The Foodie Report
Ruminations on food, cooking in and eating out in our area.

It's entirely possible to be a vegetarian in Porkopolis. Pop culture reporter Lauren Bishop blogs about products, recipes and restaurants she's tried for others who eat meat-free. E-mail her at lbishop@enquirer.com.

Nicci King is an unabashed foodie and the Lifestyle/Food editor in The Enquirer's features department. She loves to discover new food faves, and she's on a daily quest to answer one burning question: What's for dinner? E-mail her at nking@enquirer.com.

Enquirer Weekend editor Julie Gaw tends to order the same dish every time she eats at a restaurant, but periodically ventures out to discover something new and fabulous. After living in China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand for more than 8 years, she craves tasty Asian food. E-mail her at jgaw@enquirer.com.

Food/dining writer Polly Campbell loves every quirk and secret of Cincinnati's food personality, and is on a constant lookout for something good to eat. Keep an eye out for her restaurant picks, or see how she's progressing toward becoming famous for her apple pie. E-mail her at pcampbell@enquirer.com.

Communities reporter Rachel Richardson is on a mission to prove vegetarians eat more than lettuce. She shares both her graduate work on American food culture and food-related news.. E-mail her at rrichardson@enquirer.com.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Girls' night with "Grey's"

What’s dreamy, makes you weak in the knees and makes Thursday nights worth looking forward to?

Dr. McDreamy of "Grey’s Anatomy," for sure, but also the McDreamy Martini that they whip up at the Front Porch Coffeehouse, 5245 Glenway Ave., Price Hill. Thursday has always been martini nights at this neighborhood coffee shop – yes, it has a liquor license – and now the TV in the back room is also tuned in at 9 p.m. (Channels 9, 22) to the popular romantic story lines of the doctors on "Grey’s."

In the front room, Zeek Childers is Dr. Martini (he wears scrubs with the name on them) and shakes up this sweet, dessert confection for the mostly female crowd. It has one more, secret ingredient that he’s not willing to share, but it's still pretty dreamy without it.

McDreamy Martini
2 ounces vanilla vodka
1 ounces crème de cacao
½ ounces Bailey’s Irish Cream
½ ounces amaretto
Splash of secret ingredient
Shake with ice in cocktail shaker, strain into 6-ounce martini glass. Top with whipped cream and a cherry.

Call 513-471-5282 for information.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who needs Chef Boyardee?

I have a long list of cooking techniques and recipes that I want to try out. On that list, making fresh pasta falls somewhere between tossing my own pizza dough and making homemade marshmallows. They're all things that I'd like to do, but (don't read any further, Giada!) I can assure you I won't be on my death bed lamenting all the fettuccine I never made if I don't manage to get around to it.

Thankfully, there are people who would love nothing more than to send me some gourmet, almost-as-good-as-homemade
marshmallows (for a fee, of course). I'm also grateful that the good folks at Barilla keep me well-supplied with pasta. But every now and again, I get a hankering for ravioli. Whether it's stuffed with ground meat, ricotta cheese and basil or pumpkin and nutmeg, nothing says comfort food like a plate full of those little pillows of goodness. Want ravioli tonight? Stop by the grocery store and grab some wonton wrappers. Yes, I said wonton wrappers. They are great when you want the taste and texture (although it's a tad thinner) of ravioli but you don't have the time to make the dough. Just stuff, seal (with a little water and egg as the "glue"), boil for a few minutes and you're good to go! (Be sure to cook/brown the mixture first if it contains meat.) And this is a great (but messy) chance to let the kiddies help out in the kitchen!

Here's one great example:

Easy Ravioli (Or maybe we should call it Easy Wonioli. Or Ravitoni. Too over the top, huh?)
1/2 lb ground turkey (or chicken, beef, etc... or vegetarians can omit increase amount of cheese)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped (use about half that of dried)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1 egg plus 1/2 tablespoon water, whisked together
1 jar of your favorite marinara
1 pack wonton wrappers

Brown the ground turkey, until no longer pink. At the same time, dump your marinara sauce into a saucepan and get that heating. You should also get a large pot of water going so can boil the ravioli (salt the water well once it's boiling).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the turkey, ricotta cheese, egg, parmesan, mozzarella cheese, oregano, salt and pepper.

