Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

2011 National Hamburger Festival

It's National Hamburger Festival time again!  The 6th Annual and I think I've only missed one.  Last year it was insanely hot and this year it was only slightly better.  But we prevail for the love of the burger.  As always we go in with a plan to walk the whole festival, scope out who is there and what they are offering and then make our decisions.  It was very noticeably smaller this year.  Less participants.  But the ones that were there were looking good.  I'm good for 3 half burgers, no more.  And that's pushing it.  These aren't little namby pamby burgers that are offered.  They are usually pretty hearty with lots of stuff on them.  So we bought our food tickets, scoped and oddly, Nick and I came to the same decision about our first burger.  We rarely get the same one so we can taste as many as possible.  But Inferno in Medina called to us both, probably for different reasons.  I was interested in the burger, I can't speak for the man, but the Inferno booth did have lots of cleavage.

The Wisconsin Burger was 100% Angus beef topped with Tillamook cheddar, mozzarella and provolone cheeses plus applewood smoked bacon on a pretzel roll.  Oh yes, a pretzel roll!!!  I love a pretzel roll.   And honestly, I didn't even realize the burger was on one.  They had me with the cheeses.

This was a tasty burger.  I would definitely visit Inferno to try others.  And perhaps wear a low cut top so I could fit in.  After this one, we walked around a bit.  I had been eying the Nosh Box truck as my next burger.

I admit, it was mainly for the spectacle of it.  Can you guess which one I was eying?

Yes, it was the burger with mac and cheese on Texas toast. Interesting thing about Nosh Box, they were the best prices of the day.   For 4 tickets ($4) I did get a whole burger.  I thought it would be a half and was pretty surprised when a pretty big whole burger was handed to me.  

The burger was moist but on a whole I wouldn't call this a favorite.  The Texas toast didn't hold up very well and ended up fall apart.  And the mac and cheese was kind of bland and a bit on the mushy side.  It wasn't bad, just not a fave.  

Nick also had been eying a Nosh Box burger.  He opted for one that isn't listed here, it was a Parmesan burger on a ciabatta roll.  

The ciabatta definitely held up better and the burger had a nice crust of the Parmesan.  But now that I've had a burger and a half (my usual limit) I was full and I hadn't even gotten to try Hodge Podge yet!  You may have heard of Cleveland's Hodge Podge truck because they are competing right now in Food Network's Great Food Truck Race.

But first, Nick had his eye on the deep fried cheeseburger.  I saw people walking by with it, and while it was intriguing, after the mac and cheese burger I just couldn't do it.  But Nick, oh yes he wanted it.   So we headed over to Metro Burger of Akron so he could get one.

He really liked it.  I had a taste of it and wasn't crazy about it myself.  The batter that it was fried in was sweetened, not by much, but enough to be off putting to me.  Looks pretty great though!

And so we head back to Hodge Podge.   The Hawaiian burger was in my sights, so I went for it.

And seriously, feast your eyes on this thing of beauty!

Mixed greens, bacon, cheddar and pineapple salsa!   And OMG was this a juicy burger.  I tried to capture a photo of just how juicy it was, but I'm not sure you can really tell...

Unfortunately for me I was too full to have more than one bite... OK maybe two and then Nick had to finish it.  I'm sure he was really broken up about that.   

And that was pretty much our Saturday at the Hamburger Festival.   But wait, Sunday is upon us and my friend Tom over at Exploring Food My Way has two extra tickets and wondered if I could use them.  Well, truth is, Tom had two extra tickets for Saturday that I used and now hell yes!  I'll use them for Sunday too!   Nick wasn't into going again, but I was interested in seeing the Amateur Burger Making contest since Tom was a judge.  So I got my friend Denise and we headed to Burger nirvana!  

This time I was going to take it easy, only one half burgers and maybe a side or a dessert.  Denise's first burger was that Wisconsin from Inferno.  Then we went to watch the amateurs and oddly enough, out of four people who were chosen to compete, only two showed up.  That sucks.  And being as it was such a small turnout, I was able to give the winning burger a try and it was pretty yum. 

As we walked around I noticed that the Hodge Podge Truck had several awards from the day before.  

