Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tradition

We were a strictly “real tree” household growing up. A fake tree was never to cross the threshold of our home. We were on Charlie Brown’s side every time Lucy tried to peer pressure him into getting a plastic tree. Of course, getting a real tree was always a miserable ordeal. We would march out to a freezing gravel parking lot and inspect a hundred trees, mystified by the names like “Douglas fir,” and eventually picking one out to be wrapped and strapped to the top of the car. By this point, everyone was unhappy and our nasal passages were frozen shut. Then there was the process of getting the tree into the house, which traditionally entailed a lot of cursing and stomping.

Once the tree was wrestled into a stand and the needles had been vacuumed from the carpet, everyone calmed down and we returned to our jolly holiday selves.

Cookies were another essential tradition in our house. Mom would load the pantry up with peanut butter, sugar and AP flour weeks ahead of schedule and when the time came, baked up a flurry of sugary, fatty delights. No-bakes, peanut butter kisses and snickerdoodles were usually on the roster, with a few variations from year to year.

Last year, Alex and I had been dating for only a few months when the holidays rolled around. We decided to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas all in one evening. Since I was in the overachiever stage at the beginning of a relationship, I agreed to make two kinds of cookies and do the latke frying all at once in his tiny Clifton apartment. I was ready to whip up some no-bakes and a pan of snickerdoodles, but Alex whimpered,

“Can we make cut-out cookies and decorate them?”

Who am I to deprive a Jewish boy of cut-out Christmas cookies? They weren’t traditional in my house, but I didn’t want to let him down, so I nixed the snickerdoodles and found a basic sugar cookie recipe. They turned out pretty well, considering my roommate and I had to beat the dough within an inch of its life to get it to roll out to the right thickness (no rolling pin).

This year, I do have a rolling pin, and Alex and I did the holiday thing all over again. I went back to the same cut-out recipe and we made them on Saturday night. This time, we did the latkes earlier in the month around the first few days of Hanukkah and saved the cookies for another day. And much to Jeff’s dismay, we used store-bought icing to decorate our, well, non-traditional traditional Christmas cookies.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New year, new hours for Fork Heart Knife

Here's a new year's resolution I can stick to - Wednesday night dinner at Fork Heart Knife. Starting Wednesday, December 29, Fork Heart Knife will be switching up their hours for the new year. The new schedule:

Wednesday & Thursday dinner: 5-10pm
Saturday & Sunday brunch: 10am-2pm (ish)

Of course, you don't have to wait until then to get your hands on some of that delicious grub. Until then, they're still open Thursday and Friday night for dinner and Sunday for brunch. Be aware that they won't be open a few days right around Christmas:

Thursday 12/23/10 closed
Friday 12/24/10 closed
Sunday 12/26/10 closed

Per usual bring your cash (they don't take cards) and bring your wine or beer of choice.

via Fork Heart Knife blog

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mayberry Foodstuffs: Downtown's Corner Grocery Store

Chef Josh Campbell of Mayberry and World Food Bar fame has opened Mayberry Foodstuffs up to the public. The little store at Seventh and Main is stocked with fresh produce, food staples, home essentials and treats. The official grand opening is later this month. Until then, grab a basket and start shopping. More products are on the way, but I found more than enough in stock to take home for dinner when I visited on Monday and Tuesday.

Here are some things you can expect to find.

Essentials.

More important essentials.

Green things.

Sweet things.

Little surprises.

Hours of operation are 8am-10pm Monday through Friday, 10am-6pm Sunday. They're quickly adding coffee for earlybirds, some deli selections for carryout lunch and - best of all - are on a fast track for a license to sell beer and wine.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Super Easy Coffee Cake for a Snowy Morning

Like all good Cincinnatians, I rushed to Kroger when I heard there would be significant snowfall on Saturday. We needed the makings for latkes (meaning a store bought latke mix) and I wanted to stock up on milk and eggs. You know, because that's just what you do.

Sure enough, the snow came down the very next morning. It was the first real snow I'd seen since moving to OtR, and there's something ridiculously idyllic about seeing the Italianates and the church across the street all blanketed in heavy, white snow.

It didn't really stick to the streets, so travel by car was fine, but I ignored that and played like I was housebound anyway. Saturday mornings in my house growing up usually meant pancakes or waffles for breakfast, but if we could talk my dad into making it, sometimes we had coffee cake. The kind with a delicious crumbly cinnamon topping. I decided that nothing could complete a snowy morning better than a classic batch of coffee cake. Thanks to my instinctual milk-and-eggs shopping trip, all of the ingredients were on hand.