Place filling (teaspoon or so, be careful not to overfill) on one side of wrapper. Brush with egg wash. Fold opposite side over to cover filling to a create a triangle. Press to seal edges and remove air. Place ravioli on a baking tray sprinkled with a little flour (like 1/4 cup or so) to prevent sticking. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Carefully remove the ravioli from the water with a slotted spoon and serve with sauce.

Best dishes!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Super-tasty bowl

Next to football, Super Bowl means food. Find new snacking and party food ideas in Wednesday’s Food pages. Here’s an early taste:

Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Dip
1 (8-ounce) paclage cream cheese
½ cup blue cheese salad dressing
½ cup Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce or Cayenne Pepper Sauce
½ cup crumbled blue cheese or shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups shredded cooked chicken

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place cream cheese into deep-dish 9-inch glass pie plate. Microwave 1 minute to soften. Whisk in salad dressing, buffalo wing sauce and cheese until smooth. Stir in chicken. Bake 20 minutes or until mixture is heated through. Stir well. Garnish as desired. Serve hot with crackers or raw vegetables. Makes 3 cups (about 12 servings).

Popcorn is food, right?

OK, I don't know if this is the best blog for this particular post, but I feel compelled to share a couple of tips I've picked up from seeing movies recently:

1. If you don't want to pay $15+ for an oversized popcorn-and-drinks combo, check the menu for a kids' combo option. Usually, this consists of a reasonably-sized portion of popcorn, a small beverage and candy, all for you. It'll only cost you about $5, and your wallet and your stomach will thank you.

2. All movies are only $5 at Newport on the Levee if you go before noon on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or holiday. Plus, there are usually only a couple of other cheapskates in the theater at this hour (and if you're anything like me, you find Newport on the Levee intolerably crowded and overrun with kids on Friday and Saturday nights).

OK, fellow Foodie Reporters, please feel free to resume blogging about actual food now.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fritos' 75th

This year apparently marks the 75th birthday of Fritos corn chips -- the origins of junk food in this country go back further than you might think. (They were invented in Texas, which was no doubt decades ahead of the rest of the country in appreciating the combination of corn, oil and salt) It's been years since I had a Frito -- I replaced them in my snack food diet with the more modern tortilla chip years ago.

But there are two things for which Fritos are essential. One is the trick of lighting them on fire. It's an old camping emergency tip -- if you have no kindling or it's damp, just light a few Fritos on fire, and they'll blaze up and get things going in no time. Lotsa oil in one of those little chips, which is one reason I don't feel much like eating them. I haven't tried this in awhile, though. I wonder if the new non-trans-fat formulation has changed their flammability at all.

Another good use for Fritos is the pie of the same name. My brother who lives in New Mexico introduced me to this recipe years ago, but it's even older than that. The Frito-Lay press release says it was invented in the late 1930s by the mother of Elmer Doolin, who invented the Frito. Of course it's not really a pie. Here's how you make it:

Frito Pie
1 bag of fritos corn chips (1 1/4 ounces)
1/2 cup Hormel chili no beans (heated)
1 tablespoon chipped onion
1/4 cup shredded American or Cheddar Cheese

Open the bag. Pour in the chili, add the onion and cheese. Eat out of the bag.

The best dip EVER

As we get ready for the big game, I know a football fan who'll be making this dip for the occasion. It's best served with pita chips, but carrots and veggies are a healthier option.

Super Cilantro Dip
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 (7 ounce) jar salsa *
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Combine cream cheese, sour cream, salsa, pepper, celery salt, cumin, garlic powder, cilantro and lime juice in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and creamy. Serve chilled.

* The salsa you select is important for the flavor balance of the dip. We've tried several different kinds, and each gives a different result. Our favorite right now is Frog Ranch salsa, available at Meijer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Save room for a dessert (bar)

This Saturday, a new "ultra lounge and dessert bar" called Serenity is scheduled to open its doors in Corryville. I went to a sneak preview on Friday, and at least on that particular night, it was heavier on the lounge than it was on the dessert. The only dessert-y offering was creme brulee (the other food was more appetizer-y). But from the looks of the menu on their Web site, they'll also be offering triple chocolate fondue, mousse, bread pudding, cheesecake, chocolate cake, apple pie, gelato and sorbet. Yum!

