February 2007 Roundup

Is it just me or did February fly by? I know it’s the shortest month and all, but still….

Dispatch readers voted Katzinger’s as the best corned beef sandwich in town. While there are others that give you much better value and meat quality for the price (Barry’s in the North Market, for instance), I grudgingly have to agree that Katzy’s has the best tasting overall. Before I went to New York, I thought their prices were outrageous, but after seeing $25 Reubens on the menus in Manhattan, $11 doesn’t seem quite as bad anymore. They’re the closest I’ve seen in town that compare to New York style sandwiches. Of course, it’s not like we have a ton of delis in town, right? And it looks like that wrapped up their weekly surveys! They’ve posted a list of all of the winners, if you’re curious.

Lorence from Lorence’s Kitchen posted a very nice tribute to the first ever Wendy’s, which will be closing soon due to lack of business. While I can understand the reasoning behind the closing, it’s still kind of sad when you see a piece of history fall by the wayside.

Recipes from around the blogosphere that I’m adding to my recipe file to make in the future: Deliciously Trashy Mac and Cheese, Cheesecake Factory White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake, and Cream of Reuben Soup from the Columbus Dispatch, Black Bean Pie from 28 Cooks, Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee from a good american wife, Shiitake and Saffron Risotto from Aidan Brooks: Trainee Chef, Nutella Cheesecake Brownies from alpineberry, Claudia’s German Sauerbraten from appetitive behavior, Rosie’s Its Too Damn Cold Outside Chili from Bitchin’ in the Kitchen with Rosie, Cauliflower and Poblano Chile “Jackpot” Gratin from Blog Appetit, Frangipane Apple Pies from Cafe of the East, Apple Torte and Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Muffins from Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once, Sesame Seed Balls from Dessert First, Italian Cheese Bread from Dine and Dish, Show Cooker Onion Soup from A Veggie Venture, Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Soup from everybody like sandwiches, Maple-Glazed Bacon on Gorgonzola Polenta Squares from Fancy Toast, Crab with Brie, Parmesan and Artichokes from Ideas in Food, Beef in Red Wine and Potato, Cheddar and Chive Soup from Kuchenlatein, Brown Sugar Bundt Cake from La Mia Cucina, Baked Hot Chocolate from Lovescool, Potato Salad from M3rNi3, Pancetta-Ricotta Crostini from My husband cooks, the most mouth watering burger I’ve ever seen from Off the Broiler, Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts from Orangette, Microwave Chocolate Pudding from thepassionatecook, Brie-stuffed French Toast with Maple Syrup and Sliced Apple from tomsaaristo’s Xanga, and Cannel√© Colossus from The Traveler’s Lunchbox.

In informative posts, learn all about chocolate in the Columbus Dispatch, we are instructed on how to cook Dungeness crab from Daily Unadventures in Cooking, and chili basics from Kitchen Chick.

There was an interesting, yet controversial post over at An Exploration of Portland Food and Drink about fine dining – and the annoying things one encounters at fine dining establishments that makes the evening uncomfortable for some, such as the “thousand yard stare” when you walk in, decrumbing, etc. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not one for fine dining because I loathe the pomp and circumstance that goes along with gourmet eating. Give me casual grub any day – for me, it’s more about the preparation than the ambience. However, I’m sure that there are those who enjoy the whole experience (and can afford the cost that goes along with it). I’ve heard people rave about The Refectory (here in Columbus), or The French Laundry in CA, and look forward to it as the experience of a lifetime. I’d be too busy sweating the small details to enjoy the experience. I’d be uncomfortable because of all the rituals that come with “good service”, and agree wholeheartedly with the original poster that the definition of good service is making your customer feel comfortable.

I can remember back in my early 20′s, my roommate at the time and I went to try out a German restaurant (now gone, unfortunately) in town, not knowing it was upscale. We got there before the dinner rush, he in scruffy jeans and a wifebeater, I in scruffy jeans and a metal t-shirt. I realized we were a bit underdressed after we were seated and saw white cloth napkins and fine china, and really realized we were underdressed when others started filing in with upscale business casual/dresses/suits. By that time, we were halfway done with our meal anyway. My point is, not once during our visit there did we ever feel inferior or unwelcome. The service was exemplary, despite our appearance. And this type of attitude isn’t limited to just fine dining. There’s the potential for obnoxious waitstaff at all restaurants, upscale or not. My advice? Treat all of your customers equally well, and read their body language. If they are feeling uncomfortable, it should be obvious. You’d be surprised. I’m sure that our server was – we left a 30% tip for impeccible service. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

And while I’m on the subject – why do servers treat you differently if you don’t drink wine and just ask for water instead? I’m not cheap – I just don’t like much anything to drink other than water.

