Blogging by Mail: Little Things

I’ve been a little asleep at the wheel when it came to this round of Blogging by Mail. I had meant to gather everything together a couple of weekends ago, but Mother Nature had different ideas and my plans got postponed. So when I receieved the package from Pam of Pam’s Pantry yesterday, it kicked my rear end into high gear, even though I had already started putting everything together. Unfortunately, one of the sad facts of Mondays in Columbus is that a lot of the stores I wanted to hit (most of the merchants in the North Market, Pistacia Vera) were closed. So, I finished gathering everything together today, and the package is going out in the mail tonight (woot! for 24 hour post offices at airports).

So what was I lucky enough to receive? I got spoiled by Pam, who hit a homerun on virtually every choice. :) How did she know that I love chopped dates (for munching and cooking), granola, and mulled cider? I can’t wait to try the Nosewarmer Punch, and I’m planning on sneaking it in before spring hits.

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She also sent me (along with a lovely letter and some of her recipes) some homemade cookies (yummy!), some chai (which I’m planning on making desserts with), some cruets for oil and vinegar, some tea, chocolate covered ginger, and horehound candy (which I haven’t tried yet, but am planning to soon). Thank you so much, Pam – I loved it all! And thank you, Stephanie – for doing as great a job hosting as you always do!

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So, what is my person getting? Here’s an overview of what I put in the box. I wanted to give my person a taste of local flavors and some of my other favorite things or things I couldn’t do without, but mostly, this is Columbus in a box. Is it you that I’m sending to? I’ll leave a few hints along the way.

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Since my person loves to bake, I sent them some of my favorite spices for baking from Penzey’s, along with a couple of my other favorites. Four kinds of cinnamon, 3 Madagascar vanilla beans, some powdered lemon peel, and star anise – along with a Penzey’s catalog and a copy of Penzey’s One magazine. In addition, I included a bottle of beef roasted seasoning (great with chuck roast) and granulated toasted onion. Penzey’s rules!

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My favorite bakery for sweets in Columbus is Pistacia Vera, and in the box, I included some of my favorites – a box of macarons, a box of fruit gels, some orange blossom marshmallows, and some lavender shortbread. Since my person lives in a state that borders Ohio the continental US (update: oops, I was wrong – the state doesn’t border Ohio, but I got confused because there is a similarly named town in a state that DOES border Ohio – either way, the stuff will arrive in the same 2-3 day timeframe), the lovely people at Pistacia Vera assured me that these goodies would stay fresh for the couple days it will take to get there.

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Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I love love love the North Market. I included a selection of stuff from there – a nine piece of my favorite truffles from Pure Imagination, some bourbon-infused hot sauce from CaJohns, my favorite salsa, Raspberry Salsa, from Jose Madrid Salsa, and since I know my person is a mother, I included four different kinds of popcorn from Pam’s Market Popcorn, which appeal to all ages. :)

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And it didn’t fit in the previous picture, but I also included a few Buckeyes from Heil’s Deli. I’m not a big fan of Buckeyes myself (too sweet for me!), but nothing says Ohio like a Buckeye and I wasn’t up to making a whole batch of them.

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Last but not least, I included a couple of other items. Since my person likes to spend a lot of time in her kitchen, I sent along a few kitchen gadgets I find indispensible – a salt cellar and a Kuhn Rikon Nonstick Paring Knife, the best paring knife ever! From Trader Joe’s, my favorite sea salt caramels. And from Schmidt’s, some espresso coffee beans and honey toffee chocolate.

So is it you that I’m sending to? You’ll find out in a few days. :)

Review: Restaurant Silla

I have to tell you guys, ever since I read Lisa’s review of the bi bim bap that she had at Diaspora, I’ve been craving it. And I’ve wanted to check out that place ever since, but have been dreading dealing with parking on campus, which is a nightmare even when school isn’t in session.

So my mission was clear. I needed to find a restaurant in Columbus that would give my my crunchy rice fix, without giving up my firstborn for a parking space. And the kicker? We started our search at 10pm, so it had to be somewhere that was open late.

After a quick internet search, we found out the place to go in town for bi bim bap is Restaurant Silla, a little spot with an almost exclusively Korean clientele sandwiched in an alley in between Sears and Spud’s near the corner of Reed and Henderson on the Northwest side. And a bonus? They’re open until 2am every night, except for Monday, when they are closed entirely. I did take pictures, which came out a bit blurry – excuse the lack of quality shots tonight.

