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, February 28, 2007

Feed your competitive nature

You pour your heart, soul and lots of love into the homemade meals and goodies you prepare. But it's not always out of the goodness of your heart, is it? Just admit it. You want something in return... That something is praise. Nothing warms the heart of a cook more than statements like: "That was SO good!" "You must give me the recipe for that..." "You know what I'd like for my birthday? That *insert dish here* you make!" As a cooker from a family of cookers, I know a great deal about the fragile egos that live in the kitchen.

But each year, Southern Living dangles the carrot that makes me consider pulling out my apron and putting my pride on ice for a while. The Southern Living Cook-Off 2007 is here, along with a chance to pocket $100,000. Interested? All you have to do is submit a recipe that is good enough to blow the judges away.

There is no cost to enter the contest and no limit to the number of original recipes you can submit. All entries must be your creation and have one Cook-Off sponsor product in the ingredient list. Entries must be postmarked by June 6, 2007. Go to www.southernlivingcookoff.com for more information.

So go through your recipe rolodex if you want to compete. And be sure to check your ego at the kitchen door...

Wild Oats-Whole Foods merger

Looks like we'll have to wait till April to find out how our Mason and Norwood Wild Oats fare with the Whole Foods merger announced last week. Personally, I don't shop at Wild Oats all that much now, even though I drive by the Deerfield Town Center one at least once a week. But if it were rebranded Whole Foods, I might make it a point to visit more often. Loved the Whole Foods in Old Town, Alexandria, Va. when I was out there for a wedding in October. Great spot to have lunch - seats out front and everything. (AND it's right in the middle of a downtown area, versus suburbia). And Whole Foods strikes me as less "crunchy" than Wild Oats. If that's possible.

Harrison Zip Dip gets to stay

Just saw that the Zip Dip on Harrison Avenue gets to stick around for a bit yet. Good news for West Siders!

I think soft serve ice cream is far from most people's minds right now...but I have great memories of it from my childhood! When do they open up again? April? May?

Potato pancakes during Lent

When I grew up in Cincinnati, it's not like we had fresh salmon flown in daily. Lent was more about McDonald's fish sandwiches and Van De Kamp's frozen fish sticks. Which explains why I didn't really learn to like fish till after college, living in Asia, eating FRESH fish. I learned that, if you don't live near the sea, DON'T EAT SEAFOOD.

Of course that's changed. But for me, Lent has always been more about eating potato pancakes on Fridays, not fish. Am I the only one? Most Fridays during Lent, and certainly Good Friday, were spent in my grandma's kitchen, watching her hand-mix shreds of potatoes with who knows what else. She heated up a skillet full of oil - and we're not talking no trans-fats here - and fried those puppies up. That's what I miss about my grandma - amazing potato pancakes ... and butterscotch pie. Yum. The good stuff. We'd eat her potato pancakes with applesauce. Nowadays, when my dad makes them (with a lot less oil), we eat them with Ontario-made maple syrup, and sometimes sour cream. And applesauce if there's any left in the freezer from last fall.

I can't say that I've launched into a search for the best potato pancake here - there are so many. And they're greasy, so you can only handle so many. Izzy's has a tasty but oily one, with a lot more batter than my grandma ever made. And more onions. Hofbrauhaus in Newport serves up its "kartoffelpfannkuchen" with applesauce or sour cream. Yum. It's really the only thing I eat at Hofbrauhaus. (No wurst for me, thank you). Where else do you get good potato pancakes?

I need to start planning my Friday cook-fest. There will be fish from an area fish fry, too, but I'm thinking of trying this recipe from Burlington's Willis Graves' Bed and Breakfast Inn. And in case you're not a potato fan, you can vote who has the better fish fry here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I could eat here every day.

What a couple weeks I've had--days without power, freezing fog, neck surgery, dead car batteries . . .
I'm back in the office, dealing with e-mails with a pitchfork and trying to get something like caught up.
In the old days, on a day like this, I would have gone down to the lobby where Toby's Deli served 2-inch thick chicken salad sandwiches and eaten one at my desk. That chicken salad was one of those things that I couldn't really say was good but I liked it anyway--with pickles. Alas, Toby's has been replaced by a Bagel Stop, which puts more mustard than ham on their sandwiches. (The controversy and conversation in the building about the change is pretty serious, because the deli in your lobby is like a member of your family.)