Another post that caught my eye was Culinary Muse’s Why I Didn’t Buy the $8 Eggs. And I was surprised to see she caught some flack in her comments section who didn’t think she should be taken aback by the price.

I’m a person who will eat local foods whenever possible. Who prefers organic over conventional. But also a person who was once on food stamps, with a $105 monthly food budget for 2 people. If we want local food and sustainable agriculture to catch on, it absolutely HAS to be accessible as a reasonable alternative. And $8 a dozen, my friends, is painful. I’m sure the eggs are great. And I’m sure they will still have people that will buy them.

Here’s my question: are actual costs driving up the price of the eggs? Or is it because some farmers are exploiting the popularity of organic foods to make a quick profit? As I’ve said, I’ll eat local as long as it is economically feasible for me to do so. If I see prices here in Ohio that match those in San Francisco, I’ll buy conventional – and I’m speaking as someone who understands the environmental concerns and can afford to splurge on food. If I’m balking at the price, what about your average consumer?

Oh, how I want this. Now I just need to convince my husband that a log in the kitchen is a *good* thing!

Until next month…

Housekeeping Notes

Just a few housekeeping notes from your far-too-absent management:

  • Sorry about the lack of updates over the past couple of months. There’s just something about winter that depresses me, and makes me not want to do anything, let alone cooking. I think I just really miss the fresh local produce and farmer’s markets, and the mealy out-of-season tomatoes and lack of inspiration is giving me the blues. But with early spring comes ramps! And I’m inspired by ramps! So hopefully there will be a turn-around soon. I’ve got a few posts waiting in the wings, so look for some more new stuff over the next couple of days.
  • The Friday roundup will now become the monthly roundup, due to my lack of posting it on the right day of the week and there not being enough content to support a weekly post. So expect the next one on the 28th, and then on the last day of the month thereafter. If anything comes up that’s pressing, or time-sensitive, I’ll just do a separate post about that thing.
  • There should be more restaurant reviews, now that I’ve got a more portable camera. I’m aiming for one a week. Any suggestions on where I should go next?
  • I’m in the process of updating the pages on this site (events, contests, menus), so look for new content this week.

All in all, thanks for being so patient with me. I’m going to try hard to post more often next month!

Death by Peanut Butter

We’ve been hearing on the news and around the blogosphere about the tainted peanut butter, meaning to check our cabinets since we occasionally buy Peter Pan peanut butter (my husband’s favorite).

Imagine my surprise when we discovered that we do, in fact, have one of the recalled jars that begin with 2111:

lidofdeath

Imagine my horror when I realize that we ate the better part of the jar already:

jarofdeath

Here’s our dilemma – it would cost as much to send the lid to ConAgra as it would for the peanut butter in the first place. Since we obviously haven’t died or gotten sick from it, should we assume it’s salmonella-free and therefore safe to eat? Or should we just toss it?

Valentine’s Pudding

Finally, a Valentine’s Day that didn’t end in disaster (as long as you don’t count the flower fiasco this year – don’t ask, you *really* don’t want to know, LOL). Most of the meal was pretty simple, repeats of things we have made before, but the dessert was new, and I wouldn’t really recommend the recipe quite yet, because it has some flaws – I’ll post it when I work out the lumps, so to speak (it came out lumpy but still tasted great – I think the original recipe calls for too much cornstarch).

valentines

This pic was taken with my new camera, a much more compact 10 MP (I bought the Pentax Optio A20) with a macro setting that actually works. Yay to better pictures. Yay to sweet husbands who know the way to a foodies’ heart.