They brought out a bunch of little dishes, which come gratis and give one a sampling of different Korean delicacies such as kimchee of different sorts (standard cabbage, daikon radish, cucumber), an eggy fishy flat noodle dish, lightly pickled cucumbers, and mung bean sprouts. A nice introduction to dishes unfamiliar to me, and quite generous of them, actually.

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My husband and I split an order of potstickers ($6.95), which were standard thin-skinned meat gyoza (and the flavor of the meat was incredible), fried to a crisp and served with an appropriately salty dipping sauce.

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Speaking of salt – we both got the impression that one seasons their own food in a Korean restaurant with the assortment of sauces (soy, chili, etc) and oils that are brought to the table with your dish. There isn’t a standard salt and pepper shaker, and it is necessary to season your food. I appreciate that they allow one to do that to one’s own palate rather than assume that one can handle a certain level of salt or heat.

My husband, in the mood for sushi, got a Rock ‘n Roll ($12.95), a huge tempura roll filled with tuna, salmon, eel, cream cheese, and avocado. It easily competes with our favorite sushi haunt, Sushiko. We may come back just for the sushi alone. The fish, which is raw in this roll, was extremely fresh.

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For his entree, my husband chose the safest dish to order in a Korean restaurant – bulgogi ($14.95). Served on a chafing burner, the tender meat and flavorful brown sauce stayed piping hot throughout his meal. It’s a very simple dish – meat and sauce and onions, and would appeal to just about anyone.

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I, seeking to sate that bi bim bap craving, went with the Dol Sot Bibim Bab ($12.95), which is steamed rice topped with vegetables, beef and a fried egg served in a sizzling stone hot pot. Needless to say, the crunchy rice at the bottom (which continues to cook as you’re eating the dish) was easily the best part. Seasoned to taste with chili sauce, sesame oil, and soy sauce, it made my day. I’m officially addicted. I’ve got to say, though – it’s a HUGE serving. I took as much home with me as I ate.

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They have karaoke here on evenings after 9pm, but no one was singing when we were there. It looks like a fun scene.

Also, when looking online, there were several negative reviews saying that non-Korean people would be treated poorly here – I can honestly say that our experience was so pleasant, that we didn’t find that to be true in the least. Our waiter was attentive, patient with our many questions, and quick on the ball when it came to refilling our water and making sure we had everything we needed. We will happily return to Restaurant Silla any time we crave Korean.

If you’d like to go: Restaurant Silla, 1802 W. Henderson Rd, Columbus, OH 43220, 614.459.5990, Tues-Sun 11am to 2am

Silla Restaurant & Karaoke Bar on Urbanspoon

TWD: Russian Grandmothers’ Apple-Pie Cake

This is just a placeholder for the time being – I made the dough last night, and the cake is in the oven as we speak (it smells great!), but I’ve got to wait until it’s done and cooled down before I take pictures and give a final verdict – I will try my best to update the entry tonight – hopefully before my Tuesdays with Dorie entry becomes a Wednesdays with Dorie entry. ;)

Update: As promised, here’s the picture. I let it bake for the 65 minutes, but it got a little dark around the edges. The taste? The filling was yummy, the dough was like a coffee cake dough, and overwhelmed the apples a bit. I usually like a little less dough in my cakes. Overall, it would go great with a cup of coffee or cocoa. Sorry about the quality of the pic, as the final product wasn’t very pretty to begin with, and my camera had a hard time focusing on it.

 

Here’s the recipe:

Russian Grandmothers’ Apple-Pie Cake
recipe from “Baking: From My Home to Yours” courtesy Dorie Greenspan

For The Dough:
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
3 1/4 – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples: 
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix (I like to use Fuji, Golden Delicious and Ida Reds; my grandmother probably used dry baking apples like Cordland and Rome)
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting

To Make The Dough: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice – the dough will probably curdle, but don’t worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3 1/4 cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra 1/4 cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples: Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice – even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that’s fine – and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9×12-inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking shee tlined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it’s a little more malleable, you’ve got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan – because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven’s heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about 1/4 inch thick – you don’t want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that’s fine; if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenely across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you’ve got a 1/4 to 1/2 inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don’t have that much overhang, just press what you’ve got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65 to 80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You’ll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

Eeek! A Mouse!

