Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of a Food You Can Buy at Trader Joe's: Chewy Egg Nog Cookies

This time of year the little nutmeg shaker lives on my counter. I don't bother putting it away and getting it out again night after night. What a waste. In fact, I leave it right next to a bottle of rum, just so the two don't get lonely.

It's egg nog season. Try and describe egg nog to someone. It's hard to find any other adjective to describe it except that it's "noggy." And "creamy." And if you're doing it right, "boozy."

Trader Joe's is selling egg nog in cookie form. They're about the size of a Nilla Wafer (oh God I JUST NOW realize Nilla was short for 'vanilla'. The lie I have been living.) but they're soft with a drizzle of icing.

Not surprisingly, they taste noggy. There's a hint of spices, maybe some of that nutmeg, and the icing melts fast under your fingertips. I find it hard to eat less than five in one session. And that's okay, because they're tiny, and noggy, and it's the season, right?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Will the Real English Muffin Please Stand Up?

Like me, you probably grew up knowing an English Muffin as a small, bread-like substance with no observable similarities to an actual muffin. It's sold in a little rectangular box of six. It might have chewy little raisins, and if your mother was like mine and you were only ever allowed the low fat Pop Tarts, it might be whole wheat.

We've been lied to. Those things in the box at the grocery store? They aren't English Muffins. They're the bread cousin of hockey pucks. If you want to experience a real English Muffin, you're going to have to pay a visit to Blue Oven bakery. Even after they sell out of every other kind of glorious bread they haul to Findlay Market on a given Saturday morning, they're bound to have their English Muffins on hand.

The Slim Shady of English Muffins.

When you bring your muffin home and take it out of the bag, you'll think to yourself, "This can't possibly be an English Muffin. It looks too delicious and smells kind of like a donut." Stop wasting time asking questions, find your serrated knife, cut it in half and get it into your toaster pronto.

You will know your Blue Oven English Muffin is almost ready when it starts to sizzle. Ideally, you'll pull it out just before it catches on fire. Unless you have a very robust toaster, it won't actually "pop" when it's done because the muffin halves are too heavy. Yeah.

Remove your muffin and apply toppings. I'm partial to jam on one half and a fried egg on the other. It's crucial that the yolk soaks into the muffin properly, spilling through the internal nooks like rushing subterranean rivers.

It has a richness and mild sweetness and little pathways and tunnels running through it. It's dense and soft enough to soak up egg yolk, with a nice crust and crunch on the exterior. This, my friends, is an English Muffin worthy of its name.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review of a Food You Can Buy at Trader Joe's: Candy Cane Joe Joes

When I'm ready to pay and leave Trader Joe's, I don't choose my lane based on the apparent speed and efficiency of the checkout clerk. I pick the one with the best free samples. And Trader Joe's does samples right. They don't give you a little sliver of a cookie, they just open a whole pacakge and let you have your way with it.

Let me preface my review by saying I'm just as much of a "Hey Christmas GTFO It's Not Thanksgiving Yet" person as you are. We need to celebrate one holiday at a time, blah blah blah. But when I was presented with a free Candy Cane Joe Joe at checkout, I forgot about my principles. Oreo cookie with candy cane IN IT! Put it in my mouth!

The peppermint chunks are small but potent. Eating a handful of candy cane Joe Joes is like having Oreos and brushing your teeth at the same time. You're left with a pleasant peppermint aftertaste and cookie crumbs in your gumline.

As I ate that first Candy Cane Joe, I actually heard the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack cue up. I heard sleigh bells, I felt a whisper of snowflakes against my cheek. And later I looked in the mirror and realized I had oreo dust all over my mouth.

Tis the season. Well, almost.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

That's Nuts

Hey there, remember me? I used to write a blog about food. I stopped for a while, because life got in the way, but I'm back. I make no apologies - and anyway my coworker ordered me not to apologize because it sounds kind of presumptious and condescending. I think he's right. But either way, I love writing about food and I'm glad to be doing it again. And if you missed me, even just a little, then that's okay. I missed you too.

