Thursday, April 30, 2009

The unofficial bloggers Meet-up

When I first met K of westside foodie wannabes at a happy hour organized by cincinnati imports, it was brief. We exchanged hellos, blog names and email addresses. And we left off at let’s get together for dinner sometime. Stemming from that was a dinner planned at K’s place with couple of us. There was the other half of their blog, the silent (as she named herself) B, Liz of… well you know where, and myself. Husbands were invited and theirs came however The Husband was not in attendance.

With great company, we had delicious food too! Would it be anything less from food bloggers? K made an appetizer with sliced radishes, cream cheese and ginger on bread, and although I am describing it unappetizingly, it was delicious! She also made pork tenderloin marinated in teriyaki sauce and Greek salad. Liz made a Broccoli salad, I brought Spanish style Chickpea salad and B made peanut butter cookies.

For salad recipes, I’d seen lots of chickpea and spinach recipes but nothing with just chickpeas. So as I do with anything that I can’t find a recipe for, I created my own. The main ingredients I wanted to use were onions, garlic, paprika, saffron and cumin. As Liz says, I rarely cook without cumin and she’s right; it’s one of those spices that I’d eat on a toast if I could. Actually that’d be a foul combination.

But I digress. The chickpeas. I am attempting to bring beans back, maybe bringing them back isn’t it since they were never in, but incorporate them in the menu as much as possible. Since most, not all, Hindus are vegetarians, beans and lentils are consumed often for their nutritional value. They are low in fat, high in vitamins and protein. Hence integrating them more in the cooking. And Oprah announced them one of the Superfoods, so it must be cool to eat them. Chickpeas, navy beans, black beans, kidney beans and lentils like moong or mung (green bean, not the vegetable), masoor (red lentils), toor or tuvar (pigeon peas) all fall into the Superfood category.

Spanish Chickpea Salad

1 1/2 cups dried* or 2 16-ounce cans of chickpeas**
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive oil- Spanish is preferred
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
pinch of saffron soaked in 1/4 cup of water
1 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 roasted Roma tomatoes***, chopped with seeds and all
Liquid from cooked chickpeas, vegetable stock would work as well

*Soak dried beans in water overnight. Cook them in a pressure cooker, saucepan or slow cooker. In a pressure cooker, cook the beans with enough water to cover and for 5 whistles. Drain the beans but save the cooking liquid. Note: dried beans will double in size and quantity after soaking overnight therefore 1 1/2 cups dried will yield 3 cups of cooked beans.

**I’ve stopped buying canned chickpeas because they contain much more sodium than the ones I make myself. And I understand not everyone has the time to use dried so for convenience sake, feel free to use canned. Be sure to monitor the salt during cooking.

***Roast tomatoes in a 200F degree oven for 3- 4 hours. It can be prepared ahead of time.

In a 12 inch skillet or fry pan, heat Spanish olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes. Add minced garlic, paprika, saffron, cumin and red wine vinegar and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in chopped roasted tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Add drained chickpeas and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid or stock and stir to combine everything. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cook until 80% of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and serve warm or room temperature. I believe it can be served cold but I am not sure because I haven’t tried it. Please share your thoughts if you have had cold chickpea salad.

The salad seemed to be a hit with everyone. The only change I would make is to soak the saffron in water (a step I added to this recipe) to concentrate its flavor. I did not do this initially. K's pork was amazing, tender and moist. I've eaten a lot of dried, overcooked pork recently so it was a good change from that. I hope we convinced Liz to stop tweaking the broccoli salad because the combination is now perfect. And B's cookies were damn good. And that's saying a lot. Seeing that I never write about peanut butter in my cooking proves that I am not a fan of it. (Something about not growing up with it.) But I happily accept and eat peanut butter cookies because nothing says good dessert better than butter, dough and peanut butter baked into one. Overall a great evening of tasty food, meeting new people on the westside, and socializing. Thanks for hosting K!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Celebration of Life and Death

Initially this post was about the birthdays we celebrated in March. But an unexpected turn of things also calls for celebration of life.

Surprisingly both the husband and I share the birthday month, there are 11 days between ours. With some years in between but the days are more important. His is first so the dinner planning was ad hoc, at best. While grocery shopping I bought chorizo, shrimp and cod for a Mexican dinner. And the one question he asked on the day was if I would be interested in going to a local Italian restaurant we’ve heard about but have never tried. Shocked and thrown off, I convinced him to stay home for dinner. While he napped, I started preparing shrimp and fish tacos with a side of black bean and chorizo soup. His favorite dish of all time is shrimp tacos.

Black bean and Chorizo Soup, my version adapted from the original

1 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight and cooked in a pressure cooker
Drizzle of olive oil
1 (3- to 4-ounce) link of Mexican chorizo, sliced ¼ inch
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken stock, homemade preferred
Garnish: rounds of thinly sliced lemon and chopped fresh cilantro

Cook chorizo in a nonstick saucepan with olive oil on medium heat. When the meat releases oil and browns on all sides, remove it from the pan. Add onion, garlic, pepper flakes, cumin, and salt to the oil, stirring, until vegetables are softened, about 6 minutes. Add beans and stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat, stir in chorizo and simmer for 20 minutes. Partially cover the saucepan while simmering. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add additional liquid for a thinner consistency or lightly mash beans with a potato masher for thicker consistency.

For the fish tacos- I coated cod fish in milk and then in seasoned flour. The flour was seasoned with salt, cayenne, ground cumin and ground coriander. I then pan fried it in 1/2 inch of canola oil. Half way through the pan frying, the fish fell apart. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered the fish frying technique (think fish and chips) yet. Cod is very delicate and flaky so we were picking broken pieces of the fish from the serving platter to fill our tortillas. Unfortunately due to falling apart the Mexican flavors (cumin and cayenne) in the flour were lost in the frying oil.

Dessert was Opera Crème cupcakes from Bonbonerie, a local bakery/cake shop, that always fits the bill for cakes and desserts. I believe everything is made on premises by their own pastry chefs and bakers.

My birthday, on the other hand, was much different from his. Because this year it was on a Sunday, some friends suggested going out for brunch and one even offered to host. Regardless of what it would be, I knew it wouldn’t be a repeat of last year, an all-out-get-crazy night at a local dive bar to raise money for a local non profit organization, The Women’s Connection. Raising money for the local charity was fantastic, however recovering from the night was rough. Instead I opted for an afternoon get together at my place with mimosas and appetizers.

Everyone brought a variety of foods. We had (from top left- clockwise) kaala chana (black/brown chickpeas), potato gratin with wild mushrooms and goat cheese, Paddington Torte from Bonbonerie, dukkah (not pictured) with olive oil and bread and fruit salad.

Kaala Chana is a common street food in India, in the metropolitan cities but especially in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. It's simple and a winner.

1 cup dried black or brown chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked
1 small- medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
pinch of salt, to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

There are three methods to cook dried chickpeas or any dried beans. My favorite is to pressure cook because of the short time it takes compared to the other methods. Add soaked chickpeas to the pressure cooker with 3 times the amount of water and cook on medium high and then reduce heat to low for 15 minutes or for 4- 5 whistles. Turn off heat and allow 10- 15 minutes for it to cool and the steam to escape from the cooker. (An important note: each pressure cooker has different cooking temperatures and times, I recommend following the instruction manual over my instructions on pressure cooking!)

