Chicken Stifado and YaYa's Potatoes

This is a great little stewed chicken recipe that is chock full of Mediterranean flavors – while great on its own, it’s absolutely fabulous paired with some lemon roasted potatoes. It’s a good choice any time of the year, but really hits a spot on a cold winter night.

Chicken Stifado and YaYa's Potatoes

Greek Chicken Stifado
recipe courtesy CDKitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1 pinch salt and pepper
1 onion, slivered
2 sweet red peppers, slivered
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup Kalamata or other black olives
1/3 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon mint

***Gremolata***
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
3 cloves garlic, minced

Directions:
Combine parsley, lemon rind, dill and garlic, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook chicken, in batches, for about 5 minutes or until browned. Arrange, skin side up, in 13 * 9 inch baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, set aside.

Pour off all but 1 Tbsp drippings from skillet. Cook onion, red peppers and garlic over medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened. Spoon over chicken. To skillet, add tomatoes, olives, currants, capers, lemon juice, oregano and mint, bring to boil.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasional, for 15 minutes or until thickened, then pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered, in 350 F oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced. Sprinkle with Gremolata.

YaYa’s Potatoes
recipe from Buff Chickpea blog

2 pounds potatoes, peeled & cut into large chunks
2 onions, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
2 lemons, zested & juiced
Dried Parsley
Sea salt & pepper
Paprika powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the cut up potatoes and onions in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish (I forgot about the onions, which is why I added them after everything was mixed in the above picture). Set aside while you make the lemon dressing.

In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, zest, broth, oregano, garlic, and a little salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil, in a slow steady stream. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and onions, and give everything a good toss.

Sprinkle with additional salt (for crunch), paprika (for color), and parsley (for presentation), and put into your preheated oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, give the potatoes a toss, then bake for an additional 45-50 minutes, tossing every 20 minutes or so.

Congress members have funds invested in BP stock

The Independent (London, England) June 18, 2010 | David Usborne When members of Congress take the cane to BP they might want to slip some hefty padding down their own trousers. A glimpse at the assets of the assorted senators and representatives directly involved in the hearings about the oil spill uncovers something not irrelevant – many are big holders of BP stock.

Fred Upton, the top Republican on the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, has nearly $100,000 (67,500) invested in BP. Put them altogether and those leading the Deepwater Horizon inquiries own $14.5m in oil and gas industry stock, of which at least $400,000, though probably much more, is accounted for by shares in the three main companies tied to the spill – BP, Transocean and Anadarko Petroleum. go to web site bp stock price

Once a year members of Congress are obliged to reveal all of their financial holdings but can do so by pointing to wide ranges of valuations. No specific numbers are required. The day for detailing their personal fortunes fell this week and the Washington Post was first to see who among those now excoriating the industry have been happily profiting from it. go to web site bp stock price

At the end of last year, Senator John Kerry, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, had assets totalling at least $6m in a dozen oil concerns, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell. The family trusts of his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, had up to $750,000 of BP stock. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, held BP stock worth $50,000, the paper found.

A spokeswoman for Senator Kerry said his holdings presented no conflict of interest. “Senator Kerry has been the Senate’s best environmental champion for more than 25 years,” she said.

David Usborne

Oma's Potato Salad

I love my sister Maurya’s potato salad (more about that in an upcoming entry) – really, I do. So much so that I will make her recipe 80% of the time we’re having it. However, there’s something about Thurn’s garlic knockers that call out for my Oma’s potato salad. It’s the simplest recipe ever, and everyone who has tasted it has loved it. I’ve remembered it all these years simply because it is so easy and so good. Hopefully, you will love it as well. It uses ingredients that one normally has on hand, and can be whipped up in no time flat.

Oma's Potato Salad

Oma’s Potato Salad

3 lbs. small yellow potatoes (such as Yukon Golds)
1 small to medium white onion, chopped
Cider vinegar, to taste
Mayonnaise, to taste
Salt, to taste

Place unpeeled potatoes in a pot of boiling water, and allow to boil until just tender but still firm (about 10-15 minutes). When done, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and then lay the potatoes on a paper towel to cool down. When cool enough to touch, peel and slice the potatoes into a large bowl. After each pound of potatoes is sliced and layered in the bowl, sprinkle liberally with cider vinegar, one third of the onions, and salt. Add mayo to bowl – you want it to be just enough mayo to hold the salad together, so be careful not to add too much. Check one more time for taste, and add vinegar, salt or mayo as needed to achieve the flavor that you like best. Can be served cold or warm, is great both ways!

