South Jersey Edition: Luciano’s FreshMarket

Growing up in South Jersey, I pretty much took the whole eating local thing for granted. I mean, we had an embarrassment of riches to choose from: excellent milk from a the local dairy, garden fresh produce from my grandpop’s back yard or local roadside farm markets, fresh seafood from the Delaware Bay or the ocean. The Jersey Fresh motto encompasses everything that growing up in Cumberland County meant. The city I was born (Vineland) was named that by its founder because of how well grapes grew in our soil and climate. One of our claims to fame is that Thomas Welch himself started making grape juice a block or so away from our main drag. We have some of the best pasta ever (Conte’s is a favorite of mine), wineries, and more. The point is, growing up in South Jersey during the time I did meant Jersey tomatoes, blue crabs from the Bay, ethnic influence from Italy and Puerto Rico, and the cuisine of the area reflected that. That’s why on my last visit back, I was pleasantly surprised to find someone putting out awesome food in a small kitchen tucked away in the back corner of a newly opened public market.

Luciano's Fresh Market (at Landis Marketplace)

The chef in charge of the operation, Lurie Luciano, had similar experiences growing up – we’re fairly close in age, both have many of the same childhood food memories, both let ourselves go out into the world to explore and learn new things (in her case, to New Orleans, where she fine-tuned her culinary skills – in mine, to Columbus, where I started getting adventurous in my eating and taught myself how to cook). We both share similar food philosophies now, and both of us find ourselves drawn to the city where it all began.

To her, returning to South Jersey meant being the first person on board to occupy the new public market (more on that in a separate post – let’s just say for the moment that Luciano’s FreshMarket is the shining star of the place, by far). It means crafting a new menu each week based on what’s seasonal, what’s fresh, what inspires her. She, for the most part, keeps the preparation simple. When you’re working with the best quality of everything, it doesn’t take much to let the ingredients shine. She’s extremely skilled at coaxing out the inherent flavors of the dish, preferring to not drown it out in sauces, heavy seasonings that overwhelm the senses, or the like (which I find is done way too often in Cajun and Creole influenced cuisine). She releases a new menu weekly – here’s the menu from the week I visited in March:

Weekly Menu

Still, even with the printed menu, be sure to check the menu board, where you can sometimes find additional specials. Prices are quite reasonable for the quantity and quality of the food.

Menu Board

We went over the course of two days. I was so impressed the first day that I grabbed my dad and took him with me on the second. Even though he lives in Jersey, he wasn’t aware of its existence. I was lucky to stumble across it at all – I wish it were more visible from the street so that more people would try it out. Once you taste her food, you can’t help but be a convert.

The salmon cakes were solid – reminds me of something I would whip up myself when in the need for comfort food. The sweet potato fries were out of this world, especially when dipped in her remoulade. Together they made my mouth a very happy place. The slaw didn’t stand out to me, but then again I’m not much of a slaw person, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Salmon Cakes with Sweet Potato Fries & Slaw

The gumbo was full of flavor, built on obvious care in making the roux. I was expecting it to be spicy hot, but it wasn’t – the flavor was quite nuanced with obvious infusion of the trinity. With shreds of chicken throughout, and on top of rice, it was a hearty meal unto itself. Considering it was still quite cold and late winter, it was the kind of stick-to-your-ribs warmth needed to give you the push to face the mad dash to the car in the cold. With the weather tending toward cold again with fall setting in, it’s a perfect choice whenever you see it on the menu.

Gumbo

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Catfish Po-Boys – hers is a little different than those I have had locally here in Ohio, being topped with a nice crunchy slaw rather than lettuce and tomatoes. The catfish was fried to perfection – flaky and tender and not even a little bit greasy. The remoulade, slathered thickly on the uber-fresh bread, tied the whole sandwich together. The portion was quite generous, with the catfish literally spilling out of the confines of the roll. One of the best examples of the sandwich that I’ve ever had. I still crave this regularly, even 6 months later.

Fried Catfish Po Boy

My dad got the Fried Shrimp Po-Boy, which is a similar take on the sandwich but with shrimp rather than catfish. My dad gave me a taste, and it too was cooked to perfection. Shrimp is very easy to overcook, especially when fried, but her expert hand at cooking seafood means that she nailed this one as well.

Fried Shrimp Po Boy

I was too stuffed to eat the Crab Cake Po-Boy while I was still there, and ate it later in my hotel room. Even cold, it was pretty darn good. I tend to prefer my crab cakes sautéed rather than breaded and deep fried, but even with that in mind I still enjoyed this one immensely.