I moved into a new apartment. It has a lot of light and industrial loft charm. Left unattended, I will browse Target and Ikea online for hours and squander every last penny of my paycheck on console tables and shelving. To make room for my new furniture buying habit, I'm resolving to spend less on food.

Henceforth I am getting myself back into the blogging spirit by reviewing foods you can buy at Trader Joe's. There you go, something else that you didn't need or ask for being provided to you at no cost on the internet.

Today's Review of a Food You Can Buy at Trader Joe's: Lime and Chile Mixed Nuts

Saturday night I had a couple of friends over for drinks, and when you do something like that you're supposed to provide little snacks too so nobody gets blitzed and vomits on your new bathmat. It just seems like good hostessing to provide food with booze.

How fun, I thought. Spicy nuts. Perfect food for having people over for drinks. Think again, amigos. This stuff is seriously spicy. Like, make you cough and sneeze spicy. Not a sexy party snack.

The heat creeps up on you. After the first handful you think, yes, I'll have another. Then you're hacking and looking around for a tissue box. There's also a lingering pine-sol after taste, and little flecks of what looks like wood shavings.

I'll be picking up the rosemary marcona almonds next time I'm at Joe's and leaving the spicy nuts on the shelf.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pigging Out: Eli's Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwich

Most people reading this blog will already know that I’m now working weekends at Dojo Gelato. If you were coming here for my unbiased ice cream reviews, then you should probably go somewhere else. I am no longer unbiased. Dojo Gelato is the best thing you can put in your mouth.

Working at the Doj' has been challenging in ways I couldn’t have imagined, exciting, rewarding and I get to say I work at Cincinnati’s best and oldest public market. I also get to do a lot more eating and shopping there. I’m conveniently at the market before there’s a line at Blue Oven. I get a vendor discount at most places. As far as fringe benefits go, a job at Findlay Market is pretty sweet if you’re obsessed with food. And lately, I’ve been extra obsessed with the pulled pork sandwich at Eli’s Barbecue.

You can find him under a white tent, outside on the south side of the market building with a chalkboard sign. There’s one sandwich on the menu. You can get away with that if your one sandwich is phenomenal.

Michael isn’t one to dole out praise when it isn’t due. So when he returned from his lunch break and declared he’d had the best pulled pork sandwich of his life, I took him seriously. One of my coworkers ordered the sandwich on her break. Same results. After that whenever either of them talked about the sandwich they got a glassy, far-away look in their eyes.

It was a few weeks before I finally got around to trying it and my expectations were sky high. Eli’s operation is as small as it gets. With one sandwich on the menu, there’s one side offered – coleslaw, cut thick and generous with a creamy dressing.

When you order your sandwich, and I know you will, Eli throws down some pork shoulder on the flat top, sautéing it until it gets these crunchy caramelized bits, like a crust. He uses a pizza cutter to break it up and give it the right texture. The bun is buttered and toasted on the griddle, the pork meets the bun, gets a dose of tangy barbecue sauce and it’s served open-faced with coleslaw on top. Actually that’s optional, but only a fool would ask for the coleslaw on the side. Hand over your five dollars, take napkins and a fork. Bring your sandwich to the Biergarten on the Elm Street side and enjoy with a cold Hudy Amber.

Get this sandwich. GET IT. And stop by Dojo afterwards, I’ll more than likely be slingin' ice cream. Just don’t expect me to be unbiased about our gelato, or Findlay Market, it’s the best place you can be in Cincinnati on a Saturday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mix and Shout

A few days before my birthday I got this ridiculous idea in my head that my parents had gotten me a car. It would have been a timely gift, since I'd recently totalled mine. They'd been dropping hints about my present, saying it was too big to bring to the restaurant and that maybe I could come by the house to get it. My mind jumped from,

"I don't want anything big for my birthday. Just dinner with the family," to "Holy shit, what if they got me a car?"

Then I felt shame wash over me. What is this, my super sweet sixteen? I don't want my parents to buy me a car. I have a 401K, shouldn't I be buying my own cars now?

The big reveal came and turns out, it wasn't a car. It was better. It was a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. A few weeks later I unboxed it, releasing it from its styrofoam shackles to reveal a gleaming stainless steel beauty.