Start to finish, this took maybe 45 minutes. It gave me plenty of time to write a detailed e-mail to my mom instructing her on which gifts I want most for Christmas and what color trim I want on my teak tan Wm. J. Mills & Co. Montauk Duck Duffel bag.

(Sadly, the gift I want the second most is a sheesham-wood cocktail shaker from West Elm but it's sold out.)

If you find yourself snowed in this winter and you have successfully stocked your pantry beforehand, you could do worse than this simple coffee cake. You could even pretend it's snowing outside and stay in anyway. I won't tell.

(It's a Better Homes and Gardens recipe I found here minus the blueberries and nuts)

ingredients
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

topping
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon melted butter

directions
Preheat your oven to 375 and grease a square pan (I used an 8x8x2-incher).

Combine your wet ingredients (oil, egg and milk) in a large bowl. Combine dry ingredients in another bowl, mix them together with a fork and break up clumps in the flour. Add dry ingredients to wet, mix (but don't overmix). Pour it into your greased pan.

In another bowl, mix the topping ingredients (brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and melted butter). Sprinkle mixture over the top of your batter.

Place in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool a bit before you dig in. Enjoy with coffee.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Little Food Processor That Could

It’s Alex’s joke that I'm always promising to make something complex and exotic for dinner and when the time comes I just end up making grilled cheese. This has only actually happened on maybe two occasions, but that was enough to turn it into a running gag. So I braced myself for teasing when I told him my plan to make pulled pork had run afoul and grilled cheese was on the menu for the night. He was surprisingly okay with this change of entree.

“Can we have tomato soup too?”

Sold! I spent the rest of the day envisioning different cheese/bread/topping combinations that would elevate a regular grilled cheese into something a little more impressive. Finally I just gave up and googled “Smoked Mozzarella grilled cheese,” because we had some in the refrigerator, and who should appear in my search results but Tyler Florence.

He recommends homemade pesto on a smoked mozzarella grilled cheese. So later in the afternoon, I loaded up my shopping basket with basil, parsley and pine nuts.

Here’s a pretty good recipe for pesto, if you don’t already have one in your repertoire:

2 cups fresh basil
1 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Food processor it all.

I forget how small my food processor is. When I saw it gleaming on the shelf at Target with its fire-engine-red allure, I knew I had to bring it home. I knew it would eventually be too small, but I managed not to think about that. Besides, it’s so cute and red!

I managed to smoosh down the basil and parsley so I could get everything inside. I was fearful that I would end up with parmigiano and basil all over my kitchen. I shouldn’t have doubted. My little red beauty delivered.

Now I’m wondering why I didn’t rush out and buy some basil and pine nuts the first day I brought my food processor home. It’s kind of incredible how easy it is to throw together and how much it improves the taste of a smoked mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich. That's saying a lot, since a grilled cheese sandwich really is one of the world's most perfect foods. Just ask Alex.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Warm Up with Middle West Spirits

Did you know that a mere hour and a half trip up 71 will take you to an independent, small-batch vodka distillery? Our friendly neighbor to the north Columbus is home to Middle West Spirits, owned and founded by Brady Konya and Ryan Lang.

I had the pleasure of giving their OYO vodka a try this summer on a tour of Columbus, tasting it side-by-side with some Grey Goose. Bringing both vodkas to my nose, I could immediately smell a difference. The OYO had pleasant hints of cherry, and the Grey Goose smelled a lot like nail polish remover.

The OYO goes down much smoother, with lingering hints of said cherry and oak, and of course a zinging burn. The Grey Goose? Decidedly more chemical tasting in comparison.

As if that wasn't enough, Jeni's Ice Cream has collaborated with Middle West, bringing hard liquor and ice cream together in frozen matrimony. The resulting flavor is called Oakvale Young Gouda with OYO Vodka Plumped Cranberries. I have yet to try it, but based on my own research of other Jeni's flavors, I can't imagine it's anything short of delightful.

If warming up to a bottle of locally crafted vodka sounds good to you this winter, check out Middle West. They're open to the public every Wednesday from 5 to 7 pm, and tours can be arranged at other times. They've even got a nifty list of cocktail recipes just waiting to be whipped up on a chilly November night.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pho Sho

Public Service Announcement: Pho Lang Thang at Findlay Market is "soft" open for business. Their grand opening is November 14th, but if I were sitting in your seat right now, I wouldn't wait until then to get my hands on some pho or a bahn mi. Just bear in mind that they're tweaking the menu, preparations and service before the day they officially open their doors. Don't go in there guns blazing, ready to mouth off on Yelp if your experience isn't absolutely perfect. Go in peace, go for lunch and go hungry.