I have meant to work my way through the pantries for ages now, but now I’m at the point where some unwelcome visitors in the house have forced the issue.

We were searching the other day for matzo ball mix, and when we finally found the box, it was stuck to two others, with a mouse sized hole through all three and totally empty. Yikes, that’s one hungry mouse. Since then, we’ve been going through the pantry throwing away anything the mice got into (or got infiltrated with mice droppings/urine), and after only having gone through the bottom of each pantry, we’ve already had to throw away about 70 lbs. of food with about 3/4 of the pantry left to go through. Anything that is untouched/still usable but susceptible to mice (in boxes, bags, etc) are going in jumbo plastic bins for storage until the mice have been erradicated. All we’ve been able to determine so far is that one is Jewish (hence it’s love for kasha and matzo ball mix), one’s on South Beach (because it ate all my whole wheat pasta, and left the regular stuff alone), one has celiac disease (because it ate all of the gluten free pasta and bread mix), and one wants to go on vacation (because it has eaten all the tropical stuff like coconut and dried tropical fruit).

We still haven’t figured out how they got in (we have a fairly new house, only 3 years old), or where they’re currently hiding (let’s just say that as we’re going through the pantry we’re convinced we’re going to come across them sooner or later, and have our guard up), but hopefully with the aid of some mouse catching baits and traps, we can get rid of this problem, and fast. In the meantime, it’s a battle of speed and wits with me vs. the mice, and I’ve been very motivated to do a lot of cooking out of the pantry lately.

Snow Shoveler’s Breakfast

I fed the husband before sending him out to shovel snow. We figured he’d burn off this burly breakfast in no time flat. And he did. Even though he has only finished half the driveway so far. Suddenly, paying the neighbor boy $15 to shovel the rest doesn’t seem like a bad deal. But I think we’ll wait until it stops snowing.

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Nonetheless, breakfast was GOOOOOD. Something about being snowbound and having nothing to do and nowhere to go makes lazy Saturday afternoon brunches (and the time it takes to make them) seem worthwhile. Clicky through if you want to see a tagged version of what we had.

Blizzard of 2008

Here I am reporting directly from Blizzard Central, where it’s STILL snowing, and will continue to do so for several hours. It looks like I didn’t have to worry about making it to the farmer’s market anyway, as it got cancelled.

Here’s a picture of our deck, with a foot already on the ground and another 3-5 inches yet to come. Notice the dog shaped path through the snow. Our Beagle was doggie-paddling through it, with our Shih Tzu close on her heels as the snow was over her head. I don’t think I’ll be leaving the house for days….

Update 3PM: Still no signs of stopping, and coming down like gangbusters. The news says that we still have a ways to go, and have set new records with a total snowfall of 18 inches in less than 24 hours. If you have plans to dine out tonight, make sure you call the restaurant to make sure it’s open today – many popular ones are closed at least for today (like Bexley Monk, Elevator, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, The Clarmont, Boston Market, Rotolos, Rusty Bucket, Schmidt’s, to name a few). Keep up with the lastest closings/cancellations here. We’re under a Level 2 snow emergency here in Columbus at the moment, but please – it’s bad out there. Don’t drive unless you have to. Stay warm and stay safe. More updates later….

Bean and Ham Soup

Well, we’re pretty much snowed in at the moment, in the midst of a blizzard warning that lasts until tomorrow afternoon and that will give us about 15 inches of snow between now and then. Needless to say, it put a serious dent in my plans (I had to reschedule the meetup scheduled for tomorrow night, and I’ve scratched my plans to go to the Worthington Winter Farmer’s Market tomorrow), so I have a whole weekend with no going out for anything to look forward to.

In addition to catching up on little things like housework, it’s also allowing me to make dishes that seriously hit the spot now, when the house is a bit chilly and there’s snow everywhere the eye can see, but would be seriously out of place in a few weeks when spring will have sprung and my tulips will be blooming. Call it a last hurrah for winter foods, if you will. And nothing hits the spot quite like a nice thick bean and ham soup. Served with a loaf of Omega’s French Country bread and butter, there’s nothing else quite like it. Thank you, Mom – for the inspiration.