Even the instructions for the KitchenAid Stand Mixer are smug. Over and over again it implies that your new mixer will run laps around your other kitchen appliances. Such gems, unedited from the handbook, include:

"Your KitchenAid Stand Mixer will mix faster and more thoroughly than most other electric Stand Mixers."


"The Stand Mixer may warm up during use. Under heavy loads with extended mixing time periods, you may not be able to comfortably touch the top of the unit. This is normal."

I couldn't decide which recipe to try on its maiden voyage. I didn't want something complicated and liable to fail. What if I cursed my new mixer? I consulted Jeff, who suggested bread, and I agreed that a life-sustaining staple like bread would be a great way to start. Then I disregarded that advice and made Smitten Kitchen's Strawberry Cake.

I'll spare the suspense and let you know that it came out really well. There was an episode of burning cheese in the oven, remnants of a frozen pizza, that sent me throwing windows open through the apartment and re-distributing fans.

And the mixer. To borrow a line from the marketing team behind Stella Artois, "She is a thing of beauty." Smooth, sophisticated, self-assured. It made cake-making quick and easy, which is helpful when you start a cake at 11 PM on a Monday night.

I could go on about it but it's time for me to catch up on Wimbledon matches on the DVR, and I have a slice of strawberry cake to attend to.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tray Chic: Lunch at Jean Robert’s Table

The afternoon lunch rush just got a little more chic. Jean Robert’s Table recently began serving a tray lunch Monday through Friday – a $14 meal including a soup, salad, savory dish and dessert. No substitutions allowed and no reservations necessary.

The tray program is promoted as a quicker, more efficient way to have a full meal without overextending your lunch hour. With all four courses served at once you’re free to set your own pace once the tray has arrived. It’s the water slide rather than the lazy river.

Don’t be fooled though, as with any meal at Table, careful prep and excellent ingredients make up each dish. If it’s truly speed that you need, grab a sack of coneys from down the street. But if you have a full lunch hour to spare, a seat at the Table bar is waiting for you.

I stopped in on a work-from-home day this week. I may have been there a little bit late in the lunch time frame, and it was a rainy afternoon, but everyone around me seemed to be lingering rather than rushing back to the office. I probably spent a full hour in the restaurant from the time I took my seat at the bar to my exit back to the cold, drizzly sidewalk. I wasn’t in a hurry.

As promised, four courses arrived at once – a mushroom soup, salmon salad, duck confit and a small square of flourless chocolate cake with a pillow of white chocolate mousse propping up two slivers of strawberry on either side.

What do the French do to potatoes that makes them so much better than potatoes? I have my suspicions.

I started at the soup and worked my way counter-clockwise to dessert. Portions were just right, and my petite dessert was a perfect way to end my meal without sending me careening toward a 3:30 sugar-induced nap. I left completely satisfied and just $14 poorer – for a weekday lunch, it’s a great fine dining option without the fuss.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Getaway

I spent Monday afternoon and night at the Inn at Cedar Falls nestled into the heart of Central Ohio's Hocking Hills. It's an adorable, rustic-yet-sophisticated inn and restaurant with a cluster of cottages and cabins. Alex and I spent a night off the grid in said adorable cottage with no internet, TV or cell reception. It was glorious.

A full post is on the way, in which I will describe how I overcame my fear of ticks and tasted some of the best mushrooms I have ever put into my mouth. For now, take a look at my photos from the Inn and the surrounding area. And then maybe turn off your computer, phone, TV, and find a place to kick back for a while. I promise it's not as scary as it sounds.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shooting Your Food

Restaurants are pretty much the worst when it comes to photography. Anyone who has pulled out an iPhone at a mood-lit bistro to snap a photo of her dish knows this. Extreme low light and colored light sources can make the most mouth-watering entrée look disgusting in a photo. For examples, please look at any picture I ever took at Bootsy’s.

A big DSLR fares much better in low light, but say goodbye to anonymity when you pull it out in that brand new restaurant. And don’t forget that you’ll have to haul it around through sessions of pre-dinner cocktails and whatever you’re doing after dinner.