Crab Cake Po Boy

Along with some more sweet potato fries, we got a crawfish pie – it was a nice small bite, with a bit of heat – an afterthought, really. Thought at the time it would make a great mid-afternoon snack.

Crawfish Pie and Sweet Potato Fries

I also enjoyed the Ahi Tuna Melt, which was seared earlier, and then sliced and topped with cheese that was then melted on top – technically, this ends up cooking the tuna through – but not the kind of through that dries it out and makes it difficult to eat. The texture was still spot on, as was the flavor. Since it used a bun rather than the rolls that are used with the Po-Boy’s, the balance of bread to fish was just right.

Ahi Tuna Melt

I really wish my visit to Jersey had been longer, or that I had discovered it earlier in my trip. If I still lived in Jersey, I’d have likely turned into a regular. I’m on her mailing list, where she sends out the weekly menus, and torture myself regularly reading about delicious stuff that I’d have to drive 10 hours each way to get. But alas, it’s not to be.

There was an article earlier this week in my hometown newspaper, about how she’s not renewing her lease with the market when it expires at the end of the year. Given the circumstances (more about that in the post about the Marketplace – way too complex an issue to get into right this second), I would probably do the same thing, but I’m still sad to see her go. I have no doubt she’ll land squarely on her feet and will be off and running once she finds the right location, but you still have a couple of months left to give this place a try while it’s the same concept in the same location. Trust me when I say it’s worth the trip even if that’s your sole purpose for going there. It’s a bit of bright light in a corner of Vineland that people unfortunately write off because of preconceived notions. Once you try it, if you like it, let Lurie know. You can’t miss her – she’s the redhead at the counter with infectious smile and passion for all things local. Personally, I’d love to see her do a food truck of some sort in the interim – I think it would be a great match with the nature of the food she puts out. And be sure to keep an eye on her website – she posts regular menu updates and gives other pertinent info about hours and special events. I hear the lobster pot pies this week are to die for.

If you’d like to go: Luciano’s FreshMarket/New Orleans Seafood Kitchen (inside the Landis MarketPlace), 631 E. Landis Ave., Vineland, NJ 08360. 609-970-7653. Also on Twitter.

Tutti Frutti, So Yagööty!

yagootplated

We were invited — nay, challenged — by the nice folks at Yagööt to use their wonderful frozen yogurt creatively.  Yagööt’s specialty is their tart Original Flavor frozen yogurt.  They also make sweet yogurts; their strawberry and their caramelized pineapple are fantastic, and they offer a variety of other flavors which change regularly.  Yagööt was founded in 2008 by the owners of Cincinnati’s Busken Bakery; they expanded into the Columbus market about two years ago with a scoop shoppe at Easton Town Center, and have been a huge success. Personally, we prefer it to the other yogurt shops in town – their yogurt contains a little bit of fat (1%, as opposed to the non-fat offerings at most others), so it has a creamier mouth feel. We’ve talked about them before on this blog, and we’re happy to say they haven’t changed one bit since our first visit, except that they now offer about 6 different flavors in take home pints in addition to their regular menu of soft serve creations. Although we got at least one of each flavor available, we settled on our three favorites that we felt would be complimentary to both the toppings and to each other (thus, the Tutti Fruitti moniker – because of the “many fruit” flavors that make up the bulk of the dessert’s flavor).

yagootpints

Now, back to the challenge:

We finally decided to make petite frozen yogurt cakes, which we dubbed “Tutti Frutti, So Yagööty!”.  We made three varieties — Strawberry with Oreo Crust and Homemade Milk Chocolate Magic Shell with their Yomance topping; Caramelized Pineapple with Graham Crust, Cajeta (Goat’s Milk Caramel) and their Alligator Crunch topping; and Original Flavor with Granola Crust, Honey and Candied Pecans. Since these are tiny little cakes (they pack a lot of flavor in a small package), we’re considering three of them a modest dessert. We tried, for the most part, to use toppings that are unique to Yagööt, so technically the only ingredients that would require an outside trip are the graham crumbs, the butter, and the sugar. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to combinations of ingredients – we also played around with the idea of doing an oreo crust with pistachio yogurt, topped with a peanut butter magic shell, some mini peanut butter cups, and a few Heath sprinkles.

