few blank spots and plenty of the good stuff all on top a great thin crust.

As we digested and finished our beers Kate and I agreed on a few things. That (1) this was exactly what we wanted (2) neither of us had known that before eating and (3) that made it all the better. We also agreed after the Big Board had been all but licked clean that there are few pleasures in life as deliciously simple as meat, cheese, and bread. Very little else is needed, save for good spirits and good company. Economically speaking we did ok, too. About $15 each for some delicious pizza and a healthy portion of artisanal cheeses and cured meats, while not the dollar menu, is still pretty reasonable in my book.

For the full menu, directions, and links to Bier Markt and Speakeasy, visit their website here:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bring Your Game, Appetite, too!

Dig this delicious post from MSN's Delish.
Tired of the same old stadium food? Soggy, undercooked fries, withered mystery dogs that have been sitting around since last season, and stale corn chips splattered with a cheese-like sauce and a few jalapeno slices masquerading as nachos?
Then feast your eyes on this! Delish delivers 10 of the country's best stadium food offerings, including the Victory Knot (right) which may be the only reason to see the Detroit Lions this year. This hearty, 2-pound pretzel is served with spicy mustard, sweetened cream cheese, and beer cheese.

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