It’s a no-win situation.

In recent years though, compact camera makers have attempted to load point-and-shoots with specialized modes for low light situations. Higher end compacts offer bigger sensors with better light-gathering potential, but they also cost about the same as an entry-level DSLR.

Sony’s WX9 attempts to fight the good low-light fight at a reasonable price. I was recently invited to test it out with a group of food bloggers in San Diego over two days of diet-busting indulgence.

We photographed a lot of food that was styled specifically for our needs as eaters and photographers. Therefore, what you see here could be thought of as somewhat a-typical of normal dining circumstances. We had lunch under the open sky on the beach. This is not how I usually photograph food.

But putting that aside, it was really, really fun. The WX9 will make most of your photographic decisions if you want it to, and it generally does a good job at getting things right. You think less about your settings and more about how you want to compose your shot, and then more importantly, how you want to get the food on your plate into your mouth.

We were also turned loose on a farmer’s market in Oceanside. Note that in the image below hot oil had soaked through the napkin and was scorching my hand. I kept still anyway for the photo.

Like most other point-and-shoots, the Cyber-shot WX9 fared very well in the ample sunshine of the farmer’s market. A lot of food bloggers aren’t going to do much editing or tinkering with settings anyway, so it might be ideal for the person who wants to snap a photo and move on to the next one.

We were also provided with plenty of interior lighting during dinner – all twelve courses of it. Chef Chris Ivens-Brown, VP of Culinary Development at Compass Group prepared a beautiful meal for us to capture with our cameras and our forks. It was a delight.

Dinner was served at Sony’s San Diego headquarters in a lovely dining room on a top floor, providing us with the opportunity to use the camera’s Sweep Panorama mode. This is a feature that Sony pioneered and now offers on nearly every Cyber-shot camera. You’ll press the shutter and pan the camera across a horizontal or vertical scene while the WX9 captures a handful of rapid-fire images and then stitches them together to create one panoramic image. It’s intuitive and mindlessly easy to use.

As point-and-shoots go, the WX9 has a lot to offer at a tasty price. For my money, it doesn’t solve the low light problem, but it is a lot of fun to use. And here’s the better news – Sony has provided me with a Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 to give away to a lucky Chickpeas, Please reader! Leave a comment on this post and tell me about what you most like to photograph and you'll be eligible to win. I'll keep the contest open through a week from today - Wednesday May 18, at which point I'll randomly pick a winner. Good luck and good shooting!

Disclosure: Sony paid for my travel to and from San Diego, ground transportation, two nights at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and all of my meals over the course of the trip. The WX9 camera I used was mine to keep when I went home. A review of this camera was published on Digital Camera Review where I'm the site editor – we did not keep that product sample, and we never keep the cameras that we review.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cirque du Soleil OVO Tapis Rouge: Enough to make you blush

For a time in high school, I was a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil. Admittedly, that's a weird thing to be a huge fan of, but we all have our weird stuff, right? ...right?

Anyway, during this time, I learned a lot of useless knowledge about Cirque du Soleil. For example, did you know that Cirque is pretty much the NFL of circuses? It's where all jugglers/contortionists/Ukranian children aspire to perform one day. They have 401Ks and dental insurance. It's the big leagues.

Also, there are touring shows, such as OVO. For those a caravan of semi-trucks descends on a vacant parking lot in a major city, assembles the Grand Chapiteau and basically sets up a little Cirque village for the run of the show. There are also permanent shows in theaters across the globe. Vegas has a Cirque show on every quarter mile of the strip.

You can imagine I was excited when my dear friend Darcy Little told us a few months ago that Cirque would be visiting Cincinnati. Not only that, but she was going to be handling PR for this tour stop. She's kind of a badass like that. She was very kind to get me into the OVO preview show last night with Tapis Rouge tickets.

So what is Tapis Rouge? For merely hundreds of dollars you get a premium seat, a sweet parking space, a cocktail hour before the show and desserts during intermission.