Before you start, make sure you have the tools for the job.  We used a Mini Cheesecake Pan from Chicago Metallic (see link below to purchase one for yourself – this is no unitasker) to form the ice cream cakes, and to freeze them. Like tart pans, they have a removable bottom metal plate that allows the cakes to pop right out of their forms. We also used parchment paper to prevent the frozen yogurt from sticking to the pan’s walls during the freezing/forming process, which would ruin the finished product.  With no further ado, here’s the step-by-step to make all of these little gems:

yagootpancollage

1.  Make the crusts.  Each crust used the same ratio of crumbs to melted unsalted butter — 1/2 cup of crumbs, 2 Tbsp butter.  For the graham crust, mix in 1/4 cup granulated sugar before adding the melted butter.  For the Oreo crust, pulverize 12 whole cookies.  For the granola crust, pulverize 4 crunchy granola bars (2 pouches).  You can use your food processor or “mini prep” chopper, but I find doing it the manual way to give better control over particle size, and to be a lot more fun.

yagootcrusts

2.  Press approximately 1 to 1-1/2 Tbsp  of crust into the bottom of each tin.  Use a shot glass or something similarly flat-bottomed and small to compact the crumbs.  Place the entire pan in the refrigerator for 45-60  minutes to give the crumbs time to set properly.

3.  Cut 12 strips of parchment paper long enough to encircle the inner wall of each tin, and wide enough to rise out of each tin by at least half an inch.

4.  Take the pan out of the refrigerator and get the frozen yogurt one flavor at a time from your freezer.  (Note: if you have a freezer that can reach -10 to -20F, store the Yagööt there.  It’ll be, and stay, more solid.)  Insert a loop of parchment into a tin and drop a scoop of Yagööt inside the paper loop.  Press down on the frozen yogurt with the bottom of a shot glass, preferably one that’s been chilled in the freezer.  You’ll do this to spread out the yogurt to occupy the width of the tin with the parchment between the yogurt and the walls of the tin.  This will let you properly shape each cake.

(Note:  I put the pan back in the freezer after each flavor and allowed the already-filled tins to freeze for 20-30 minutes before filling the next four tins with the next flavor.)

Repeat until all twelve tins are insulated with parchment and filled with Yagööt frozen yogurt.  Place pan back in freezer and allow to freeze at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

yagootparchment

5.  Make the homemade Magic Shell[tm] topping.  (Recipe below.)  If you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can just go to the store and buy it off the shelf.  It’s not the same, though.  Trust me.

yagoottoppings

6.  Take the pan out of the freezer again and top each mini Yagööt cake with the appropriate topping(s).  We figured that by using something sticky (honey, caramel, magic shell), it would let the toppings stick to the yogurt better. We were right. When using the Magic Shell[tm], distribute the Yomance topping on the cake before the Magic Shell solidifies.  You’ll have a ten second window while the topping is still liquid.  Once all the toppings are in place, put the pan back in the freezer one last time.  Allow the toppings to solidify for at least 30 minutes.

yagoottopped

7.  Remove pan from freezer.  To serve individual cakes, simply push up on the bottom of each individual tin (there’s a metal disc at the bottom of each tin) to pop out each cake.  Using a sharp knife, separate the metal disc from the bottom of the crust (it’s very buttery, so that shouldn’t be difficult to do).  Remove the parchment ring, and serve.

yagoot3cakes

Homemade Magic Shell

150g finely chopped chocolate (milk, dark, white — your choice)
100g refined coconut oil (I used Louana brand)
Pinch of salt

Place the chocolate and coconut oil in a Pyrex bowl.  Microwave for 30-45 seconds then stir.  Microwave an additional 15-30 seconds and stir again.  Once the chocolate is liquified, whisk the oil and chocolate together until they form a uniform emulsion.  Whisk in a pinch of salt.  Transfer the emulsion to a squeeze bottle.  Use exactly as you would the store-bought variety.

Yagööt was also kind enough to provide two $20 gift cards to give away to readers of this blog. You can enter below, through the Rafflecopter widget. Since you would need to redeem these in person, ideally you will live in the Cincinnati or Columbus metro areas.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Disclaimer:  We were invited to participate in a blogging “event” sponsored by Yagööt Frozen Yogurt.  They graciously provided gift cards which covered the cost of the ingredients. If you’d like to buy the special pan we used to make these, we’d appreciate your use of our affiliate link below so you can help support the costs of running the site. :) )

Event: Slice of Columbus 2011/2012

I love pizza.  Okay, I admit it.  Is that so wrong?

I’m not talking about big corporate pizza chains like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Caesars, etc.  I love *good* pizza.  There are plenty of good independent pizzerias in Columbus.

Those pizzerias, as well as some of the chains, are represented at Slice of Columbus.

 

Slice of Columbus is an annual competition amongst the best of Columbus’s pizzerias. B. and I attended Slice of Columbus 2011, where she judged and I — as usual — captured the event for posterity on one of our digital cameras.