I had a bahn mi today with fried tofu. I'm ashamed to admit that this was my first bahn mi ever, but if this is any indication of what I've been missing, I'm going to make them a regular part of my diet. The pickled veggies were sweet and tangy, and the french baguette had a beautiful crunchy crust. There's a sweet/salty thing going on that makes me go weak in the knees. I chased it with a rich Vietnamese iced coffee, drip-brewed right at my table.

Pho Lang Thang has every indication of being a wonderful addition to Cincinnati's food scene. There are things there that make my little food-obsessed heart go pitter patter, like a short glossary of Vietnamese terms at the bottom of the menu, and the bottle of Sriracha at most tables. As if all of that wasn't enough, they're planning to add delivery service in the near future. They're also looking for customer feedback, so if you do go there and you have suggestions, let them know. It's not just the right thing to do, it's the Lang Thang.

Monday, October 25, 2010

House Swarming

This weekend Alex and I threw a housewarming party to celebrate the good riddance of all moving boxes in our new apartment. If by chance you are reading this and we’re pretty good friends and you didn’t get an invitation, I have no idea why. I’m sorry for being a jerkface.

Obsessing might be a strong word for my method of party planning, but it’s not far off. I started to meticulously consider the menu the second the facebook invitations went out. I knew I wanted a fall-ish theme but nothing too Halloween-y. I knew I wanted to make food that would be easy to eat without any kind of utensil and could fit onto a cocktail napkin.

It started pretty innocently and then escalated into a frenzy of party preparedness. I spotted the perfect cocktail napkins at Target. I made a return trip to actually purchase said napkins when I didn’t see a better alternative anywhere else. I made maple spiced nuts a day ahead of time, Bon Appetit’s Halloween candy bark the morning of, then whipped up Martha’s blue cheese walnut spread and stuffed sweet potato skins just hours until party time. Sounds easy, right?

See the cocktail napkins? Adorable.

Sort of. I’ve learned that I have a knack for complicating simple recipes. That’s made worse by a habit of second-guessing myself and rushing through steps that need more time. The sweet potato skins could have been crisper and less gloopy looking, the blue cheese spread needed more slices of apples and pears for munching, and the pieces of candy on the candy bark didn’t adhere very well.

That said, it all came out relatively okay. I shouted at Alex and the dog a few times during the process and repeatedly banished them both from the kitchen. Everything was in place by party o’clock though, and guests began to file in. My parents were the first to arrive, and they brought a homemade spice cake and a crock pot for a gift – party officially started!

Then things started to unwind into craziness. Maureen brought a moving, flashing skull with a dip that looked like muscle tissue. Laura and David brought macaroons and punch, and when that was gone, another punch was improvised.

Late into the night, we decided to move the party to Lackman. We corralled everyone out the door and, in an effort to keep the dog out of a potential smorgasbord of food on the kitchen counter, we put her upstairs in the bathroom.

Imagine how surprised we were when we came home and the dog greeted us at the front door. Like a little velociraptor, she had figured out how to work the door handle and set herself loose on a buffet of party food. Macaroon wrappers littered the floor. She had pink cheese dip matted in the fur under her chin. The loaves of spice cake were conspicuously missing. Of all our guests that night, she partied the hardest.

We cleaned up as best as a couple of drunk people can at 2AM with help from Meg and Eric. Later, the dog paid for her overindulgence with a night of gastrointestinal distress. So in turn, we paid for it too. But that’s what hosting a party is all about, I guess. I’d like to think that she learned a lesson, but I know that’s not true. She’d steal my lunch just as soon as I turned my back on it. We’re the ones who learned a lesson – jam the door shut with a chair when you leave your dog in the bathroom.

Photos lovingly stolen from Alex. And thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate our new home!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Kingdom for a Scone

It’s fall again. Floors are cold when I get out of bed in the morning, jackets are apropos except in the heat of the middle of the day, and most importantly, grocery stores across the city are stocking their shelves with cans of pureed pumpkin. For someone who has admitted to being a raging fall-aholic, someone like yours truly, that means it’s time to binge.

Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cream cheese. These things have been consumed in my kitchen, maybe at the same time. And now, I’ve introduced a new pumpkin pastry to my repertoire, the pumpkin scone.