The food is a mix of comfortable cocktail party fare (think goat cheese crostini) and more exotic eats, like the edible orchids with chicken salad and - oh yes - sweet and sour chicken on a stick wrapped in cotton candy. This sounds awful. I could have eaten twenty of them.

At intermission Alex and I sprinted back to the Tapis Rouge tent, shouting at all of the friends we saw along the way "Can't talk! Must get cupcakes!" Sorry friends.

If you want to splurge, I highly recommend taking the Tapis Rouge route. Wine and beer is included in the ticket - we brought ours to our seats when it was time for the show. The food is fun and there's more than enough to make a meal. (Vegetarians be warned, your options are slightly limited.) You're guaranteed an awesome seat, though there really isn't a bad one in the place.

Whether or not you go all in on the Tapis Rouge experience, you really shouldn't miss OVO while it's here. It is the NFL of circuses, after all. After two hours of mind-blowing contortion, trapeze-ing, singing, juggling and jumping, you'll be glad you went.

Many thanks to Darcy and Vehr Communications for the tickets! It was a blast.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yelp Drinks, Cincinnati Edition

Looking for something to celebrate? It's Cincinnati's first ever bar week, sponsored by! Today through Sunday 21 local bars will be featuring specialty cocktails, wine and beer for half price until 9pm. What does that mean exactly? When happy hour rolls around, stroll into a participating bar such as Neon's Unplugged and get a drink like their featured Elderflower Gimlet for $4. Find all of the bars and drink specials here.

You'll find cocktails and other drinks priced somewhere between 3 and 5 dollars. Here are some highlights:

  • Drafts for $2.50 at Lackmann
  • Kentucky Bourbon Ale for $2.50 at Molly Malone's
  • Old Fashioned for $3.75 at Virgil's
In addition to the special prices available all week, Yelp is hosting an official Happy Hour each night at various participating locations around town. These events are open to anyone and include free appetizers. There's a complete list of those events here, starting with Dilly Deli tonight with its famous beer cheese, provided for free. All of these special Happy Hours run from 7 to 9pm.

Full disclosure, our local Yelp Cincinnati Community Manager happens to be my boyfriend. Not that this is a surprise to anyone reading this blog.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

Grandma Johnson, like a lot of other grandparents, lived through the depression. I guess because of this she developed, as anyone might, a reluctance to throw away food. She was sitting at our kitchen table on one of her visits enjoying some baby carrots (our family has a long history with baby carrots) and she dropped one on the floor. She didn’t hesitate, just picked the carrot up – it had rolled onto the living room carpet – and said:

“Waste not, want not,” popping it into her mouth.

Mom pleaded with her to throw it out as she was doing this, arguing that she could actually see cat hairs stuck to the dewy carrot skin, but Grandma Johnson lived by her words. She was an English teacher, after all.

We as a family remember this with mild horror and affection. We still bring it up occasionally when we think of her. “Waste not, want not.”

I’ve talked before about my own struggle to be a frugal yet creative cook. You know that Oatmeal comic about cooking at home? It pretty much sums up my first frustrating experiences going solo in the kitchen. In fact, my dear friend and former roommate Jon just reminded me of the first time I tried to cook chicken and the destruction I caused in our tiny Oxford, Ohio kitchen. We remember it fondly of course, and the photographic evidence lives on in Facebook glory.

I’m trying to evolve into a resourceful home cook with a well-stocked pantry. I want to develop a repertoire of tasty and cost-effective recipes I can fall back on when inspiration fails to strike. I’m not quite there.

I thought of Grandma Johnson and her famous words when I found this mustardy carrot slaw recipe on CHOW. I loaded up a Madison’s shopping basket with about two pounds of carrots (the adult ones) and brought them home to meet my box grater. I figured if I made a few side dishes and tasty spreads at the start of the week, I could work my way through them at lunchtime from Monday to Friday.

Grating two pounds of carrots turned out to be more work than I imagined. I got through it, mixed up the dressing and worked it all together with my bare hands. I didn’t have chives on hand and had to substitute white wine vinegar for red, but the taste is still zingy, sweet and mustardy.

