Monday, December 31, 2012

Glow at the Botanical Gardens

Happy New Year's Eve everybody! Today I'm officially back to work after many glorious days off celebrating the holidays and experiencing our fine city all decked out for Christmas.
While we were off, we spent time with our families and friends and took advantage of a lot of free time by exploring new places and revisiting favorites. When I was invited to visit the Cleveland Botanical Garden for their annual holiday extravaganza, I jumped at the chance. I'd always heard about how beautiful it is at this time of year and was looking forward to seeing all the bedazzled trees and gingerbread houses.

Today is the last day to experience it for yourself - they are open from 10am - 3pm so get there before it's too late. You'll be treated to Christmas trees, endless gingerbread houses, a train ride and more.

Everywhere you look are festive decorations.
The Cleveland Indians Dixieland Band even made an appearance
And the gingerbread houses are really impressive!
Some of our favorites were local landmarks
The West Side Market and Christmas Story House were fabulous!
And we even got to explore the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse and enjoy the perfect 72 degree temps while butterflies flitted from branch to flower and birds showed off for us.
It's a great place to escape all the snow and squeeze in a little bit more Christmas cheer before the New Year begins. Plus you can get your very own delicious piece of gingerbread.
You can get an annual membership here and enjoy the beautiful gardens year round plus get discounts.

And they have a winter cooking series coming up that you won't want to miss! The Winter Gourmets in the Garden begin on Jan. 16th with one of my favorites: Chef Ben Bebenroth of Spice. For $45 for members and $65 for non-members you get to sample two dishes created for the class with wine pairings and chat with the chef during a Q+A session. Parking is included. Here's the schedule:

January 16 – Chef Ben Bebenroth, Spice Kitchen & Bar
January 23 – Chef Brian Goodman, The Greenhouse Tavern
January 30 – Chef Ali Barker, Radius
February 6 – Chef Tony Smoody, Bon Appetit

I've been to the summer classes and really enjoyed them. You can sign up here. If you sign up for all four classes in the series, the price drops to $120/$165. 

**Disclosure: I was provided 2 tickets to attend Glow. This in no way affected my opinions or this post.**

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Celebrates the West Side Market

As we close out yet another exciting year in Cleveland, I would like to take time to give a shout out to a fantastic event that has occurred throughout 2012. Our publicly owned and now nationally famous market reached its centennial anniversary this year. It's hard to believe our local treasure opened for business in 1912!
There were lots of celebrations including the star studded gala, a wallet friendly People's Party, and a parade. Being a regular shopper, it was fun to see everyone making a fuss over our city's best market. It finally got the national praise it deserves.
Cleveland’s West Side Market is located at the corners of West 25th and Lorain Avenue in Ohio City, and is home to approximately 100 diverse merchants.

The West Side Market's 137 foot clock tower has stood over West 25th for virtually a century, and is one of my favorite Cleveland landmarks. 
The building is a beautifully developed piece of architecture, and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Cleveland’s West Side Market is one of the last of its kind in the United States and offers locals and tourist alike a wonderful shopping experience. One can discover fresh cut flowers, seafood, vegetables, ready-to-eat foods, meat, bakeries and dairy products. 
Cleveland’s West Side Market is not only an interesting place, it’s a Cleveland tradition. There are over 100 merchants at the market but the interior arrangement of the market was well planned so it's simple for customers to discover the countless merchants and products available. But half the fun is just walking around exploring. You can find the complete merchant directory here.
The interior concourse of Cleveland’s West Side Market is home to countless diverse hard working vendors. On Saturdays it's normally jam packed so come with some patience. Before I start my food shopping, I like to grab a bite (you know you shouldn't shop on an empty stomach, right?!) so I normally stop for a tasty bratwurst at Frank’s Bratwurst Company located at stand G-3. Frank's Bratwurst was established by the Ratschki family and has been serving German style bratwurst for over 40 years.
Make sure you get the hard roll and don’t forget the Stadium Mustard!
Other tasty choices are the West Side Market CafeSteve's Gyro'sNoodlecat and Crepes de Luxe. As a lover of food, you can imagine that as I walk around, I not only feel at home, I get extremely excited! There is so much to choose from here and it’s truly a shopping experience. Some of my personal favorites when I shop for a meal or entertain guests are:

You can locate this delicious bakery at stands F-10 and F-11. Vera's bakery offers an extensive assortment of European style breads and pastries. We love the ciabatta stuffed with peppers and onions. Try it toasted and you'll be hooked.