On one of our recent textbook fall days, I got it into my head that I need a pumpkin scone from Starbucks. I know, I know. I hung my head in shame as I passed Coffee Emporium, a place with better coffee and wonderful local pastries. I could have enjoyed anything in their pastry case and supported a local business, but my illness took hold and it had to be a pumpkin scone from Starbucks.

It has this layer of icing that your teeth sink into, sweet enough to kind of make your tongue tingle, and then you meet the scone, and if it was just recently thawed out and put into the pastry case it’s pretty moist and tender for a scone. For a fall-aholic, it’s pretty much crack.

So I get all the way down to 4th street, ashamed of myself, and they’re out of pumpkin scones. I could try another Starbucks nearby, but by now I just want a pastry and a seat by the window so I order a piece of pumpkin bread knowing full well it won’t satisfy my craving.

Some time later, I found this recipe. The accompanying images brought back all of those sensations of biting into the pumpkin scone with such intensity, I knew I had to try and make them. I did, and it was my first scone attempt ever.

As I was folding the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, doubt began to flash through my mind.

“What if I screw these up? What if I just threw away all that time and effort when I could just go buy a pumpkin scone at Starbucks?”

The batter was crumbly dry, and I fought back my doubt as I tried to mix it into something that resembled a pastry dough, cursing and wiping beads of sweat from my forehead. Alex saw I was stressing out and came over to the kitchen to try and offer some encouragement. I instructed him to get out of the kitchen. There may have been flames. I wasn’t in a mood to be coddled, not yet. (I apologized to him later)

Eventually, I harassed the dough into a rectangular shape, cut some triangles, and popped them into the oven. Thirteen minutes later, something resembling scones came out. They got two layers of icing – one a straight up milk/confectioner’s sugar mix and a second treatment with some cinnamon/nutmeg/ground ginger thrown in.

Are they the pumpkin scones of my dreams? Not exactly, but they’re a damn good substitute. And I didn’t have to set foot in a Starbucks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hudy Turns 125, a Personal Pantry Triumph and Special Delivery from La Poste

Today’s post comes to you in three sections. They’re not really full posts in themselves, so I’m wrapping them up together in a little grab bag of deliciousness.

1. Easy Pumpkin Bread, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Pantry
I made up my mind Saturday afternoon to make pumpkin bread, knowing full well I had only one meager can of pumpkin and not much else in my pantry. Here’s what I had on hand:

  • One egg
  • Lots of light brown sugar
  • AP flour
  • About a 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • A reasonable selection of spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice etc.
  • Vegetable oil

So I looked for a recipe that would not require milk, several eggs or too much white sugar. What do you know, I found one on… iVillage? I gave it a shot. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll be down one can of pumpkin? No big deal.

It turned out pretty well! The recipe made a very wet dough, but the bread rose nicely in the oven and made my chilly apartment warm. It also gave me a nice sense of perseverance. I stared down into the depths of my vacuous pantry and I went forth and made pumpkin bread anyway.

I also had some time to consider the power of the spray nozzle. Under normal circumstances, it would take me a solid three minutes to clean out the clinging remnants of a can of pumpkin puree. With the nozzle? Three seconds. I pull it out of its holster by the sink with a whir, point into the can and pull the trigger. I am powerful.

2. Hudy: It’s What’s for Dinner
City Cellars and Hoperatives hosted a great get-together on Thursday night celebrating Hudepohl’s 125th Anniversary as well as its new Amber lager. Chef Josh Campbell of Mayberry fame was at the grill, serving up wings, flatbread and lamb sliders with a tangy yogurt sauce.

For our $15 tickets, we got three drinks and all the sliders, wings and flatbread we could lay our hands on. What a deal! For an idea of just how good this food was, imagine this scenario: A server brings a platter of hot-off-the-grill flatbread from the crowded patio to a back room and no less than four fully-grown men see what’s happening and follow him to the flatbread’s final destination. The next time Hoperatives, Hudy or Chef Josh throw a party, buy yourself a ticket and you will be well rewarded.

3. Special Delivery: La Poste Preview
There’s a particularly *cool guy that I’ve gotten to know recently who goes by the name Chris Dooley. That’s not a made-up name, that’s his real name. By day, he’s a server at everybody’s favorite hot dog joint, Senate. By night, he’s (going to be) serving at La Poste, the new restaurant in the old Tink’s space. He graciously invited Alex and me to a friends and family preview night this weekend.

We got to try out a couple of dishes, all delivered by servers wearing blue shirts in an upscale nod to postal uniforms. The space, as promised, hasn't changed much. Anyway, I loved it before, so I'm glad it's pretty much the same. There's going to be a serious wine list with selections for every budget. Some bottles exceed $200, but on the other end of the scale they've got some nice options for under $30.

