Monthly Archives: November 2008

Thanksgiving Meme

Just saw this Thanksgiving Meme over at Joy of Desserts, and figured it would be a great post for today, as I take some time to gather my thoughts and go through photos from yesterday’s dinner.

I’m not tagging anyone in particular, but consider yourself tagged if it resonates with you and you feel like answering. 🙂

1. Which do you like better: hosting Thanksgiving at your home, or going elsewhere?

I prefer to host, I think. We don’t get many (read: any) invites for Thanksgiving usually, so we end up doing our own thing, and inviting family and friends without an extended family to join us. It’s a lot of work, but it’s only once a year, so I don’t mind it. And this way, I get to have my favorite dishes, too.

2. Do you buy a fresh or frozen turkey? Organic? Free-range?

Frozen turkey, at the cheapest price I can find. I’ve been in frugal mode this year, and found that a $5.50 turkey tastes just as good if not better than a $75 turkey. While organic or free-range would be nice, I just can’t afford it. If you guys knew how many stores I had to go to on Sunday to find a sale turkey in stock….thankfully Giant Eagle had a ton of them at .29/lb.

3. Do you make stuffing or dressing? What kind?

Stuffing, in the bird. There is absolutely no substitute in this house – if I changed it up, there would be mutiny. 2 loaves of bread, a couple of onions, a stick of butter, a couple of stalks of celery, enough chicken broth to moisten at all and salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to taste.

4. Sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie?

Neither – I always make my Brown Sugar Squash Pie, which tastes like a combination of both.

5. Are leftovers a blessing or a curse?

A blessing. I purposely make a much bigger bird than I need to (read: 18 lb. bird for 8 people) so I have leftover turkey. Stuffing is usually gone by the next day, with the remaining side dishes usually becoming parts of other dishes (like mashed potatoes becoming Shepherd’s Pie, etc.)

6. What side dishes are a must-have in your family?

The ones I’ve been ordered not to touch or change or experiment with are the candied yams and the stuffing. Everything else I have a little bit of leeway with.

7. What do you wish you had that might make Thanksgiving easier?

More fridge/freezer space and a second stove/oven. I always run out of both.

8. If/when you go to someone else’s house for the holiday, do you usually bring a dish? If so, what is it?

Never been invited to anyone’s house for the holiday, but I would bring whatever they requested, or if no requests, probably a dessert or an appetizer. If I’ve been requested to not bring anything, I still always bring along a bottle of wine for the person to have later on. I don’t like arriving as a guest empty handed.

9. What do you wish one of your guests would bring to your house?

Just themselves.

10. What do you wish one of your guests would NOT bring to your house?

Drama. I like low-key gatherings, and don’t want to worry about personality clashes/family dynamics getting in the way. Luckily, this hasn’t been a problem for years.

11. Do you stick with a particular menu from year to year, or do you mix it up?

I make the same main meal (including sides, although I’ve been known to mix up the veggie portion). I like it because it gets easier and takes less time to do each year now that it’s old hat. I play around with appetizers and desserts.

12. Is Thanksgiving a religious or secular holiday in your home?

As we are not religious, it is a purely secular day in our home that celebrates family and friends and gluttony. It’s the one day a year we can eat what we want, spend the time with whoever we want, doing anything we want, and then being able to sleep in late the next day because there’s nothing planned. We *hate* Black Friday here and avoid going out on it at all costs.

13. Share one Thanksgiving tradition.

When I was growing up, it used to be going to the football game between rival high schools Vineland and Millville. No real Thanksgiving traditions now that I’m in Ohio.

14. Share one Thanksgiving memory.

I got a heritage turkey a couple of years ago that had this HUGE cavity – I mean so big that my sister could fit her whole arm in it. And genius me decided to stuff it. After brining it. 12 hours later and the stuffing STILL wasn’t at a safe temperature. And the brine had made everything (turkey, stuffing, and gravy made from the drippings salty. Never again. Went back to my cheap supermarket frozen bird the next year.

15. Name five things you’re thankful for.

Good health, good fortune, good friends, good turkey and good times.