I juiced the orange that I had used for its zest and fished a tiny bottle of bubbly from the back of the refrigerator. Waste not, want not? I can live by that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Greetings From Sunny San Diego

Hey there! I'm in San Diego right now as a guest of Sony's Cyber-shot group. I'm lucky to be part of a gathering of food bloggers from around the country. We spent the afternoon in Oceanside at a wonderful farmer's market and then we had a ridiculously indulgent "picnic" lunch at the beach.

Tough afternoon, I know. We've been set loose with Cyber-shot WX9 cameras; check out the sample images below and look for a review soon on, you know, that other website I work on.

I have more eating ahead of me. For now, check out some photos from our afternoon while I go put on my stretchy pants and get ready for dinner.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Be Gratin-ful For What You Have

When countries are shredded by waves or dictators or bombs, that’s a good time to go to the market and get a bunch of leeks. In the grand scheme, this isn’t outrageous, but it felt kind of thrilling handing over three cash dollars to the folks at Daisy Mae’s and leaving with a heavy, leafy bundle.

My inspiration came from a recent article in the New York Times. It wasn’t the delicious photo that convinced me I needed to make this recipe. It was the description of that moment the author spent rinsing grit from the farmer’s market leeks and how soothing it felt to see the dirt being washed down the drain. That sounded like something I could use.

Very soon after the rinsing comes sautéing in a large amount of butter. The cooked leeks go on top of the potatoes, some heavy cream spiked with nutmeg goes over that and a big handful of shredded Gruyere goes over the whole thing.

I mistakenly used a casserole dish instead of a gratin dish, thinking they were interchangeable. The resulting dish was therefore pretty shallow but still delicious. Because leeks and potatoes do not a meal make, I whipped up Courtney’s wonderful balsamic glazed chicken drumsticks. I recommend that you do the same.

I had been pronouncing this dish as “gra-TAN,” which threw Alex for a loop. In fact he asked me as we sat down to eat,

“Why didn’t you tell me you were making potatoes au gratin?” Opting for the accepted GRA-‘n pronunciation.

After a brief survey of several free online dictionaries, I didn’t come to any conclusion about who was right or wrong about the pronunciation. And does it really matter when you have a cheesy, buttery gratin sitting in front of you? And in the grand scheme, isn’t that really a lot?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Magic Pop: Extreme Rice Cakes

I was strolling through the Murray’s cheese section at Kroger last night, looking for samples, when I noticed a small crowd gathered near the bakery. They had collected around a contraption about the size of a popcorn machine, with a plexi-glass partition keeping onlookers back.

Every ten seconds or so, the machine would make a loud popping sound and a cracker about the size of a pita was expelled at high speed, hitting the glass and falling into a basket. There was an attendant on hand, feeding the machine, or keeping it from turning loose and eating everyone in the store, I couldn’t tell what.

Getting closer I could see the words “Kim’s Magic Pop,” on a sign above the crowd. Next to it was a platter of cracker samples served alongside a half-eaten container of hummus. I walked a full circle around the Magic Pop, noting a pervasive fake strawberry smell not unlike the stuff they spray on landfills. It reminds you of strawberry but your nose tells you it’s not.

I reached in for a sample, ignoring the hummus. There were two varieties of magic crackers on hand for tasting, a plain looking kind and another with light pink splotches. I took a sliver of the pink stuff. It tasted just about how it smelled, and it lingered in my mouth for an uncomfortably long amount of time.

I did some research at home and read all about the Magic Pop Story. It seems there’s a couple in South Korea who got the idea in their heads to both terrify and delight the people of America by creating a machine that would pressure-cook rice cakes and fling them at high speeds. There’s also a wonderfully Photoshopped image of Magic Pop “HQ” in South Korea.

I also discovered that there are a variety of Magic Pop flavors, including shrimp – shrimp! Magic Pop’s website lists the benefits of its product and insists that the rice cakes are “especially good for little ones and the elderly.” Coincidentally, I can’t think of anyone who would be more frightened by the concept.