So now I leave the building, and my new favorite is way better: Ingredients in the Westin Hotel--I've always hankered fruitlessly for good big salad at lunch downtown, and that's what they have. Lots and lots of other downtown workers agree with me. The line was so long today I just couldn't wait, so I picked up a ready-made panzanella salad. But usually, I "make" my own from the fine line-up of ingredients, especially the roasted vegetables and the kalamata olives and asparagus and golden beets and artichoke hearts. I don't even usually get a meat on it, but the smoked turkey's great. My advice: get only one scoop of dressing--their amount is just a little too much. And wait for a seat at a table to eat: if you try to sit at one of the comfortable but low tables, you will get dresing on your clothing, I assure you. It's the kind of place where you can sit down with someone you don't know, as long as you don't make too much eye contact as you eat.

Oh, and I got Calm Tazo Tea to drink. Does anyone think that works?

What are your favorite combinations at the salad line?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cupcake carrier

An e-mail from Daily Candy brought to my attention the Cupcake Courier, a plastic contraption for carrying up to 36 cupcakes. LOVE the idea - why didn't I think of this!? A busy mom in southern California came up with the idea to help transport cupcakes to get-togethers, kids birthday parties, etc. It's not a bad buy at $32.99.
But I just found this at Macy's (thanks to a link from the Wedding Channel) for a single-tiered Wilton convertible cake/cupcake carrier. Less bulky, more what I need right now. I just added two to my wedding registry!

Peanut butter freakiness

Kind of wild that spinach laced with E. coli caused such a stir last September, but no one seems to bother so much about the recent peanut butter recall due to salmonella. Only Peter Pan and Great Value p.b. is affected. The good news is that JiF (my personal favorite) is A-OK.
NPR had an interesting explanation from the CDC on how they identified peanut butter as the cause of the illness.
Dole also recalled cantaloupe sold earlier this month that tested positive for salmonella. Eesh. Maybe that's why I wasn't feeling so hot a couple weeks ago...

Crazy Oscar drinks

So stiff drinks may not be the first thing that come to mind Monday morning, but I though I'd pass along this recipe from The Bachelor Guy in my inbox:

"The Departini"(Created in honor of "The Departed")

2 parts Tequila Tezon Reposado

1 part Martell Cognac

1 part Cointreau

1 tbsp agave nectar

Squeeze of lime juice

Shake well and serve up in a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

*Recipe by: Tequila Tezon

I'm just happy I was able to see a few of the Oscar nominees before they became big winners last night ("The Departed," a total departure from the usual fluff I like to watch, and "Babel").

I was toasting the winners with Centine - a wonderful 2002 Italian vintage that wasn't quite equaled by the 2003 bottling. It's 60% Sangiovese; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot. Pity, though, I think I'm down to my last two bottles. D'oh!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Just in time for St. Pat's day

One of our co-workers, Lisa, shared a treat with me that I have to share with you, even as I eat it.

How the discussion began, I don't know. But yesterday she mentioned that she had made some Basil Ice Cream. Basil? Like the herb?

Intrigued, I cajoled her into bringing me just a taste today. She was much more generous than that, fortunately for me. It is creamy, surprising and fun. Oh, and pretty (it's not easy bein' green).

If you're looking for something green to share that you can't just run to the store for, this is it.

Top o' the ice cream to ya!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Chili Company

Speaking of coming full circle, the Chili Company where I used to eat cheese fries during high school appears to have re-opened! It's the one in White Oak, and they've been doing work on it for several months now. (I think it closed after a fire in 1997 and never reopened till now). There's no formal sign up (and the old Chili Company sign is not lit up), but I assume it's still serving the same old, same old. It sits at the intersection of Cheviot and Blue Rock roads, just across the street from the Knotty Pine. (The biker bar, not the Knotty Pine on the Bayou serving tasty N'awlins food in Cold Spring, Kentucky!) I'm guessing it's similar to the Chili Company in Oakley (3158 Madison Road; 513-871-4144). I should swing by and check it out, though I'm admittedly NOT a fan of Cincinnati chili (unless my mom makes it!) Anyone been by to check it out?

Come with me on a full-circle journey

Many moons ago, I tried Skyline Chili. OK, it wasn't that many moons ago. I just have a thing for alliteration. Anyway, I came to Cincinnati for the weekend in Dec. 2004. I had just accepted a position with The Enquirer and I was on the prowl for a place to live. After apartment shopping all day, I looked for a grocery store. My hotel had a schweet kitchenette...

Well, glory be! Do my eyes deceive me? I saw a KROGER!