Thanksgiving Menu

Well, I’ve got the menu finalized, now all that’s left to do is pick up some groceries and cook the stuff that I can make ahead today. Here it is:


Cheese Plate
Delicata & Blue Cheese Quiche
Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette
Tiny Brie Bites
Crudite with Three Dips

Main Course

Roast Turkey
Whipped Potatoes
Candied Yams
Haricot Verts with Shallots and Bacon
Canberry Sauce
Freshly Baked Bread and Butter


Ginger-Mascarpone Icebox Cake
Thanksgiving “Two-fer” Pie

So far, I’ve already made the extra gravy, just need to get showered and dressed and out the door to fight the crowds to get the rest of the stuff I need, and will start cooking as soon as I get home. If you’re coming to dinner tomorrow, I’ll see you guys at 2! No need to bring anything other than yourselves. 🙂

Robin’s Italian Cafe is Closing

I’m so sad – just found out tonight that my favorite little comfort Italian joint, Robin’s Italian Cafe, (see the review I did last week) will be closing after tomorrow night. What’s frustrating is that they’re closing not because of anything they did, but because they’re a victim of a bad economy and a not-so-great location. I’ll really miss them.

If you get a chance, stop in sometime tomorrow, even if just for a pop or a salad or a dessert, to let them know there’s love out there for a locally owned business and to convince Robin to give the restaurant business a try when conditions improve.

Best of Fall Lasagna

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I lose control a little bit in fall – there’s no rhyme or reason to it, something just comes over me. Before I know it, I have enough winter squash to feed a small army. I guess it’s because to me, nothing says fall and winter cooking like squash. I think it helps that it stays good darn near forever (or at least long enough for me to use it all). When I saw this recipe posted on the blog A Year in the Kitchen, I just had to make it.

It came together easily enough, and has great flavor – but we found out that it only tastes good the first time around, and doesn’t reheat well. So make this when you’ve got a crowd to feed, or scale down to make the amount your family can eat in one sitting. I’m submitting this post to this week’s edition of Bookmarked Recipes.

Best of Fall Lasagna

The Very Best of Fall Lasagna
recipe courtesy A Year in the Kitchen

1 box whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 package apple maple chicken sausage (trader joe’s)
1 can of organic pumpkin puree
2 c. part skim ricotta cheese
¼ tsp. cinnamon
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. thyme
1 acorn squash
1 butternut squash
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
½ c. chicken stock
1 c. 2% milk
Fresh grated nutmeg, to taste
2 c. shredded smoked fontina cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt heavily.
Combine pumpkin puree, ricotta, cinnamon, salt and pepper in a bowl. Set aside until ready to construct lasagna.

Cook sausage according to package directions. Slice and set aside until ready to construct lasagna.
In a nonstick skillet over low heat, sauté onions for 15 minutes, or until tender. Add thyme, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Cook until vinegar is a glaze onions, turn heat off and set aside until ready to construct lasagna.

Place a steamer basket over boiling water. Peel, seed, and slice acorn and butternut squash. Place in steamer basket and steam for 3-4 minutes, do not overcook! They should be al dente. Set aside until ready to construct.

Drop the pasta noodles, and cook for 7 minutes.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add in flour and cook out over medium heat. Add stock, milk and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer. Add ½ of the cheese. Whisk until combined, turn off heat.
Drain noodles when they’re very al dente.

To construct lasagna:
Ladle cheese sauce into the bottom of a lasagna dish. Place noodles in the bottom, top with ricotta mix, then slices of squash, then slices of sausage, some balsamic onions, and a ladle full of the cheese sauce.

Repeat beginning with noodles for 2 more layers, using up squash, sausage, and onions. At the 4th layer, spread on ricotta mixture, remaining cheese sauce, and then top with the remaining 1 c. of fontina cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.

Grown Up Mac and Cheese

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been craving macaroni and cheese all week. Partly because it’s one of the most comforting foods around, but also because I had some cheese in the cheese drawer that really needed to be used ASAP. I ended up using a combination of gruyere, sharp cheddar, and Stilton (the only veined cheese I had in the house), and it tastes for all the world like the frozen stuff at Trader Joe’s (this is a good thing!). I’m still looking for the “perfect” mac and cheese, but this one is darn close. I left out the bacon.

Grown Up Mac and Cheese

Grown Up Mac and Cheese
recipe courtesy Ina Garten

4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven – there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.

Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Thinking About Thanksgiving

Yes, it’s still the better part of a week away, but I’m starting my menu planning now.