What's amazing to me is how the Magic Pop machine turns a bland food into a supermarket spectacle. Is there a less interesting, less enticing food than a rice cake? No. But if you show people how it's made and send that food flying through the air with the speed and ferocity of a hockey puck, people will eat it up. The small crowd watching at Kroger had already loaded their carts with pre-packaged sacks of Magic Pop crackers. Marketing genius.

The best part of my chance encounter with the Magic Pop was when the employee tending to the machine accidentally moved his hand into the line of fire. He saw me standing in front of the basket of samples, my eyes glazed over in awe, and he said “Good evening ma’am.” And then a cracker whizzed out of the machine and hit him in the arm.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seasame Peanut Noodles After the Big Game

After a night of glorious, unrestrained indulgence in Super Bowl snacks – including but not limited to Evan’s Manhattan jello shots and his friend’s pork belly sliders – I was in need of something a bit lighter. I made a repentant trip to the gym on Monday and went directly to the grocery store afterward.

I came home with a new jar of peanut butter and a couple of bags of uncooked soba noodles, ready to embrace an easy, nutritionally sound dinner. What does nutrition look like? A glob of peanut butter, of course, pureed in your food processor with some soy sauce, garlic, mirin, red pepper flakes, seasame oil and red wine vinegar.

The recipe is adapted by Ted Allen. You know him from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Now you know he’s a cookbook author. While the noodles cooked I assembled all of the ingredients that I would dress them in for a photo op.

The finished product needs some chopped cucumber on the side, for crunch, and to maintain a semblance of nutritional value. The noodles are so tasty, and vegan at that, how could they be anything but good for you?

I doubt Random House would appreciate if I typed up the recipe and posted it on my blog. Someone else did it though, so either go buy Ted's book or get started making some tasty peanut noodles by checking out the recipe here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Five Sweet Excuses for a Day Trip to Columbus

I've been considering - some would say obsessively researching - vacation options. I'm bent on taking one this spring, but in the meantime I'm daydreaming about a day trip to Columbus. If you too are looking for a quick getaway, then call in sick, turn off your Blackberry and head to our friendly neighbor to the north for these sweet indulgences.

1. Jeni's
Step away from your black raspberry chip for a minute and try what Jeni is scooping up. Inventive flavors, high quality ingredients and Snowville Creamery dairy make Jeni's ice cream worth talking about. And you don't even have to leave Cincinnati to get it - Whole Foods in Hyde Park carries it. You don't have to quit your Graeter's habit to give Jeni's a shot.

2. Pistacia Vera
If the pastry case at Pistacia Vera doesn't make you giddy, then you don't have a sweet tooth at all. They're whipping up trendy Macarons, sweets and savories in an adorable German Village storefront. Leave your new year's resolutions at the door.

3. Taste of Belgium
Our own Cincinnati-based Belgian waffle joint has opened a location in Columbus's North Market. Save some gas and get your waffle fix at the Findlay Market location. The authentic Belgian waffles are worth a trip to either location. Watch for their unique seasonal creations like a shrimp and grits waffle around Mardi Gras time.

4. Sugardaddy's
These brownies and blondies are made with seasonal flavors like dark citrus and harvest with apricot and cinnamon. The downtown location is dressed up in pink and brown, but don't be fooled by the cute branding. These are serious treats with a mix of creative and classic flavors.

5. Knead Urban Diner
For some sweet and savory with local flair, head to Knead Urban Diner. I sampled the excellent yogurt parfait and the homemade twinkie when I visited in the AM. Brunch is served on Sundays, and options include an "Egg McJunkin" sandwich with house-cured bacon. The lunch and dinner menus feature locally sourced goods in re-imagined diner favorites.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tom + Chee serves up winning chili

Did you miss the Gold Star Chili Cook-off at Findlay Market? You've still got time to sample the winning chili recipe. Tom + Chee will be serving up the blue ribbon "Blackened Voodoo Chili" at its Court St. location. It's a limited engagement, though, and your only chance to scoop it up is today, Tuesday February 1 and tomorrow the 2nd. Find out more at Tom + Chee's Facebook page.

The Voodoo chili recipe was created by James Czar and Mary Beth Weaver, inspired by a recent trip to New Orleans and named in honor of Czar's band, Voodoo Puppet. They were declared "Chili Meisters" as winners of the Gold Star sponsored cook-off.

