Saturday, October 30, 2010

Crystal head vodka; sometimes packages make all the difference:

Packages and labels aren't everything. We've all heard the adage about books and covers. I've had some brand name, top of the line clothing that's fallen apart after a few washes, and we've tried some beautifully packaged spirits that have been fatally flawed.

Sometimes though, the packaging is just too cool to pass up, and maybe the whole reason for your urge to buy the item in the first place. I'd been eyeing the crystal head vodka that Dan Aykroyd's been hawking for about a month. I'd point it out to David on our trips to the Party Source.

“Hmph.” He'd say, rolling his eyes after reading the package. “Filtered through Herkimer diamonds? That's just quartz. It's chemically inert. It does nothing. No.”

I'd grumble at him, cast a furtive look back at the shelf and shuffle off after him down the aisle, muttering how David never lets me have any fun and how I wanted to put flowers in the bottle and use it as a decoration for my desk at work.

Finally, after seeing the gift set that comes with matching shot glasses, David reluctantly agreed to the purchase.

We decided we would make vodka cocktails that evening, and chose a raspberry liqueur, also fancily packaged.

I have no idea what this says

I wanted to get the full Halloween effect—and for that, you need dry ice. There's a deli that sells it in Clifton, but David suggested that Graeter's downtown might have it. They did. I will say, dry ice is really cheap fun.

The vodka itself? Ok, but not spectacular. Our favorite vodka is Boyd and Blair, a potato vodka. The Herkimer diamonds were supposedly chosen to filter the spirit because of the New Age belief they are filled with positive energy. I wouldn't count on them to give you some sort of crazy buzz or prevent your hangover, though.

C'mon Dan, use a real cork

David enjoys a spooky old fashioned

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goetta Chedda Double Deckas:

If you see me walking down the street, there's a pretty good chance that I'm thinking about something edible. I could be considering where we'll go or what I'll order out for dinner that night, or weighing different restaurant's tap lists and drink prices, or, more commonly, pondering the contents of our fridge and thinking of what to make for dinner.

A few weeks ago, I was walking by Fountain Square doing just that. We had refrigerated pastry dough, and for one reason or another, the jumbo muffin tin (that I've never used for actual muffins) came to mind. Inspiration struck--what if I layered pastry dough circles with other ingredients in the muffin tin? When I got back to the office, I sketched my plan on a post-it and headed to the store that night for the rest of the ingredients. Goetta, mushrooms, cheddar. And the goetta chedda double decka was born.
How to make the GCDD:

Preheat oven to 400.

1. Saute the mushrooms thoroughly and cook the goetta.
2. Cut a circle with a biscuit cutter or other round object in the pastry dough.
3.Place a layer on the bottom of a greased muffin tin.
4. Sprinkle some cheese in the cup.
5. Add a circle of goetta.
6. Add some mushrooms.
7. Add some more cheese.
8. Repeat until you've reached the top of the tin.

Cook for about 25 minutes, and if necessary, place on top rack and broil for a few minutes to get some nice color on the top.

We served ours with a basic country gravy. We made this for dinner, though it would also be great for brunch. It looks impressive and is actually incredibly easy to assemble.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Your neighborhood Dojo:

David and I were both still pretty new to twitter when @Dojogelato mysteriously began following both of us. At the time, we both hadn't met Michael and Kimberly, the husband and wife behind Dojo's pretty blue logo.

Through the summer, we read cryptic updates on the start-up. Dojo opened for business on August 1, 2009 at the front of Findlay across from Herbs & Spice. By that time, we were both intrigued and excited to stop by and sample some gelato.

Key lime (with graham) gelato and Kiwi sorbetto

Dojo has since celebrated its one year anniversary---but honestly, it feels like they've been stationed, smiling behind the gelato case, for much longer than that. We've been very curious about what goes on behind the counter, so we asked Michael and Kimberly to step away from the gelato machine for a little while so we could ask them a few questions. There's a nice article in the Business Courier here and Soapbox here, as well, if you want even more information.

Have you always been interested in gelato?