We tried the scallop - okay we tried a lot of scallops. They were easily my favorite. Buttery, melt-in-your-mouth and then a little tang from a - what was it, blue cheese mousse? I should have taken notes. There was some bacon involved too. Anyway, they were excellent.

And guess what? You can get some scallops of your own, because La Poste opens tonight! I'm almost sure that they were fully booked for opening night. Check their Facebook page if you want to secure a reservation, though. Alex and I will be visiting again later this month to celebrate our one year date-i-versary (aww) and to snag some more wine and scallops.

*Alex's note: Chris Dooley isn't as cool as he seems. I mean sure, he's been to the moon. Twice. And yes, he beds super models. And not even modern day super models, ones from the past. Like 1800's super models. I'm not sure how he does it. But that's Chris Dooley. Anyway, to get back to my point, Chris Dooley is a communist. Fact.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Cook I Am and the Cook I Want To Be

Monday was one of those days at the office when I stare at the same Word document for thirty minutes and write three lines. Through the blinds I could see it getting darker and damp, which is kind of nice after a string of 90 degree September days, but I started envisioning myself at a coffee shop with a latte and a book, not at my desk making an enormous task out of one article.

Eventually, the article is written and I look up chili recipes before heading to the gym for a half-hearted workout. As I click through them, they seem to be getting more and more elaborate. The title of one recipe:

Beef and Black Bean Chili with Toasted Cumin Crema and Avocado Relish

Whoa. But it calls for a lot of ingredients and a food processor, which I don’t have. Oh, and the pot at home doesn’t have a lid. So that’s another obstacle. I check my bank account – can I buy these things on my way home tonight? No. Better stick with what I have now. My job is challenging and wonderful, but it doesn’t afford me the leisure of buying kitchen appliances all willy nilly. Maybe someday.

I look at, oh, thirty recipes before I finally settle on a Cooking Light Chunky Vegetarian Chili. It’s not fussy, the ingredients are easy, and it doesn’t need to be pureed or lidded.

I’m pretty much a Cooking Light fan, but I felt sort of like I was taking the easy way out. I want to toast cumin! Make crema! Dice avocado! I recently heard a segment on the Splendid Table about a blog called Bon Appetempt, chronicling successes and failures in trying to recreate elaborate magazine recipes. I want to do that! Tonight’s not the night, though, tonight’s the night I pour four cans of rinsed and dried beans into a pot with some dried oregano and call it macaroni. But really I mean chili. You get it.

I start to put the thing together at home and find myself becoming frustrated. Why don’t I have a damn pot with a lid? I was using my roommate’s pot up until a month or so ago, that's why. I should buy one of my own. Why am I always moving and not having all the pots or spices I need? I crack open a new black pepper grinder and the little peppercorns go everywhere. I hear a dozen hit the floor and I only find two.

Then there’s all the can opening, and rinsing, and chopping, and the garlic gets my hands all sticky and my nose starts to run. Isn’t this supposed to be easier? This recipe was designed for mothers will full-time jobs at marketing firms with three kids who all have to go to violin lessons in twenty minutes. Why can’t I make it, without making a mess of my kitchen, in less than an hour?

The pot that had no lid

I dump a Jiffy mix of powdered corn muffins into a bowl, add some milk and an egg, and pour the batter into muffin papers. If I was a real cook, I think, I would make this from scratch. I would have local eggs, not the anonymous Kroger egg I threw into the batter. I would take the extra time to measure out the dry ingredients myself, not rely on Jiffy to do it for me.

My quick-and-easy recipe doesn’t account for the time I spend chasing the peppercorns that sprayed everywhere, or the time spent cleaning up the tomato juice I spilled all over the trash can lid. Why can’t I be the cook I’m always envisioning myself to be?

There’s a quiet voice that speaks up from somewhere in my unconscious, the part of me who would have thought to open the peppercorns over the sink, who says just one word:

“Planning.”

That has to be what I’m missing. If I planned at the start of the week which meals I wanted to make, I wouldn’t have to go to the store after the gym. I wouldn’t find myself without a lid, or a pepper grinder, and I would always have the ingredients for cornbread on hand. I would have cans of beans lining my shelves, just waiting to be turned into chili on any given night. I would have my spices alphabetized so I wouldn’t have to call Alex and make him climb on to a stool and pull the cabinets apart looking for chili powder.