Another method is to cook dried beans in a saucepan. In a large saucepan, add 1 cup of soaked chickpeas to 3 cups of water (the ratio is 3:1 water:beans, plus or minus some). Bring the beans and water to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30- 45 minutes.

And finally, if time permits the simplest method is to cook the chickpeas in a crockpot. Add chickpeas to the pot with 4 cups of water and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

To test if the chickpeas are done, smash between thumb and index fingers, if it smashes easily without the firmness, they’re ready. Drain. In a medium bowl, add drained chickpeas, diced onion, cumin, chili powder and salt. Combine and taste; adjust seasonings if necessary. Add lemon juice and serve at room temperature.

Then (from top left- clockwise) there was dried figs and onion confit with goat cheese crostini, olives, almond and olive oil cake, and Vietnamese summer rolls.

Here's a recipe to serve as an appetizer or simple snack at anytime of the day.
Fig and Onion Confit, adapted from a recipe by Diane Phillips

1/3 cup unsalted butter
3 vidalia onions, chopped
3/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup good, aged balsamic vinegar
6- 8 dried figs, soaked and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, melt butter, add the chopped onions and sauté until the onions begin to turn golden brown, 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add the brown sugar, vinegar, chopped figs and rosemary and simmer for 45 minutes or until the mixture is thickened like jam. Cool completely before serving on crackers or French baguette with goat cheese on side.

(pictures from my birthday are courtesy of Michelle Gatmaitan) Thank you!

Not pictured were goat cheese with crackers and bread, stuffed shells, lox cream cheese with onions and crackers and one of the best cheese from Amsterdam.

I only made kaala chana, fig and onion confit and Vietnamese summer rolls so all credit and a big thank you goes to everyone for bringing the other delicious foods. This post or a million spoken thank you’s won’t suffice in expressing how grateful I am to have friends like you in my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Even the weather cooperated, it was bright and sunny, slightly chilly, but not a cloud in the sky.

And amongst the celebrations, we also celebrated life. I recently lost a grandfather, my only living grandparent. He was an independent, determined and tenacious man. At the age of 18 he left his parents’ home to pursue education and a career, unheard of in India in the 40s. And after college his perseverance and desire to work aboard landed him a job in Iraq. He loved talking about the time in a mostly Muslim country with his young bride, my grandmother, in the 1950s. He was always interested in politics, American, Indian or International. Our regular phone conversations consisted of him sharing stories of his past or our agreements and disagreements in politics. He was very opinionated about the current wars. One of his favorite political stories was about a run in with at-the-time-not- so-well- known-activist Mohandas Gandhi on a train.

Two Saturdays ago my dad called to say grandpa wasn’t doing well in the hospital because of his pneumonia, kidney failure and stomach irritability. I then decided to visit him and boarded my flight on Monday afternoon.

While there he and I talked about our home in India, culinary school and family matters. Upon leaving I held his hand tightly and kissed his forehead. When waving my final goodbye, he returned the favor and raised his hand. Sadly, little did I know that would be his last night. I arrived home at midnight on Tuesday and received the phone call on Wednesday morning, one that I wasn’t expecting so soon; at 10am on Wednesday morning my grandfather passed.

I am still mourning and recovering from the loss but understand and accept that his time was now. He lived a long and healthy life and journeyed the world with his soul mate. Although he was a strong man throughout his life I think he fell apart when my grandma passed away 7 years ago. I will always cherish all of our memories together but especially our time together on the last two days of his life.

This post is to you and for you dadaji.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Getting fancy for dinner- Food and Wine

When the holidays neared in 2008, the last thing on my mind was presents. I am not a gifts person, giving or receiving. Though sometimes a little surprise here and there is great! I have this one, special, friend that always gets me a gift for big holidays. So I had to keep my eyes and ears open for creative items. And instead I found myself buying a framed picture by Michelle Gatmaitan, a photographer friend of mine, for Liz. A gift for Liz? And I wasn't even looking for a gift for her. (sorry!) When I saw it, it reminded me of her because the picture is vibrant of colors and fits her personality perfectly. After buying it I told her I bought her a gift- I am not good with keeping surprises. But I beg to keep surprises for me a secret! So she told me she was planning to give me something too- she's not good either! When did this turn into a gift exchanging friendship? Not that I am complaining, now. Actually she got me a fantastic present, 1 year’s subscription to Food and Wine (F&W) magazine. I have been subscribing to Cooking Light for almost 2 years and I am glad to have something else to browse on food.

In addition to getting my own she said she was also getting F&W. After the first installment, I organized a dinner at our place around the first issue. The idea of the dinner was to cook couple dishes each. This would allow us to try new dishes and see if we like F&W’s recipes. After that dinner I can happily say, we do! We loved everything we made.

From February edition I cooked Chicken Sofrito for the main dish and Crisp Escarole Salad with Garlicky Anchovy Dressing while Liz made the Basic, and really tasty, Risotto and Stewed Okra and tomatoes.

Escarole Salad with Garlicky Anchovy Dressing from February 2009 F&W

Two 3/4-inch-thick slices of sourdough bread, cut into 3/4-inch dice (3 cups)
1 large head of escarole, light green and white leaves only, cut crosswise into 1-inch strips
6 radishes, thinly sliced
4 celery ribs with leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and coarsely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a baking sheet, toast the bread for 15 minutes, tossing once, until lightly golden; let cool. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the escarole strips with the radishes, celery, tomatoes and cucumber. In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil, chopped anchovies and minced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Add the lemon juice and season generously with pepper. Add the croutons to the salad and toss. Pour the dressing over the salad, season lightly with salt and toss again. Serve at once.

The only change I would make is to use lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Celery, radishes and cucumber certainly make this a fancy salad but it doesn’t make it exceptional. As a matter of fact, any salad vegetables can be used to prepare this salad. It’s the garlicky, anchovy dressing that makes this an exceptional first or side course.

Chicken Sofrito, adapted from February 2009 of F&W

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for dusting*
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 large thyme sprigs
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds**
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth, homemade is perfect
1 cup short-grain white rice***

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with chili powder. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

*I am not sure what F&W cooks were intending for us to use so I used the Indian chili powder. Chili powder from India is dried chilies in the ground form and much stronger in taste and spice than the ones found at the local supermarket. I highly recommend it for this sofrito because of its kick.

Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño and thyme sprigs to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the bell pepper, fennel seeds, cayenne and the 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat to high and cook until bubbling. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Arrange the chicken pieces on the rice, skin side up. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through and the rice is tender and has absorbed the stock. Discard the thyme sprigs. Spoon the rice onto plates, add the chicken and serve.

**In my house, fennel is used more often than Anise so I used it to replace anise. Anise is one of those spices that rarely gets attention in anyone’s kitchen and therefore no one buys it. Or at least I don’t.

***I was out of the short grain rice and added long grain basmati rice instead. I believe it worked fine as a replacement.