Slice of Columbus is a charity event which benefits Nationwide Children’s Hospital. This year’s event is open to the public at a cost of $15 per person at the door or $40 for a family pass (2 adults and up to three children plus five free Pepsi products).  Slice of Columbus 2012 will be at Columbus Commons downtown, from 5pm to 9pm today.  Attendees will be able to try all the competitors’ pizzas, if you’re willing to wait in a couple dozen fast-moving lines.  Trust me, you won’t leave hungry.

 

Last year’s Slice of Columbus was held at Huntington Park in the Arena District. We had a lovely view of the outfield from the press box…

A Slice of Columbus 2011 at Huntington Park

 

We’re not sure whose pizza this was, but it certainly rocked.

Good Pizza

 

And then there was the Dire Pizza[tm].  Definitely a congealed, greasy mess.
Bad Pizza

 

This pizza looked perfect to me, but made B. reach for the Rolaids…
Spicy Pizza

 

If you want more information about this year’s Slice of Columbus directly from their website, go here.

 

All proceeds from the Slice of Columbus benefit Pediatric Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, so you won’t just enjoy pizza — you’ll be doing a good deed!

See you there!

Event: Taste the Future 2012

B. and I have gone to Taste the Future every year since 2006. It’s always great to see the best that Columbus restaurants have to offer, and this year was no exception. It was a shame that the threat of inclement weather forced the event to be held in the parking garage; alas, a dimly-lit parking garage doesn’t allow for good photos.

Taste the Future is, of course, the annual fund-raiser for Columbus State Community College’s Culinary Apprenticeship program. This three year program produces graduates who have gone through 4000 hours of apprenticeship at a sponsoring restaurant while completing their Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts at the College. Graduates, in addition to earning their degree, also earn ACF certification as Certified Culinarians.  They are usually in high demand throughout the region.

Many of the restaurants which participate in Taste the Future employ Culinary Apprenticeship students during their apprenticeship; those participating restaurants who do not apprentice, hire the program’s graduates.

There were plenty of highlights at this year’s Taste the Future. One of my favorites was this Liptauer Cheese Crostini:

Crostini from Metro Cuisine Catering

Costco represented themselves well with this Tuxedo Cake:

Cake from Costco

Sadly, I wasn’t able to get a good picture of my single most favorite item, Bob Evans Farms’ Braised Pork Belly “Cones”. I went back for more than one of those.

Blackwell Inn of Ohio State University’s Fisher College had a nearly-as-irresistable offering in their Confit of Duroc Pork Wonton with Pickled Red Onion, Micro Greens, and Herbs:

Duroc Pork Wonton from The Blackwell Inn

Bob Evans did offer up Mashed Potato Doughnuts, which were very good. It’s a pity I’m not a huge fan of coffee, they might’ve been even better dunked in some java…

Doughnuts and Coffee from Bob Evans

The Easton Hilton delighted my palate with one of my favorite proteins: Duck Three Ways. Didn’t see the cherry risotto that they were supposed to offer, oh well…

Duck from Hilton at Easton

Last, but certainly not least, is The Kroger Company’s Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a good mousse cake (think Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake from the Cheesecake Factory and you’ve pretty much hit the mark). This was worthy of comparison. In fact, this was BETTER.

Cake from Kroger

If you’d like to see all the photos I took of the event, take a look at the slideshow. Until next time…

FTC disclosure: I was provided with a free pass to the event, along with extra tickets to give away.

Event: Slow Food Columbus/Flying J Dinner

When I saw the announcement for this year’s Slow Food Columbus/Flying J “Shake the Hand that Feeds You” farm to table dinner (September 8th, save the date!) coming across my Facebook feed this morning, I was reminded of last year’s dinner and the fact I hadn’t written about it yet. Easy to overlook, sadly – not because the dinner wasn’t great (it was!) or memorable (very much so!), but because last year, when it was held in early August, I had only been out of the hospital for about three weeks and was still heavily dependent on a walker and wheelchair to get around. So I was a bit less mobile than I had been in previous years, tired a lot more quickly, and had to depend on Paul to be my eyes, hands, and feet as far as my participating was concerned. To say I was pretty much stationary for the event (when I managed to get to the table, I pretty much stayed there) would be quite accurate, but I still enjoyed the socialization (I hadn’t seen a majority of the people there for upwards of a year), the food and the time for quiet reflection in serene surroundings, which all did very much to renew my spirit.