And so I had to do it, I had to try their duck burger.   Ground duck with mixed greens, goat cheese and a cherry compote.  One bite and I was launched into a flavor spectrum that was simply out of this world!  By far my winner of the two day burger extravaganza.  It was simply delicious.  Tom also had the duck burger and Denise tried the gouda burger.  We all loved our burgers. 

Now I'm thinking dessert.  There was your usual things you find in these kind of festivals... funnel cakes and a whole bevvy of fried stuff.  Stuff like Twinkies, Oreos, Snickers and Buckeyes.  And quite frankly, none of that strikes my fancy.   In fact, I find it kind of gross.  And so gelato was my clear and easy choice!

I'm sure if you know me at all you know I did not get orange!  Hazelnut it is!  And it was yummy.

And so we come to the closing of another Hamburger Festival weekend.  Good bye Barney Fife, it's nice to see you every year (this was Faux FauxBarney.  Definitely not the same one that's been there previous years).

Good bye Goodyear blimp.   What Akron festivities would be complete without you flying overhead?

But wait, not so fast!   The Peanut Shoppe is open!   Being as Denise is not an Akron gal and I don't ever pass up and opportunity to go to the Peanut Shoppe, we went in.  It's probably one of my favorite places in Akron.

When you walk into the Peanut Shoppe, you are literally walking back in time.  It's an old school peanut and candy shop, where everything is measured on actual weighted scales and the candy and nuts all just taste better because they are bought there.   The place is full of Mr. Peanut memorabilia.  It makes you smile just walking in.

If you ever find yourself in Akron, don't miss it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Garden Love - Swiss Chard

I received a lovely gift, the gift of swiss chard from my father in laws garden.  It seemed like a lot.  But it was beautiful.  One bunch of red chard, once bunch of white.  Fresh, just picked.  Oh my.  I must do something with this glorious bounty!

And then it it me.  Inspiration from my friend Tom.  Last summer Tom did a food demo at the Howe Meadow Farmer's Market and made homemade pasta with swiss chard and bacon.   Ahhh the wheels in my brain started to turn.  I have some thick cut paprika bacon from Al's Quality Market in my freezer, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to be used.  This was it!

I've taken to cooking bacon (when I actually have it in the house, which is rare) on a sheet pan in the oven.  It always cooks perfectly and there is far less mess than if you cooked it in a frying pan on the stovetop. 

Ain't it perty?

While the bacon is bakin, I cleaned (thoroughly!) and chopped the swiss chard and put it in a hot pan (a big one, that's a lot of chard) with some olive oil.  Sprinkled it with salt and pepper and then occasionally gave it a mix.  

 It doesn't take long for the chard to wilt down to a fraction of what it was.  Then add some chopped garlic.  I used about 4 cloves.  If the pan gets too dry, add a little chicken stock.   You want to make sure the stems get tender but don't want to cook the chard into oblivion either. 

And in another pan, boil some water for your pasta.  I didn't make my own, but I did use one of my favorite shapes, orecchiette. It's perfect for this dish. 

When the bacon is done to crispy perfection (no wimpy limpy bacon please!), chop it up and toss with the swiss chard/garlic.

And then toss in your pasta and enjoy!   This is how I roll people!

Buon Cibo mia Amici

Friday, August 19, 2011

A New Burger Joint in Akron - The Rail

Finally, a good burger joint in my own backyard!  The Rail opened up at Summit Mall about a month ago by Chef Mike Mariola of South Market Bistro and The City Square Steakhouse, both in Wooster.  He strives to keep everything local and sustainable, so of course, I had to try it.  I got my two burger partners in crime, Cindy and Denise and we went for it this week!

It's a cool looking place.  Nifty chandeliers above, weird upside down cows all over the place.  Fun and interesting.  Kind of industrial looking.

But let's get to the food!   Prices are about what you'd expect from a gourmet burger joint these days, starting at $6.50 for a plain burger and going up from there.  You can build your own burger from an eclectic list of toppings (from caramelized onions to tobacco onions, from Avocado Spread to Truffle Butter to Sunflower-Basil Pesto) or you can chose from the nine specialty burger options. Being as I'm very much loving this trend of a fried egg on a burger (see past blog Flippin Over to Flip Side - I also had a Lola Burger at B-Spot, but didn't blog about that since it was my third time there) when I saw the Local Yokel (Swiss Cheese, Ohio Thick Cut Bacon, Fried Organic Egg) I was in!  I also ordered a side of their house made chips.  Check this out!