"Definitely, I prefer it over traditional ice cream--the flavors are more intriguing, it’s healthier because of the lower butterfat content, and since it is denser the flavors are more sophisticated. I’m really attracted to the use of real, local--if possible--and seasonal ingredients. And the variety of gelato is much broader, you can make your flavors, very true flavors, without depending on standards found in a lot of American ice creams now, like the use of inclusions. I really like letting a flavor just speak for itself."

So we won’t be seeing bubblegum gelato in the future?

"No, and no strawberry in February either!"

How do you think the reception at Findlay has been?

"We get a lot of questions about what’s in our case. Is it butter? Hummus? Mousse? Whip Cream? Chicken Salad?! I still don't know where that came from. I really enjoy introducing people to something new. The support from the community really keeps me going. We didn't start making gelato to make a ton of money--there's so much joy in sharing food.

Especially at Findlay, there's a lot of hardcore humanity there on a daily basis that people don't see on a Saturday morning. To bring a little bit of respite, that means a lot...One of the things that I enjoy the most in seeing customers come back. I still remember a week after Mother's Day, a customer visited us and told me that he wanted to let me know that his Grandma has cancer and doesn't like to eat much because of her medication, but he gave her some Dojo and she loved it. To hear stories like that-- it's intense, and when people bring their kids by, it makes all the long hours worth it. I like to think we are in the experience business as well as the gelato business.

So why Dojo? And why Findlay Market, Cincinnati?

Dojo's origins are in Austin Texas, and the catalyst for the move from Austin to Cincinnati was Kimberly's job as a professor at Miami. While in Austin, Michael worked at a non-profit organization, the Center for Child Protection, for 7 years . Once they moved to Cincinnati he worked for the advertising agency WonderGroup for two years. But in March of 2009, he was laid off from WonderGroup, and he began looking at other opportunities.

This led to Dojo's business plan, which he worked on constantly while simultaneously seeking another marketing position. "I became completely consumed with my business plan, working on it first thing in the morning, well into the evening, for about 6 weeks straight." He states. After the business plan was complete, he took the plan to a few banks to see about a loan.

"It was completely depressing. I still have a collection of rejection letters--a reminder of not taking no for an answer. We ended up going to Huntington, they are one of the top small business lenders in the country, they’ve been great. The other banks were very skeptical-- They said, you want to make ice cream and...wait; you want to make it at Findlay Market?"

Do you think that the bank’s skepticism has to do with this being a culinary expedition?

"Yes, in part, food establishment, part lack of experience, but my personality--if you tell me no, I’ll find a way to do it."

Michael picked Findlay specifically. "There’s nothing like it in Austin. The growing season there--with the heat-- isn't as conducive, but when we visited Findlay, Kimberly and I were just fascinated. And not to sound cheesy, but it’s really what America's about. there are not too many places like it anymore. It’s not fake, it’s not prepackaged, it’s culturally diverse."

I asked Kimberly about her thoughts when her husband told her he wanted to start making ice cream for a living.

Eventually, Kimberly explained, Michael was offered the opportunity to join a large hometown company's marketing department. But the desire to own his own gelato business won out. I don't know about you, but to turn down a nice career opportunity to start your own business selling ice cream takes some serious cojones.

"I knew ever since I met Michael that he wanted to own his own business, preferably a gelato shop. As he took positions along the way, he was able to gain experience that would help him to eventually do that. Before he started-- I have to admit, I was sort of scared...It's nice to have two salaries. And health insurance. I remember listening to him on that phone interview--and he was saying all the right words, but I could tell he was praying not to get this job."

How many hours would you say you work?

"Oh, man. I don’t know..."

"I think it would be easier to count the hours you don’t work." Kimberly interjects helpfully.

"Probably about 70."

How much time is spent in production and running the counter, among other things?

"That’s difficult. The main part that takes the most time is prep--getting a variety of ingredients ready, weighing chocolate and sugar, washing fruit, processing ingredients. Paw, Paw, for instance, I cleaned about 20 pounds of paw paws for 3 1/2 hours one morning. And there is so much rinsing of equipment. When I attended gelato school in New York, and later Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course, they never really touched on how much rinsing and cleaning there is between flavor batches. It’s all been a constant learning experience, but that’s what makes running the business all the more exciting."