Another choice for delicious bread. Lots of crusty favorites including the Lake Erie Sourdough and 7-Grain. Stand C-10

Another flavorful stop is located at stand E-3. Ohio City Pasta Company offers fresh pastas including gnocchi, tortellini, and over 20 unique flavors of ravioli. If you haven’t purchased the pasta here, it’s likely that you’ve eaten it at one of the fine restaurants in Cleveland that serve this amazing product.

What can I say, I am hooked on the place at stand E-5! These guys make a great pierogi, and we Clevelander’s know our pierogis! One side of their stand is loaded with classic potato and cheese varieties and the other is full of crazy delicious modern twists. Sloppy Joe, Thai chicken, beef and onion and chicken paprikash are some of the available fillings. They not only create an amazing variety of pierogi they also offer potato pancakes, cabbage and noodles, and giant stuffed cabbage.

Where’s the beef? At Lance’s. A family owned stand that has been in business since 1988. They offer fresh Ohio farm raised beef and cut to order steaks. Stop by at stand F-9.

This family business was established in 1957 and is located at stands F-1 and F-2. I was fortunate enough to meet the nice couple that owns it at the Cleveland International Film Feast at Crop Bistro last year.  They are as sweet as their meats are delicious. Dohar specializes in Eastern European smoked meats and their bacon and brisket are to die for.
Need spices, head to Narrin's Asian Spice. They have every day staples and an impressive array of the exotic. Judy's Oasis has delicious Mediterranean favorites like hummos, feta dips and stuffed grape leaves. Coffee and tea lovers should stop by City Roast. And Campbell's Sweet Factory brings out the kid in all of us. Their flavored popcorn is a must try.

Laura Taxel and Marilou Suszko wrote a book about the Market in honor of it's birthday too. Check out Cleveland's West Side Market: 100 Years and Still Cooking here.

The Market is open for business from 7:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M. on Monday and Wednesday, and from 7:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M. on Friday and Saturday. If you've always wanted to go but never made it, what are you waiting for? Visit Ohio City and let’s celebrate another 100 years of a Cleveland tradition.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Last Minute Shop Local Guide

Some years I'm really on the ball and have all my shopping and wrapping done by now. Most other years, I am rushing around at the last minute looking for that perfect gift. If you are like me and still need to wrap up your holiday shopping, here's some choices that will delight your friends and family and help support our local economy. Christmas is less than a week away - we better get shopping!

1. Zack's Brews Coffee
I know every coffee lover on your list would enjoy this one! You could get them one of each blend or pair a bag with gift certificate matching the variety you choose. This would also make a great addition to a gift basket including a thermal mug, homemade bakery and local tasty treats. $8.99 per 12-ounce bag at Heinen's supermarkets. If you want to try before you buy, you can get cup at each of the namesake restaurants.

Zack Bruell partnered with Caruso's Coffees and created a signature line of beans each reflecting the culinary style of his amazing restaurants:

o L'Albatros with rich chocolate caramel notes
o Parallax with hints of smokey citrus
o Chinato is the darkest, richest blend, in the European style
o Cowell & Hubbard has dark fruit notes, a mellow low-acid finish
o Table 45 well-balanced and global
o Signature Blend Hot Lips brings dark chocolate, black cherry and a touch of spice

2. Lilly Handmade Chocolates
If you have an adventurous chocolate lover on your list, this is THE place to go. The chocolates are too gorgeous to eat…almost. Unique and decadent flavors tucked inside little bites of art are swoon worthy. And while you’re there, get yourself a cup of the peanut butter sriracha hot chocolate. It’s life changing. She sells out every day at this time of year so get there quick! Find her on Facebook here.

3. Cleveland International Film Festival
An organization that is near and dear to my heart, it’s a Must Do event every year. If you have a movie fan on your list, a membership would be a fun treat! As a member you also get discounts on merchandise, reduced tickets prices and the ability to buy your tickets early. And if they are afraid of subtitles, don’t worry. There are a lot of films in English. Click here for membership information.

4. CLE Clothing Co.
One of my favorite shops – there’s really something for everyone on your list here. Super cute T’s and hoodies show off your Cleveland pride. Local art, jewelry, and even Christmas ornaments are all made locally or in the USA. 

