Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dutch baby and Labor Day Weekend

I was utterly convinced that I would be doing absolutely nothing this weekend. Every single person I know was busy this weekend and poor plan-less me, had nothing to do. Nothing to do except cleaning up the yard (which desperately needs so much work), finishing something from the ever-growing list of unfinished projects around the house, or dealing with the monument to dirty laundry I'd created. Suddenly "nothing to do" turned into a scary, overwhelming, unrealistically comprehensive set of chores that threatening my life (or at least my every desire to actually live). So I trimmed the list down to a more manageable size, and I was able to actually accomplish a few things, and to actually enjoy myself as well.

I went to a networking even at Case's brand new student center (virtual tour here). It's such a cool building; plus the event itself was pretty neat. I eventually ended up talking with an engineer student and an architect, and since the three of us were Spanish speakers, our conversation eventually ended up in Spanish. Although the two gentlemen were way too nice to comment on it, I was reminded that I really need to work on my Spanish. It's bad enough that I go through life speaking in broken English but to actually speak in broken Spanish is just too much. Enough with my lazy speech...

Anyway, after forcing myself to pronounce all those Ss, Ds, Ls and Rs, Os and Us, I still had the energy to get on my bike and go for a ride. A "short" 20 mile ride took me through one of my favorite Cleveland Metroparks, the Euclid Creek Reservation. Just days ago I crossed the park riding on the opposite direction (downhill), but this time I was going uphill.As much as I enjoy the speed and ease of going downhill, the uphill ride allows me to really take in all the beauty that the park has to offer. 

Normally I go out to dinner on Friday night, but I didn't really feel like doing it this weekend. Instead, I was on the mood to have some picadera or tapas. Of course I wasn't planning on making anything that evening so I was starting to run out of ingredients to make anything fancy; I wasn't discouraged. To be able to handle this dinner-less dinner, I knew we had to start with wine (wine goggles!).  We started snacking on wheat crackers with a tuna-Neufchatel dip that was absolutely delicious. The best part was that it was ready in just a few minutes. Since this food was the opposite of fancy,  I went crazy and even used storage bowls to serve, so we could effortlessly save the leftovers (and minimize the amount of dishes to wash at the end).

I found some chicken wings and drumsticks in the fridge. They weren't many, but they were enough for the two of us since we were eating tapas style, so I roasted them along with potatoes (French fries-size). Some ketchup on the side was the sole compliment to this deceivingly simple chicken.

Finally, our last "course" that evening was a Dutch baby. I've tried different recipes, but the one I like the most is from What I like about this recipe are the ratios of the ingredients and the cooking method. I love how well this baby rises, and I love the almost pastry dough consistency at the bottom (a.k.a. the butter) and the spongier,crape-ish upper part. Delish! I changed the flavor profile from the original recipe to incorporate some more nutmeg, I added cinnamon, and I used lemon extract. Finally I dusted powdered sugar on it, and we dug in. The flavor was so good that I felt compelled to share the recipe (at the end of the post).

I spent most of Saturday on the West Side of Cleveland. First I rode my bike to on eof my favorite places in town- Crocker Park (mall). After the 48-mile bike ride I went to the County Fairgrounds to attend the Oktoberfest (I know, it's not October...). I had really good beer, and it was so much fun to watch these guys' act. I had some food there, but I wasn't too happy about it. The food itself was fine (even though they actually served me stale bread), but it simply wasn't my cup of tea. We did have some really good cherry strudel and custard squares on puff pastry! The one thing I was thought I'd have for sure but I dind't, were good pretzels; I did not find a stand. But I'm sure it was me; there were too many options and too many people around, so I probably just didn't see them.

Two things. First, I found this really cool CD, a music compilation from Discos Diaspora, an indie label back home in Puerto Rico. It's called Indie Martin and it features indie bands playing covers of
Ricky Martin's songs. They're mostly in Spanish, with a song or two in English. And the album can be downloaded free here!

Secondly, I had dinner at the Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern in Twinsburg, OH. It's a beautiful restaurant with a beautiful grand room, an amazing bar, and really good food. I had elk (for the very first time- yeah) , which was very lean and delicious and its sauce was amazing. Of course I had to add up to my calorie budget by having the "bomb". Wow! The bomb is a beautiful chocolate cake, with mousse and then chocolate ganache.

And when I was not doing these things, I was actually doing my chores! The yard may still need work, but I had a really nice weekend! I think it was a good trade-off.

On the road shortcut

Serves 2.  371 calories, 35 g carbs, 20 g fat, 14 g protein
2 jumbo eggs
1/2 milk
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 flour
a pinch salt
a pinch sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 475F.