August, despite being one of the hottest and most humid months of the year, is one of my favorites because many of my favorite things are in the midst of their seasons right then – tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers. But more so than anything else, nothing says summer like a sunflower. There’s such a regal beauty in that blossom – where every photo seems like a painting.

Sunflower

And there couldn’t be a more perfect setting for the dinner. Flying J Farm, less than an hour away from downtown Columbus in rural Johnstown, is Dick Jensen’s retreat and livelihood. From his backyard, where the dinner is held, you can see his pastures off into the distance. And this only one small portion of the property, where he farms and raises cattle to provide his farm market customers and CSA members with good, healthy produce and beef.

Some of Flying J Farm's pastures

When kids attend events at the farm, they have a wonderful time checking out the animals and running back and forth across the footbridge. It’s these little nooks and crannies and places to explore that make experiencing a day at the farm both educational and fun for the little ones.

Footbridge at Flying J Farm

One of the great things about farm-to-table dinners is that decorations are both beautiful AND functional. These particular peaches came from Legend Hills, a nearby orchard . You wouldn’t believe the intoxicating smell – it is one of the scents I most closely associate with summer, and made me want to dive right in.

A Basket of Peaches

There was no shortage of wine at the event – several different ones. I’m not much of a wine drinker, but even I was able to find one that I liked. But that’s usually the case when Patrick and Connie of United Estates are doing the picking.

Bucket of Wines

Wildflowers made up the majority of decoration for the tables.

Wildflowers

More wine…

Bottles of Rose Wine

And Columbus’ own OYO Vodka was used as the base spirit for some very special cocktails made by mixologist Nicoline Schwartz..

Bottle of OYO Vodka

She infused the vodka with hot peppers, which made it a little too hot for my tastes, but my husband thoroughly enjoyed it, as did almost every single person at the event. The peppers were harvested right there at Flying J.

Pepper Infused Vodka Mixture

And the longer it sat, the hotter it got – but with this many peppers in the mix, is it any surprise?

Pepper Infused OYO Vodka Cocktail

The booze kept flowing, and by an hour into the event, most people were thoroughly relaxed and greatly enjoying themselves.

Basil (also picked at the farm).

Lots of Basil

And the food, oh my. Kevin and son Patrick Caskey (from Skillet, Rustic Urban Food) did all of the cooking, drawing inspiration from what was seasonal and grown on the farm.

The dish I enjoyed the most was this grilled cheese sandwich, which was topped with a slice of some of the most succulent and tasty tongue ever. Delicious.

Another Angle of the Killer Grilled Cheese

More wine flowed…

a bottle of Grenache Blanc

…as did locally brewed Columbus Brewing Company’s Summer Teeth Lager.

A Refreshing Bottle of Columbus Brewing Company's Summer Teeth Lager

Chapter Leader Colleen Yuhn recognized a lot of local farmers/artisans for their contributions to ideals that are extremely important and espouse Slow Food ideals. This one, which was presented to Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery, was especially fitting.

Colleen, doing what Colleen does best

The first time Slow Food Columbus had a pig roast, they underestimated the amount of time it would take to fully cook – this time around they still used the China Box, but adjusted the time for better results.

The China Box (aka Pig Coffin)

Like other farm to table dinners, this one also had a very long table that everyone sits at. We were sitting somewhere in the middle, so the table spanned this distance on both sides. Lots of work goes into making this event run smoothly, so kudos to those who volunteered time and offered donations. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

View of One Half of the Table (Equally as Long in the opposite direction)

The bread was extremely hearty – in past dinners, the bread was provided by Eleni Christina Bakery. If this is not the case this year, please let me know – I want to make sure they get the recognition they deserve.

Bread

Integration Acres (from Athens County, Ohio) made a special batch of goat cheeses.

Goat Cheeses by Integration Acres

Other parts of the tablescape were both functional and tasty – these jars of pickles were opened and shared among everyone. I’m not especially a pickle person, but these pickles were downright addictive.

Pickles, doubling as tasty snack AND table decoration

The roast pig needs to be flipped over in the box before it finishes cooking. I managed to snap a quick pic when the box was opened to do the flipping.

Roast Pig, Ready to Flip Over

As good as the pork was, the beef brisket was hands down one of the most magical dishes of the night – I don’t know if that’s due to the high-quality beef raised at Flying J, or if it is the skill of the Caskeys in preparing food, or a combination of both. Either way, this brisket changed my mind about brisket.
Low & Slow Beef Brisket

Sides were fairly simple, like these roasted potatoes…

Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary

…a chard chopped salad…

Chard Chopped Salad

…a lovely tomato salad (and have I told you all how much I love summer tomatoes? I have? Well, carry on) …

Tomato Salad

… and surprisingly, the kale and sweet potatos (who knew they went so well together?)…

Kale and Sweet Potatoes

…and some sautéed red cabbage.