I acknowledge my planning problem, and I’m always telling myself that I’ll start planning better when my life isn’t so busy. (The work trips! The moving! The 100 movies!) But I think it’s time to wake up and admit that my life isn’t going to get less crazy anytime soon. More trips will come up. More projects. And there are at least twenty more movies to go.

And it might help if I give myself a little credit for the things I do accomplish. The chili came together. It was too sweet but definitely edible, and Alex was grateful that I cooked something, anything for dinner. And say what you want about Jiffy cornbread muffins, they’re like golden crack.

There’s the added benefit that the next time I want to make an easy vegetarian chili, I could probably do it without consulting a recipe. I will have a functioning pepper grinder on hand, and several bottles of chili powder (turns out we already had some). And what do you know, I picked up an extra box of Jiffy cornbread and stashed it in the pantry for an emergency. Maybe the cook I want to be won’t ever have to use it, but the cook I am will have one less ingredient to shop for the next time a lousy workday calls for cornbread muffins, pronto.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good Work in Progress: Sunny Meadows Flower Farm

“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”

A friend posted that quote on twitter recently and it’s been stuck in my head.

Last month I was invited on a great food tour of Columbus hosted by Experience Columbus. I joined a small group of food writers and editors and we visited farms, restaurants, bakeries, cafes, even a vodka distillery. We saw a lot of people who had found their work and had given themselves to making delicious things. I hope to post more about it all soon, because there are some really neat things going on in Columbus.

I’m surprised to hear myself sometimes, in the company of people I’m just meeting, because I talk up Cincinnati like I’m being paid. I’m not sure when that started. I used to complain about the usual things – nothing to do, conservative mindset – and moan about how I wanted to move to Chicago or New York. Within the past year or so, I’ve become kind of a cheerleader for Cincinnati when I’m telling strangers about it.

Anyway, the great things I saw in Columbus got me even more excited to come home to Cincy and support the things happening in my own city, so I want to tell you about some of the best things I saw there.

Our first tour stop was Sunny Meadows Flower Farm. We were told it was owned by a young couple, Gretel and Steve Adams, growing flowers and vegetables on the land surrounding their house just southeast of Columbus’s downtown.

Here’s the really crazy part – I realized once our tour started that I knew Gretel. We had worked together at a dining hall at Miami University (she was a Student Manager and I was a lowly, plain old student employee). We used to dish out mashed potatoes to Freshmen with meal plans. Now, she spends her days working on their farm, selling their goods at farmers’ markets, and making soap by hand.

She’s living that self-sustainable lifestyle that seems exotic and so unattainable to me. I love the idea of growing my own food, but let’s face it, I’m not going to get away from shopping at Kroger any time soon. I guess it’s just not my work, at least right now, but it was wonderful to see someone I knew in college finding her own work.

It’s definitely work, too. Gretel and Steve talked about the difficulties, the frustrations, the fact that they don’t have enough time to spend doing much else. It was obvious spending time with them, though, that they were happy in what they were doing.

If you’re around the Columbus area, chances are you can buy some of Gretel and Steve’s flowers or produce somewhere near you. It’s worth tracking them down at a Farmer’s Market, they’re pretty cool people doing some really excellent work.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Keeping Cool

August has been filled with work trips to Yellowstone (two of them), watching movies for our AFI project (eight and counting), photographing ATP matches in Mason (two sunburned shoulders) and moving to OtR (just once).

I got to take pictures of places like this – ridiculous!

August has been, to say the least, tiring. When I finally had some down time, I peeked into my backlogged Google Reader and found a few new entries from the Fork Heart Knife blog (if you don’t follow, and you are like me and enjoy reading about tasty food, start following them). One in particular described the need for an oven-off recipe and the creation of a watermelon-feta-red onion salad. Wait. Watermelon, feta and red onions?

photo credit: fork heart knife blog

Feast your eyes on it. It spoke to every one of my desires for dinner later that night. Quick. Salty/sweet. Fresh. Cold. The folks at FHK added some chopped mint and jalapeno. With some toasted pita and Trader Joe’s Raita, it was a cool, light dinner.

Alex approved and we finished up the whole thing even though I’d sort of hoped for leftovers. It was too good not to finish, even though it probably would have improved with a little fridge time to let the flavors mingle. Oh yeah, and a little salt. Can’t remember if that was in the original post or not, but the saltiness of the particular feta I chose wasn’t enough.