Big deal, you say. But it was awesome for me! You see, I was born in the Toledo, Ohio, area and I grew up going to Kroger. But when I was 14, my dad's job transferred him (and us, of course) to Cleveland. So for the next 14 years, I had to go Kroger-less. So knowing I would have that big "K" in my life again meant something to me. It's the little things, you know? So I stopped into the store. I had seen a chili joint on every other corner, so when I saw a Skyline 3-way in the frozen food section, I decided to try it. In short, it was terrible.

Fast forward two years. About a month ago, I had a "craving" for Rudy's Hot Dog, the best hot dog place in Toledo. And that's when I realized the hot dogs I crave are eerily similar to the coneys at Skyline. I did a little research and further affirmed my hunch with this article. They're almost identical to the ones I had back in Toledo. I just couldn't see the Rudy's for all the cheese. Coneys aren't the healthiest thing you can use to fuel your body as it is. No need to overdo it with a pound of shredded cheddar... So I had a regular Skyline coney, extra mustard, extra onions, and it was almost identical to Rudy's.

So although I'm in a new town, it's almost home.

I told you it was full circle.

"Old spice" contest

Now here's something you don't hear about every day: Herbs and Spice and Everything Nice at Findlay Market, which celebrates its one year anniversary, wants you to check your cupboards for your oldest spice:

"Help Herbs & Spice celebrate their birthday with a contest. Here's how it works. Look in your cupboard, your mom's, or your grandma's cupboard and Bring Us Your Oldest Spice. De and Susan will do research and determine whose spice or container is the oldest. The winner will receive a $25.00 Gift Certificate to Herbs & Spice and Everything Nice. So start looking. The contest will run from now to the second Saturday in March. That's March 10th. Stop by to see some old ones that they've collected already. For more information, visit www.HerbsSpice.com or view the Herbs & Spice newsletter."

I've been too much into downsizing lately to have old spices lying around, but you might be luckier. What's in your kitchen cupboards?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Root beer float ice cream

I was out of town when Polly Campbell first wrote about the new UDF flavors, but wow, they're worth a try! They're root beer float, red creme soda float, and cherry cola float. I was at Kroger the other night, and some guy was scouring the ice cream shelves. "What are you looking for?" I asked. "Red creme soda - but I think I already got the last one." He was so excited that I had to try it.

I thought the combination of root beer sherbet and vanilla ice cream would be gross, but really, it tastes just like the real thing! And having everything the same consistency and temperature (as opposed to actual liquid root beer and super cold ice cream) makes it that much better. I am impressed. (Read the UDF press release here.)
I saw some interesting Graeter's flavors too. But it looks like chocolate almond is only around till the end of February. Check out the seasonal flavors here.
Thank goodness no one's pulling an Iron Chef and marketing salmon ice cream for Lent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bella Luna & more Italian

This note from a reader about Bella Luna:

"My husband and I were joined by my sister and her husband for dinner recently to celebrate Valentines Day. We decided to try something different and chose Bella Luna Restaurant on Eastern Ave. in Linwood. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

"Bella Luna is a quaint little Italian, family owned and ran, restaurant. The food was delicious, portions generous and atmosphere cozy and unique. Prices were $15 - $25 range. The owner, Harry Evans, took the time to visit our table as well as many others. It was very refreshing."

Read what Polly Campbell and CiN Weekly have to say about it.

But what's the deal w/ Italian restaurants here? It seems to me there should be more non-chain, good Italian joints in this town. Where do I usually end up? Carrabba's, and I don't even like chains - though I do love the Rigatoni Martino there. My fiance even declared Carrabba's better than his old standby, Maggiano's Little Italy. I should make an effort to venture out more. I still need to try Pitrelli's in Mason and Antonio's Ristorante in West Chester. So much to eat, where to begin!?

Pizza Pizza!

Does anyone besides me remember those Little Caesar's commercials? "Pizza pizza!"

Anyway, cincymoms.com has a highly readable thread on best non-chain, non-LaRosa's pizzas. Cassano's (Daly and Galbraith), AA Pizza (NKy), Dewey's and Italianette show up a lot. That thought process of great pizza spots inspired me to swing by Trotta's last night and give it a try. I grew up eating Trotta's on the West Side - we're talking pigging out at pizza parties in grade school (some things never change) - then all the chains closed, and only one location remains - Trotta's Drive Thru, 3501 Werk Road in Bridgetown. It's the only DRIVE-THRU pizza place I have ever heard of! But they do it up right. I'm a fan of the thick crust, Sicilian pizza. There's some spice on the crust - garlic, and maybe a bit of pepper, that makes you want to eat the crust first. It's just GOOD, and it tastes homemade. (And the picture shows what was left after I ate most of it on the drive home.)