LONGEVITY MARRIED 50 YEARS: LARRY AND BETTY HORNER

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA) November 8, 2004 | – Nicole Sunkes Larry and Betty Horner of Thousand Oaks celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with their family on June 5 at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village.

They met at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis where they both worked for the federal government, and Larry had just returned from the Korean War. They were married in Anderson, Ind., at the Second Methodist Church. They moved to Westlake Village in 1968. go to website los robles hospital

Larry earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Indiana University. When they moved to Westlake Village, they became active in civic affairs. Larry became president of the Westlake Athletic Association and president of Foxmoor and Westlake joint homeowners’ associations. He was a former vice president at Northrop Grumman and retired after spending 41 years in the aerospace industry. He also served four terms on the Thousand Oaks City Council spanning 16 1/2 years. Currently, he is working as Senior District Adviser for Congressman Brad Sherman.

Betty graduated from Indiana University. She is a member of Volunteers in Policing, member and past-president of the Westlake Women’s Club, a member of the Civic Arts Plaza, and the Conejo Valley Historical Society. She is on the Board of Trustees for Los Robles Hospital, on the R.S.V.P. Advisory Board, on the Crime Stoppers Board of Directors and a member of Conejo Friends. here los robles hospital

They were recently honored by the Thousand Oaks City Council for their golden anniversary, and have each been honored as Man and Woman of the year by the Chamber of Commerce.

Larry and Betty plan on traveling to Indiana later this year to retrace the beginning of their relationship. They also plan on celebrating in New York as well.

They have three children: Cynthia of New York, Larry Jr. of Simi Valley and Kymberly of Thousand Oaks.

- Nicole Sunkes

Sunday Gravy

I grew up in South Jersey, where everybody was Italian by extension (if you weren’t, you had at least one friend who was and whose parents would unofficially adopt you). My part of Jersey was all but invisible to anyone who lived north of Trenton, so the only time we’d attract the stereotype (see: any one of the douches featured on Jersey Shore) was during the summer. People are surprised when I say I’m a Jersey girl, because I’m the anti-stereotype – no accent to speak of, very Midwestern polite (i.e. I may think it but won’t say it). But we grew up with an old school pizza/pasta/sub shop on just about every block, so I’ve had my share of both good and bad Italian food. This recipe? An example of the good. I was looking for a recipe that would approximate the “Sunday gravy” my friends parents would make – what sets “gravy” apart from “sauce” is the amount of meat in it – this one is a gravy if ever there was one. This is an all day affair, one that many families do every single week. This is definitely a dish you want to make in the winter (because to me, red gravy is one of the cornerstones of comfort food) – mainly because this will heat (and humidify) your kitchen up something fierce. This? One of the better of the recipes I’ve seen over the years. I saw this on a Chowhound board a while back – and the reading through of the initial recipe amused me so much that I left it intact. If I didn’t know any better I would swear that the original poster was channeling just about anyone I ever asked in Jersey for a recipe. I followed the directions to the letter and was quite pleased with the results.

Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy
recipe by John Fodera

First thing to note: This is not sauce. This is not marinara. This is gravy and it must be referred to as such. Capisce? Yes it’s red, yes it’s for pasta, but all the meat is what makes it gravy. So…..this is not my recipe for marinara sauce, or sauce with other accoutrements, but this is a recipe for what???? GRAVY….that’s right! Here goes.

First, you need a BAP (Big Ass Pot) The BAP must be at least 10 to 12 quarts or you are in for trouble. I do not recommend making gravy in pots smaller than 10 quarts – you’ve been warned.

Assemble the meat: For this rendition I used the following -

1 lb. chopped beef which yielded about 10 meatballs. If you don’t know how to make meatballs, either get someone to do it for you, stop reading now, or crush up the meat into bits and brown it that way.

4 links of sweet sausage. A good store bought version could work. Jimmy Deans don’t count. If you have an Italian market, get it there. Can also use hot sausage if you like, but be warned, your entire batch of gravy will taste hot if you do – not simply the sausage.

