Making Waves: Alley Cat

I had heard a lot of buzz from multiple sources about Alley Cat, and seeing as how they specialize in seafood, it was a no-brainer for this feature. This Zack Bruell’s 8th restaurant! They are all in the Cleveland area too. He is quite the restaurateur!

AlleyCat

I recently had the opportunity to check out Alley Cat in the Flats before heading to the Melanie Martinez show at the House of Blues and hanging out with all the cute little crazy fan girls!

 

Don’t judge. We all have guilty pleasures. The show was awesome.

But I digress, what were we talking about? Oh yeah oysters or something…

So Alley Cat is mainly known for their oyster bar, but they offer a full menu of upscale coastal cuisine. It was beautiful out so we sat at the awesome patio.

patio

This may surprise some of you, but I actually am not a fan of oysters. In fact, it’s really the only seafood I can think of that I don’t like (unless you count jellyfish which was pretty gnarly on both occasions I’ve tried it.)

Oysters are ok cooked, but they don’t sing any special tune when fried. I once had these huge fresh grilled oysters on an island in Japan that everyone around me absolutely loved, and I was kinda like “ehhhh”. It’s possible I was unlucky in that every one I tried was gritty, but I decided that day that it must just be me and I don’t like oysters. Whenever I’ve had them raw, I feel nauseous for about an hour since they make me gag on the way down… yeah not pleasant.

I must say. I FINALLY met an oyster that I enjoyed.

Admittedly, I didn’t get the name of which types of oysters we had…

…since I was off enjoying the amazing view when they arrived at the table.

Shooters_2

This restaurant across the river is called Shooters on the Lake. I have never been here as an adult, and I think I was there once or twice as a child. I think it was my parents’ favorite anniversary spot. I definitely need to go check this place out in the near future.

Shooters

Now, I might not be able to give too much credit to the oysters for winning me over since I kind of doused mine in leftover juice from our ceviche. Also I cut mine into smaller bites. Don’t judge. At least I don’t stab sushi with chopsticks and douse it in soy sauce.

Speaking of ceviche, it was on point.

ceviche_2

I believe it consisted of salmon, tuna, and shrimp. Sorry this was nearly a month ago, my memory is getting hazy; it’s been a crazy summer!

Moving on to entrees.

Octopus_4

We just had to order the grilled octopus since it’s one of our favorite proteins. I do this really awesome braised octopus that I’m going to have to feature on the blog soon. I haven’t met an octopus in a restaurant that tops it, and this one was no exception. To their credit, I’m not sure how they got such an amazing texture from grilling it. It didn’t appear to have been marinated, so I’m not sure what the secret was; I wish I would’ve asked. On the downside, however, there was a distinctively strong char taste that was a little off-putting; not a deal-breaker, but a note I could’ve done without. And although we enjoyed the bits of hominy in the dish, we also felt the dish was missing something.

Octopus_2

We also ordered the salmon which was described as coming with a ratatouille. That was the main reason I wanted to try it, because I was literally one day away from rolling out our new menu and we had a ratatouille on it as a vegan entree. I’m always a sucker for comparing. Sorry about it.

salmon_3

The skin was nice and crispy and the fish was delicious, albeit a little small for my liking. This dish was also lacking something as well, like a rice or quinoa element of some sort. The ratatouille for me, was unimpressive. it was just a couple of stewed summer vegetables thrown in. I didn’t think it was appropriate to call it a ratatouille, especially when you compare it to our version, which our customers have been loving. I’m gonna do a ratatouille post coming up soon so I can share my version which I’ve been very happy with.

Salmon_1

Alley Cat delivered about what I expected across the board. It was good, but not amazing for the price. As a chef myself, I’m spoiled, and always end up complaining that I could do better for far less cost; I have to remind myself though, that at least I’m not working! The only surprise to me here, was that I actually enjoyed oysters for once! I would definitely recommend you go check it out!

We didn’t have time for dessert since the show was about to start (at least according to the tickets…but even though we were late, we weren’t late at all…) We made up for dessert later though that’s for sure.

After the show, we stopped at Colossal Cupcakes with some of the fan girls! (one of which actually looked like a colossal cupcake). Darn, I should’ve got a picture. That was the best way possible to ruin my workout from earlier!

Until next time,

May the fish (and the fan girls) be with you!

~Maki Zavelli

 

Advertisements

Thai Chili Shrimp N’ Grits

Ahoy there mateys!

Alright here we go! I knew this had to be one of the dishes I would submit to Food Network. For one thing we have a dish on our brunch menu at work called Adam’s Shrimp N’ Grits, and it has a lot of fans. I’ve had many people tell me its the best around; actually I got just got a comment card about it on Sunday morning, which I really appreciate!  However, you haven’t really had Adam’s Shrimp N’ Grits unless you’ve had this version.