What's more - you can get goetta pizza here. Go figure!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Time for FISH!

Chuck Martin, aka Food Boy (from when he was the dining writer), brought this to my attention today - the Codfather at Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish. Apparently they have some pretty tasty fish - including fish and chips and holy haddock. What's not to like about that?

Lots of area fish fries start Wednesday for Lent. Check out our list at Cincinnati.Com, keyword: fish.

And Paul Clark, multi-tasking A&E editor, had this fun, feel good story on A1 today about Lou Groen, Cincinnati resident and creator of McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. (Check out this time-wasting yet highly addictive filet o fish game - keep the fish sandwich away from the sharks!)

Foodie Report not hitting the spot?

Let me get to the point: The Foodie Report is in imminent danger of being “discontinued,” as it were. It seems our loyal fan base (and looking at the number of visitors we have each month, it’s clear we have one) is not substantial enough to keep us in the blogosphere and there is a good chance that we will go the way of the tan M&Ms. Here are three things you can do to help keep us around:

1. Reply to our posts (comments are the lifeblood of our blogs).

2. Tell all your e-friends about us and send them the link. (http://frontier.cincinnati.com/blogs/foodie/)

3. Think of this blog the same way Wilford Brimley thinks of his blood sugar: Check it, and check it often.

I hope we can continue the foodie banter. But if we can't, we'll cherish the memories... All almost-three-months-worth of 'em...

Friday, February 16, 2007

There's no substitute for real vanilla...

Vanilla. It makes for tasty goodies, weird movies, fabulous gifts, and it simply cannot be substituted. But if you give the people you claim to care about imitation vanilla, this is for you. Just know that love is not supposed to hurt... or taste like crap.

I recommend a good vanilla extract. It really does make a difference and you don't have to be all hifalutin', "Hi, I'm Ina Garten!"-ish to appreciate it. (Now, don't get me wrong... I like Ina. The next time I'm summering in East Hampton, I'll totally give her a ring to see what she's cooking.)

One of my favorite extract makers is Sonoma Syrup Co. They have magnificent artisan extracts and the most amazing simple syrups. Anyone want a Meyer-lemon granita? Yum! Imagine my surprise when I saw their vanilla extract earlier today at the TJ Maxx downtown. And it was only $9.99 for a big bottle. I don't know how many ounces it was, but it would last the average baker through the holidays and probably beyond... But even cooler than that, the store has Sonoma's DIY vanilla extract infusion kits. Each kit consists of high-quality Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla bean pods in an empty glass bottle with a pretty pink label. It was only $9.99, but worth a lot more, I think. And it would make an awesome hostess gift... Just open the vanilla pods, add some top-shelf vodka or rum, shake it up every now and again and in a month or two, you have a par-tay!

But if you're in Ina's circle, try a soiree. Wouldn't want you to hurt yourself...

More on The Year of the Pig

Chinese New Year is Saturday, Feb. 18. How are you celebrating?

My parents - well, actually, my dad - usually cook up a heap of Chinese food. We're not so picky about what certain foods represent - we never cook a whole steamed fish, for instance. But as long as it's tasty, and family and friends get together, it'll do.

But my folks are traveling this weekend, so I cooked my Chinese food favorites, kung pao chicken and hot and sour soup, (again!) to eat this weekend.

Lauren Bishop had a Chinese New Year story in last Saturday's Enquirer; check out her list of things to do at area restaurants. It's pretty cool that they have the firecrackers in Northern Ky. I've never been, but it'd be fun to check out.

And P.F. Chang's has a new menu featuring the flavors of Yunnan that starts on Saturday. As much as I disdain chain Chinese restaurants in favor of my local haunts (read: Chung Ching in College Hill and Sichuan Bistro in Mason), I do want to check out the Dali chicken and potatoes at P.F. Chang's. I am kind of bummed that the Yunnan specials do not include "crossing-the-bridge rice noodles," one of the first dishes I tried on my first trip to China in 1991. I'll have to keep searching for a better recipe than this, but it's basically really steaming hot chicken soup w/ a layer of fat on top, then you add in all the raw ingredients and cook them, hotpot style. Great back story too. This recipe looks a bit more steaming and authentic!