Red Cabbage

Everything was so vibrant and beautiful – this dinner, which has become an annual thing, is truly summer’s last hurrah. I wish I could have gotten more pictures of the food, but by the time we all sat down to eat, it was too dark for pictures. But the dishes, here in their serving dishes, should give you a good idea of what kind of things to expect.

This year, the event is on September 8th. Tickets go on sale today at noon right here, and are $75 for Slow Food members, or $100 per person for non-members. It may seem steep, but given the quality and presentation of the food, it’s worth every penny. If you’d like to go, don’t wait to buy your tickets until tomorrow – historically, it has sold out very quickly, so get in while the getting is good. For more information, please check out the Slow Food Columbus site.

Event: Taste the Future 2011 and Ticket Giveaway for 2012!

Taste the Future has always been one of my favorite food events in Columbus, and it’s one I’ve attended every year since I first discovered it (in 2006 or so). We’re quickly coming up on that time again (this time around, a few weeks earlier than it’s traditionally been held because of Columbus State’s switch to the semester system). So be sure to mark your calendars for Tuesday, August 21st, as this is one event you don’t want to miss.

I did manage to be able to go last year, thanks to CSCC’s generosity. It was an off year for me (I wasn’t fully mobile yet, and pushing myself around in a walker plum tuckered me out in no time flat). And last year, because of threat of rain, it was held in the parking garage, so the lighting was a bit off for getting great pictures. Still, I heartily enjoyed the experience, and here are a few images from the event:

Pepper and Cheese Skewers from Sidecar Global Catering

Heirloom BLT Bites- Mini Quiche with Heirloom Tomatoes, Applewood Bacon, & Aged Cheddar, Micro Greens from Lindey's

Shrimp, Chicken, & Andouille Étouffée over Mushroom Rice from Creole Kitchen

Tuna in a Can from Cameron Mitchell Catering

Sushi from AVI Fresh

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes from 3 Babes and a Baker

There’s tons of additional pictures, and you can see the rest of the slideshow here:

Once again, Columbus State has been generous enough to provide me with extra tickets which I’m giving away here on the blog. I’m using a different method of letting you enter and choosing the winner this year, which will provide you with tons of extra opportunities for entries, and can track all the entries and choose the winner much more easily. The only one that is a mandatory entry is the question, the rest are optional, but will allow you up to 30 entries rather than just 5. The giveaway ends on 8/17/2012, and winners must confirm attendance by Monday morning (8/20/2012) or another winner will be drawn. Three pairs of tickets will be given away in total. Please don’t enter if you are aren’t planning on being in the Columbus area on August 21st, and all winners must be of legal drinking age. The only method of entering is through the Rafflecopter plugin, so comments on this blog entry won’t count. If you’re having problems entering, please comment to let me know.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, everyone – and even if you don’t win tickets, I hope to see you at the event! It provides scholarships to Columbus State Culinary students, and is tax deductible. You can get more information about the event (and the dishes the participating restaurants plan on serving) on the CSCC Taste the Future web site.

Update: You can now earn 5 additional entries by following me on Pinterest – simple to do using the widget above. :)

Admin: A Candid Note About the Past Year

Admittedly, it’s been ages since I’ve posted – between a flurry of medical and dental stuff I had to deal with, somewhere along the line I got hacked. And bad. I closed the security holes they were exploiting, but cleanup after it all is long and slow, and requires going into each individual entry (and I have 1,100ish) and stripping out bad code. I’ve been working on this a couple of weeks now, and I’m still only up to September 2009. At this rate, I’ll be done…probably mid-August.

But I really need to talk about the elephant in the room. Even though my body has completely healed from the trauma of the last year, my mind hasn’t. I have been dealing with tons of depression and anxiety in the aftermath of what I went through. Even though life is slowly getting back to normal, I still can’t go a single day without reliving at least part of it in my mind. A lot of things have happened due to my illness – almost all my hair fell out, so I ended up shaving it all off. So much calcium was leached from my bones when I had malnutrition that I now have osteopenia (weakening of the bones, precursor to osteoperosis) and my teeth became so weakened that I broke two down to the gumline in the span of 4 months. Since these were front teeth, I decided to cut my losses, save the ones I could, and get the rest pulled before they had an opportunity to break. I did this with the intention of getting immediate dentures, but the dentist I went to was so bad that they took more teeth than they were supposed to and the dentures they provided me were unusable (didn’t fit in my mouth at all, had missing teeth).