At any rate, it's certainly an interesting addition to Short Vine, which appeals more to people in search of a tattoo, a rock concert or a shiny new grill than it does Serenity's target audience (described on their Web site as "a demographic that will reflect a culturally diverse, educated, business professional, twenty-five and older in search of entertainment"). It also had some decor that I've never seen before, such as this room with a sand-covered floor (thanks to my co-worker Jamie for the photo). If you go at some point, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Homemade key lime pie? Yes ... please!!

When it comes to dessert, I'm a chocolate kinda girl. Cake, cookies ... you can't go wrong. But on a recent trip to Tampa, we visited my grandfather's favorite restaurant -- Columbia -- which has been around since 1905. Faced with the choice between Godiva chocolate cake and key lime pie, I didn't know what to do. I ended up with flan (long story), but after stealing a bit of pie from my husband's plate, I was so sorry I missed out. We bought the restaurant's cookbook, but when I got home I realized it didn't have the pie recipe! So sad. Here's a recipe from Emeril that I've used in the past, but I'm still using my best detective skills to find out how Columbia makes such an awesome version of the Florida favorite.

Key Lime Pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick butter) melted
2 (14-ounce) cans condensed milk
1 cup key lime juice
2 whole eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter with your hands. Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before filling.
Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. In a separate bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Whisk until well blended and place the filling in the cooled pie shell. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Once chilled, combine the sour cream and powdered sugar and spread over the top of the pie using a spatula. Sprinkle the lime zest as a garnish on top of the sour cream and serve chilled.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Flattened, crispy potatoes

Are there any new ways of making potatoes? It must be the most experimented-with vegetable in existence, and there aren’t many ways of making them that aren’t good. But I found a new potato-cooking method —I got it from Fine Cooking magazine—that’s I'm going to make again. You boil, smash, then roast red potatoes. They’re crispy/creamy and delicious, but possibly their real appeal is in their funny, rustic look.

Wash some small red-skin potatoes, cover them with water in a pot, add some salt, bring it to a boil and cook them until they’re soft. Take them out of the pot with a slotted spoon one at a time onto dish towels on the counter. Let them dry a little, then cover with another towel and smash each one with the heel of your hand: not enough to mash them, just so the skin breaks and they flatten out. Put them on a cooking sheet. You can put them away at this point, in the fridge if it’s going to be a while.
Pour olive oil around them on the sheet, picking them up so some goes under, and brush some on top. Salt and pepper them. Put in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or so, until they’re crispy. Pile them up on a plate and serve.

In a perfect world...

... no one would go hungry. Not anywhere on the planet.

... there would be a flower/fruit stand on every other corner in
Downtown Cincinnati. I'd be on a first-name basis with my flower/fruit-stand-guy and we'd exchange friendly banter about the weather and the W. as I picked out a navel orange to snack on and a bouquet to brighten my desk.

... the cashier would just believe you when you say you forgot your $1 off coupon at home (I honestly did) and let you slide.

Sea Monkeys really would smile at you.

... Kroger (did you know you can
special order stuff online?) would have a call ahead service. You could call them (within a certain time period each afternoon, say noon-3:00 p.m.) and tell them you need some shrimp (not brine), green onions and a coupla' mangoes, and that you'll be there around 7. Guess what's waiting for you when you pull up to that handy-dandy window after work? No sliding about a slippery Kroger floor in high heels after a long day at the office. No elbowing at the seafood counter as you try to rush home to watch "Prison Break" or laugh at more "American Idol" rejects (the poor babies) and cook this (A lovely visit to Thai Namtip last year inspired my quest to recreate it at home. It was the special when I had it, so they might not serve it all the time... Worth asking about it though!):

Shrimp and Mango Curry
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons
madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
2 large sweet potatoes, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, coursely chopped
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup white wine (try a nice sauvignon blanc, something you'd drink)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 to 1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 medium mangoes, chopped into relatively big pieces

Sauté the bell pepper in the butter for about 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic and ginger and cook until every softens a bit, another 2-3 minutes or so. (Whatever you do, don't let the garlic burn; not too many things taste worse.) Add curry powder, cayenne and salt and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add the potato, broth, and wine and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add the shrimp and mango, and simmer 8 minutes until the shrimp are pink and done. Don't overcook them or you'll have bubblegum (read: chewy) shrimp, not to be confused with
Bubba Gump Shrimp. Serve over rice. Yum! Makes about 4 servings.