Paul’s already made it crystal clear that I’m not to mess with any new recipes for the main meal – and I agree. I have my traditional dishes that everyone likes which I’ll keep on making – like turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing in the bird, gravy, candied yams, and canberry sauce.

So my place to experiment is with appetizers and desserts. I’ve got a few ideas, but would love your input. What appetizers/desserts does your family love? Stuff I can prepare ahead is a plus.

Fall Pasta Salad

no croutons required

I’ve had the idea of this pasta salad in my head for a while – I wanted to put together a pasta salad that had a bunch of fall ingredients in it, like winter squash and pepitas and apples. This is my first try, very vegetarian, but it’s missing something. Paul says bacon or something else that’s salty. Will give it a try next time around, but I’m submitting this vegetarian version to No Croutons Required, which has the theme of vegetarian soups or salads with pasta this month.

Fall Pasta Salad

Fall Pasta Salad

1 lb. pasta (your choice, I used Trader Joe’s veggie pasta, which had nice fall colors)
2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2″ cubes and roasted until tender
1 Honeycrisp apple, peeled, seeded, diced and sprinkled with citric acid
1 handful roasted salted pepitas (I got these at Trader Joe’s)
1/4 c. golden raisins
1 recipe of Sherry Maple Vinaigrette (recipe below)
2-4 oz. Trader Joe’s Goat Cheese with Honey, crumbled

Set aside roasted butternut squash. Prepare pasta according to pasta instructions, rinse in cold water and drain. Mix in apple, pepitas, and raisins. Before serving, mix in dressing and squash and combine, making sure not to mush the squash. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve.

Sherry Maple Vinaigrette
recipe courtesy Fine Cooking magazine

1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 Tbs. finely chopped shallots
1 cup peanut oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, and shallots in a bowl and slowly whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Apples & Thyme: Mom’s Low & Slow Pot Roast

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It’s time again for Apples & Thyme, the food blogging event that celebrates the recipes we’ve learned from our mothers and grandmothers. This time I’m going to focus on my mother.

Mom & Joe

Unlike me, she doesn’t experiment that much with cooking, having a dozen or so staple dishes that she makes really well, with the occasional new recipe being dreamt up or tested for variety. I’m not exactly sure where she got this recipe, but it’s the way she’s made pot roast for as long as I can remember, and it’s so easy even a child could do it.

Mom's Low 'n Slow Pot Roast

It only has four ingredients – a 3 to 4 pound chuck roast, an envelope of onion soup mix, a 15-oz can of diced or stewed tomatoes, and the seasoning of your choice (I use Penzey’s Beef Roast seasoning). Put the meat into foil (I use a Dutch oven), sprinkle it with seasoning, soup mix and tomatoes, and either seal up the foil or put the lid tightly on the Dutch oven. Cook low ‘n slow in a 250F oven for about 8 hours – when you peek again after that time, the roast will be falling-apart tender. Set the roast and veggies aside, and put any juices through a strainer. Make gravy by thickening with Wondra and bringing the drippings to a boil for 1-2 minutes, and then pour gravy on top of roast and serve.

Serve with potatoes or noodles. Makes great leftover open-faced pot roast sandwiches. 🙂

Review: Latitude 41

I hate it when I have high expectations of a place, only to be super disappointed at the reality. Latitude 41 doesn’t help matters any by billing itself as a “destination restaurant”, which brings to mind places like Alinea or the French Laundry, places where I would make a trip to a geographical location just to eat at said restaurant. It fell so short of living up to the hype that it went beyond disappointed into the realm of comical.

Our journey to our “destination” began with an inauspicious false start on Sunday – a day on which, according to their web site, they are open from 12-2 for lunch. We arrived around 1, to be greeted by and empty dining room. We stood around for a couple of minutes, with the occasional chef staring at us but making no attempt to approach, until one came over a few minutes later and informed us they were closed. “But your website says that you’re open”, I say, to which I get a shrug, a quick “you can order takeout at the bar if you like” and him turning around and walking away.