1 package beef short ribs – Probably about 8 ribs in total

1 package pork ribs – Probably about 8 ribs total

3 Osso Bucco Veal Shanks

Modifications: You are free to add brachiole as well, but see meatballs above. Do not use Lamb, do not use chicken and don’t include anything dumb like feet or ham or tripe. Capisce? Do not use carrots, never add sugar, never use red wine, and Good God!! no friggin potatoes!!!

Brown the meat : Get some olive oil going in the BAP and brown all the meat until nicely brown, except for the meatballs . Brown the meatballs separately in a fry pan. When done, set all meat aside.

Now get some garlic and onions going in the pot. I used 12 cloves of garlic (method to calc. later on) and 2 medium onions. If your definition of these items includes the word powder , read no further. Spank yourself with the wooden spoon you should be using and go buy Ragu.

After these items are sweating and or browning a bit nicely, deglaze the pot with a tiny bit of white wine. Probably just a few tablespoons is all that it will take. No 1/2 cup pours allowed here! Now crank the heat!! and boil off all of that white wine flavor.

Return meat to the BAP! – make sure all juices in dish go with the meat. DO NOT put the meatballs in yet.

Now begin the tomatoes – using fresh tomatoes is a waste of time and too much work. Get this martyr crap out of your head! Excellent canned tomatoes are available and should be used. But don’t go buying Hunt’s here either. You need good tomatoes. San Marzano are far and away the best tomatoes you can get. This is not a brand name, but a specific tomato grown in San Marzano, Italy. They are never sour and are always delicious. If you look carefully at the can, it will say somewhere on there “San Marzano”. The brand I always use is Cento . Progresso is good as well although not SM’s. And the organic Muir Glenn are nice too, but also not SM’s and a bit more expensive.

For this you will need 8 35oz. cans of tomatoes – whole, peeled tomatoes, including basil leaf! NO FREAKIN PUREE Capisce? Put the tomatoes into a blender a can at a time and zap them into a liquid. I use the “chop” setting. You don’t want to liquefy them, just mash them into a runny mess! As you mash them up, into the BAP they go. Calc: I figure a clove and a 1/2 of garlic per can of tomatoes.

When done adding the tomatoes, add S&P to taste along with fresh basil leaves (I used about 20) and some dried Oregano. Cover, set on low to medium heat, and begin simmering.

After 2 or 3 hours of simmering, remove the cover from the BAP and get rid of it. Wash it, let your kid use it for a cymbal, just lose it. Cook the gravy for another 4 to 5 hours until it thickens up. Sunday I added two cans of Stop and Shop tomato paste to speed the thickening process along. It’s thick enough when a wooden spoon does not fall when inserted in the center of the BAP. NO SPOONS OTHER THAN WOOD ALLOWED!!! Capisce?

Now, I cooked my gravy Sunday from 9:30 AM (began prep. at 8:00AM) and cooked it until 5:00 PM. All the meat fell off the bones (a good thing) and the gravy had thickened up and reduced by about 3 or 4″ in the pot. Clear so far?

Then just make whatever pasta you like and spoon the glorious concotion over the top. Remove all meat (that can be removed) from the BAP and serve on the side. Meat that stays in the gravy is a good thing. But do remove and discard the bones.

Mediterranean Chicken & Hummus Meatballs in Apricot Glaze

Once in a while I get intense cravings for a certain kind of food (Asian, BBQ, soups and stews, to name a few examples) – when those cravings hit, I pretty much eat nothing else but that type of food for a week or two at a time. During a recent craving for Middle Eastern food, I came upon this recipe from the Curry and Comfort blog – we decided to try it out, and it was so delicious that we’ve made it a couple of times since then. This one is truly a show stopper. The meatballs are where it’s at, with hummus being a greater addition than I would have even imagined. For the record, we used Sabra Red Pepper hummus the first time, and Sabra Garlic hummus the second time, and both were great. Their blog also has a ton of other ethnic meatballs ideas that I’m dying to try. We, too, served it with Israeli couscous, which was a perfect suggestion.

Mediterranean Chicken and Hummus Meatballs in Apricot Glaze

Mediterranean Chicken and Hummus Meatballs in Apricot Glaze
recipe from Curry and Comfort

Ingredients for Meatballs:

1 lb of ground chicken
15-20 mint leaves
small handful of parsley
1/2 Tbs of ground cumin
1/4 white onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of lemon juice

Seasoning Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 container (about 5oz) of your favorite hummus and the center flavorings.