What would you want in a perfect, foodie-centric world?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A semi-mean rant for which I'll take 100% of the credit

As a kid, you probably heard the same lectures I did: "If you don't anything nice to say, keep quiet." My parents taught me well. But you know what? My parents don't "get" blogs, so they probably aren't reading this right now! So the lesson for today is "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me!" (That's one of the many memorable lines in "Steel Magnolias". But you knew that, right? Don't make me sic Ouiser Boudreaux on you...)

I saw some of the most hilarious blog entries today. Although many were older, they were all about Sandra Lee's "70% store-bought/ready-made products accompanied by 30% fresh and creative touches that allows anyone to take 100% of the credit" approach to "cooking," if you want to call it that. This recent entry posted on one of my favorite food blogs makes some valid points about the general state of things over at The Food Network. But
this older blog had me in tears, I was laughing so hard.

It's nice to know I'm not alone in my disdain for headbands that match plastic placemats and "tablescapes" laden with dollar store finds and semi-edible "food."
Sandra Lee is without shame in the way she "cuts corners" in the kitchen. Why not call it what it is? "Cooking Like A 7-Year-Old"? Open some boxes, add water, some fake flowers and tacky napkin rings and you have a "beeeeeeeeee-utiful" dinner. Um, how about not? Thanks.

I mean, I'm not unreasonable. I don't expect anyone to make a rack of lamb and a port-fig reduction after being at the office and/or chasing the kiddies around all day. Most nights, I barely feel like grilling chicken breasts when I get home. But, c'mon people! Where is our foodie integrity? Or maybe I'm just blind with jealousy because she has published cookbooks and has her own show on The Food Network. Hmm... That's definitely it...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Grandma's goodness...

What's for dinner?

Some of my favorite childhood memories are linked to my maternal grandmother and her big kitchen. Dear, as my cousins and I call her, did lots of little things that meant the world to me back then and still do today. Like the time when she baked sweet potato pies for church, only to find (right as she was about to pack them up to leave) that the crusts on each one had been systematically pinched off. I didn't even get in trouble. She just laughed her throaty laugh, kissed my crumb-covered face, playfully swatted me on my rear and said, "Well, I guess I know the pies taste good!" But my favorite memories from her kitchen are the times when she would bake cobblers, fruit pies or tarts and use the leftover dough, filling and a miniature tin (the tins were small, but not this small) to make an individual version of the same thing just for me. I don't think a child can feel more special than I did back then with my "Nicci pie" and tiny fork in tow.

My grandmother instilled within me a love for family and food and the many ways the two go hand in hand. I feel very lucky that she passed the good-cook gene on to me and even more fortunate that I can still call her and thank her for it. In fact I think I'll do that right now.

And tonight I'll make this, one of the many deliciously simple recipes (and lessons in love) she's given me over the years.

Dear's Baked Butternut Squash
1 medium butternut squash
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter

salt taste

Preheat oven to 350.
Cut the squash in half and remove seeds.
Place squash on baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for 30 minutes. Turn over and put half of the sugar and half the butter in each squash, bake for 30 more minutes. Add salt to taste to balance the sugar.

Would you like an egg sandwich with your venti extra hot half-caf mocha soy latte?

Just stumbled across a New York Times article (quick, read it now before you have to pay for it) about how Starbucks is starting to offer hot egg and cheese sandwiches to better compete with McDonald's and how McDonald's started offering higher-quality coffee last year to better compete with Starbucks. Apparently, lots of people think that Starbucks' current food offerings, largely baked goods, stink (although personally, I couldn't get enough of their low-fat banana chocolate chip coffee cake when it was around last summer). So they're going to start selling their own version of an Egg McMuffin, only "re-engineered for the Starbucks demographic," which means it will have Cheddar and fontina instead of American cheese. Ha!

Anyway, I stopped into the Starbucks on Fourth Street downtown today and they're not selling the sandwiches yet, but I'm very curious to see how this will all play out. Frankly, the thought of walking into a egg-y smelling Starbucks to get coffee isn't very appealing. But then, the thought of walking into a greasy-smelling McDonald's to get coffee isn't very appealing either, and I found myself doing just that last fall after my weekly appointments with my hand therapist. Their new coffee really is good, and at least at that particular McDonald's, any size coffee was just 90 cents, a price that beats the pants off Starbucks.

Someone else will have to be the judge of how their egg sandwiches compare, though, as I've been a vegetarian for more than eight years now. (Although I suppose I could always order one without the meat.) So where will you be breakfasting after Starbucks breaks into the business? And whose coffee do you like better?