Does this convergence of holidays make anyone else crazy? How to celebrate them all? Valentine's Day Feb 14, CNY Feb 18, and Mardi Gras Feb 20. Wait till 2010 (the Year of the Tiger) when Chinese New Year is Feb 14 as well!

Kung Hey Fat Choy! And enjoy the year of the pig.

Happy early Chinese New Year!

This Sunday marks the beginning of Chinese New Year, and if you're planning to throw your own celebration, make sure to stop by the Cincinnati Asian Market on Reading Road in Evendale. I went there for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I was working on a Chinese New Year story, and I was amazed by the size of the place. It should really be called the Cincinnati Asian Supermarket -- it's got aisles and aisles of fresh and frozen fruit, vegetables, seafood and other meats, dried foods, sweets, hot prepared foods and health and beauty products (including Asian versions of familiar-looking products you can find in American supermarkets and drugstores). When I visited a couple of weeks ago, they had a table piled high with Chinese New Year supplies -- trays of candy, paper lanterns, bright red banners bearing Chinese couplets and more. Today I'm sharing some peanut buttery candies that came in a gold plastic pig (it will be the Year of the Pig) and a dish of coconut candy with my co-workers. I think I might need to make another trip there this weekend...

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bach's Brunch

As part of Bockfest, that beer celebration that happens in early March, the Over the Rhine Foundation is bringing back the Bach’s Brunch, formerly called Bock to Bach Brunch, to celebrate the churches of Over-the-Rhine. (I’m not sure what the Bach connection is, but I don’t name these things).

The Bach’s Brunch, benefiting the Over the Rhine Foundation, begins 11:30 a.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Bell Event Centre. The buffet lunch includes a tribute to guitar, with performances from the Faux Frenchmen (gypsy guitars), David Martin (classical guitar) and Greg Schaber(harp guitar and parlor guitar).

Tickets are $15. Reserve tickets in advance so organizers can get a head count, but you can pay for tickets at the door. Details: 513-721-1317.

Personally, I’m interested for a couple of reasons. If you haven’t been to the Bell Event Centre, you’re missing out. It’s gorgeous! In a former life, it was St. Paul’s Parish Church on the edge of Over-the-Rhine, and has spectacular 35-foot high stained glass windows. When it was slated for demolition, the Verdin Bell Company bought the building (the Pendleton building too), and converted the church to an events center. (Pendleton became an arts center).

I’m also getting married at the Bell Event Centre later this year, and want to sample the food! There’s one in-house caterer, and every report I’ve heard is that the food is spectacular.

Maybe I’ll see you there March 4!

It's freezing outside, but my freezer's not working. . .

I was happily blogging about cooking all day to stock the freezer, and what happens? Storm of the century (so far), ice two inches thick on the trees, and a power line a couple of houses down from ours falls down, sending sparks all over the street.
So our house was plunged into darkness and cold. We thought about lights first, then heat, and it didn't occur to me for awhile that all my adorable little chicken pot pies were cut off from their electrically-generated cold. It's been about 40 hours now. I checked them this morning, and most of the things in my refrigerator freezer (it's a bottom freezer) were still solid, though the bag of blueberries that we picked out in the burning sun in July were starting to get soft.
The food in the downstairs deep freeze seems as frozen as ever.
I would cry most over all those local berries and fruit and corn and tomato sauce that I put away last summer. If our oven worked, we could eat the pot pies for dinner. . .

I guess I could unload everything and take it outside, but I think I'd rather keep my fingers crossed that Duke gets to us soon. Here's a link for good information about what to do in this situation: http://ohioline.osu.edu/home/freezer.html

Stamp out bad taste...

My little sister, Kristen, has an affinity for Asian culture. By affinity I mean she has one degree in Chinese and another in East Asian studies, she speaks fluent Mandarin as well as several dialects and she has lived in various parts of Asia. And she did all of that before she turned 21. I went to visit her while she lived in China and it was a great trip, well worth what seems like an eternity on a plane, and the cramped legs that even first-class cannot prevent. The flight attendants kept catching me in various yogic positions, as I endured a futile attempt to keep blood flowing. And I don't know why they had to serve so many meals on that flight! I didn't move enough to have an appetite. Kris plans to go back later this year and when she does, I want her to bring back some of these sweet-and-sour stamps that celebrate the Chinese New Year, the year of the pig. Scratch and sniff the front of the stamp to get a whiff of sweet and sour pork. Lick the back to get a taste of it.