Directions for Meatballs:

In a food processor (or you can do this by hand) grind up or finely mince your parsley, mint, garlic, onion and lemon juice. Then mix with all the ingredients listed above. Form into your desired size of ball. Do not over work the meatballs mixture. The meatballs will be a little soft, but they form well.

Heat a large skillet with 2Tbs of canola oil. Once heated add your meatballs and brown on all sides. Once they are browned, set aside on a plate to finish cooking in the sauce.

Ingredients for the Apricot Glaze/Sauce:
1-2 cups of chicken broth or water/bullion equivalent
juice if one lemon
1 tsp of ground cumin
1/4 tsp of ground all spice
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 jar of Apricot Jam (12oz). ** See note
1/2 cup of green olives
1 bell pepper cut into strips or sweet chili peppers cut into strips
Salt Seasoning

Notes: I ended up using all the jam because I used the two full cups of chicken stock and made more of a sauce than a glaze. If you want a thicker glaze you can use 1 cup of stock and half the jam.

Directions for the Sauce/Glaze:

In the same skillet you cooked the meatballs, saute the garlic. I also bloomed my cumin in the oil for a few seconds.
Now add your chicken broth, juice of your lemon, your spices, cinnamon stick and the apricot jam. Stir well until the jam melts into the liquid. Season with salt (or soy sauce). I do love the flavors of apricot jam and soy sauce. Since I was making a Mediterranean theme dish, I opted for seasoning salt. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Then add your peppers and olives and finally the meatballs to finish cooking. Simmer on the stove for 15 minutes. If you decide to use less chicken stock, you may need to keep an eye on your glaze. I added more stock so I just let it simmer. Taste for seasoning and turn off the stove.

Serve with savory cous-cous or as an appetizer. Enjoy.

A Little Bit of Germany in Columbus

The Christmas memories of my childhood are often punctuated by thoughts of the baked goods they used to make for the holidays. My grandfather’s stollen had a prominent place In those memories, and so did German style cookies. Holidays were big in their household, going over there on Christmas Eve every year was something I looked forward to all year.

Bierberg Bakery Outside

In the heart of German Village (where else did you think it would be?) there is a little shop, only open for 2 months a year, that sells old fashioned German cookies, the kind that is just perfect for serving with coffee or cocoa. They closed for the year on Christmas Eve, and unfortunately I didn’t make it there this year – they do, however, make the same things from year to year, so this will give you an idea of what to expect.

Bierberg Bakery Cookies

Posting this today (on the 16th anniversary of my Oma’s death) is a bit bittersweet, but in a good way. So many good memories to cherish that don’t fade away one bit as the years pass by. Even though she’s been gone a while, I still hold her close to my heart and feel like one day, somehow, some way, we’ll be together again.

What holiday traditions of your childhood are a part of your current celebrations? Which ones started with your generation and will continue for years to come?

If you’d like to go (unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until fall): Bierberg Bakery, 729 S. 5th Street, Columbus (German Village), 614-443-9959

Brazilian Beef Stew (Feijoada)

When I went to Brazil a few years back, I did so with the intention of experiencing everything the culture had to offer – fate (and a problem with an epidural that left me not being able to eat because of the severe nausea) intervened, and the three weeks there became a challenge. One of the few things I was able to tolerate was feijoada. While this isn’t an exact replica of what we had in Brazil, it came pretty darn close. Serve it with some plain white rice.

Brazilian Beef Stew (Feijoada) and Rice

Brazilian Beef Stew (Feijoada)
recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine

1 lb. beef stew meat, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
8 oz. kielbasa, sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
¼ c. orange juice
1 ½ c. diced onions
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained, rinsed and pureed
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Sliced jalapenos
Orange wedges
Orange zest

Brown meat in oil in batches in a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer meat to a paper-towel lined plate. Brown kielbasa in same skillet, 3 minutes per batch. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.

Deglaze skillet with orange juice, scraping up brown bits on bottom of pan; set aside.

Combine onions, tomatoes, beans, garlic, and chili powder in a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker. Stir in browned meats and deglazing liquid. Cover slow cooker; cook on high setting until steak is fork tender, 4 hours.

Add vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving of stew with jalapeno slices, orange wedges and zest.