I’m heading on my last trip of the month tomorrow. It kind of has to be, since tomorrow’s the last day of the month. I swear when I get back I’m going to take my kitchen and my blog back by storm. Until then, I hope you find something cool and refreshing to eat while we wait out the last hot days of summer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bloody Mary Club is in Session

When the weekend rolls around, I hear the siren call of the Bloody Mary. Trouble is, I can never actually finish one. Everything about a Bloody Mary sounds good – savory munchables on a skewer, infused vodkas – but when it comes down to it, I get halfway through and it’s too much. The consistency gets to me or something, I can’t even describe what happens. My throat starts to close up and the thought of taking another drink induces nausea. Then I hand it off to someone else to finish while I order a beer.

The strange thing is, I kept craving them. I became convinced that I just hadn’t had the right Bloody Mary. My younger sister, endowed with an unequaled passion for Bloody Mary consumption, volunteered to help me on my quest. The Bloody Mary Club was formed and we decided to convene at the Pub at Rookwood Commons.

Ala the Pub’s Mary menu options, we chose our vodka, hot stuff, tomato base, and most importantly, what we wanted on our skewers. You pick up to eight items, limit of two shrimp. It makes your drink a complete meal, so ordering from the lunch menu becomes optional. We added some curry pub chips to cover all of our food groups.

Our Marys arrived, and then a few minutes later the skewers came out once our shrimps were fully cooked. We were each supplied with a beer chaser to cut the spiciness of the Nicholson’s mix.

Like I said, I’m new to Bloody Marys, so I don’t have a lot to compare it against. But the Pub did something right, because I downed the whole thing. I feel empowered, and I may venture so far as to try making one myself. Julie over at wine me, dine me posted a tempting recipe for a Bloody Caesar, a drink that is foreign but delicious-sounding to me. I also keep re-visiting an article I bookmarked on the NY Times about Micheladas. And then there's the temptation to create my own drink and give it a name based on the church across the street from my soon-to-be new home – a Bloody Old Saint Mary. I’ll have to work on that one.

Thank goodness I have a supportive group like the Bloody Mary Club - okay, my sister - to help me out. We're small, but we're open to new members.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Going All In at Fork Heart Knife

As you might suspect, I’m the kind of person to agonize over what I pick from a restaurant’s menu. I’ll find a menu online ahead of time so I can start agonizing before I ever get inside of the restaurant. If you’re afflicted by the same problem, then I’ve found a solution: go to Fork Heart Knife and order everything. Everything. Done.

Fork Heart Knife inhabits a cozy space on Main street in Over-the-Rhine. Lots of natural light floods in through the windows at the front and long wooden benches line each side of the dining room. They’re not open regularly through the week right now, but the past few weeks they’ve been doing dinner on Thursday and brunch on Sunday. They put their set menu for the night up on butcher paper by the counter.

On the Thursday night Alex and I visited, we sat down with a couple glasses of water to confer about what to order. We decided to split one of each course right down to the strawberry shortcake for a light dinner. First course: a bright, light salad with oranges and goat cheese. Citrusy, springy, and a wonderful starter.

Next came the little empanadas. The crusts were perfect – flakey, tender, all that.

After that our “Portabello Pizza” arrived. It’s a big mushroom cap loaded with pizza toppings. Ours had pesto, some kind of tomato spread, cheese and some roasted vegetables. The cap was juicy and even though the whole thing is pretty small, it is packed with flavor.

We finished everything off with the strawberry shortcake, a buttermilk biscuit topped with cream and strawberries.

There’s something really charming about Fork Heart Knife. They love what they’re doing and that comes across in the food and the d├ęcor. We sort of forgot we were at a restaurant because it feels so friendly and intimate. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for this place. And I’m not worried at all about what to pick from their menu next time I go.

Check their blog or twitter to find out when they'll be open. And FHK is BYOB!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taco Rehab

I've heard an addiction defined as something that interferes with your day-to-day life. When you have to go out of your way for that extra-hot double tall cappuccino, even if it means being late for the meeting, then you've crossed the line from casual user into addict.

I fessed up to my pumpkin habit last fall, and now I'm ready to admit to my taco addiction. I'm blaming Taqueria Mercado for fueling my illness. It started on Cinco de Mayo, innocently, with a few tacos at the new downtown location. They were simple, flavorful, and I was hooked immediately.

My addiction reared its ugly head later that week when I emailed my Dad around lunchtime, suggesting we hit TM sometime, knowing full well he'd probably be up for it that same day. He was. I dropped everything and drove downtown to get a second hit of tacos.