SNG_1

I love infusing exotic flavors into classic American cuisine and I’m a huge fan of Southern American, Creole, or Cajun style food. This dish has grown from humble roots as a simple southern fishermen’s breakfast to gracing many different menus at restaurants all across America. Many chefs have their own take on it. For my version, I’m remixing this classic with the spicy flavors of Thailand.

So what are grits, exactly?

They are definitely one of the more confusing ingredients out there, and the answer to that can get a little complicated. I’ll try to give the Cliff’s Notes. Corn grits are a Southern comfort staple, with Native American roots. Grits are made by cooking ground, dried corn. You can find different varieties, which depend upon the fineness of the grind, and how it’s processed. I usually get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods where they’re labeled as cornmeal grits. I would avoid anything overly processed such as the ones sold as instant grits. Though slightly different in texture, stone-ground grits, cornmeal grits, hominy grits and polenta are all pretty much interchangeable.

(side note: WordPress wants to correct “polenta” to read “tadpole” instead. )

(side-side note: “polenta” and “tadpole” are however, not interchangeable.)

Grits can be cooked so many different ways that there are actually entire books dedicated to them.(*ahem* gift idea) Grits can be savory or sweet; they can be silky smooth or toothsome; they can be cooled, sliced and then fried; they can even be healthy or indulgent. More often than not, they go the indulgent route — they are considered a comfort food after all. This usually includes milk, cream, butter, and/or cheese. I always prefer to lighten up a dish and try to make it more healthful while still making it delicious. The good news with grits is that you can have your polenta cake and eat it too!

SNG_7

What makes these grits uniquely healthy while simultaneously rich and creamy is that they are made with stock and coconut milk. I added additional flavor to the chicken stock by throwing in some lemongrass I had lying around. (no, not uncommon in my kitchen).

It’s amazing how creamy they are without any cream, butter, or cheese! They are also gluten-free and vegan assuming you use vegetable stock… but then you know, don’t add the shrimp, or whatever. Grits are so versatile, you can eat just about anything with them. I also love poached eggs with mine.

Since there are only 2 major components to this dish, they have to both be perfect. This means no skimpy shrimpies! You have to get the best shrimp available to you. Go for the largest, freshest ones you can find. You really don’t want the pre-cooked variety either. You will infuse more flavor into them if they go in the pan raw.

Time to turn up the heat a little bit.

SNG_8

With the shrimp, you can really afford to kick things into high gear on the Scoville scale. Somewhere between hot and nuclear should be just right. What I absolutely love about shrimp and grits together is that you can make the shrimp devilishly spicy, but the creamy grits will save your face! (but you know…don’t go eating any whole Thai chili peppers) If you don’t like spicy, I would at least go heavy on the garlic.

For this version, I made my own curry paste. By all means, go buy a curry paste at your Asian market or an overpriced one from the international aisle of your mainstream grocer. I prefer to make mine though because some of the ingredients in the store-bought variety are suspect to me. I mean have you ever actually SEEN shrimp paste, for example? Well I have, and uh… Maki Zavelli, over and out. Bai.

Generally for curry pastes, I process garlic, ginger, chili peppers, herbs and spices, and sometimes throw in random Asian sauces and pastes I have in the fridge. Korean Gochuchang and Japanese Miso are some of my favorites to go to.

Sorry I don’t have process photos. They look terrible in my kitchen with my current equipment and I didn’t have a helper available. I’ll outline my suggested process below, but keep in mind that there is a lot of room for personal interpretation. You can use different types of stocks, aromatics, fats, and spices. I always encourage people to learn cooking techniques, but to be adaptive to their tastes in regards to ingredients and flavors.

Ingredients:

1 cup cornmeal grits

4 cups stock (chicken, fish, or vegetable)

1 can coconut milk

6-8 pieces of shrimp per serving, deveined

2 Tbsp (eyeball it) garlic, minced

1 Tbsp (eyeball it) ginger, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 Thai chili peppers (omit if they scare you)

1 Tbsp curry paste, red, panang or home-made

lime

Grits:

Bring 4 cups of stock to a boil. Add additional aromatics if using.

(conveniently they typically come in 4 cup size)

Add 1 cup of grits. Gradually add them to the stock while whisking.

Reduce heat to LOW. Let them cook low and slow for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. If they seize up a bit or look a little tight, that’s ok because we are adding coconut milk as well.

Add about 1/2 to 3/4 a can of coconut milk to your preference. Some people like really creamy grits, and some like them with a little more texture. As long as they aren’t too runny or totally seized up, there really isn’t a right or wrong consistency — it’s preference. Reserve the rest of the coconut milk for later.

Shrimp:

Heat your skillet. Once hot, turn your heat down to medium. Butter is the classic fat to use here and is admittedly the best partner to shrimp, but you can also use olive, coconut, or some other good oil. You can also use a blend; I used a mix of coconut oil and butter. Add your freshly minced garlic, ginger, onion, peppers, and curry paste. Don’t forget to add some salt and any other seasonings  you might like. It’s pretty easy to make your own curry paste, but you can buy pre-made ones at the Asian market. I would suggest the Thai red or panang style curry pastes. The amount is up to preference.