Since we had a gift certificate that we had to use, we left and came back this afternoon, again around 1pm, well within the realms of their lunch service. After being seated, our waitress filled our water glasses half way, and proceeded to disappear for quite a while. We caught her long enough when she came back to order our appetizer to share, a Lamb Sausage and Butternut Squash Flatbread ($13). The description promised a delight of flavors – the aforementioned squash and sausage, along with olive oil, rosemary, white wine, grana padano and gruyere. What we received was quite underwhelming, a glorified cracker with a sprinkling of ingredients, which overall was quite blurry and bland. The secondary ingredients were all but undetectable, and overall the dish was a mess – kind of like when you reheat something bready in the microwave – it came out barely warm, with only the insides of the flatbread being truly edible. For the price, I expected something that would blow me away. What I received instead was something I could reproduce (and better!) in my own kitchen at a fraction of the price. Definitely not a good start.

Lamb Sausage-Butternut Squash Flatbread at Latitude 41

For his entree, my husband chose the Beef Stroganoff ($13), which was actually quite good – nice tender chunks of beef in a creamy flavorful gravy, served over what I believe is fresh papardelle pasta. Decent sized portion, although a bit light on the beef, but definitely worth ordering again.

Beef Stroganoff at Latitude 41

I didn’t fare so well. Here’s where the comedy of errors begins. I decide to go with the Latitude 41 Burger ($11), which is billed on the menu as being served with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion, brioche and horseradish aioli. I ordered it medium rare, as I usually do when ordering burgers. Medium rare because most places overcook burgers just a bit, and medium rare usually ends up as medium – cooked, but with pink in the middle. The burger is supposed to come with your choice of either mixed green salad, fresh fruit, or Truffle Parmesan fries. I went with the fries.

Burger at Latitude 41

Unfortunately, what I got is a well done burger with fries that had no sign whatsoever of either truffle or Parmesan – not even a hint of it in aroma, let alone flavor. Know right now that I’m the type of person who *hates* sending food back – I hate confrontation, or making a big deal out of things, and even if I’m in the right, I feel like a heel for doing it. But I do it anyway, because the burger was so well done that it was beyond edible for me.

So I wait a few minutes, out comes burger #2. Just as overdone as the first one, so I tell the waitress, who shrugs and is like “sorry you don’t like it”. I see I’m getting nowhere so I ask if the floor manager is around (so I can order something else at this point, as I’m batting 0 for 2 with burgers) – she gets the chef, who comes and stands in front of me with his arms crossed, and says to me “you’re only taking a bite – I cooked it myself, it’s medium rare, so cut it in half” which I proceed to do and show him that it’s brown throughout. He kind of mumbles something about cooking it again and walks away quickly.

A few more minutes pass, and he comes out with the burger personally. He tells me to be careful, the plate is hot. I cut into it again – still brown throughout but at this point I’m about sick of the back and forth and try to eat it. I tried, I really did. I just couldn’t. I don’t know what they did the third time, but it had the consistency of pure raw meat, with the color of fully done. It was, as Gordon Ramsay puts it, “the dogs dinner”. It was beyond gross. Here’s a blurry (but pretty accurate) picture of what I’m talking about:

Inside of the 3rd burger of the day at Latitude 41

I had totally lost my appetite for burgers at this point, and the fries I think were just reheated from before under the Salamander, so I asked her to just take it away, make sure I wasn’t charged for it and that I wanted to order a different entree which I had no problem paying for – so I went and ordered the Beef Stroganoff, the only item I had at this point that we had found to be good. I still felt like a heel, but I had gone 0 for 3 with the burgers, and at that point just figured they had no clue how to cook them. If chain restaurants can cook burgers to order, I certainly would have the same expectations of a “destination” restaurant. I fully believe that there are realistic expectations and unrealistic expectations when it comes to dining out – having your food cooked to order certainly is a realistic expectation, especially for a restaurant in this price range.

The Beef Stroganoff, like my husband’s, was quite good. We were almost afraid to order dessert at this point, but since the gift certificate was basically a $50 “use it or lose it” deal, we had to order it to use up the rest of the money.

We were actually pleasantly surprised with dessert. Paul went with a Warm Valhrona Chocolate Cake ($8), which was served with a warm berry compote and what they said was a mixed berry sorbet (which for all the world tasted to me like Jeni’s Cherry Lambic, not mixed berry). Good combination of flavors, but served on a plate that made taking pictures difficult. 🙂

Chocolate Cake Dessert at Latitude 41

I went with the Apple-Raisin Bread Pudding ($8), which was served warm with a rich Jack Daniels anglaise and caramel sauce. Good balance of flavors, slight issues with texture because there were some dry spots that were a bit chewy. Still, not a bad rendition of a classic dish.