Place an iron skillet in the oven  while it heats up.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk and lemon extract and mix. Add the flour, salt, sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon and mix until mix. This should be a liquid batter.

Once the oven has reached 475F, remove the iron skillet and lower the heat to 425F. Add the butter to the pan. Once it melts completely, add the batter and transfer to the oven. Bake at 425F for 12-15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mashed plantains

I stopped by a Puerto Rican/international food market the other day just because I was in the neighborhood. Although there were tons and tons of interesting products stocked in the many isles of this deceivingly small market, my eyes were fixed on ripe pl├ítanos (plantains) from the moment I opened the door (and smelled the ever-present smell of dried cod). Plantains can be found in most big supermarkets around Cleveland, but they are smaller than the ones I grew up with and they don’t ripe as well. Plantains are cultivars of bananas; that means that plantains are to bananas what Brussel sprouts and cauliflower are to cabbage. Just like bananas, you can use them either green or ripe, but they make totally different dishes. The green plantains are starchy and savory, while the ripe ones are sweet, with a creamy texture, which makes it crucial to commit to one ripeness state. When you want a green plantain make sure it’s green, and when you want it to be ripe, make sure that the peel is yellow with black spots; just yellow won’t cut it. If a plantain is not ripe enough, its texture, its flavor and its sweetness will be underwhelming.

In Puerto Rico, most of the plantain recipes require deep frying. But my grandma, who was a fierce advocate of healthy eating back in the day when high fat and high carbs were still in, was not having any of it. She would instead, make us boiled plantains (they were terrific!). To this day, I prefer to eat plantains boiled rather than fried. They are so easy and simple to make too. You make some slits on the peel, and boil them in salted water until a fork can go through.

The boiled plantains have a beautiful sweetness to them that is unlike anything else. The main problem is that although they may be tasty and very nutritious, they don’t look too appealing. If I remember correctly, my sisters, my cousins and my parents were somewhat thrown off by the looks of these plantains, so they would often avoid eating them. (More plantains for me!)

To give these guys a little bit of a pick me up, and make them more appealing, I mash them. I use some butter and brown sugar to enhance their creaminess and sweetness, and I garnish them with fresh thyme to get a nice lemony aroma. That’s it. Now the boiled plantains remain delicious, but they are much more appetizing. They really look much more luscious and luxurious than their 3 minutes-ago counterparts. Easy, simple, delicious!

On the road shortcut

253 calories, 59 g carbs, 4 g fat, 2 g protein per serving (4 servings)

3 plantains
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown butter
Fresh thyme to garnish

Bring salted water to a boil. Make some slits on the plantain peel, on a spiral pattern. Add them to the boiling water and cook until a fork can go through easily.
Remove the plantain peel. (You may need to wait a few minutes so the plantains are easier to manage since they’ll be hot!) The peel should be easy to remove. I use to forks to pull them apart from opposite ends.
Transfer the plantains to a mixing bowl. Add the butter and the brown sugar. Mash the plantains. Transfer the mash to a serving dish, and garnish with fresh thyme.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I had an incredibly great time last week. As I mentioned on my last post, Cleveland hosted the 9th edition of the Gay Games (GG9) - the world largest Gay oriented (and organized) athletic and cultural event in the world. The week-long event celebrated the triumphs of a community (peacefully) fighting for equality, and at the same time, it set the stage for an amazing display of civic engagement and city pride that many Clevelanders have described as unprecedented. I only saw three 1-person protests, and even they were peaceful. The games finished on a high note, with visitors praising the city and locals satisfied with the our hosting capacity.

Needless to say, I did not compete in any of the games. I did manage to attend at least one event per day to join the celebrations and to feed from that special atmosphere I've never experienced before. On my last post I already mentioned I attended the Horseshoe Casino for a GG9 Happy Hour on Sunday, and the first day of the water polo competition on Monday. Here's some of the stuff I did afterwards. 

I spent Tuesday watching wrestling. Don't judge me! It was fun, and I learned a lot from those guys, so be nice to me...

I took a break from wrestling, and went to see water polo again. Among the attendees there was this nomad group that moved as a cloud from event to event. At some point they couldn't help it, so they finally went into cheerleader mode.

I found out that Detox, a top 4 contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race season 5, was performing Downtown Cleveland at the "Festival Village" so I went to see the show...

Of course I had the date wrong so I saw Jenny Owen Youngs instead. I know some of her music via soundtracks (Buffy's musical episode anyone?), but I didn't realize it until the next day.

It was fun, but after a few songs I was kinda done, so I decided to go drinking instead. It took all my will power, but I resisted getting a bike-cab ride to East 4th Street.