My last change to the dish was to omit the lemon juice and almonds from the original recipe. And even with that this was fine. The fennel flavor stood out more than we wanted but the overall taste was great; I would definitely make it again, maybe without fennel.

And although I didn’t believe in gift giving and receiving, after a year’s worth of food magazine browsing of sorts, I might be a convert by the next holiday. Plus if I can’t find a gift for the special friend, there’s always a year’s subscription of F&W. Thanks again for this present.

(both pictures are courtesy of Liz)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This restaurant is one of the few gems in the city that I am reluctant to write about for fear that food lovers and bloggers alike will let the cat out of the bag. But here I am, writing about Mirage and sharing one of my secrets. I love Mirage for all its simplicity. It’s tucked away in a strip mall on Montgomery road, passed Kenwood and before Mason, an unexpected spot for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. If searching for Mirage in a car, it’s behind two mega, mexican and coffee shop, chains.

The ambiance is as good as it gets for a restaurant in a strip mall. It’s obvious that the owners are making an attempt to make it warm and comfortable. I would venture to guess that this is a family run business. We’ve had the same server each time we’ve been there, while one of the other women always handles bills and payments.

During our last visit we ordered the appetizer platter as a group. It came with hummus, tabouli, baba ganoush, labneh and grape leaves. Everything on the plate was tasty. The platter is served with 4 pita breads that weren’t enough for our group so we ordered more to mop up the last morsels on the plate. The cook that makes the hummus and baba ganoush has a heavy hand on lemon juice and tahini, so don’t be surprised.

Each time we go there I get the only dish I love and won’t steer away from, lamb lula kebabs. Ground lamb meat with spices grilled on skewers served with pita, a choice of rice or Russian potatoes and soup or salad. I asked for rice and lentil soup with my kebabs. The lentil soup was terrific but a sprinkle of sumac gave it the oomph. The sumac enlightened the creamy lentils and its flavors. The lamb was perfect, as it always is, moist and tender with a handful of spices making this a remarkable dish. The rice is standard but wonderful. In previous visits, I’ve tried their Russian potatoes which is potatoes par-boiled, sliced and pan fried in butter and sprinkled with dill, very good as well. Others ordered chicken kebabs and Armenian salad instead of soup. I tasted the chicken and it was lovely but it doesn’t compare to the lamb lula. The salad consists of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions with a simple dressing.

They have a lengthy lunch and dinner menu. The lamb lula kababs are so divine, I haven’t tried anything else, yet. Our server does a wonderful job serving her tables. With their full rate service, warm atmosphere and did I mention great lamb lula kebabs Mirage is worth visiting. The space is small with limited seating, compared to other average sized restaurants, so I recommend making reservations. Each time we’ve been there it’s always packed by 8pm. They are a BYOB (bring your own bottle) restaurant so feel free to bring wine or beer to enjoy with the meal.

If Mirage wasn’t a recommendation by friends, it would have never crossed our radar. Our friends were adamant about going there and I am glad we did, it rates high on our list for great food with fantastic service and atmosphere. And here’s my adamant recommendation to you for Mirage. But promise me to keep this between us.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Homemade Mayonnaise- the best thing since sliced bread

I’d never even thought about making mayonnaise, it was intimidating just thinking about the process. Raw eggs? Whisking oil in a cold bowl with raw eggs until my hands fell off? Emulsification? No thank you.

Because I didn’t grow up with a jar of the white, processed stuff in my parents’ house, it wasn't essential for my own home. Growing up, every once in a while we used packets to slather it on a sandwich here and there but that was when we were feeling devilish. Potato salad laden with mayonnaise- what do you mean? Better yet, the husband doesn’t like it, at all. I can assure you, you won’t ever find him in a corner of our kitchen in the middle of the night with a jar of mayonnaise, licking his spoon.

Just knowing that it’ll sit in the fridge door for months, maybe even years before I throw the jar away makes me cringe. Even our brown bag sandwiches are made with yellow or spicy mustard, sometimes even cilantro chutney (that he loves) with a smoked turkey but definitely no mayo. So you get it, no mayo for us.

But the other day I was wondering what to do with farm fresh eggs (besides make breakfast), bleu cheese, bacon and iceberg lettuce. And in a fleeting second, I thought homemade mayonnaise, iceberg salad with bleu cheese dressing and chicken salad! And that began my pursuit to make the best homemade mayonnaise. After some research, I created my own recipe.

Homemade Mayonnaise

Juice from a whole lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, or 3 medium (farm fresh are the best for this)
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

In a food processor or blender, combine everything except for the oil. Blend until everything is combined. Then with the motor running, slowly stream in oil. This is an important step to watch closely. I learned in culinary school if the oil is added too quickly the emulsification breaks and the mayonnaise never forms into its creamy texture. The slow streaming method prevents separation of oil from acid, lemon juice. If desired, add few drops of oil at a time while the food processor is on.

Halfway into adding my oil the mixture looked like it was falling apart with acid and the oils separating. And I thought what’s the worst that could happen? A complete disaster. If so, that would be my short lived attempt at homemade mayonnaise. Thankfully I kept the motor running and continued to add oil and eventually it all came together. On the other hand, if after adding 1 cup of oil the mayonnaise has reached its creamy and smooth consistency, don’t add anymore oil.

What is Emulsification? To make into or form an emulsion. Emulsion- 1. Physical Chemistry. any colloidal suspension of a liquid in another liquid. Says I define it as mixing or combining two unmixable liquids to form one. Vinaigrette is a prime example of emulsion.

I’ve made hollandaise and mayonnaise in culinary class with a cold bowl and a whisk but after making it in my food processor with success I am never making it by hand, only to watch my hands fall off.

That same night, I made bleu cheese dressing for the iceberg salad I was craving. In the last few weeks my body’s requested more salads than I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

Bleu Cheese Dressing

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bleu cheese, use the good kind from the specialty cheese section

In a food processor, blend everything together, except the bleu cheese, until it’s smooth. Add blue cheese and pulse until cheese is incorporated but dressing is still slightly chunky.

After making the dressing, chop bacon in small dice. In a small pan (non stick is good for easy clean up) on medium heat, add bacon and brown for 3- 4 minutes. Remove bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cut the iceberg lettuce in wedges on a cutting board, serve on a plate, drizzle bleu cheese dressing and sprinkle bacon on top.

For our brown bag lunch I prepared a Chicken Salad sandwich with Bacon. (I had more time than I knew what to do with on this particular day.)

Chicken Salad

1 cup cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
1/4 cup cranberries, orange flavored ones are my favorite
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise, or more if you’re feeling devilish
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients together and let it sit for 10 minutes for the flavors to meld. Celery can be added for crunch but I am happy with the crunch of walnuts in this salad.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

1/2 cup Chicken Salad
2 slices bacon
2 slices of good wheat bread
4 large pieces of lettuce, iceberg is fine because mayo’s the star in this
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

In a toaster oven or in a large pan, heat the bacon on medium high heat until it renders fat and becomes crispy. Spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice. (Bread can be toasted if serving immediately). After the bacon cools, break it in half for even coverage on the sandwich. Spread half of chicken salad evenly on both slices of bread. Next lay the halved bacon on the chicken salad, finish with lettuce. Close the sandwich and enjoy.