All this to say that even though I’ve been extremely self-conscious about my appearance before this, now I’m so self-conscious that I refuse to leave the house except for doctors and dentist appointments. I get panic attacks even thinking about going out. I don’t even go to the farmers markets anymore, which is one of my favorite things in the world to do (Paul goes in my place, and is great about taking pictures). I have tons of things to write about – hundreds of drafts, literally. But I’ve just been so overwhelmed by negative emotions lately that I’ve been avoiding blogging because I don’t want them to bleed through to my writing. Many would say this is the time where I should stop blogging, when all of the joy I took in cooking/gardening/travel/going to restaurants is gone.

But that’s not it, really. Somewhere deep within, I’m still passionate about those things. I *want* to cook, to travel, all of those things. But before I can find joy in anything again, I first need to deal with the demons that are left over from almost dying. I need to seek professional help, because I realize that there’s something there that I need to deal with so I don’t become a prisoner in my own home, in a jail of my own making. I’ve seen what PTSD has done to my loved ones who suffer from it, and I don’t want to be an emotional cripple full of regret 20 years from now. There’s a price to keeping people at arms length – you save yourself the trouble of being hurt, but you also become very, very lonely with no real friends to lean on when push comes to shove. I’ve found strength where I least expected (by repairing the relationship I have with my father – the first time we’ve talked, really talked in 40 years), and found the courage to end relationships with family members who not only didn’t have my back. But I could have not made it through the past year without my sister & best friend, Maurya, who quite literally uprooted her entire family to move in here to help me out when I first got home. Her kids added joy to my life like you wouldn’t believe (and my biological clock is pretty much shot, with me turning 40 in like 3 weeks). They’ve since moved on to their own place, and the fact that they’re not here anymore makes this huge ass empty house seem even emptier.

The point being – forgive me for not posting often. Bear with me, please. As long as you see me on Twitter, or Facebook, or Pinterest, things are OK. I’m going to try to deal with my issues professionally, so I can figure out what’s wrong and fix it. I want to be better, I want to have confidence, I want to be around people and not feel uptight and self-conscious and uncomfortable because I feel like I don’t fit in, or that what I’m saying or my opinions are stupid. People tell me that I’m a much harsher critic of myself than other people are, but I no longer feel comfortable (did I ever, really?) in my own skin. So uncomfortable that it’s a barrier to living a normal life.

Food brings people together, I’m convinced of that. But I don’t know the art of conviviality. I invite people to do things, 9 times out of 10 I can’t get even a single person to go with me. The few times that I’ve invited people here, they either stand me up or criticize something about where I live, how I keep my house, etc. I see colleagues in the food blogging world have relationships with each other outside of public events, and I feel left out because I’m not invited or included. I don’t get invites to weddings, or showers, or anything like that. Not a fault on the part of the other people – I understand that it’s something about me that I need to work on.

But I’m tired of superficial relationships. They do take so much energy to maintain, energy that I don’t have to give right now. And I don’t understand the value of going through the motions when I feel like I’m losing ground when I try. The world went on without me when I was ill and afterwards, and it continues to go on without me. I’m still trying to catch up with the things I did in 2010, let alone stuff I’ve done in 2011 or 2012. It really is a lot to process, and I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

All to say, bear with me as I try to venture forward. Sometime in August, I’m going to be introducing a new look to go with the venture back into the food blogging world. As easy as it would to be to quit right now, I need to keep going. I need to keep writing to stay sane. You’ll see a lot more posts from Paul, since he’s going to take over some of the posting while I work through all this. He’s judging at the Rib-Off tomorrow at the Ohio State Fair on behalf of the Columbus Foodie team. He’s quite psyched about it, it should be fun for him and I look forward to his report of it (as he photographs/blogs about it, and all the other sights at the Fair, since I probably won’t be going this year since I’m less than a week post-surgery and still waiting on those darn teeth. I’m glad that issue will be resolved by the time Taste the Future comes along (more about that, soon – in the next couple of days I’ll be writing about last year’s event and offering up three pairs of tickets to be given away here on the blog).

And please, if you’ve tried reaching out to me before, but I haven’t been receptive, or if it’s some kind of signal I’m putting out that seems standoffish, please let me know. It’s not you, I promise.