 

Free Form Chicken Pot Pie

Continuing on the theme of cold Ohio days, my husband chose to make something that we had seen in an issue of Food & Wine a while back, and were wanting to try. The finished dish was so hearty and comforting, a true “stick to your ribs” dish that’s perfect in the middle of winter.

potpie

Free-Form Chicken Pot Pie
modified from Food & Wine Magazine

1 (3.5 lb) rotisserie chicken
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. olive oil 4 carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 celery ribs, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 bay leaf
1/3 c. all purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
2 tsp. chopped thyme
Pinch of smoked paprika
14 oz. frozen, all-butter puff pastry, thawed but still cold
1 large egg beaten with 2 tbsp. heavy cream

Remove all of the meat from the chicken and discard the skin and bones. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. In a large, deep skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add carrots, celery, onion, leek and bay leaf. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour, then gradually whisk in the broth until smooth. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, until no floury taste remains, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and simmer until thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the peas, thyme and chicken and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of smoked paprika. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry to a 1/8 inch thickness. Using a 4 inch round cookie cutter, stamp out 6 rounds; transfer them to the prepared baking sheet (I put the scraps there, too – no use wasting perfectly good puff pastry – you could probably avoid this problem but cutting into squares instead of circles). Brush the rounds with the egg-cream wash and bake for 15 minutes, or until puffed and browned. Ladle the chicken stew into bowls, garnish with the pastry, and serve.

Soup and Stromboli

Earlier this week, in the midst of the icy cold that has been keeping us Ohioans indoors, my husband and I decided to clean out the fridge and freezer. What this meant is that we thawed some stuff that needed to be used, and planned on using some stuff in the fridge that had a drop-dead date coming soon.

We decided on a variation of the “soup and sandwich” combo that is so appealing during cold weather, making Zuppa Toscana and Strombolis. Excuse the quality of the picture – I took it at my desk, which doesn’t have the best lighting.

zuppa

Zuppa Toscana (like Olive Garden’s)
modified from Robbie’s Recipe Collection

1 lb linguica, crumbled
1/2 lb. smoked bacon, chopped
1 qt. water
2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth
1 lb. confetti potatoes, quartered
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped escarole
1 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet over medium high heat, brown sausage and bacon; drain, and set aside. Place water, broth, potatoes, garlic, and onion in a pot; simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender. Add sausage and bacon to the pot; simmer for 10 minutes. Add escarole and cream, season with salt and pepper, and heat through.

Proscuitto and Gruyere Strombolis
courtesty Cooking Light

1 (11-oz) can refrigerated French bread dough
2 oz. thinly sliced proscuitto
1 cup trimmed arugula
1/2 c. (2 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

Unroll dough onto a baking sheet; pat into a 14×11 inch rectangle (the kind I got didn’t unroll, so I precut the dough into quarters and rolled it out as thinly as I could with a rolling pin). Cut dough into quarters to form 4 (7 x 5.5 inch) rectangles. Top each rectangle with 1/2 oz. proscuitto, 1/4 c. arugula, 2 tbsp. cheese, and 1 tablespoon parsley. Beginning at the short side of each rectangle, roll up the dough, jelly roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal end of rolls). Arrange rolls 4 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes or until rolls are slightly browned. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings. Each serving has: 275 cal, 8.5 g fat, 14 g pro, 24 mg chol, 158 mg calc, 754 mg sod, 1.5 g fiber, 2.3 mg iron, 34.4 g carb, 6 WW points.

Friday Roundup 2/2/07

Consider this the “slow” edition. ;) (considering I’m about two days late getting this posted – I added a bunch of new feeds this week, which brought me to about 5,000 posts I had to look through – it took longer than I expected.)
I’d like to draw your attention to the sidebar at the right, where I’ve added two new features, one which is a food blog directory (I got a bunch added this week, still have a bunch more to add, email if I haven’t added you yet and you’d like to be added), and the other which is a list of contests/sweepstakes with prizes that would be of interest to foodies). I hope you enjoy the new features.

The Dispatch had an interesting article about people like me who are so-so about eating fish, and provides some hints for making fish more palatable for those who don’t really like it.

Stuck for ideas on where to go on Valentine’s Day? The Dispatch has a list of what different restaurants in town are offering on February 14th. Make your reservations now, everyone. :)

Last week, Dispatch readers chose Anthony-Thomas as the best sweetheart treat in town. This week, they’d like to know who has the best Italian sub in town. My choice, Carfagna’s, isn’t on the list, so I’m going to be writing it in. If you go during lunch hours, they will make you a sub to order that beats local competition hands down. Voice your opinion for a chance to win a $25 gift card.