I love international goodies, but this is definitely one of the most practical I've ever seen. Partake in a stamp appetizer and prep the postage to send your mom's birthday card, all in one lick.

A little creepy in a chemical sorta way, but very cool nonetheless. There are other scratch-and-sniff, flavored stamps out there. I'm pretty sure these chocolate ones from Switzerland are stale by now though... So what's up, America? Where's the Chicago-style hot dog stamp? The New York "old pizza from the neighborhood" stamp? And, dare I say, the Cincinnati-style chili stamp? Maybe they could make half of the stamps with onion flavor, half without. Ew. I just gave myself a tummy ache just thinking about all that...

stacky, not tacky

Annette deCavel sent me a tear sheet from Tatler magazine, the British society gossip magazine, that mentions Jean-Robert at Pigall's, the downtown restaurant she and her husband Jean-Robert own. Jeremy Wayne's brief says "Jean-Robert at Pigall's makes you forget the French Laundrys and the Charlie Trotters--they're so gastro-Disney. . . . Gracious, you eat well. . . .Occasionally stacky-stacky, but never tacky-tacky." I love that--so Englishly cute. Now that I've mentioned it here I guess I won't be able to steal it as a description in any review I ever write. (not that I could get away with it. . . )
It's really kind of accurate, though. I've always liked the way Jean-Robert layers his dishes, so you have to discover the various elements as you go. But he's not one of those tower-builders who stacks everything high and crowns it with a vertical sprig of rosemary like some kind of crazy lady's hat from the 40's.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mmm ... chocolate

So I'm signed up for Wild Oats Wild Mail, a regular e-mail with sometimes useful tips in it. Of course, on Valentine's Day, so it's all about chocolate. Lots of tasty recipes to try - once I get out of the office, and if I actually have power tonight. (Mine was out from 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesday).

Mmmm... Mexican chocolate souffle. I can't say that I've ever made a souffle - enjoyed them in restaurants! - but now might be the time to start.

And chocolate mousse. I have made a version of this before, and wow, it's melt-in-your-mouth good! When visiting Manila once in high school, I was having a Western desserts craving. We went to the lobby of the Manila Hotel, and I decided I HAD to try the chocolate mousse. When I ordered it, the waitress corrected me. "It's chocolate mouse, ma'am!" I said Fine, bring me the chocolate MOUSE! (I don't remember how it tasted, but that, I think, was the last time I needed chocolate in 90-degree Manila!)

Mini molten mocha chocolate cakes... (do you sense a theme here?)

Just wow. I'm not even sure where to begin. But Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Cook all day, eat all week. . . .

I am often inspired by my own food stories, or rather by the people I feature in them. I have a fancy ice cream maker at home that I bought after writing about how to make ice cream; I bought a turkey from Greenacres after a homegrown Thanksgiving story, for instance. A few weeks ago I wrote about "being your own personal chef" and spent most of the day with Debbie Spangler as she stocked a client's freezer, I thought I'd do the same. I still have folks to feed at home, and I felt I've been falling down on the job lately. Sometimes they're gone before I get home, and I hate to see people I love eating ramen in that short space between school or work and tango class or an evening meeting.
So a couple of weekends ago I thought I'd spend a Saturday cooking ahead. That way there would always be something decent on hand. I made meatballs in tomato sauce, split pea soup, chicken pot pies and marinated meat for stir-fries.

Saturday was fun. I enjoyed having such a time-consuming task--I was able to put aside thoughts of all other, less fun jobs. I made a couple of mistakes, though. The chicken pot pies, from Cook's Country magazine, individually made in little aluminum pans, were too time-consuming, even though I didn't even make my own crust. (They're really good, though, and perfect for one person having dinner on his or her own.) My meatballs weren't sturdy enough to stand up to freezing, thawing and reheating, and in the end a simple meat sauce would have been just as good. The soup is perfect for freezing, though, and totally easy. The stir-fry meat is great to have--even though it takes no time whatsoever to cut up meat for stir-fry, this is more about knowing it's there, not having to worry about meat going bad in the fridge, and just having it planned. Even a couple of carrots, a few stalks of celery and a bell pepper is enough to turn it into an entree.

I also made the mistake of cooking breakfast and making dinner the same day. I didn't even get everything done on Saturday, and I can tell you cooking again on Sunday was nowhere near as fun. Next time, I think I'll shop on Saturday and cook on Sunday, forget any other cooking for the day, and maybe make more similar things: like just things with ground beef, like chili and spaghetti sauce, or just with chicken, like chicken pot pie and chicken soup. Once there's enough things in the freezer, there will be enough variety. Also, I'll have to think harder about vegetarian foods--for some reason, all my most conservative , meat-centered recipes came to mind.