Chicken Makhani

Original Post Date: 8/23/09

Let’s get one thing straight — I loooooooooove Indian food.  I can’t get enough of it.  And for the longest time, my favorite source of the aforementioned comestible was a tiny hole-in-the-wall at Kenny Center on (appropriately enough) Kenny Road in Upper Arlington named Sher-E-Punjab, which is apparently Hindi for “The Punjabi Lion”.  They had a daily lunch buffet that I and several co-workers would frequent regularly.  They also had a dinnertime buffet four nights a week, Monday through Thursday, with Tuesday’s being a strictly vegetarian affair.  Of all their offerings, my consistent favorite was their version of Chicken Makhani, a somewhat Americanized tomato butter curry chicken.  It may not have been terribly authentic, but it was quite good.  Please note that almost everything they had was tasty, but the Chicken Makhani was, to me, the stand-out item on their menu.

Sadly, Sher-E-Punjab closed its doors several months ago.  This caused me great consternation and inspired me to find an acceptable recipe with which to make my own Chicken Makhani.  I found one, and I dare say, it’s at least as good as Sher-E-Punjab’s, if not better.  (Editor’s Note:  Sher-E-Punjab has since reopened in its original location; the Korean restaurant which opened in its place went out of business in under six months.  Sher-E-Punjab is once again open for business and is again offering a lunchtime buffet seven days a week, yay!)

I prepared the Chicken Makhani for dinner on Sunday night, serving it over basmati rice with some roti paratha picked up at the local Indian grocery.  The finished curry is nothing to look at, but it certainly was every bit as satisfying as that which we’ve enjoyed in better Indian restaurants:

Chicken Makhani

Chicken Makhani
recipe courtesy Recipezaar

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Saute shallot and onion until soft and translucent. Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger garlic paste, 1 teaspoon garam masala, chili powder, cumin and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in half-and-half and yogurt. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and cayenne. Stir in about 1/3 of the sauce and simmer until liquid has reduced and chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Pour the rest of the sauce into the chicken. Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

First Fridays at St. John Chrysostom

If you happen to have a little extra time to spare tomorrow afternoon, run – don’t walk to St. John Chrysostom Church on Cleveland Avenue near E. Dublin-Granville Rd. at around 3:30pm. Every First Friday of the month (except for when those Fridays fall on holiday weekends – this month being an exception because they’re trying something new) the ladies of the church cook up all manner of Polish specialties to sell to the public to raise money for the church.

1st Friday Sign

I’ve known about First Fridays for ages, but it took reading Jim’s blog post about his visit for me to remember it before Friday rather than after. Once you see the sign, turn into the parking lot and follow it to the building in back – just look for the line or where people are coming in and out of – it is the building to the left side rather than the right side. If all else fails, just follow the scent of cooked cabbage. Your sense of smell will never lead you astray when it comes to good food. We got there pretty early – at about 3:30, which ended up being a good thing; people started lining up at the door not too long after that. Luckily, we saw what was happening and quickly got in line – this meant that we were second behind a long time visitor. We spent the time discussing old Columbus restaurants – neat how many food memories have at places that no longer exist.

Finally, the doors open and the mad stampede begins. Well, not mad, exactly – more like an organized stampede but people were definitely there with a purpose.
The selection of foods available in a particular month is completely left to the discretion of the good ladies who do all the cooking, so not all items are available every month. Here is a list of some of the possible items and their prices:

1st Friday Menu

They are all laid along tables on a path to the window – there are 4 different types of pierogi to choose from, with each segregated to its own box and marked as to what they are. I can honestly say that we’ve had the savory ones so far, and they’re quite good – they brown up beautifully and made a wonderful meal paired with some sausages and fried onions. They are sold frozen, just thaw before you fry them – no boiling needed first since they’ve already been boiled before freezing.

1st Friday Pierogi

I absolutely love their halushka (browned buttered cabbage with noodles), it’s something we make here as well with the leftover bits of cabbage when we make cabbage rolls. Their version is probably the best I’ve had. Sold refrigerated, all you need to do is heat it up before serving in the handy microwave container they pack it in.

1st Friday Halushka

We passed on many of the sweet items, but here’s what we saw this particular time round:

Khrusty, which I believe were described to me as fried dough covered in powdered sugar.