Mental note for me to bookmark the HHDN #9 Roundup of souffles, since I just bought my first set of souffle dishes, and am looking for a recipe to use to break them in. :)

Finally, a round-up of this weeks memorable recipes from around the blogsphere: Meatloaf Surprise from Coconut & Lime, Chocolate and Sea Salt Cookies from Culinary Muse, Chocolate Truffle Tart from FamilyStyle Food, Nutella Cheesecake Brownies from alpineberry, Eggs Benedict Florentine with Creamy Butter Sauce from Culinary in the Country, Meyer Lemon Souffle from Little bouffe, Tartiflette from Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook, Apple Quince Tart from Too Many Chefs, and Gremolata Potatoes from The Wednesday Chef.

In informative posts, we learn how to design your own deli tray on Slashfood, and Kalyn from Kalyn’s Kitchen shows us how to make beef stock.

Well, that’s it for this week, folks…until next week!

Five Course Italian Feast

I started out yesterday morning with the most noble of intentions, naturally. After pretty much being stuck in the house for the past month hoping I’d feel better, I’ve actually had a glimmer of hope the past week or so when I started feel much better than I had been.

So, genius that I am, I had the bright idea to celebrate my feeling well by making my husband a gorgeous five-course dinner, of which only three courses I’d be making myself.

I started out the morning feeling fine. Did my shopping for dinner, stopping at Sam’s Club, Giant Eagle, and the North Market. Made it back home, but when it came time to actually start the prep work, I was totally knackered by the time I finished chopping the veggies. Luckily, I’m married to the sweetest guy in the world who completely understood, and ended up doing the cooking himself. :) So the dinner did go off without a hitch, thanks to him. Me? I think I need to stop overestimating my energy level and start working within the constraints of it.

Now, back to the dinner. The first course was ravioli al forno, which we developed as a copycat recipe to be just like the one they serve at Bravo. It gave us the opportunity to break in the individual sized Emile Henry lasagna dishes we got on discount at Amazon last month. Now, you can use store brands for the ingredients in this dish, but we used Pastaria’s pesto, tomato alfredo, and tomato-basil sauces, plus a combination of two different types of ravioli (six cheese and sundried tomato asiago), also from Pastaria.

alforno

Ravioli al Forno (Bravo copycat)

1 lb. ravioli of your choice
8 oz. alfredo sauce
8 oz. pesto sauce
8 oz. marinara sauce
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. butter, melted

Prepare ravioli according to package directions. Brush bottom of baking dish with alredo sauce, and lay ravioli in a single layer. Place sauces in ziploc bags with corner cut to allow piping. Pipe sauce on top of ravioli diagonally, alternating alfredo, pesto, alfredo, marinara, repeating until entire pan is covered with lines of sauce. Mix the breadcrumbs and melted butter together and sprinkle on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven 30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown.

The second course was Italian Wedding Soup, which I’ve blogged about previously.

The third course was a mixed baby greens salad purchased from Pastaria, although you can find the recipe for a copycat of it here, in my archives.

The entree was a copycat recipe for Carrabba’s Chicken Marsala, found on Recipezaar. The sauce came out a little thinner than I would have liked, but the flavor was fantastic. In the future, I’d proably let it cook a little longer to thicken some. We served it with mashed potatoes, and substituted shiitake mushrooms rather than white mushrooms.

marsala

For dessert, we each had a piece of tiramisu from Pastaria. While tiramisu is easy to make, we didn’t see the point of making a whole pan of it just to get two servings of a dessert which, when made by Pastaria, is just as good as our own.
All in all, quite an enjoyable meal – I highly recommend Pastaria as a place to get the ingredients for an Italian meal of your own. I pretty much collapsed exhausted right after eating, as heavy food will do that to you when you’re already tired. I’m really looking forward to eating the leftovers tonight. :)

Pierogies and Caramelized Onions

Speaking of quick and comforting, dinner the other night was another one that was heavy on convenience foods.

rogies

One of the things I discovered in the freezer section of the grocery lately (I really do need to go to this section more often, I’m missing out on lots of new products!) is that they now make mini-pierogies, which unlike their larger siblings, are designed to be sauteed without needing to thaw or boil them first.

This one is easy as pie. Slice up 5 onions, and saute them in a half stick of melted butter until almost caramelized. Add the pierogies and saute for another 10 minutes, until the pierogies are browned. Drizzle with some good balsamic and sprinkle some sea salt and serve. Shown served here with seasoned and sauteed pork loin chops.