"We’ve been pleased with our success--we’ve set a few Dojo Gelato sales records at Findlay this summer. There was a period last summer where we were making gelato as fast as people were buying it, we felt a little like Lucy in the chocolate factory--Speed it up!"

Dojo is very active on twitter, what are your thoughts on that?

"From a business standpoint it makes sense. It’s free, and advertising can get very expensive. I also enjoy the fact that it is an instant source of feedback from visitors to Dojo. Often we create flavors spontaneously at the shop and its great to let our customers know they can come taste something new that day. Social media has been very helpful in getting our business established and establishing deeper relationships with customers. I’ve started to notice now, too, just from being out around town with the Dojo Gelato Cart, that a lot of our Twitter followers will hunt down the cart because of conversations being had via Twitter on a particular day or evening in regard to a flavor we made that particular day.”

the much coveted nutella

What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered you wouldn't have expected?

"Human resource management--and staffing, definitely. I try to be respectful of every one's time, but it really is a team effort. Also trying to differentiate ourselves from the other folks--it’s a delicate art, answering the question of why they should buy your product over someone else’s."

"In college I worked at Whole Foods flagship store in Austin for 2 years. And the reason that the business is so successful in my opinion, is unparalleled customer service. It’s not a drive thru mentality.”

Any plans for expansion?

Michael smiles as he recounts a visit from a representative attempting (in vain) to sell him pre-mixed dry ingredients for gelato.
"She visited and asked where we made the gelato. Where’s the facility? She asked. I replied that she was standing in it--it’s all made here at Dojo in Findlay Market. She didn’t believe it until we showed her the equipment. So it would definitely would be nice to expand our production facilities some day soon.”

Where do you get your ideas for the flavors?

“A lot of the things I enjoyed as a kid are inspirations. A good example would be, say, a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. You gotta be crazy to think that wouldn’t be delicious as a gelato! Classic desserts are a good starting point for brainstorming too. So are cocktails and beers. There really aren’t any limits to what we like to create here. Also, being across from Herbs & Spice, how can you not visit them and wonder what smoked salt and chocolate would taste like as a gelato flavor? As long as you respect your ratios of milk to milk solids nonfat to butterfat--you can really make any flavor of gelato. I love flavors. When friends and I would go out to a place with numerous hot sauces on the table, they'd be finished with their meals and I'd still be sampling sauces. I think when you start running out of ideas for flavors, it’s time to pack it up.”

We've noticed that some of your flavors are more subtle than others. Is that a Dojo thing or a gelato thing?

“I think some flavors have evolved. The caramel now is completely different than when we've started, some traditional gelato flavors are very subtle, so it's definitely a bit of both. I really like the natural flavors to come through--like in our avocado flavor. I don't like to add a lot of sugar to the gelato. Our blackberry gelato, for instance--The blackberries are great, they are from Neltner’s Farm in Kentucky. You shouldn't have to peacock-show-pony your flavors--I think it would be just ...rude, honestly, to put anything else in with our blackberry sorbetto. I know the person who harvested them; and it would be an insult to say that their blackberries are lacking without something else in it. I want to taste the flavor I'm having. I like the really simple flavors--that's what gelato’s about. I don't like to have more than 3 flavor profiles in a gelato, or they can get a little busy.”

What are some of your favorite flavors and some of your least favorite? Any ones you'd like another try at?

“A definite do over is plum. Plum is very....fibrous. It was a let down. Probably our only true big dud. There's a famous ice cream shop in Boston, and they took years to perfect their plum ice cream recipe. People ask me all the time what my favorite is, but I have so many. Fior de Latte is probably on of my top flavors. It means “Flower of the Milk” in Italian. You don’t see it around too often here in America. It’s basically just milk and a little bit of sugar. It’s a flavor that gelato shops in Italy, usually the old school ones, make to toot their horn about the quality of the milk and cream they are using in their gelati. It’s just a really simple flavor profile. It reminds me of fresh whipped cream, but as gelato. Fior de Latte with Amarena Cherries has to be one of the tastiest desserts ever.”