1st Friday Khrusty

Chocolate fudge, which seemed to be a traditional recipe.

1st Friday Fudge

Fried apple kolach, which I believe are a danish of some sort.

1st Friday Apple Kolach

And just a couple of pies available for purchase.

1st Friday Pie

My favorite, though, has to be their cabbage rolls – they are served hot (ask for them at the window), and at $8 for 6 of them, are a steal considering how time-consuming they are to make and the price that is charged for them elsewhere in town for similarly sized rolls. If nothing else, we’ll be back every month just for these. We couldn’t even wait until we got home, and started chowing down in the car in the parking lot.

1st Friday Cabbage Rolls

It’s great food, a great cause, and something definitely worth checking out. I’ll be there tomorrow, how about you?

If you’d like to go: First Fridays at St. John Chrysostom, 5858 Cleveland Avenue, Columbus, OH (North Side).

Event: Slow Food Columbus/Nida’s "Off the Menu"

Say what you will about Slow Food Columbus (or the Slow Food movement in general, for that matter), but their events are never boring. When I learned they were starting a new event called “Off the Menu”, which would allow chefs at local restaurants to serve dishes they traditionally eat or make for their staff but that you don’t usually find on their menu, I knew it was something that I’d be interested in. Then when I saw that the inaugural one would be held at Nida’s Thai on High, a place that I haven’t been to yet, but have been wanting to try for ages, that sealed the deal for me. I decided to go alone to this one, because after discovering Paul’s shellfish allergy, we wanted to err on the side of caution.

I was greeted at the bar with a choice of complimentary cocktail – their brilliant bartender Vivian Loh (who I’m familiar with from CU and Twitter) comes up with some inventive combinations, and these were two of the new summer drinks. I could have chosen a gin and tonic made with cucumber and cilantro, or the one I went with, which I don’t remember the name of. I remember that it had Cointreau, cardamom syrup, almond liqueur, and a couple of things that slip my mind – it was sweet, strong and GOOD.

New Cocktail at Nida's Thai on High

The menu for this event focused primarily on two regions of Thailand that are different than we’re used to – none of the curries that usually show up on Thai menus were included, which is sort of the point of the event – to go outside the comfort zone of both the restaurant and the diners. A nice bit of information about the cuisines of the different regions was also provided.

Slow Food Columbus/Nida's Thai on High "The Flavors of Thailand" Dinner

First up was the Soup Nor Mai (Spicy Bamboo Shoot Salad). This course was one that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. It didn’t taste anything like it smelled, thankfully. :) It had a nice layered complexity to it, where each bite brought out a different aspect of it – a bit fishy, a bit vinegary, mint in this bite, cilantro in the next, but all around good stuff. I would order this regularly.

Soup Nor Mai

I think the next course was the overwhelming favorite of the entire room. The Kor Moo Yang (Grilled Pork Collar) wasn’t the most tender cut of meat, but it was definitely one of the most flavorful. It was brilliantly seasoned, was served with sticky rice and a sauce that you spooned over (that reminded me a bit of the vinaigrette usually served with Vietnamese dishes) and was hands down my personal favorite. If this ever made it to the regular menu, Nida’s would be a frequent stop of mine. Hell, it just may be a frequent stop anyway, but this would be a bonus.

Kor Moo Yang

If the Kor Moo Yang was a universal favorite, the Namm (Preserved Pork) was the most divisive dish (it is the larger slices on the top right). The taste was great, but the chewy texture was a bit offputting for some. To me, it reminded me a bit of the tendon meatball one finds in pho, so I didn’t mind it one bit. Others had differing opinions. Most everyone seemed to enjoy the Sai Grog Isaan (Isaan-Style Sausage), though.

Sai Grog Isaan and Namm

The first set of dishes were all from the Isaan region of Thailand, and before embarking on the specialties of Central Thailand (where Nida’s hometown, Bangkok, is located), we were served a palate cleanser of Nam Ta Krai (lemongrass juice). It had an almost savory quality to it even though it was highly sweetened. Delicious in small quantities (I would buy a cocktail that had this as a mixer in a hot second), but cloying as a large glass.