But the addict's cravings are never really fulfilled, just pacified before they return in force. I found myself browsing cooking blogs and websites for pork taco recipes. I settled on a slow cooker recipe from Food52. The ingredient list is short and the photos are enticing.

And if I'm going to go ahead and make my own pork tacos, why not go all in and make the pickled red onions while I'm at it? I found a pretty straightforward recipe at Chow.com.

The red onions are sliced and blanched then added to an acidic mixture of fresh lime and orange juice, salt, sugar, and jalapeno slices. Done. Onto the pork. On the bottom of the slow cooker I added more orange juice and zest from two oranges. I cut the pork shoulder into chunks as the cat circled the kitchen like a shark, drunk from the smell of raw animal fat.

Next, the pork shoulder got a packet of this seasoning:

It is really, really orange. Pork chunks were browned on the stovetop with a little olive oil and then they got in the slow cooker too. Last, some garlic and chipotle peppers with accompanying adobe sauce went on top. I set the slow cooker on low and spent the rest of the day trying not to think about pork tacos.

Walking into my apartment building after work, I got a little thrill when I realized the good food smell in the hall was coming from MY apartment. I secretly hoped my neighbors were jealous.

When it was at long last taco time, I loaded up double layers of corn tortillas (Alex picked those up for me in exchange for tacos - a fair trade) with the pork, pickled onions and chopped cilantro with a wedge of lime on the side. It looked like a dream. And the taste? Well... it wasn't quite what I'd hoped for.

In hindsight, choosing a very orange-y pork recipe for the orange-marinated red onions may have been orange overkill. In fact, the pork on its own had almost a candy sweetness. That was followed quickly by heat from the chipotles. A LOT of heat. Either too much adobo sauce snuck into the cooker alongside the chipotles, or three chipotles is just too many for my tastebuds. Both recipes are fine on their own, but the combination and the intensity of the flavors didn't quite work.

They weren't the perfectly seasoned tacos I'd imagined in my day dreams. It's only a minor setback, though. Next time I'll try something a little more simple with a little less citrus. What kind of addict would I be if I let this setback derail my hunt for the next taco high?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Vout: What Slims is During the Week

Food lovers and Northsiders are well acquainted with Slims. The sunny restaurant on Hamilton avenue pulls in a lot of street cred for its fresh ingredients and excellent pork belly.

I'd never eaten at Slims until last night (and technically, I guess I still haven't). The cost of the prix fixe menu was too much for a weeknight meal out, and whenever a special occasion rolled around, for some reason Slims was forgotten. When Slims announced its new Tues-Thurs concept, Vout, I knew I was out of excuses. Vout serves a considerably less expensive ala carte Cuban and Puerto Rican menu. Orders are placed at the counter, water is self-serve, and as always, it's BYOB.

On the Tuesday night that we went, most tables were occupied with an order number and a bottle of wine. The restaurant staff directed us to pick any table we liked and help ourselves to a pitcher of water.

"We'll help you to take care of your own needs."

Sounds good to me. We ordered dinner, sat back with a couple of bottles of beer, and waited. Next to us, a table was celebrating someone's birthday. Light streamed in through the shades covering the front windows. Baskets of fresh produce lined the window sill. The atmosphere was relaxing, and waiting for our food felt like no time at all.

Alex ordered the special, chicken on a biscuit, a rich gooey dish punctuated with green peas and peppery bacon on top. Mine was the vegetarian entree, enchiladas mole, consisting of a large tortilla drowned in a thick smokey-spicy sauce, mushrooms, beans, and topped off with a sweet relish of mangos. We ordered a pair of sides, a corn pudding that we were warned was sweet, and the Fufu, a mixture of smokey potatoes and mashed plantains.

The food was good, but that's not what was amazing to me. I was expecting good food. What was really wonderful was that the whole thing cost less than $20. I'm sure I've spent more than that at a meal at TGI Fridays (I know, I'm cringing at the comparison too). And what took us so long to try out Vout? The more we ate and drank, the more ridiculous it seemed. Why haven't we been here before?

I'll admit that I liked Alex's dinner better than mine. His biscuit was spiked with lemon, making the whole thing ridiculously mouth-watering. My enchilada mole was good, but I wanted a little more sweetness to play off the spice and chocolatey richness of the mole. Extra sauce is offered on the menu for a dollar - I think I'd order more of the black bean and mango salsa next time. Our sides were good, and the corn pudding was as sweet as promised.

I still want to come back on the weekend for the full Slims treatment. My Tuesday night dinner has instilled in me even more faith in Slims. Until then, I plan on returning often for a weeknight meal at Vout.

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