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Bean and Ham Soup

1 bag Hambone 16-Bean Soup Mix (or any other brand that comes with a ham flavor packet)
3-4 ham hocks (1-2 lbs. total)
1/2 lb. double-smoked bacon, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
8 cups water
1/2 tbsp. minced garlic in olive oil
1 tsp. Colman’s mustard powder
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt (add more to taste)
Maggi seasoning (to taste)
3 medium potatoes, diced into 1/2″ cubes

Soak the beans in 2 quarts water overnight (at least 8 hours), then drain water. In cast iron dutch oven, saute double smoked bacon until it starts to liberate bacon grease, and then add carrots, celery, onion, and minced garlic. Saute until onion is translucent, about 5-10 minutes.

Add 8 cups water, beans, mustard, and bay leaves to pot, and stir well. Bring to a boil, and allow beans to simmer until they are softened and start thickening (about 2-2 1/2 hrs in our case). Add ham seasoning packet from bean mix. Check for seasoning and add additional salt/maggi if necessary. Add potatoes, and allow to cook an additional half hour or so until potatoes are tender. Strip meat from ham hocks and then add back to pot. Serve with a nice crusty loaf of bread.

Presto Pasta Night #53: Stuffed Shells

This is the the first Presto Pasta Night event I’ve participated in for quite a while – for a while since surgery, pasta has been a little bit difficult to digest; luckily, I’m adjusting, can can eat virtually anything within reason now. Weight loss is slow, about 10 lbs. a month, which is normal for a revision.

After going to Carfagna’s the other day, and seeing fresh ricotta and jumbo shells in the dry pasta aisle, I had a sudden craving to do stuffed shells. I made meatballs as well, using Carfagna’s premixed meatball mix (you can buy it at the meat counter by the pound). I used the recipe for stuffed shells from the back of the box, and it’s a keeper. They don’t look like much, but I can assure you, they tasted great. :)

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Classic Stuffed Shells
recipe from the back of Pasta Columbia box

Lean Tomato Sauce:

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 28oz cans of tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. water
1 c. dry red wine
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 c. minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Add other ingredients and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Filling:

1 1/2 lbs. ricotta cheese (I used ~2 lbs, and was still short)
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
1/3 c. chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook and drain one 12-oz package of Jumbo Shells. Combine filling ingredients and stuff shells with mixture. Spread thin layer of sauce in large baking dish and place shells in single layer on top of sauce. Pour remaining sauce (I didn’t use it all, I just put enough to cover shells lightly) over shells and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake in a preheated 350F degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Serves 8.

Cheesesteak Stromboli

I moved to Ohio from South Jersey about 12 years ago, and one of the things that I quickly found out upon moving is that although you can find a “stromboli” here, the Ohio version of a stromboli is absolutely nothing like a New Jersey one.

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So over the past decade, I’ve searched high and low for a cheesesteak stromboli. No such luck. Even the places that carried both cheesesteaks and strombolis wouldn’t make one for me, even if I told them exactly how to make it. I’ve sated the craving over time by just making sure I pick one up the once a year or so I go back to South Jersey to visit.

So imagine my excitement when I got a call yesterday from my mother and her boyfriend inviting us to come over for dinner last night for cheesesteak strombolis. You better believe that we accepted that invitation in a heartbeat! And now that I know how easy it is to make an extremely credible version of one, you can rest assured I’ll be making these myself from now on.

You start with about 2-3 lbs. (depending on how meaty you want them) of Philly steak (if you go to Schumann’s Meats on the West Side and ask them for “Philly Steak, chipped” they’ll know exactly what you mean) – if not, ask your local butcher to chip either tri-tip or round. Slice a large onion and a green peper, and put it in a pan with a little bit of oil to brown. Here’s a pic of the steak and veggies during the browning process.

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Once the meat is done, let it sit a couple minutes to drain, and in the meantime, roll out a ball of pizza dough (either make your own, or buy it – we got ours at Trader Joe’s) into a rectangle. Place the cooked meat in a line down the middle, and top it liberally with pizza sauce (we used some I had canned last summer with local tomatoes) and chopped fresh basil.

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Top liberally with mozzarella cheese.

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To fold it up, fold the ends inward, and bring the top and bottom toward the middle, kind of like making a burrito. Flip it over so the seams are directly on the cookie sheet. Top each one (this recipe should make 2) with a little more mozzarella cheese.

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Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven 15-20 minutes or until cheese on top is browned and bubbling. To serve, cut into slices.

It truly hit the spot. If you like calzones, give this a try. A great big thank you to my mother and Joe for having us over. :)