If you make it to Tom + Chee today for some chili, you can wash it down with some glazed donut bread pudding. Need I say more?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Four Fork Meatloaf

There are two things Alex will request when I ask him what he wants for dinner – beef tacos with hard shells or meatloaf.

I try and talk him into other kinds of tacos, maybe pork with soft corn tortillas, and he just keeps telling me,

“No, get the taco kit.”

Then I get frustrated and suggest we just go out to eat. This is successful most times, except when he’s been out of town for a week and I cave in to his whims and make something that he wants. If nothing else, it will shut him up for a couple of weeks.

He made his usual plea for meatloaf, and I promised to make it when he returned from his trip to Nashville. Saturday rolled around and he hadn’t forgotten about it. I had no choice but to find a recipe that would satisfy his request and wouldn’t make me ashamed to cook.

I turned to my dearly departed Gourmet magazine, living on by proxy of One keyword search turned up this recipe, yielding no less than 204 reviews with the highest possible user rating. When a meatloaf recipe gets 21 pages of four fork reviews on epicurious, you take it seriously.

Some of the ingredients came from our favorite big box with the blue logo. The good stuff, like the pork products, came from vendors at Findlay Market like Kroeger and Sons. By the way, nothing relieves the tension of grocery shopping with your significant other like a double scoop Capn’ Crunch and Vietnamese Coffee gelato from Dojo.

Ah, how many relationships could be saved if they’d only turned to gelato.

Sunday night came. I rolled up my sleeves and dug my hands into a big bowl of raw pork product. Sounds inappropriate? It kind of was.

Gourmet’s meatloaf requires soaking of breadcrumbs, chopping and sautéing, food processor-ing and then mixing raw meat and egg with your hands. Then you slap it into a 13 by 9 inch roasting dish, throw it in the oven and clean up the mess in the kitchen for the next hour. Throughout this process, Alex came to the stairs to shout down at me,

“Damn! It smells good in here!”

The meatloaf came out in just about an hour with a browned crust and a lot of rendered fat in the pan. We ignored all that and sliced into the loaf.

I told you, a lot of fat.

This is a meatloaf worthy of four forks. Here’s what it has going for it:

  • Prunes and bacon ground to a coarse mixture and worked into the rest of the meat, so there’s a sweetness and a smokiness throughout.
  • Cooked onions and carrots that soaked up a lot of butter in the sautéing process.
  • All the umami goodness of Worcestershire sauce, however you want to pronounce it.
  • Tons of salt

It’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got all that going on. It was so enjoyable to eat, this recipe is going in my “saved” bookmark folder. If I was my mom, it would be printed, folded and shoved into a decaying Ziploc bag. It’s a keeper, even if it is meatloaf.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Orange Rosemary Scone Therapy

I was pulling onto my 275 exit yesterday and from somewhere inside my head came the words "orange rosemary scones."

Probably I saw them on a menu somewhere, or flipping through a cookbook at a bookstore. Maybe it was divine food intervention. I didn't spend a lot of time debating the origins of this idea, I just got to work searching for a recipe once I got to the office.

If you type "orange rosemary scones" into Google, you'll find a wealth of advice and recipes. I bookmarked a Food & Wine recipe, decided to skip the pistachios, and picked up some sprigs of rosemary on my way home from work.

Merely an hour after I got home, I had a warm batch of scones and an apartment filled with the scent of citrus. They're not overly sweet or orangey. They're good warm out of the oven next to a bowl of soup. They go down really nicely next to a mug of spicy hot chocolate.

The recipe also gave me a chance to do one of the best things you can do with orange rinds: run some hot water down the sink and grind them up in the disposal. The sink smells like an orange grove. At least I think it does, I've never been to one.

These scones were not fussy or time-consuming, and the results were nice. The process of making them was even sort of therapeutic in a Ruth Reichl kind of way. Are voices in my head now shouting out recipe ideas for dinner? Maybe this is the first sign of food insanity. I don't care, commit me, just as long as there are oranges and rosemary there.