A lot of people are interested in this cooking strategy, as you can tell by all the new "meal assembly" places popping up, like Dream Dinners. I've also seen several books to the point. I just got a review copy of "Once-a-Month Cooking" by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Labergorg, which works out complete strategies, down to the list of containers.

Monday, February 12, 2007

All the tea in ... Cincinnati

So it looks like there is a bit of a tea revolution out there. I've always been a tea drinker (coffee does horrible things to my stomach - though I've always loved coffee ice cream!), but there's been a proliferation of all things tea in these parts lately. From Essencha in Oakley, a gourmet tea house (see what Polly Campbell had to say about it here), to Churchill's in downtown Cincinnati, to the Tea Cozy Cottage in Mariemont, there's a who lotta tea going on.

I'm usually content with my Twinings Earl Grey tea bags with milk and sugar - a habit I honed while living in then-British colony Hong Kong - though I'll break out the loose leaf tea on the weekends, when I have a bit more leisure time. In the evenings, I'm a fan of the non-caffeinated Twinings herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, or the more berry-ish flavors, which I usually can find on the shelf at bigg's (not Kroger, though).

My latest discovery, courtesy of my cousin Cathy, who travels with both Splenda AND her own tea bags in her over-sized purse, is Lipton vanilla carmel truffle "pyramid" tea. The fancy tea bag shape is supposed to let the tea brew properly, and it's apparently made with real carmel. A tasty low-fat treat to satisfy any sweet tooth. I just have to go easier on the sugar with this than I would with normal tea.
Lipton has a whole slew of other pyramid flavors to choose from. And you know they're on to something when Chinese restaurants like Sichuan Bistro serve not traditional Chinese tea, but Lipton tea!

What's your favorite bag of tea?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why not be corny AND cheesy?

After reading a corn bread recipe in The Enquirer's Life section last week, Pat Higdon of West Chester Township sent this version. She she says is great with Cincinnati-style chili.

Sesame Cheese Corn Bread
1 package (approximately 14 ounces) corn bread mix
*1 egg
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (toasting is optional)

Blend all but sesame seeds together, stir until just blended. Pour into greased 8-by-8-inch pan.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in 400 degree oven 20-25 minutes.
*Note: An egg substitute works well, too.

From 1964 Betty Crocker cookbook “New, Dinner for Two.”

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spanish cooking

I've never been to Spain, but (in the immortal but completely baffling) words of Three Dog Night, I really like the music . Or the food. It's not the women who are insane there, but the chefs.

All those crazy, innovative chefs who started the whole trend of scientific food: freeze-drying and foams and dishes served with printed instructions for how to eat them. But Spain also sounds traditionally food-crazy, too, with pilgramages to eat salads with tuna and anchovies, or charcoal-grilled leeks or peppers. If you've cooked French and mastered Italian, Spanish should be next.

I really got on the bandwagon with Spanish food when Anya von Bremzen's book The New Spanish Table landed on my desk. I've been dying to go ever since--it has such gorgeous pictures and descriptions of food in all the regions of Spain. Perhaps I will, maybe as soon as my money doesn't all go to college tuition. In the meantime, I'm enjoying cooking from her book so much. I recommend it. I've also fooled around a little with "Tapas, A Taste of Spain in America" by Jose Andres. By a Spanish chef who has restaurants in D.C., so more elaborate, but very intriguing.

Today's story about a Valentine's Day dinner gives you just a taste of some of those recipes. They are very well suited to a big party, and one thing I like about the idea of tapas is that it makes things more informal. You can eat a few, then get up from the table and put together a few more, instead of timing everything perfectly ahead. I included some places to buy certain Spanish ingredients, because that's part of the fun of taking on a new cuisine in your kitchen.

choc choc chip muffins...for breakfast

A colleague on the copy desk decided to bake last night after braving the drive home last night. She was kind enough to share the results with us this morning. Chocolate chocolate chip muffins from the Food Network. Highly recommended. I am VERY picky about my chocolate (it has to be good stuff - no box choc. cake/cupcakes for me!), and these taste great, even before 10am. Comfort food on a cold day...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Krishna - city's best Indian?