Add your shrimp. Let everything brown in the pan a bit before adding the reserved coconut milk. Allow the shrimp to finish cooking in this broth and take off the heat as soon as they’re done or right before they’re done. Hit the shrimp with a little fresh lime juice. Shrimp are easy to over cook, but the big, fresh ones are more forgiving than the small or pre-cooked shrimp that turn to tiny bits of rubber if you overcook them.

1 cup of uncooked grits yields about 4-5 cups cooked. I’d figure about 1 cup per serving, but could be more or less based on preference. They are surprisingly filling though!

SNG_3

Next time you make grits, you should really try using stock instead of water and coconut milk instead of cream and butter. I promise you they are absolutely de-lish! So creamy you would think they were made with cream. If you’ve never tried shrimp and grits, go find a local restaurant that is known for them, and see what you’re missing!

I attempted to work on a post for 4th of July, but it didn’t really come together. Trying to make any food naturally blue usually doesn’t… but Happy Independence Day anyway! I’m gonna go back to enjoying my day off, and I hope you have a great holiday filled with great food, friends and weather!

Until next time,

May the fish be with you!

~Maki Zavelli

Blue Team, drop the Bouilla-base!

Ahoy there mateys!

Like I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been kind of back and forth between my career as an artist and my career as a chef. For the first time ever, in regards to cooking, my passion and skills are matching each other and are both at a high level. So basically I’ve decided I’m not going to hold back my culinary career any longer. The only thing that has been holding it back is myself. Whereas in comparison with my art career, there are other things holding me back, and there are hurdles that are going to take time to overcome. I’m not going to keep waiting for my art career to happen when I already currently have what I need to make a name for myself as a chef. If and when my art career can take off, that’s great, but I need to live in the now. For that reason, I’ve decided to step up to the plate, have some confidence, and let myself shine as a chef. With that said, this is what I’ve been up to.

ChefAdam_portrait_9

I’ve applied to Chopped and am applying to Guy’s Grocery Games, and maybe some other shows. It doesn’t really matter which one, but I would really love to compete on the Food Network in some capacity. I’m very competitive and creative; I get to be creative every day now at my job. I’m cooking at a restaurant located inside of a Whole Foods Market. It’s a very unique opportunity to be able to directly interact with my customers, get to know them and their tastes, and be able to cook custom dishes for them. I love when customers bring me items from the seafood counter and ask me to prepare it for them. I’ve even had an octopus brought over for me to prepare!

I feel like this job has prepared me for an opportunity like this, especially GGG. For the chefs that usually compete on that show, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. For me, I already do that every day. I want to prove to myself that I can truly compete at this level. Also the money could do so much for me if I won, as well as one of my favorite charities.

The other thing I’ve been kicking around is the idea of bringing Maki Zavelli back to life. I’m not officially announcing the return yet, but I can say it definitely looks like it’s happening. I’m just taking it one day at a time right now. One thing you may notice if you’ve seen the old version is that I’ve re-designed the site. I am still kind of working on it, and making sure the bugs are fixed, but I’m happy with the new design so far.

I recently had my friend Rachel take some portraits of me at work in my element so I could use them on my Food Network applications. Everyone seemed to like this portrait the most so it’s the one I used for Chopped (below). It definitely tells the most about me. I personally like the ones with the red snapper though. (see previous post and about page) It was a lot of fun to be able to do this shoot at work and bust out my snazzy royal blue chef coat that I haven’t donned in ages!

The good news for the blog is that I have to submit photos of 3 different dishes for the GGG application so that means at the very least I’ll have 3 blog posts of dishes I’ve made in the next month. Also since this Lobster Tail Bouillabase was intended to be one of them, but I wasn’t happy with the look of it, (delicious though) it doesn’t end up counting as one of the 3. I really just HAD to have some big, juicy shrimp in this but we only had little ones that kinda shriveled up when cooked. Fortunately, the other day we had some beautiful, big shrimp for sale and I made a shrimp dish that I’m very happy with and I’ll be posting the photos from that probably this weekend. Maybe you can look forward to a Bouillabase post in the fall or winter.

For now though, I’m looking forward to a good (long) night’s sleep. I just finished working a whopping 9-day stretch. This means I have the weekend off even though I didn’t request it off.

Oh also the title of this post is a reference to the best video I’ve seen all year (and I’m a total YouTube nut so that’s saying a lot). I’ve been bothering all my co-workers to watch this, but they all always forget so maybe if they see it here, they’ll finally watch it >_>  (Julia Child definitely won) Bon Apetit!

Until next time,

May the fish be with you!

-Maki Zavelli