And the husband didn’t complain one bit of the white creamy spread on his bread or in the chicken salad. He actually raved about how good the salad tasted and the fresh taste of mayo in the sandwich. I’ve got couple tablespoons patiently waiting for the next use, but I think one of these nights when he can’t sleep he’ll go straight to the condiment drawer in the fridge with a big spoon.

So good it’s the best thing with sliced bread.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Art of Food- at the Carnegie in Covington

When I received an invitation for The Art of Food opening night, I quickly responded with “Yes!” With questions about the event I called the husband. After a brief pause he replied “sculptures creatively made with food.” I sensed the uncertainty in his voice and an attempt to back paddle because we both knew it was a half assed answer. And instead of prying anymore for details, I said, “I’ll put it on our calendar.” I googled the event and found some information about Nick Tolbert but nothing on the art or the food.

After entering the Carnegie in Covington on Friday night, we were greeted by kind volunteers and ticketers and told to eat until our hearts content. We grabbed couple drinks and walked into the main room where food prepared by local chefs was featured. There were various restaurants and their creations; JeanRo, Nu Vo, Nicola’s, The Palace, Quarter Bistro and Lavomatic to name a few. Bigg’s, the grocery store, also had a table set up.

The food was excellent with some highlights; Nu Vo’s mini duck tacos with pickled onions and radishes, cilantro, and lime were my favorite. The husband devoured JeanRo’s crab salad with a side of avocado mouse in a flaky shell, it resembled peas in a pod. Nicola’s had a magnificent scallop with lime vinaigrette served with a Scroppino, Italian smoothie made with grapefruit and Italian vodka. Bonus! (thank you Matt for sharing the drink details with us, since the Grapefruit sorbet came from Madison’s!) Lavomatic featured crackling rabbit wrapped in pork belly, one of the two most original dishes that night. I didn’t care for it as much because it was too salty; the only other time I’ve had pork belly was at Chalk in a main dish and I really enjoyed that but I think this time it didn’t work with the already salted rabbit. Bigg’s served corn bake and chicken enchilada casserole; both were high quality in taste but presentation was lacklustered. The Palace had an ensemble at their table: Roasted beet puree, chocolate and citrus scented biscuit with dark chocolate sorbet and hazelnut anglaise, topped with hazelnut meringue and chocolate tweel. phew. Thanks to Stephanie, sales person at The Palace, that regurgitated all this back to me, slowly. The entire plate of food was remarkable in taste and textures. Beets are naturally sweet and laced with a dessert course made it a perfect combination with the chocolate. The dark chocolate sorbet was heavenly, of course. Even with all this delectable food in the main room I think the waffles from the Taste of Belgian won everyone’s hearts. There were long lines for the fresh and warm waffles. The husband had not ever tried the waffle guy’s waffles and he was impressed; and that says a lot. There were two collages in the main room, one made only of cheerios, yes cheerios the cereal.

The 2nd floor housed exhibitions and foods in multiple rooms. One room had pottery and clay work created by local artists and foods from two local restaurants and I can’t remember the names. The food was alligator with a green salad, the other original creation of the night and Prosciutto or Serrano Ham bruschetta with apple sauce. I tried the alligator and didn’t care for it. It was cold and I now know I prefer my alligator warm or hot off the stove. Another room had blown glass art pieces; one of our favorite rooms. Another had framed pictures and interviews of the chefs involved in the event. And the last room had coffee from the Bean Haus and a chocolate fountain with fruits and vegetables. Artistically, it had pictures, facts and benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables and displayed them in their true form.

One of the first people I recognized that night was Marilyn Harris. She is a radio talk show host for “Cooking with Marilynn” which airs on Saturdays on WKRC. Not only that, she also moonlights for cooking class gigs at Cooks Wares. Until my class at Cooks Wares, I did not know anything about her and after the class I was so fondly in love with her the husband bought me one of her cookbooks. She is Cincinnati’s own celebrity chef, renowned for her knowledge and experience with food. On Friday night when the Bigg’s station was busier than it had been all night, Marilyn stepped in, like a pro, and served food. As we were leaving, I stopped by the table to say hello and she recognized me from her class! Highlight #2!

Overall the exhibit was a great walk through and a wonderful learning experience in conjuction with a gastronomical treasure. The husband was hoping to find a big sculpture made out of food that we could eat from. Don’t ask; I am married to an engineer.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Cincinnati Pizza Quest- Adriatico’s

Cincinnati Pizza Quest goes to Adriatico’s. Until recently, everyone I’ve met that has lived in Clifton briefly or for many years raved about Adriatico’s. And after starting our pizza quest project, Pomodori’s has also gained momentum with many votes, especially because of their brick oven pizza. But that’s for another month…

The husband lived in Clifton for graduate school and spoke highly of their pizza. Unfortunately it was one of those places he never took me to. And both Liz of Get in mah belly and I have heard others praise their pizza as well and for that reason we decided to try Adriatico’s for February.

Liz offered to bring it over to our house, which was perfect because after 2 full days of house cleaning I wasn’t in the mood to cook; I just wanted to sit in front of the TV to watch the Oscars (how about that Slumdog Millionaire?), eat pizza and drink the husband’s home brew. For toppings and crusts, I requested pepperoni with thick crust while Liz got cheese on thin crust.
When we delved in, a good 45 minutes after it came out of the oven, I felt let down. After all the rage, I expected a little more from their pizza than what we got. The sauce was the clear winner this round. It was tasty and rounded out the tomatoe-y flavor perfectly. I could taste the cooked garlic and herbs in the sauce. The crust was a 3. It was flavorful but unfortunately the thick crust was just that, thick pieces of dough with sauce and toppings. The cheese definitely lost points, I gave it a 3. It had toughened in transport from the restaurant to our house and was a layer of hard cheese rather than complementing the dough and the sauce. Adriticao’s is a carry out pizza joint with couple tables, according to Liz, so it’s expected that the pie would travel some distance to reach its destination. Keeping that in mind, I was disappointed in the hardened layer of cheese. However, the cheese redeemed itself a little in the flavor. Like everything else the pepperoni was average, 3.5; it was spicy like it should be on a pizza and not greasy. It was fine but not outstanding.

During the ordering process, the husband was adamant on getting the bearcat pizza. I am not sure of the toppings or the type of crust, but I do know that it’s an extra large that can serve a crowd. Obviously, we didn’t get an extra large pizza with a variety of toppings for three people.
Adriatico’s gets 3 slices for their attempt to serve decent pizza. After hearing so much about it and trying it for myself, it’s evident that they cater mostly to college students (due to its proximity to UC) that are indifferent to pizza. Knowing that, I’ve decided to give them another chance only if we are in the area or if someone wants to try the Bearcat pizza with me.

And now I also understand why the husband didn’t take me there all these years; he didn’t want me to be disappointed with a so-so pizza that everyone else raves about. Or let's hope that's the case.