Some of my favorites:
Another favorite shop of mine is located on W. 25th near the West Side Market. They too have everything local: clothing, jewelry, art, d├ęcor, soaps and lotions and more. While you are there, stop next door at...

6. Campbell's Sweets Factory
They have everything imaginable to satisfy your sweet tooth. Popcorn, cupcakes, candy apples and more. Click here for a list of their amazing popcorn flavors.  You can even get a behind the scenes tour.

They have a dizzying array of handmade jewelry from the Far East, home decor items, gorgeous beaded clutches and scarves.

Located in Shaker Square, this shop sells a wide variety of local art including jewelry, photography, local books, knits, art and gift baskets. They also have some of my favorite Christmas ornaments:
They also have classes where you can make your own jewelry including BYOB, Wine and Art parties, beading and more. I've made two bracelets here and love them.

9. Local Book Stores
For the book lover on your list, patronize a local store like these:
10. One Styling
If you want to give someone the gift of great hair, get them a styling tool from One Styling. They are a local company based in Solon. You can purchase the tools at Dino Palmieri Salon at Eton or online. If you order online, they have a 30 day challenge where you get a free bubble wand if you purchase any one of their Epic or Legacy styling tools. 
Photo credit: OneStyling
The Bubble Wand is an amazing tool that gives you perfect imperfect curls. And the hair dryers cut your dry-time in half. 

11. Zoya
Zoya is my favorite polish and the company HQ is right here in Cleveland. Long wearing and free of toluene, formaldehyde, DBP (phthalates) and camphor it's the perfect way to get your nails party ready. These are my holiday favorites:
Ziv, Logan and Blaze
The Gilty Pleasures Limited Edition Set is a perfect gift for a lover of all things sparkly with its top coat of real 18k gold flakes:
photo credit: Zoya
12. USA Made Goods
If every American takes the time and makes the effort to purchase things that are Made in the USA, it helps the entire US economy. Here is a list of things to buy that keep your holiday dollars here in America.

What's your favorite local spot to shop?

*disclosure: I have received Zoya and One Styling products from the companies in the past. This has in no way influenced my opinion of these products. They are on this list because I love them and they are local.*

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Naughty Claus by Emerging Chefs

Just when you thought there was no hope for you because you've been a little naughty this year, there's an event just for you. The Emerging Chef's latest offering is a perfect way to get you in the holiday spirit. Thursday 12/20 from 8pm 'til midnight you'll be treated to delicious food and drinks in a prohibition-era themed lounge.
Chef Adam Lambert of Speakeasy (below Bier Markt) is whipping up a playful menu for all the good boys and girls that attend:

COURSE I: "Snow Globe Ornament" - Oyster & Douglas Fir, Juniper & Tonic
COURSE II:"Foie & XXX-Mas Cookies" - Mi Cuit, Biscotti & Almond Milk
COURSE III: "Snowball" - Truffled Arancini, White Truffle Snow
COURSE IV: "Who Ham for One" - Traditional and Non-Traditional Ham with Dr. Suess Preparations
COURSE V: "Kosher Kristmas" - Asian Duck, Sugarplum & Rice
COURSE VI:"Coal" - Fernet Hard Candy, Smoked Alderwood Salt
Tickets are $60 each and also include a cocktail pairing with each course. Giveaways from Ambiance and a DJ too. You can purchase your tickets here.

No Christmas sweater please!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Oak Barrel Launch Party

Deagan's in Lakewood has always been one of my favorite places, so when I heard that Chef Demetrios Atheneos was going to be opening his own place, I was sad that he was leaving but really excited to see what he had up his sleeve.

Saturday I found out and it's exactly what I expected. Great food in a stylish, fun and comfortable spot. I've found my new favorite restaurant in Valley View.

The restaurant is housed in the former Hoggy's conveniently located just off 77 and 21 on Canal Road. 

The former BBQ joint with a country flair turned into THIS!
Check out that fire pit!
My favorite change is the addition of a gas fire pit and heated patio. I can't wait to spend some time sipping cocktails on one of the comfy seats. It was so inviting I was tempted to try it Saturday in spite of the rain. 

But we couldn't resist seeing the inside and our stomachs were growling with anticipation. As we were greeted, the hostess explained that we could help ourselves to the buffet-style spread and our waiter would take our drink orders (cash bar.)