That my friends is a thing of burger beauty.  All three of us ordered the Local Yokel.  Cindy opted for the onion rings, which if my stomach could take it, I would have too.  I did get to try one (or two, maybe three) and they were yummy deliciousness.  Crispy batter, perfectly cooked onion. 

The burger was pretty great, cooked absolutely perfectly to my requested medium.  The beef, as stated on the website,  comes from Cleveland’s Blue Ribbon Meats who custom grinds a blend of high-quality, source-verified Ohio beef specifically for The Rail.   And it shows!  The cheese was gooey (and I'm usually not a Swiss lover), the bacon was the perfect thickness and doesn't get lost in the burger.  What did however get lost was the egg.  It was cooked completely.  For me the best part of an egg on your burger is that drippy yolk running all over the place and making a mess with it's runny goodness.  So that part of it was a little disappointing.  But it would by no means stop me from going back.  Now that I know they cook them through I would just request they didn't next time.  Oh and lets not forget the chips!   Crispy, browned beautifully and quite tasty.  And a bargain at $2.50 for a perfectly reasonably sized side.

Something I did find a little, I don't know.... off putting maybe?   Was the prices on the shakes.  Started at $4.50 for the standards (vanilla, chocolate or strawberry), they go up from there.  I was quite intrigued by the Nutella Crunch shake, but at $6.50 it was just too much to spend on a shake.

I guess in the big scheme if you treat it as a dessert, it's not that outrageous, but at the time, sitting there thinking I'd like a burger and a shake, it seemed pretty outrageous.  So alas, I didn't have the pleasure of the Nutella Crunch shake.  I have been daydreaming about it ever since though!  Ahhh Nutella.  Quite possibly the world's most perfect food.  But I digress...

Yes, I will go back to The Rail.   Yes, I thought it was pretty fab.   And yes, for the most part, I thought the prices were reasonable.  Thanks for coming to Akron Chef Mariola!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Zucchini Parm

It's zucchini season and while I don't grow it myself, I get plenty of it from family members who do.  Just last week my brother told me he had picked 14 and there were more that were ready.  The FIL also grows it and gets enough to share.  Me, whenever I tried to grow it, I got none.  I don't know why that is, I do very well with everything else I've grown.  But whatev, I'm not lacking in the zucchini department by not growing it myself.

I had some leftover Damn Pasta that I made with paccheri pasta.  Paccheri is a very large tube shaped pasta and I urge you to find it (I get it at West Point Market for all you in the Akron area), especially if you're going to make that damn pasta.  With damn pasta, the bigger the pasta shape the better it comes out.  Anyway, I had some leftovers but not enough for two so I needed to make something to go with.  And seeing that big zucchini sitting on my counter I thought, "hey how about some zucchini parm?"  Sounds good.

So I started off with a pretty big zucchini and cut it in fairly thick slices.

I usually set up a breading station with flour, egg and then bread crumbs, but I skipped the flour step this time.  I went from egg (2 beaten eggs) to bread crumbs (about a cup of seasoned bread crumbs with a quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese added).

And then to the frying pan with about 1/4 inch of canola oil nice and hot.  I have made these without frying and they turn out pretty damn good.  You can check out the baking method HERE.

They don't have to be fried very long.  Keep an eye on it.  And turn when they are browned on the bottom.

I made these pretty thick so they didn't cook the whole way through before they browned on both sides and that worked out pretty perfectly.  When they got to this stage I popped them in a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes and they were perfect.  Well almost.  They just needed one more thing.  Some smoked mozzarella.  Place a piece on top of each zucchini parm and let it melt in the oven for a few minutes.

You can serve these with a side of spaghetti (or Damn Pasta like I did), orzo, or whatever you want.  You can even put them on a sandwich with some crusty Italian bread.  Oh damn these are good!   The smoked motz added a whole lot.  You can certainly use a regular mozzarella, but why not give the smoked a try?    

Buon Cibo mia Amici.