Nam Ta Krai

The Kai Pa Loh (Hard Boiled Egg with Pork in Soy) was also pretty universally enjoyed across the board. Pork shoulder was braised in a cooking liquid redolent with five spice, and then served with a hard boiled egg half. The pork was incredibly tender, and the dish was incredibly flavorful without being overly so. And although I’m not usually a fan of tofu, I really liked it in this dish, because it gave the tofu a creamy texture that was extremely pleasing.

Kai Pa Loh

The Gang Pa (Spicy Soup with Tilapia) was probably the spiciest dish of the night, which is the greatest surprise to me because I always assumed that all Thai food was super-spicy. The heat was fairly understated, though (it only hurt if you breathed in while eating), but built up after a while. The whole dish was super-light, which is a nice change from some of the heavier dishes.

Gang Pa

I love bean thread noodles, so I really enjoyed the Pad Woon Sen (Stir Fried Bean Thread Noodles with Tomato and Tofu), even though others at my table found it a bit unremarkable. With the addition of a bit of meat-based protein (I’m not a fan of fried tofu), I could see myself eating this as a main dish. I just wish more restaurants in town would offer it as an option.

Pad Woon Sen

Unfortunately, I was not a fan in the least of the Gra Pow Moo (Ground Pork with Chicken Gizzards in Basil), but I owe that completely to my aversion to chicken gizzards rather than the chef’s preparation. It’s a textural thing for me, others at my table seemed to enjoy it, though.

Gra Prow Moo

And I was also pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the Num Kang Sai (Thai Fruit with Coconut Milk on Ice). I couldn’t identify what the original fruits are (the most I got from our server was that it was some sort of melon jelly), but I liked what the sweet coconut milk did in combination with it. I understood the purpose of the ice in there (to keep the whole thing ice cold until you were done eating it), but it got a bit confusing trying to figure what was ice and what was fruit. And I would have enjoyed it more with a different ratio of fruit to coconut milk – the coconut milk was rich (and sweet) enough that I ran out of fruit long before I finished the dessert and ended up leaving most of the coconut milk behind.

Num Kang Sai

I really respect the team at Nida’s for being the first to be willing to go “off the menu” and give diners a new experience. I particularly liked that this was an opportunity for me to try new things without any real pressure, which allowed me to discover new things about my own likes and dislikes. It also allowed me to experience the beautiful Nida’s space for the first time, which has given me the impetus to want to go back again for a meal.

I can’t wait to see which restaurant they focus on for the next “Off the Menu” – with all of the culinary talent we have in Columbus, I’m looking forward to see what our local chefs come up with.

If you’d like to join Slow Food Columbus (members can go to events for a substantial discount): Slow Food USA (make sure to specify the Columbus convivium as the one you’d like to join)
If you’d like to go to the restaurant: Nida’s Thai on High, 976 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43201, 614-219-9199

Event: Taco Truck Tour Spring 2010

The folks over at Taco Trucks Columbus have been doing some great things for the food scene in Columbus – between that project and it’s sister project, alt.eats.columbus, they’ve taken the mystery out of ethnic eats in Cowtown. Over the last year, they’ve hosted a handful of taco truck tours in different parts of town – each one seeming to be more successful than the last. In the process, they’ve been an asset to local taco trucks, fostering an interest in taco truck culture that spans across just about about every demographic. I’m heartened to see them, in more recent months, evolving to taking a more active role as an advocate and liason for taco truck owners.

We were thrilled that this one was taking place in our part of town – all of the taco trucks involved are just a couple of miles away from us, so it only took us about 5 minutes (driving) to get over to the staging point. If the line at Little Mexico when we got there promptly at 4 was any indication, the turnout for this one was massive. What makes it more impressive was that it had been raining all morning, and there was the threat of more rain for the entirety of the day. About 50 bicyclists took a gamble with the elements and biked in from all different parts of the city.

Line at Little Mexico

We grabbed a map, and decided to start at one of the other trucks, hoping to beat the crowds. The organizers were kind enough to list the specialties of each truck and helpful Spanish terms for communicating with the taco truck owners.

Taco Tour 2010 Map

We started out at Las Delicias II, a truck that has opened in the past couple of weeks by the same owner of Las Delicias, just a stone’s throw away.

Las Delicias II Taco Truck

Las Delicias II specializes in seafood – different types of ceviche and cocktails. Since I love seafood (P. does as well, but has to be much more careful because of a shellfish allergy), this was probably the truck I was looking forward to the most.
I hope to work my way through their menu.