Liz visiting the next morning to pick up her forgotten camera for the JeanRo nose to tail dinner. Hope you enjoyed the dinner Liz. wait.... nevermind

Thursday, February 26, 2009

For cooking club we went to Spain

not really but it almost felt like it with our spread of the Spanish food. Our club has been cooking together, monthly, for 3.5 years and although there are many cuisines we haven’t tried, there are some that are highly favored and repeated. Spanish is one of them. In the first few months after the birth of the club, I hosted a Tapas night and everyone brought all sorts of little bites. Some of the things we gorged that night were cheeses (Manchego, Idiazabal, Mahon), tortilla de patatas, coffee flan and sangria.

This month someone else hosted and picked Spanish cuisine as the theme (they are going to Spain in couple months, lucky them!)

The Spread (olives on the bottom left corner, aioli in the middle, turkey and mushroom croquetas on the bottom right and croquetas with piquillos on top right corner, Spanish style crostini with Fig preserves and Manchego cheese in the middle, Spanish beer, Romesco sauce (next to the beer))

a closer look at the Spanish style crostini with Fig preserves and Manchego cheese, made by MD

Crostini with mushrooms and serrano ham, meat filled croquettas and romesco sauce all made by EB

Olives on the ends from Jungle Jim's and Seasoned Marcona Almonds by MD

After researching and browsing the internets, I finalized my menu: Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), Pollo en Pepitoria (chicken with egg yolk and nut sauce; I don’t know the precise translation of Pepitoria but from creating the dish I am translating it as egg yolk and nut sauce), Espinacas con Garbanzos (spinach with garbanzos, or chickpeas), and a classic Sangria.

Those that know Spanish food know that Gambas al Ajillo is a feature dish that’s offered in many coastal cities of Spain. I made this the first time for cooking club and I made it again. The key to a successful dish is the garlic and flavorful Spanish olive oil.

Gambas al Ajillo

50- 60 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4- 1/2 cup Spanish olive oil
1 teaspoon Spanish Paprika
3 dried red chilies, broken in half
Freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped

Marinate 50- 60 medium shrimp with garlic, olive oil, paprika, salt, and dried red chilies. On a grill pan or non stick pan, heat some of the olive oil from the shrimp on medium heat. Cook as many shrimps (with garlic and seasonings) as the pan can fit in one layer. Before serving, drizzle with chopped parsley. Serve hot with cooked garlic, olive oil and red chilies. (red chilies are for garnish, do not attempt to eat them). Serve with a soft bread to mop up the extra olive oil and garlic.

This was a good shrimp dish but not the best. I preferred the taste from the first time over this one because of salt and paprika. The flavors of garlic and Spanish olive oil were well rounded and made this dish; but unfortunately I oversalted the shrimp. It didn’t taste salty but the salt definitely stood out as did the paprika. When I made this the first time 3 years ago, I didn’t add paprika and I now know to skip paprika altogether in Gambas al Ajillo.

Pollo en Papitoria (adapted from a few recipes)

1/2 cup Spanish olive oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour, seasoned with salt and black pepper
3 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
4 split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 slices bacon, cubed (Spanish Serrano ham is preferred but I didn’t find it in the local shops)
2 medium or 1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
2 cups Spanish Sherry, I used Amontillado
4 cups chicken stock, homemade preferred
Pinch of saffron threads
Pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounce Almonds, blanched
3 cage free eggs, boiled (yolks separated from whites)
Pinch of salt
2- 5 tablespoons of water

Dredge both sides of the chicken in seasoned flour and shake off the excess. Heat a 7 quart Dutch oven (d-o) on medium high heat. When the d-o is hot add the olive oil. Add the chicken to the hot oiled d-o; it should sizzle when it first touches the d-o. Brown and cook for 4-6 minutes per side. Once it’s placed do not try to move it, when it’s ready to turn it’ll come off easily. After it’s browned on both sides, remove the chicken. Repeat the process if all of the chicken doesn’t fit in one layer. There will be browned/burned pieces of skin and/or meat in the d-o, that’s good stuff do not wash the d-o.

Add cubed bacon and brown for 1 minute, then add onions, garlic and bay leaves. Cook the mixture until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon; be sure to get all the browned bits. When the alcohol has evaporated, after about 3 minutes, add chicken stock, pinch of saffron, freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a rolling bubble on high heat. Then stir in the chicken pieces and all its juices. When the liquid bubbles, turn heat down to low, cover and cook for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend blanched almonds, egg yolks, salt and water together. Once blended, it should be a wet sand consistency. After cooking the chicken for 30 minutes, add the sauce to the chicken and cook on low for 20 minutes more, uncovered.

The meat and skin will fall off the bones. For presentation, remove the bay leaves and serve the white and dark meat with sauce. You can leave the skin and bones in the pot for the flavor. (I am usually the one that gnaws on the bones for the meat in the comforts of my own home when no one’s watching).

I was skeptical about the egg yolk and almond sauce but ultimately it turned out to perfection. The chicken was moist from stewing in the liquids for 60+ minutes and flavorful while the sauce was creamy and rich. It was a hit with everyone; I would make it again any day.

Espinacas con Garbanzos(adapted from here, here and there)

1/4 cup Spanish olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dried chickpeas (soaked overnight and slow-or-pressure cooked)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of saffron
1/2 can of tomatoes, stewed or diced
3 cups vegetable stock or water
2 cups fresh spinach, washed and drained
Pinch of nutmeg
Juice of half of lemon
Salt and Pepper

In a large saucepot on medium heat, add olive oil, onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked chickpeas and cook for 6 minutes. Add ground cumin, salt, black pepper and saffron. After few minutes, stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add stock or water, turn the heat up to high and bring to a bubble. When boiling, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook for 5- 8 minutes, until the spinach has wilted. In the last couple minutes of the cooking, add lemon juice. Serve hot or warm.

With all its bold flavors from the cumin and saffron this was good. However I was disappointed in the beans. Actually I need to complain to the Indian grocer where I get my dried chickpeas. After soaking the little suckers overnight, cooking them in the crockpot for 5 hours and on the stove with onions, garlic and other seasonings for 2.5, they were still a little underdone. Hopefully with better luck on the beans, this will be just as good if not better next time. Overall it’s a great dish for entertaining guests or a quick weeknight meal (with precooked or canned beans).

Note: When using dried chickpeas (or any beans), do not add salt or acid until the beans are completed cooked. I don’t know the truth behind this but I’ve read that salt and acid keep the beans from cooking thoroughly.

And finally the best part, the alcohol, Sangria. I used this with one change, instead of peaches I used nectarines.

With a homemade flan or a quick dessert, this is a perfect meal for entertaining close friends and family. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the Spanish cooking and eating it’s that they really treasure their relationships and time with each other. Try some of these recipes or any Spanish dishes, invite some friends and drink sangria. And on that note, I’ll stop writing sappy stuff so I don’t get booed off the blogosphere.

Monday, February 23, 2009

the search for Best Pizza in Cincinnati continues....

This is a first for this blog, we have a guest blogger; please welcome Avani of Cincinnati Imports who shares her opinion of the best pizza in town.