Deciding on a drink was a very difficult decision thanks to an extensive list of over 100 whiskies, hundreds of craft beers and excellent scotch. The tight wine selection has something for everyone and is extremely affordable. A small but seductive cocktail list made me swoon. These beauties rival that of the venerable Velvet Tango Room with prices to match. I couldn't resist the Oak Barrel Old Fashioned. With macerated amarena cherries and a nice kick, it was the perfect way to start off the night.

ice sphere,cocktail
This drink was served with a huge ball of ice in the glass in lieu of the traditional cubes. This keeps the drink cold while preventing it from becoming watered down. I only wish it was in a bigger glass...

The food was plentiful and delicious. It included a great assortment of the snack, share, flat bread and taco sections of the menu.

launch party

duck fat popcorn, devils on horseback, flat bread
Trifecta of YUM!
Arugula, pine nut, garlic confit, caramelized shallots and munster flat bread
Duck fat popcorn with white  truffle oil and chili lime sea salt
Devils on Horseback with bread cheese, medjool dates, fresno chili and applewood bacon
Every time we thought we had tried everything, more food would appear. We couldn't even try all the different tacos because we were stuffed so we are eagerly awaiting visiting on an upcoming Taco Tuesday.

We also can't wait to try some of the other offerings. Some items that caught my eye are:
  • Open Faced Pulled Pork with jalapeno corn bread and apple slaw
  • Lyonnaise Salad with gold potatoes, roasted onions, egg, + smoked pork belly
  • Duck Confit Salad with watercress, arugula, cashews, bleu cheese and miso plum vinaigrette
  • Amish Chicken and Waffles with blackberry maple syrup and cayenne honey butter
  • Dr. Pepper Braised Pork Shank with garlic mashers and soy chile jam
  • Baked Camembert Brie with honey, quince paste, strawberries and baguette
Even a mix up by our waitress turned out to be a blessing in disguise - we ordered Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and got Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout instead.
craft beer
Holy yum!
There was even a live band Bacon Cake playing a great mix of tunes. 
Chef Demetrius knows how to throw a great party! I am so happy to have this restaurant so close to home because I can tell already that I'm going to be a regular. It will definitely be fun to work my way through the cocktail and craft beer lists. 
Oak Barrel Launch Party
Recipe for success: Susan and Demetrius

And a special thanks to my sis Katie  - what a fun night!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Orange Kissed Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut and Pecans: 2012 Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Last year, I participated in the 1st Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and it was even more fun than expected. I made one of my holiday favorites Rudolph Noses that proved to be popular with my blog swap partners and readers too. As I ate my last cookie, I couldn't wait for the 2nd annual swap.

I obviously signed up again. But this year, the Food Blogger Cookie Swap got even better because each participant had to donate $4 to the Cookies for Kids Cancer. Also OXO is matching our donations dollar for dollar. They gave us this cute little spatula for participating - love it!
This year, I had a major surprise though. My good ol' Kitchen Aid mixer circa 1989 died literally in the middle of making these cookies!  Don't worry, the cookies aren't that hard to make, it had a problem from a little incident a few weeks ago when the front bolt fell into the mixer while I was using it so I knew it was just a matter of time. So, these cookies didn't turn out exactly like they would have normally because my arms just can't cream like a mixer does. But in spite of the set back, they turned out pretty darn good and I got them in the mail on time.

My cookie inspiration came from Orange and Oat Chewies from Real Mom Kitchen.  Oatmeal cookies are one of my favorites and I thought the orange would be a perfect addition.

Orange Kissed Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut and Pecans

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 Tbsp. orange juice
  • orange zest from 1 orange
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 2/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 3 T sprinkles
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, & oats.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Add orange juice, orange zest and eggs and mix well.
  • Add the flour mixture to orange mixture and mix until blended.
  • Fold in the pecans, coconut & sprinkles.
  • Place 2 Tbsp dough per cookie and place 1" apart on a greased cookie sheet. I used a cookie scoop to help keep them uniform in size.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes until edges are golden brown.
  • Cool cookies on cookie sheet slightly, then move to cooking racks.
  • Yield: 4 dozen cookies
For this Christmas cookie exchange, I used red, white and green sprinkles but obviously, you can use whatever colors suite you. They aren't the prettiest cookie for the holidays so the sprinkles make them a little more fun. 
Plain cookie - delicious but not nearly as much fun!
I also drizzle them with melted caramel or white chocolate sometimes but didn't do so for the exchange because they would be too messy for shipping. 
Cookies ready to be shipped!
This year I received these awesome cookies from three lovely bakers:

Chocolate Chip Sugar Kiss Cookies from Big Bear's Wife

Kiss Kringles from The Kid Can Cook

Salted Brown Butter M+M Cookies from Keep it Sweet Desserts
(Unfortunately I can't find my photo for these so I'll share one from her blog which is so much better than the one I took.) 
Check these out!
photo from Keep it Sweet Desserts
And the best part about these is you can order them for yourself if you don't want to bake! The salted brown butter takes these to another level - yum! 