Menu at Las Delicias II

But knowing that I still had other taco trucks in front of me, we decided to just get a ceviche tostada each. It was quite refreshing, and it was only after Bethia mentioned it that I realized that the reason that it tasted so familiar was that the woman making it used to run the Marisco Mi Chula taco truck that was on Sullivant Avenue at one time. I loved that place, and am glad to see the seafood tradition carried on at Las Delicias II.

Ceviche Tostada from Las Delicias II

After leaving Las Delicias II, we headed over to one of our favorite taco trucks, Los Potosinos. We’re honored to also be able to consider the taco truck’s owner, Lidia, among our friends – even though her food is unbelievably good (try her pollo al carbon, it’s absolutely wonderful!), we like to come here because we enjoy her company.

Paul at Los Potosinos

Ever the smart businesswoman, she hired live entertainment, in the form of a young man playing cover tunes on a guitar.

Live Entertainment at Los Potosinos

She had been wiped out of her signature pollo al carbon earlier in the day, and was in the process of making more when we got there, with it still having about an hour to go. So we decided to try a couple other dishes this time around. Her chile rellenos are poblano peppers filled with both chorizo and cheese, and then batter dipped and fried. It was among one of the better preparations of this dish that I’ve had, although the next time around I’d forgo the rice and beans and just get a second relleno.

Chile Rellenos from Los Potosinos

I wasn’t quite as crazy for the Enchiladas Potosinas – deep fried shells filled with what I believe to be a spicy bean mixture. I could see how this would appeal to someone else, though.

Enchiladas Potosinas from Los Potosinos

And I finished up there with a small coco nieves, which is like a coconut sorbet. Definitely refreshing!

Coco Nieves from Los Potosinos

We’re regulars at the next taco truck, Los Guachos. It’s not unusual for us to eat there 2-3 times a week, every week. They are one of the few taco trucks to offer a weekly special (buy one get one free al pastor tacos on Tuesday nights, which makes them a steal at 75 cents each!), so it makes an already reasonably priced meal a downright steal!

Los Guachos Taqueria

So what is so special about Los Guachos, you say? Their spit roasted al pastor pork. They stack highly seasoned pork on a spit, and then cook it to order. It’s fun to watch the person manning the spit cut the meat off, and then with a flick of his wrist, putting a bit of pineapple on top. We usually get ours with extra pineapple – it adds something amazing to the mix.

Spit Roasted Al Pastor from Los Guachos

The tacos are delicious enough on their own (topped with onion, cilantro, some lime juice spritzed over top, maybe a little salsa verde), but the standout here is the gringa, a flour tortilla topped with Oaxacan cheese which is then grilled on a flat top until browned (think halloumi!), and then topped with some of that wonderful al pastor and the rest of the usual taco fixins’. It is hands down our favorite taco truck item anywhere in town, and if we ever move away from Columbus, it is something I will miss and crave like crazy.

Al Pastor Tacos & Gringa from Los Guachos

When the Big Bass Brothers reviewed (mp3 file of the broadcast here) the local taco trucks a couple of weeks ago, Corby complained that the meat didn’t have much flavor at the taco trucks – although I disagree completely (especially at this particular taco truck), I just wanted to point out to anyone that listened to that and let it affect what they order (or whether they visit), that most (if not all) taco trucks have a condiment bar where you load up on the flavor/texture, etc. This, for example is what Los Guachos offers:

Condiments from Los Guachos

and just about all taco trucks offer a choice of red or green sauce (I prefer green, since it’s usually not as hot as the red). The point is, experiment with different combinations of flavor to see what works for you, and if in doubt, ask – the taco truck owners are all super friendly, and more than happy to answer any questions you have.

Salsa Verde and Roja from Los Guachos

By the time we were done at Los Guachos, we were stuffed, and shuffled off to head home full and happy. I hope that the event introduced a few new people to the joys of taco trucks, cleared up any misconceptions about them to area neighborhood associations, and showed local business associations what a diverse group of people enjoy them. I heard rumblings of someone wanting to organize a Taco Truck Festival at Westgate Park, and I think it’s an awesome idea! As a resident of the west side, I think the trucks and the culture they offer Columbus is something to be proud of and something that could draw other people to this side of town. I hope that Taco Trucks Columbus organizes many more of these this year. My goal this year is to try every active taco truck at least once. :)