Apple-Raisin Bread Pudding at Latitude 41

Overall, we were quite underwhelmed with our experience at Latitude 41. Service was spotty, there’s severe issues with the food, and it definitely didn’t live up to the hype and build-up. Our lunch ended up taking almost 2 1/2 hours. For an establishment that pushes the fact that it uses local ingredients, I didn’t see many listed on the menu – which I find difficult to understand with the abundance of local producers that are still putting out great Ohio produce, meat, and dairy. Unfortunately, in the end it suffered the same fate that most hotel restaurants do – underwhelming, inconsistent food for expense account budgets. What Latitude 41 seeks out to do is great in concept – at this point, I just find they’re lacking in execution.

If you’d like to go: Latitude 41, 50 N. 3rd St, Columbus (Downtown), 614.233.7541

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Review: Robin’s Italian Cafe

NOTE: Robin’s Italian Cafe is now closed. Sad to see this one go. 🙁

I think we stumbled upon Robin’s Italian Cafe by accident a few years ago. It was right after Robin had taken over Butch’s, a restaurant she had worked at since she was a teenager. We were enchanted immediately. You won’t find ground-breaking cuisine at Robin’s – this is more a type of place you go when you’re looking for Italian comfort food – the kind that’s filling and messy and not much to look at, but warms your belly like no other. Not to say that Robin’s is pedestrian or bad in any way, it’s just very unassuming Italian chow, just like the owner herself.

We had a meetup there a few months ago, and they went out of their way to accommodate our group of over 20 people, most of whom wanted separate checks. They handled that and the needs of our group with surprising ease and friendliness. But then again, I’ve never had anything less than a friendly experience here.

Our waitress on this day was especially friendly and engaging. Upon greeting us, she brought us a basket of basic supermarket Italian bread and a margarine-based garlic spread, but hinted to us that we might prefer to use their house vinaigrette as a dipping sauce in lieu of the margarine – oh my, she was right. It took something that wasn’t impressive and made it a bread basket worth digging into repeatedly. So keep that suggestion in mind if you decide to go.

Bread and Garlic Spread at Robin's Italian Cafe

All dinners come with the bread, your choice of soup (wedding or minestrone), their house salad, and your entree. Very, very filling and very inexpensive comparatively.

For our soup, we both went with the wedding soup. It’s a bit different than most wedding soups in that it doesn’t have any meatballs, but it has great flavor nonetheless, with shredded chicken, and large chunks of carrots and celery along with the obligatory acini pasta in a tasty chicken broth. The soup came out piping hot, but unfortunately the pasta was overcooked just a touch.

Italian Wedding Soup at Robin's Italian Cafe

The salad at Robin’s is where it’s at – love, love, love the fact that it has pasta in it interspersed with fresh, crisp veggies. I love it with French dressing, while my husband prefers Italian. Still, it’s one of the few salads of which I will eat every last bite.

Salad at Robin's Italian Cafe

But the true gem at Robin’s? The Create Your Own Pasta entree, where for a base price $9.95, you get your choice of pasta and sauce (extra toppings are at additional cost, which are pretty reasonable). My pasta of choice is their homemade linguine with butter and cream sauce, to which I added a meatball, sausage, spinach and tomatoes. We like to “pink it up” a bit to make it a tomato cream sauce by getting a side of marinara. Yes, they have a tomato cream sauce but it’s more tomato than cream, so we’ve found this is the best way to get the results we’re looking for. In any case, the possible combinations that one can come up with are numerous, with only your imagination as the limit. Even if what you’re looking for isn’t listed on the menu, if it’s possible for them to do it, they will. Robin’s is accommodating that way, even to our strange requests.

Linguine with Butter and Cream Sauce at Robin's Italian Cafe

No room for appetizers or dessert, as the entree with soup, salad and bread resulted in our taking home half of our pasta because were too full to finish. So, in closing, what can you expect at Robin’s? Straightforward homey Italian food, friendly service, huge portions, at a great price.

If you’d like to go: Robin’s Italian Cafe, 4720 E. Main Street, Whitehall. 614.864.7300.

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