At a dinner party over the weekend (NOT a Super Bowl party, though I am craving guacamole), a local Cincinnati lawyer who grew up in India recommended her favorite Indian spot - Krishna, up near University of Cincinnati. To be honest, I'd never heard of the place, having always eaten at Amol, Ambar, Mayura in Clifton. By all accounts, Krishna is a cheap and cheery (?) carryout spot at 313 Calhoun Street, 513-961-2878.

She usually orders dahl (lentils - super spicy for her mom), chickpeas (for her daughter) and chicken tikka masala. That's enough recommendation for me. I have a family dinner tonight, but might have to check it out this week. Anything I can soak up with naan makes me happy.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I need your help...

What's for dinner?

First, I cannot begin to tell you how good dinner was on Wednesday. And the fact that I only had to ladle warming, spicy, filling goodness into bowls was an added treat. All I did that morning was chop an onion and two garlic cloves, cut up chicken breast (kitchen shears are perfect for the job), drain and rinse a couple of cans of beans, crack open a package of chicken broth and season everything (cumin, Kosher salt, white pepper, ground red pepper, chili powder). Definitely a winter favorite. Do you have a slow-cooked favorite? Send me (
nking@enquirer.com) the recipe, tell me why you love it and I'll publish the best on The Foodie Report. Have a photo of the dish? A photo of the dish AND yourself? I'll try to upload that, too! You could be the first-ever Foodie Report "What's For Dinner?" cook of the week. Oh, your friends will be sooo jealous of you...

I was
waylaid by a migraine last night, so we had (not-so-great) pizza delivered. Now I'm debating whether or not to cook tonight. Since it's Friday, I'm leaning toward not, but after a bad dinner last night, I'm really not up to eating someone else's food. I'll look on Food Network and report back later, after I've picked something. Any good ideas? E-mail me! I'm thinking something quick and easy. I have tilapia filets in the fridge...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Are you ready for the Super Bowl?

I'm not ready -- well, at least my menu's not ready. I've decided to get wings, but I've been struggling to find some kind of different dessert. This recipe on the Kraft web site caught my eye.

S'Mores Cheesecake Squares
18 Honey Grahams, divided
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 Tbsp. sugar
4 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. flour
4 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks, divided
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9-inch baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Crush 14 of the grahams. (You should have about 2 cups crumbs.) Mix graham crumbs, butter and 3 Tbsp. sugar; press firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Coarsely chop remaining 4 grahams; set aside.
Beat cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and the vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add flour; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Chop 1/2 cup of the chocolate chunks; stir into cream cheese mixture. Pour over crust. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chunks, the marshmallows and reserved chopped grahams.
Bake 40 min. or until center is almost set. Cool completely. Cover. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Remove cheesecake from pan using foil handles before cutting into squares to serve. Store any leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.

Time out for diction

As long as going through my press releases is making me cranky, allow me one of those rants that writers, editors and English teachers occasionally have to let loose . .

No one, least of all people who work for PR agencies, seems to know the difference between the words palate and palette these days. There's been a rash of people just recently telling me that they have foods that will please my palette.

The palate is the top of your mouth, and is metaphorically meant to mean your taste (People once thought that's how we tasted things, though we now know it's our tongues)
A palette is the board that artists put dabs of paint on while they're painting, and is metaphorically meant to to mean a range of choices.

So you can choose from a palette of tastes and put them together in a dish that pleases your palate.

Spell Check can only do so much. . . .

self-heating coffee?

PR people love to commission studies, and OnTech Operations has come up with one about coffee that reveals that two-thirds of American adults are coffee drinks, half have at least a cup of coffee every day. Most said, that, if they had to choose, they'd give up some aspect of their daily routine to keep their coffee. 42% said they'd give up morning radio, TV or newspaper, 1/5 said they'd give up lunch, and 10 percent they'd give up brushing their teeth if it meant they could still have their coffee.

So we're addicted. I know I am. What's nice about having a socially acceptable addiction is that I don't have to drive to a dark side street and risk a jail sentence to pay for my fix. There must be 40 places I could stop on my way to work to get a cup, and I have effortlessly accumulated a collection of thermal mugs if I want to make it at home and take it with me.

Which is why what OnTech is pushing with their survey--Hillside self-heating Beverages -- seems so unnecessary. www.ontech.com Have you ever seen anything more ludicrously over- packaged? Looks to me like a nightmare for recycling, solid waste, and for giving us the impression that our convenience demands the use of as much resources as we darn well want.

That's when you know you're really addicted.

Jim Borgman
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