Do you think you'll keep working with Beers?

“Definitely. There's so much sugar in alcohol to begin with, its very conducive to ice cream. I think doing a beer series would be cool. Mike over at Market Wines and I have been talking about it. Allagash would be good.”

Dojo is open at Findlay Market every day but Monday, when Findlay is closed. They cater, make custom flavors and killer gelato cakes and pies (They made David a german chocolate gelato cake that was great). Flavors change weekly and sometimes sell out within hours, so don't wait to visit!

Dojo Gelato on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Little Kingaritas:

As we drove across the river to Newport to attend a Yelp party at Star Lanes on the levee last week, David suddenly said. "Uh-oh."

"This party is where?"

"Star Lanes--it's a bowling alley."
"In Kentucky."

"Yes, it's in Kentucky why…ohhh.. Ohhh no."

I quickly comprehended where David's reluctance came from. While we like some restaurants in Kentucky, one of the things that we've gotten used to in Ohio is not having to deal with cigarette smoke. I hate coming home from a restaurant, bar or music venue smelling like an ashtray. Hoping that it wouldn’t be too bad, we continued to Newport. It turns out the evening was full of pleasant surprises.

Star Lanes is not smoky at all, and the bars are shiny and well kept. We got our drink tickets and wrist bands, and the waitress was explaining to us the custom margaritas that were being served. "Sour mix, dos lunas tequila…." I looked around at the restaurant while she was explaining the ingredients. "….shaken, with bud light lime."

Say what? Bud light lime? In a margarita?! I stopped my perusal of the restaurant, looked up at David and quirked an eyebrow. We decided to get it anyway. Remember what I said about pleasant surprises? This was one of them. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. It was even pretty good.

The rest of the evening went well. The beer selection at Star Lanes is abysmally standard, with one bright spot--Alltech Kentucky Bourbon Barrel ale is available. We saw some friends we hadn't had the chance to talk to for awhile, had a good time, and fled back to the apartment before the Reds game let out and traffic went to hell.

For the next few days, we discussed how to make our own version of a beer-arita. And so the
Little Kingarita was born.

  • 2 oz. homemade sour mix*
  • 2 oz. 100 % agave tequila
  • 4. oz Little Kings

Fill a pint glass half full with ice, then add sour mix and tequila. Top with Little Kings and stir. Garnish with candied lemon peel and enjoy!

*The sour mix is a multi step process, but it's worth it. David has detailed out the proportions and science behind the sour mix below:

Classic sour mix is 1 part citrus juice : 1 part simple syrup. Our sour mix is a little fancier. We juice lemons and limes, candy the lemon peels, and then use the remaining citrus-infused syrup from the candying process.

Simple syrup is 1 part sugar : 1 part water. The only thing that complicates it is that the sugar ratio is measured by weight, not volume, to make a true 50 Brix solution. Given the typical density of granulated sugar, you should use 25% more sugar than water if measuring by volume. You can use the simple syrup as-is or use it to candy the peels.

We are still experimenting with whether a 50 Brix simple syrup is optimal for all drinks. For the Kingaritas, the sour mix ended up with much more sugar than that. Unfortunately, it's hard to say exactly what the resulting concentration was. In addition to water evaporation while the peels were candying, the peels themselves took some sugar with them when they were removed from the pot. The resulting citrus-infused syrup could have been as high as 70 Brix!

If you're not going to experiment with candying the peels, here is our simple recipe to make about a quart of rich sour mix, suitable for Kingaritas:

2 cups lime juice (about 10 - 15 large limes)
2 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine all the ingredients and shake vigorously until the sugar is dissolved. If you want to be more traditional (or reduce the time spent shaking), you can briefly boil the sugar and water before adding to the juice. In case you're curious, 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup water makes a 60 Brix syrup.