On a related note: Do you ever give a fake name at Starbucks, for whatever reason? E-mail me at lbishop@enquirer.com if you do and I'll tell you why I wanna know.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Words to eat by...

This foodie took the words right out of my mouth...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Oh, my little green friends...

No, I'm not having a flashback. A friend of mine, a very dear, good friend, gave me a gift via interoffice mail. I'm in debt to him forever.

As you may have guessed from the picture, it's those lovely, delicious horseradish-coated orbs. Now I have gone on before about liking horseradish, but this delightful, mouth-watering snack encompasses almost everything I consider to be good:

Loads of flavor
Just the right amount of heat

Don't you just love it when you bite into one of them and it's just little hotter than the others, and your eyes water and your nose runs, and... oh, it's like heaven in a pea.

Now, I like my husband and kids, who also make me wince and tear-up, but Hot Wasabi Peas, you will always live in my heart of hearts.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Taco night...

What's for dinner?

So, I still have a good amount of dark meat left on the chicken carcass (makes you want to be a vegan when you put it like that, doesn't it?) that's hanging out in my fridge. But I think that picked over little bird is mocking me.

"What? You're not going to get another meal outta me tonight? Ran outta ideas, huh? And you call yourself a foodie..."

Well excuse me, little carcass! I know there are tons of things I can make from you, but I'm tired of chicken. Plus, I have a career and a personal life to tend to and I can't always get home in time to... Wait? Why am I talking to bones and thigh meat?

Bottom line? We're having tacos. Nothing special about that, right? Except that we don't make them with ground beef or corn taco shells. We make 'em with ground turkey and (drum roll, please) PITA POCKETS!


Well, I can't be creative every night! Either give me a break or send your recipes my way...

Want to see the most disgusting "taco" ever? Take a look
at this. It's from like one or two SNL seasons ago, but still hilarious! Just add a little spaghetti for the Cincinnati version...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Frugal foodie-ing

In the spirit of Budget Living, the awesome magazine that apparently didn't anticipate their readers would be willing to forego buying magazines to pinch pennies, I roasted a pretty large chicken Sunday with the plan to make it last for several meals. Actually, I used the Chickcan to make a "beer can" or "beer-butt chicken," something that tastes far better than it sounds. The results were delish, and I had leftovers (a simple sandwich with chicken, lettuce, cheddar and spicy mustard in a pita) last night and I plan to have it again tonight and tomorrow night, in some form or fashion. I'll keep you posted.

The only problem is after so many days of chicken, I'll probably spend the money I saved at
La Tea Room or Fresh just to get something different! I'd rather spend it on an issue of Budget Living, but alas...

Here's my recipe. Let's call it Batty (which translates to "butt" in the
Jamaican patois) Chicken. Sounds better than butt chicken. And I used Red Stripe so it's fitting...

Beer Batty Chicken
(you must be 21 or older to follow this recipe to the letter)
Whole young chicken, left out of the fridge for about 30 minute to warm up a bit (don't let it get
salmonella-friendly warm though)
Six-pack of Red Stripe (the piece de resistance!)

1 lemon
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 medium onion, coursely chopped
2 lbs red potatoes, quartered or halved, depending on size
4 tablespoons of butter
4 garlic cloves, sliced
Olive oil
Lots of garlic powder
A good amount of Kosher salt
Plenty of fresh-ground black pepper
An empty beverage can, well-scrubbed (I downed a can of
Diet Rite to get mine)
A Chickcan, or any other metal contraption designed for "
vertical roasting"

Preheat oven to 350. Pour about half a bottle of Red Stripe into a glass. Drink it. Pour the other half into the empty can and set aside. Open another bottle of Red Stripe and pour the entire bottle into a glass. Sip frequently. Put rosemary and the slices from one garlic clove in the can. Cut off a couple of small, fleshy pieces off the lemon and add them to the can. Place the can in the vertical roaster and put it in the middle of your roasting pan. Throw the potatoes and onions in the pan around the vertical roaster. Drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and lots of pepper. Check to see if your beer is gone. If it is, open another one and pour it into the glass. Sip slowly. Wouldn't want to overdo it, now would you?