My walk paid off, since I got to see great views of Terminal Tower lit up in rainbow colors.

I made it to East 4th St. and went "straight" into the Green House Tavern. They have amazing food there, but I was there for drinks instead. And why not? Not only their main floor is super cool, but their rooftop has amazing views of the neighborhood.

I took my workload to a coffee house Downtown, so I decided to go and watch some swimming competitions during a break. But when I made it to Cleveland State University the competition was over (the story of my life!). The basketball competition though was in full swing. It was a really good game.

I made it back to the Festival Village to see Detox. This time I had the date right (and I was there on time). Pandora Boxx (5th place on RuPaul's Drag Race Season 2) was the host(ess) so she introduced Detox.

Of course Detox couldn't help it and had to taste someone else's beer...

The audience loved it!

During a costume change Pandora Boxx sneaked in and introduced us to her "newest single". She even made us "imagine" she had dancers... It was actually a fun song.

I took  Friday off, and stayed Downtown Cleveland. I discovered my new favorite coffee shop, my new favorite tea shop, and numerous other cool places at the East 5th Arcades. We even found these people posing for donations...

I eventually made it to the darts competition as well. I was surprised to see they had electronic boards with magnetic darts, with sensors and everything. They did, however, keep the true spirit of darts and had a bar set up, and they had sips of beer as they played (not in the picture).

Unrelated to the games, there was some photo shoot going on as well. I did my best and resisted the temptation to jump in...

Finally, I went to Happy Hour at the Renaissance Hotel. Of course, even though they had tons of nice and fancy drinks, I went for the $2 beer.

I'm sad to say so, but I missed the closing ceremony. I went but I was too late, and people were leaving as I arrived...

I did manage to check the graffiti exhibit before they were taken out. Really cool stuff.

Instead of going to the official after-party, I went to this awesome (and really crowded) performance at the Renaissance Hotel. It was Lounge Kitty, a local, campy, cabaret-act, that was so much fun. The audience was so engaged, that Lounge Kitty had no trouble recruiting a couple of guys from the audience to join her for one of her acts.

And one of them was really into it...

And now, I'm back to normal. Work. Work. Work. Cook. Cook. Cook.  More food will be coming back soon! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Broccoli fritatta

August is usually a fun month in Cleveland, with tons of festivals I go to. You can say I like to "festival-hop" (or maybe that I'm just a festival troll, one or the other). Every year I must have my share of gyros and baklavas from the Greek Festival in Cleveland Heights, I must have some mamaliga cu branza (polenta-ish dish baked with cheese) at the Romanian Festival in Cleveland's West Side, and I MUST party at the Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland's Little Italy. But this year my tight festival schedule is bursting up with all the happenings surrounding the Gay Games (GG9) happening all around Cleveland and Akron.

Going downtown to do practically anything, feels totally different. "Gay Games" themed specials and cocktails are being served everywhere. Plus, rainbows colors look very good on this otherwise grey-ish and brick-y city. "Let the sunshine in..."

I went to a happy hour at the Horseshoe Casino last Sunday. While the regular crowd was doing its thing...

The Gay Games Happy Hour turned into a PARTY! There was socializing...

There were "Vegas' style" dancers and "Chipandeles" walking around so naturally, people were taking pictures with them. Also, the DJ had some killer mixes so the crowd went crazy dancing, and twerking...

And lip-synching...

I - on the other hand- spent my time taking bad selfies...

Monday and Tuesday, I attended some sporting events, mostly water polo. Some matches were not too exciting, but some others were amazing.

Since I'm adding all this things to my usual busy schedule, my plan for this week has been to cook foods that generate leftovers that are easy to handle. A good example was this broccoli tortilla or frittata. It was super easy to make too; I just sauteed onions and peppers, I tossed some broccoli and garlic in, and then added the eggs. The oven did the rest for me.

I had my first slice with toast and a teaspoon of cherry preserves.

And then I had the rest either on it's own, or in sandwiches. Easy!

On the road shortcut

2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 stalk of broccoli, florets only
5 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon whipping cream
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 475F.
Beat the eggs with the whipping cream. Season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Set aside until ready to use.

On a heavy iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and peppers until they are soft (5-8 minutes). Season with a pinch of salt and pepper as they cook.

Add the broccoli and saute for a couple of minutes, tossing often to get them coated in the oils. Season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper as you toss the broccoli. Crush a clove of garlic into the pan, and saute for 30 seconds, tossing frequently.

Add the egg and whipping cream mixture to the pan. After a minute, transfer the pan into the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until it settles.