BEST PIZZA IN TOWN: The home of Liberal Foodie and her Husband

So when I heard that Liberal Foodie and Get in Mah Belly were going to be evaluating the local pizza joints of Cincinnati, my first reaction was: “Good luck and Godspeed.” I have had pizzas from several establishments in the area and overall I have found no places that I crave pizza from, with the exception of Deweys. Now mind you, Deweys is recommended for those of you who enjoy gourmet pizzas with toppings that you don’t find at most hole-in-the-wall, speed-dial pizza places. But I am not here to review Deweys, I am sure Liberal Foodie and Get in Mah Belly will do that soon enough (I hope). I am here to review the best homemade pizza I have had in years, which occurred this past weekend at the home of Liberal Foodie and her Husband. I will attempt to use the rating scales that were used in their prior review for consistency.

Where to start….well, I think it has to be the crust. Oh, the delicious and crispy crust provided via raw dough from my favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s. It was a garlic and herb dough that needed to be rolled out or as Liberal Foodie’s husband did, pressed out by hand. This resulted in a weird pizza shape, one that was somewhat rectangular and oblong and diamond – I can’t really describe it and unfortunately, we ate the pizza so fast, there are no pictures, but I digress. The dough instructions stated that we needed to let the dough sit for 20 minutes, which was also recommended by the check-out girl at Trader Joe’s. Well, as a result of drinking too many mimosas that morning and afternoon, we let the dough sit for probably 1 hour. After pressing it out, we placed it in the oven for 6-8 minutes (a necessary step for the penultimate crispy crust we experienced). CRUST RATING: 5.

Then we topped it with Liberal Foodie’s homemade pizza sauce. Like her, I am not a big fan of sweet sauces but this sauce was not sweet at all. It was light and tasted of fresh tomatoes and herbs. I am not sure what she put in the sauce to be honest (hopefully she will blog about that recipe soon), but the sauce was divine and I am sure had a bit of crack in it (SAUCE RATING: 4.5 out of 5). One of the guests at the house was a vegetarian so we decided to do a Veggie Supreme pizza. After spreading the sauce on the pizza, we added toppings, which included Trader Joe’s mozzarella cheese, fresh onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. I have to say, this pizza could not have turned out more perfect. The cheese was perfectly melted, the kind that is somewhat stringy when you cut it and melts in your mouth upon first bite (CHEESE RATING: 4.5 out of 5). The toppings had cooked perfectly too with the vegetables being crisp-tender (TOPPING RATING: 4 out of 5 but only because I like fancy and/or meat toppings typically).

Trust me when I tell you that this was one of the best pizzas I have had in Cincinnati. Now all we have to do is convince Liberal Foodie and her husband to open up a real pizza-joint in this city.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry with Noodles

When P emailed to say she was coming to visit, the first thing that went through my food obsessed brain was the weekend’s menu. She’s a vegetarian and as you know, I am married to an unmatched carnivore on this side of the planet. Most meals in our house have some form of formerly living organism (mostly meat, sometimes it’s people we don’t like). So the challenge was to create dishes that would please both of them.

Knowing this, I had two things I wanted to make: Chinese and brunch with eggs. I always imagine Chinese cuisine as one that’s the most vegetarian-friendly because of their use of tofu and vegetables in dishes. More often than not, I've seen Chinese cooks willingly substitute meat for tofu and/or vegetables. After buying tofu and broccoli, I created the vegetable stir fry with noodles idea in my head and ran with it. And I am glad I did…

Tofu and Vegetable* Stir Fry with noodles

Following the package instructions boil the Chinese noodles. For mine, I brought a large pot of water to boil, stirred in the noodles, reduced the heat to medium and cooked them for 4 minutes. Drain and save some of the cooking liquid.

Stir Fry
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 package of firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup broccoli, cut into individual florets and steamed
1/2 cup Sugar snap peas, ends trimmed

1/2 cup vegetable stock (homemade preferred)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 tsp Corn Starch
Red chili flakes

While the noodles are boiling, steam the broccoli in another saucepan. To save time and utensils, broccoli can be cooked in the boiling pasta water but I prefer to cook them separately.

Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a wok or a large pan on medium heat. Add cubed tofu and stir gently to coat it with oil, try to avoid breaking or shredding the tofu. The pan frying gives it a much needed firm skin (outer layer). Once it browns on one side, turn and rotate it to brown the other sides. This will take approximately 2-4 minutes.

While waiting for the tofu to brown on all sides, make the sauce by combining vegetable stock, soy sauce, rice vinegar, corn starch and red chili flakes in a separate bowl. Remove the tofu from the wok and set aside.

Increase the heat to medium high and add rest of the vegetable oil. Stir in ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in steamed broccoli, sugar snap peas (and other vegetables, if using) and cook for couple minutes. Add tofu to the wok, drained noodles and the sauce. Stir everything together so the sauce coats the vegetables, tofu and noodles. If the sauce thickens too fast or if noodles stick to the wok, add couple tablespoons of the reserved liquid. Cook for few minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning using soy sauce for salt and/or red chili flakes for heat. Serve hot or warm.

*Note: Other vegetables good for this recipe are carrots, red peppers, baby corn, and mushrooms. If using additional vegetables be sure to reduce the amount of broccoli and snap peas.

The result was superb; the sautéed garlic and ginger flavors were spot on with the heat of red chili flakes. With vegetables, protein and carbohydrates, this dish is one of the better healthy, vegetarian meals that takes almost no time to prepare. (I feel like Ellie Krieger)

For medical school P has been living out of a hotel room, I have yet to figure this one out, with a microwave and a fridge. Due to lack of a proper kitchen or cooking equipment, I gave her the leftovers. The next day, I received this “could you please send me the recipe for the Chinese {food}, I was just eating it for dinner and thinking about how amazing it was again! thanks! (I could not put it down, so I just ate all of it!)” Thanks P for the rave reviews- hope you come visit again!

I guess I wasn’t the only one that liked this stir fried vegetables with noodles and tofu idea. And the carnivore deemed this a “good meat substitution meal that can be made once in a while”. I'll take that over never again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Picture Post- December Vacation

In December when the crazy cold came to visit the Midwest, the husband and I went on a week long vacation to the beach. It was exactly what we expected and then some. I highly recommend this trip for anyone that's looking for a relaxed vacation on the beach with a book and a mai tai. Having a wonderful partner in crime for all of it is just a bonus.

Clockwise from top: Off the beaten path Jerk Shack in Ocho Rios, Jerk Shack between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Jerk Chicken with rice and peas and cabbbage slaw, jerk chicken preparation. (the green leaves that are hanging above are allspice (Jamaican Pimenton) leaves)

Clockwise from top: Ackee and Saltfish (This is the National dish of Jamaica, Saltfish is generally made from cod) with callaloo, breadfruit and potato hash in the background, cabbage with callaloo (local green vegetable) and locally made sausage, menu at a local jerk shack, local fruits that includes custard apple with green leaves and a melon of some sort

Clockwise from top: Callaloo and feta filled spring roll, oxtail stew with vegetables, rice and peas and locally caught halibut with vegetables, rice and peas.