Rinse bird well, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towel. Rub half a lemon (the half you cut a bit off of to put in the can) all other the bird, inside and out. Rub with a bit of the butter on the bird to make the seasoning stick and to help it brown. Carefully pull the skin up (don't separate it from the meat) and place the rest of the sliced garlic and the butter under it. Season the bird, inside and out. (Be sure to season liberally!) Place your soon-to-be-tasty chicken on the vertical roaster, tucking the wings to keep the tips from charring. Stuff the neck cavity of the bird with the other half of the lemon. Roast for approximately an hour, or until it is browned and the juices run clear (actual time will be based on the size of the bird, of course). When done, allow the bird to rest for a bit. I then carved mine while it was still "standing." Serve with a salad or any green veggie and the other four beers. Yum!

The scoop on Trader Joe's new microwavable soups

So I went to Trader Joe’s last night to pick up a few things and happened upon an endcap stocked with new TJ offerings, including a few varieties of organic microwavable soups in 15-ounce, Campbell’s-esque containers. I picked up minestrone and lentil soup ($2.29 each) and brought the minestrone in for lunch today, as the thought of soup on what was supposed to be a sort of snowy day sounded appealing.

But both the day (currently sunny) and the soup proved to be a disappointment. Not only was the broth extraordinarily watery, but there were only a few spoonfuls of pasta, beans and veggies in it, and the spoonfuls I did eat were pretty darn bland. (If TJ's lentil soup turns out to be any tastier, I’ll let you know.) Plus, so much for my attempts to eat healthy: Although the soup is high in fiber, protein and vitamin A, it’s also really high in sodium. A one-cup serving has 480 mg of sodium – 20 percent of what you’re supposed to get in a day – but there are two cups in each container, which means that if you eat the whole thing, you’ve already had almost half the sodium you’re supposed to have in an entire day. This isn’t just some sneaky thing Trader Joe’s does, either; I see this sort of thing on nutrition labels, especially on soups, all the time.

So, Trader Joe’s, you’ve let me down this time. But I will continue stocking my pantry with your Indian Fare, chips and cereal bars. And downing multiple tiny cups of your free coffee every time I visit.

Update: I had the lentil soup today (Friday) and it was a lot better than the minestrone. But still really, really salty.

Friday, January 05, 2007

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em...

So it doesn't exactly feel like Winter out there. I'm very bummed. I grew up in Florida, and still haven't experienced enough 'bad' winter weather to be tired of it.

So we might as well cook like it's Spring. Who wants soup when it's 60 degrees outside?

My mother-in-law and sisters-in-law are some of the very best cooks I know. Everything they make is deeeee-licious, and as far as I know, they have never tried to poison me for wooing away their baby brother. And if they did, whatever it was still tasted wonderful.

So one of those sisters-in-law sent her mom's recipe for Pineapple Pudding Cake just today! It looks so good, I couldn't even wait to make it before I shared it with you.

Mom's Pineapple Pudding Cake

8 oz. Cool Whip
8 oz. Jiffy cake mix
1/2 cup water

1 egg

8 oz. cream cheese

5.1-oz. pkg. instant vanilla pudding

20 oz. crushed pineapple, drained

2 cups skim milk

Spray a 9x13 pan. In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, water and egg. Pour into prepared pan; bake 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool cake.

Beat cream cheese, then add pudding mix and milk. Beat until thick. Spread evenly over cooled cake.
Spread drained pineapple and then Cool Whip over cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate.

Happy Spring! Um, Winter. Whatever.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Restaurant week, where are you?

Another January - quiet time in the restaurant world - and time, once again, to lament the fact that Cincinnati restaurants haven't quite gotten it together enough to host a "restaurant week."

What is it? Pretty simple really: Pick the quietest time/s of the year (really, who's eating out much between the holidays and Valentine's Day?), get some quality restaurants on board to offer set meals - usually three-course meals in the $20-$30 range, and attract diners you wouldn't normally get otherwise. It's restaurant week, and it's a big deal in other major cities.

My brother in DC has a bunch of reservations for DC Restaurant Week, starting Jan. 8. He and his wife try out spots they would never normally eat, and once in a while, they find a gem they'll go back to again and again.

My first meal at St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis was at last July's restaurant week. And lo and behold, Indy's doing it again this month. It even has a cool name - Devour Downtown Winterfest, and it starts Jan. 22. And we can't quite figure out what downtown Indianapolis has over downtown Cincinnati...

You'll also find restaurant weeks in San Diego, San Francisco, NYC, Philly and Vancouver this month.

Am I missing any?

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