As expected, the Food Blogger Cookie Swap was super fun and I loved sampling cookies from all over the country. If you want updates about next year's swap, click here. There will be a recipe roundup on Friday - I'll update this post with that link so you can get ALL the delicious recipes.

You can follow the Cookie Swap on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. And a huge thanks to our organizers Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen!!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Winterfest 2012 Weekend

There are those events that always sound like a lot of fun but you just never seem to go. Heading downtown for the tree lighting ceremony was one of those things for me until this year. I have to admit, the Winter Wine & Ale Fest is what finally sealed the deal. It was so much fun, it's a new holiday tradition!
We decided to combine these events with celebrating our 5 year anniversary and make a whole weekend out of it. Thanks to winning the Intercontinental's Memorial Day contest, I had a gift certificate for a free night's stay - perfect!

It was a blustery cold day so we gladly took advantage of the perfectly located free parking that came with our Wine & Ale Fest tickets. We started out at the CLE+ Visitor's Center then hit one of my favorite stores, CLE Clothing Co. It's a perfect spot for Xmas shopping in case you haven't been there yet.
We headed to Public Square and this is what we found:
Loved that they were showing the OSU v Michigan game on huge screens! Food trucks filled the Square and I even met Rudolph and his not so scary friend.

We couldn't stay outside for too long because of the cold so we headed inside Tower City to check out the decorations.
Bruce the Talking Spruce is my favorite - so cute! And the Holiday Express train was a big hit with the kiddos. Both are available until 12/23.
We went next door to the casino to see the Higbee's decorations...
...and finally ate at Rosie & Roccos
After the highly anticipated tree lighting ceremony, there was a HUGE fireworks display. It was gorgeous mixed with the newly lit decorations. We then headed to the very conveniently located Wine & Ale fest. 
200 Public Square was decked out for the event with a gorgeous tree. For $50 you got 20 drink tickets and appetizers and the proceeds benefited the Downtown Homeless Fund. Wine and beer vendors were scattered throughout the space which really helped with the crowds. We decided to stick with the beers because the selections were better and we didn't want to keep mixing (hangover prevention tip!) Our favorite new beers from the night were Kitka Coconut Chocolate Milk Stout from The Brew Kettle and Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter from Willoughby Brewing Co. - both were just begging for a brownie. We also were happy to find Rehive Ale - it's a new honey infused ale that is not to sweet and oh so good. A 6-pack would make a perfect gift for the beer lover on your list or a great hostess gift too.
Kimberly McCune Gibson from Hungry Bee/ ReHive Ale
The food was pretty scarce so we were glad we had the pizza earlier. My absolute favorite was the Yuengling & Smoked Gouda Soup from StrEATMobile Bistro - wow! Noodlecat's  delicious steam buns, Zack Bruell's beet salad and Sweet! Mobile Cupcakery's fabulous assortment of cupcakes were also favorites. For more details about the beer, click here to read American Craft Beer's post.

I also have to give a shout out to my new favorite music radio station 87.7 Cleveland's Sound - they were handing out retro sunglasses at the event and were really excited about the new station. I am too! Take a listen for a good alt/rock mix. Everything from the Black Keys to Johnny Cash. They are local and I love them.
We thought the Wine & Ale Fest was the perfect way to top off a fun day of loving our city. We especially loved the sweet touch of receiving a bag of cookies to take home with you. They were perfect to nibble with our coffee the next morning.

The Intercontinental was a lovely place to stay downtown on a weekend because most of their business is through the week. The rates are affordable and you can escape all the hustle and bustle for a nice relaxing stay. With the new Healthline and renovated Euclid Avenue Corridor, it's an easy and fun way to explore downtown.

All the decorations are still up downtown so there's lots of time to enjoy before the holidays are over. Be sure to go before it's too late!