Clockwise from top: Columbus Park, Dunns River Falls, view from our room

Ya mon

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cincinnati Pizza Quest- Ramundo's

Having tried many pizzas while living in a metropolitan city back in the day, pizza holds a special place in my heart. I don't eat it often but once in a while I get a craving for a damn good slice of the pie. One day when Liz of get in mah belly and I were trying to name one good pizza place in Cincinnati and couldn't, we knew we had a major undertaking at hand. We agreed to start a blogging project, for ourselves and for other Cincinnatians that feel the same way about pizza in the Queen city. And that's how Cincinnati Pizza Quest was born. The idea is to try a new pizza joint, mostly locally and independently owned, each month and blog about them. We will rate the sauce, crust, cheese, topping(s) and overall pizza on a 1- 5 scale, 5 being the best. Ambiance and service will not be rated but we will share any positives or negatives for either of those.

Our January pick was Ramundo's Pizzeria in Mount Lookout. I never knew this place existed until Liz mentioned it. After walking in, it's obvious the majority of their business comes from carry out and delivery. There were two high tables to grab a quick bite to eat and a large, long kitchen behind the counter. The service was amicable; they let us stand at the register counter to eat our hot-out-of-the-oven pizzas since the two tables were taken. There is also outdoor seating for those nice weather days.

Overall I thought my pizza was good, nothing exceptional but good. I give their sauce 3.5 out of 5. It was well flavored with spices and not sweet, a definite plus for me. The sauce was voted best sauce in 2006. The crust was a 2. I ordered the New York Style crust because I like to be able to fold my pizza in one hand and sadly their crust fell apart when folded. It was also bland in taste. My one topping (pepperoni) was a 3.5; tasty but a little disappointing with the greasy oil. Liz' cheese pizza on the other hand won me over. I give it 4.5 because it was properly seasoned with salt and oregano. The oregano stood out in each bite. The husband's supreme on regular (non new york style) crust tasted pretty good as well. We favored the thickness of his crust over our own.

the regular crust

Ramundo's is a hole in the wall and that's part of their charm. Even though the crust on mine didn't taste great, the sauce, cheese pizza and the service are worth returning for. Ramundo's gets 3 slices.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snow storm = Happy Stock Making days

We’ve been hit with snow storms (on two separate occasions) in the last two weeks. You could even call them the blizzard(s) of 2009 since many companies closed down shop and we were all confined to the house. A bad thing? I don't think so. It's usually dreadful for most but I had an opportunity to sleep in, and cook wonderful meals all day.

Before I started the actual cooking, I made chicken stock for the first time. Yes, first time for a self proclaimed foodie and aspiring chef.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Olive Oil
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
1 whole onion, cut into large cubes
2 celery ribs, washed and cut into large cubes
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large cubes
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
Chicken Carcass from a whole chicken or various drumstick and thigh bones (save poultry bones and/or carcasses after meals to make stock; they can be frozen for up to 6 months)

Add olive oil (enough so the vegetables don't stick) to a large pot on medium heat, add the chopped onions, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Saute for 2 minutes then add celery and carrots. Saute for few more minutes, or until the vegetables are brown around the edges. Add chicken carcass and stir to combine. Cook for 2-4 minutes. Add enough water to cover. Turn up the heat to high to bring the liquid to boil. When bubbling on top, turn down the heat to low and simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours. Skim the fat from the top.

I omitted salt so I can add precise amount of it in a recipe.

When it cools, pour the liquid in another large pot using a strainer. This step is to separate the vegetables and spices from the liquid. Using a wooden spoon, press the vegetables to release any unstrained liquid.
Pour the liquid one more time through a fine sieve to remove any solids.

Pour the stock in freezer friendly containers and freeze for up to 5 months. The stock can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

I used some that night for Mexican paella, refrigerated 2 cups for Hoppin’ John and froze rest of the stock. It was so easy to make that I have decided to make my own stock rather than buy pre-made. Try it, it’s rewarding and comforting.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cream of Cauliflower Soup or not....

I had a head of cauliflower in my fridge, calling my name, when I found this recipe for Cream of Cauliflower Soup on epicurious. I hate to say it but it's been difficult to write about this soup. We both had such high hopes for it beacuse we made it on a blistery cold winter night, with saffron and diced onions and cream. And it doesn't get much fancier than saffron in this house...

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Saffron - copied from epicurious

2 cups water
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon coarsely crumbled saffron threads
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup half and half
Thinly sliced fresh chives

Combine 2 cups water and 2 cups low-salt chicken broth in medium saucepan. Bring mixture just to simmer. Remove from heat. Add saffron threads. Cover and steep 20 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until very tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add cauliflower pieces; stir to coat. Add saffron broth. Bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until cauliflower pieces are tender, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree cauliflower mixture in food processor until smooth. Transfer cauliflower puree to large saucepan. Stir in half and half and bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.) Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with sliced fresh chives and serve.

Like one of the reviewers said it was an okay soup that was bland and did not have hopes for seconds.

This one's going in the “tried it and didn’t care for it” file and leave it there. I believe it can be improved but with a bad taste in my mouth from the first round, I am going to leave the testing up to someone else.

The soup was so bad, even the picture looks awful; not really, it's just a terrible picture taken in the dark by the iPhone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

G Baileys in Mason

It was a double date night with dinner and a movie. We were debating between couple restaurants (new and old) in Mason before an 8pm show. As I was waiting for the husband to come home from work, I discovered G. Bailey’s opened in Encore’s old location and serves brick oven pizza. I’d been to Encore once for dinner long time ago and remembered leaving happy and buzzed; the chocolate martini was delightful. I also learned G Baileys is owned by the owners of the Golden Lamb and we’ve dined there for Valentine’s Day and loved it.

Every so often, I get a craving for pizza and this was the night. After arriving at 6:30, our party of four was seated 15 minutes later- not bad for a Friday night. (They only take reservations for party of 8 or more). There are plenty of booths and tables for seating. They have a large wine cooler housed close to the kitchen (the friend said this is from the Encore days). Overall the appearance is pleasant, with a dash of suburban restaurant attempting to be upscale.

For first course, I ordered “their version” of the chicken noodle soup and someone else got an insalata capresse. The soup was very salty. The server offered another bowl and informed me the second bowl would be from the same pot; I kindly refused. The insalata capresse, on the other hand, was magnificent; perfectly dressed and seasoned.

(my sad attempt at taking a picture of the pizza, discreetly, with an iPhone)

For dinner three of us ordered pizzas and one ordered halibut with vegetables. The pizzas arrived soon after the first course plates were cleared. The pizzas are small with 6- 8 slices. My grilled chicken pizza tasted all right, nothing extraordinary. The crust was thin (my preferred style) but it tasted doughy and lacked a bold oven grilled flavor. The toppings were bland, lacked salt and garlic, and unfortunately with a bad crust made for an okay pizza. I was disappointed in their attempt at brick oven style pizza. Maybe because growing up, we regularly ate at a local joint that cranked out more pizzas from their brick oven than you can shake a stick at. So even if I had higher expectations others in the party agreed the pizza lacked substance. The halibut, a main course, is served with a three tier salad and potatoes. The tiered serving style was fun and unique; it came with herbed cottage cheese, onions and a variety of peppers and the basics of a mixed green salad. The cottage cheese with fresh herbs was a hit; a simple and brilliant idea that I’ll use at home. The halibut guy didn’t complain or rave about the fish or the potatoes so I assume they were good but not memorable.

They have other dishes on the menu like roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, pasta and sandwiches that may be worth trying. This place is still new to the restaurant scene in Mason so hopefully they’ll fix the glitches soon.

The movie? Doubt. It’s definitely worthy of the award nominations. We saw the play at Cincinnati Playhouse and preferred that over the big screen. To no one’s surprise…

Monday, January 12, 2009

Biscuits and Gravy with friends in the New Year

One of many new traditions for 2009 is to cook simple brunches, often. Keeping in tune with that, we invited couple friends over for brunch on New Year’s day weekend. At first I wasn’t sure about the menu and when I suggested biscuits and gravy, the friend said her husband loved biscuits and gravy. Since my husband loves them too, biscuits and gravy would be our first cooked meal with friends in 2009.

Maybe you can help me figure out my husband’s obsession with biscuits and gravy. It’s a southern dish that probably got its start in an older woman’s kitchen. On a lazy Sunday morning, this woman woke up to leftover biscuits from the previous night’s (fried chicken and biscuits) dinner and had preserved sausage links from the meat season. Hypothetical scenario that could be true, will you please just play along? So with a cup of milk, flour, salt and pepper she invented gravy for the biscuits, served them to the family and called it a day. I bet she had an easy morning that morning compared to all the other days she’d spent peeling and grating potatoes for the hash, or deep frying catfish or better yet frying balls of dough and sprinkling sugar on them.

Like that woman, I also had a lazy start to the morning. I first made the dough for biscuits, following Alton Brown’s recipe. I’d seen him make these with his grandma in one episode and knew I had to try them.

Alton Brown’s Biscuits (not pictured; those biscuits are from before Alton gave me a wonderful lesson on biscuit making. From a previous life, I guess you can say)

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening – I used vegetable shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. (The recipe states the measurements make 12 biscuits and unfortunately mine only yielded 6. I made another batch of dough for more. Or my cutter may have been too big. (I used a water glass since I don’t have the 2 inch cutter. I’ve learned my lesson.) After baking the biscuits, I realized the water glass proportion made giant biscuits. Something was a mistake on my part). Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes. (I baked mine for 30 because they were giant biscuits). Other than fixing my cutting measurements, I wouldn’t change a thing about the recipe. The gravy’s real simple too.

Sausage Gravy

Vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided (use for turkey sausage or lean pork sausage)
1 lb sausage- ground or links, remove casing if using links. (Ground turkey or pork is fine; until recently, I’ve bought ground turkey tubes (in the frozen foods isle) but since the start of the CSA, we’ve been on a pork kick. And by we I really just mean the husband.) Make sure the ingredients consist of water and meat, nothing else!
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk, room temperature
Freshly ground pepper, lots of it

Add oil (one coat) and 2 tablespoons of butter (if using) to a large pan on medium heat. When the butter melts, drop in the ground sausage. Break up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon as soon as it hits the pan. I like small to medium sized chunks (pictured). Season with salt and pepper. As the meat cooks, the color changes from pink to gray. When the meat is about 60 percent cooked, add the flour, and combine so most of the meat is coated with flour. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until there is a nutty aroma from the pan. (When flour is raw it doesn’t smell like anything, and when it’s cooked, it releases nutty smells.) Stir in milk and bring to a boil, season with salt and pepper, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency. Stir in the last 2 tablespoons of butter, taste, season with salt and pepper, if necessary and serve over baked biscuits.

Actually, my husband was born and brought up in India and didn’t know a thing about biscuits and gravy. His definition of biscuits is the American cookie and gravy is the sauce that comes with an Indian vegetable or meat dish that’s scooped up with naan or rice. Why a grown Indian man goes ga-ga for southern style biscuits and gravy- I don’t know, but I do know that when they are on our menu, he’s like a kid in the candy store. Regardless, I think these satisfied the cravings of both husbands, and wives.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

NYE and thereafter....

I hope you enjoyed your New Year’s Eve festivities, whether it was at a bar, with friends or in front of the tele. We spent ours with friends and homemade food. The theme for this year was street food; we had Samosas, Falafels, and a pot of Paav bhaaji. Paav bhaji is a common street food in many Indian cities, especially Mumbai. The bread, Paav, is served alongside bhaji, a potato based curry that has a variety of ingredients including cauliflower, peas, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, peppers and spices. This is truly a one pot wonder. Onions, garlic, and ginger are first sautéed in ghee or vegetable oil in a large flat pan, then potatoes are added with water, cauliflower is next, then carrots and peppers are stirred in with the spices. Everything simmers on medium-low for 45 minutes. The peas are added in the last 10 minutes of the cooking so they don’t become mushy. On the streets the bhaji is simmered all day and served with a pinch of chopped cilantro. Paav is a hot dog bun that’s buttered and roasted on the edges of the large pan with bhaji. This is a hot (temperature and sometimes spicy) dish, great for a cold day.

At our house the husband is a better cook for Indian food; Paav bhaji is definitely one of his specialties, so is chicken curry, goat curry, egg fry (another highly-favored street food) and dhan shaak (goat curry with yellow split chickpea lentils).

After Thanksgiving, Mom sent us away with two kinds of homemade Samosas, one filled with meat and the other with split chickpea lentils (traditional Gujarati kind), thank you! The Samosas and the husband’s Paav bhaji were highly rated; the Falafels, on the other hand, were not. The batter was well seasoned but they were under fried resulting in a semi-done inside. (For those questioning- I soaked and cooked the dried chickpeas in the slow cooker before making the batter- I try not to feed guests raw beans.)

Onto those New Year’s resolutions, I’ve got a few of my own. I admit I don’t take them seriously because I break mine in the first month. In fact, I’ve already broken one. I want to dress femininely, more often; more skirts, blouses, dresses and fewer shirts and slacks. Wrapping up the first week of 2009, I have yet to wear a skirt or a dress. See what I mean?

Another one is for writing. In conversations with friends, I realized I genuinely enjoy snail mail. I fancy the inspiration that goes behind picking cards or letters, sender's handwriting, the pen and stamps that are used for the receiver. This connects the sender and the receiver on a personal level, something emails can’t do. (I appreciate email and Internet as much as the next person so this is not a rejection to technology just an expression of my fondness for snail mail.) Someone pointed out, in this day and age of junk mail, catalogs and bill collections, who doesn’t like to receive a nice card from friends? For those of you that like sending snail mail, email (ha!) me, I like getting cards just as much. Some of you will see these in your mailboxes in 2009!

The writing resolution also includes blogging regularly and putting my thoughts down on paper or on in a document often. So far I am on track, wouldn’t you say?

And finally for 2009 I want to cook food simply. I want to create unpretentious dishes, using locally produced ingredients (when possible), that taste gratifying. In the few days I’ve cooked since we rang in 2009, I’ve made biscuits and gravy, creamy cauliflower soup and pork chops. Hopefully if I stick to my writing resolution, the recipes will be up soon.