Thanks, as always, to all of you still reading. It’s a lot to process, I know, and much more personal than I usually get on here. But I felt as if I owed you all an explanation. It’s not fair of me to disappear and not explain why I’ve been gone. I’m going to be blogging a lot of pretty old stuff, but I need to get through all of that before I can get to doing new stuff.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta

Here in our household of two (now that my sister and her family have a place of their own again), we’ve been actively avoiding recipes that are too fussy during the week. Paul has been working nights, and sleeping in the afternoon and evenings before heading to work at 9pm, so needless to say, I don’t feel like the trouble of cooking or putting too much thought or effort into a recipe if I’m the only one who would be enjoying it. Not saying that we dislike challenging recipes – we just save them for the weekends.

Paula Deen recipes aren’t usually known for being healthy, and this particular one is no exception to the rule. There is one thing that is great about this recipe, though – there are plenty of opportunities within to make this much healthier. Using whole wheat pasta (or at the very least, multi grain or added fiber) and whole wheat bread crumbs (Ian’s makes a really tasty whole wheat Italian panko) will up your intake of fiber and healthy whole grains. You could probably even get away with using fat-free half and half, since the sauce will be thickened with flour and will allow a lot more leeway in the texture and mouth feel of the sauce for you to be able to reduce the fat elsewhere. This recipe makes plenty of pasta, and with a few modifications to your meal, it will serve a family of 4 easily if you increase the number of chicken breasts you make from two to four, and if you also serve it with some steamed or sautéed veggies or a salad. Easy-peasy, and this is a great recipe for a busy night. Start to finish, we were able to get this on the table in around a half an hour. This recipe also has the added bonus of using pantry and freezer stores – in one fell swoop, we were able to use chicken, leftover frozen holiday ham, the remainder of a quart of half and half, an already opened bag of egg noodles in the pantry, and the rest of a big wedge of gruyere that I had bought for another recipe. If I make it again, I would probably add some frozen peas to the sauce to add a little more texture and nutrients. I know it’s not a regular ingredient in most chicken cordon bleu recipes, but no one said we needed to follow the rules, right?

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta
recipe slightly modified from Cooking With Paula Deen

Chicken:
1 c. Italian style panko bread crumbs
¾ tsp. minced fresh thyme plus fresh thyme for garnish
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ¼-inch thickness
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
¼ c. olive oil

Pasta:
2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ c. chopped leftover ham (or use deli ham in a pinch)
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 c. half and half
½ c. shredded Gruyere cheese
3 c. hot cooked egg noodles

To prepare chicken:
In a shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, thyme, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Brush both sides of chicken breasts with mustard. Dredge chicken in breadcrumb mixture. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add chicken, and cook for 4 minutes. Add remaining olive oil to skillet, turn chicken, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Place chicken on a cutting board to rest while you prepare the pasta.

To prepare pasta:
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and ham, cook for 2 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir in half and half. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Add cheese, stirring until melted. Add hot cooked pasta to pan, tossing gently to coat with sauce.

To assemble:
Spoon pasta onto serving plates. Slice chicken crosswise into ½-inch thick slices, and place sliced chicken over pasta. Garnish with fresh thyme, if desired. Makes two servings.

May is for Foodies!

May is always, always one of my favorite months of the year – if not for the great weather (the cold snaps of early spring are behind us, and the weather is still cool enough to enjoy spending time outdoors), then definitely for the events for food lovers that are held this month. Today I’m going to talk about a couple of my favorites – the Taste of Dine Originals and the North Market Apron Gala.

Last May, I was definitely in a whole different place than I’m in this year – I started out the month with a slim to none prognosis of survival, with the best case scenario was that even if I managed to make it through my acute respiratory distress alive, I’d be tethered to a ventilator for my remaining time on earth, which would probably be no longer than a year because human lungs aren’t designed to handle that kind of stress before other organ systems start to fail one by one. When I woke up the second week of May, I was still a bit delusional about my condition – here I was unable to even sit up in bed without falling over, but still thought somehow that I’d be recovered enough in the next week or two to handle all of my usual May events. What the heck was I thinking? But miracles do happen, for sure, and I’m fortunate enough to not only be fully recovered, but to be able to attend both events that are near and dear to me for a multitude of reasons. And you can see why this year is extra special to me.

Lamb Sirloin with Sweet Pea and Minted Pesto from Basi Italia

Tonight’s event, the Taste of Dine Originals, lets the 50 member restaurants of Dine Originals Columbus put their best food forward, offering delicious examples of what makes them restaurants that I’m happy to patronize. Each one is different, and the variety of restaurants that belong (all independents, natch) are a direct reflection of the awesome mix of people we have in our fine capital city. There are fine dining options to go along with the casual spots, ethnic or as American as apple pie, spots at all price points, spots that are open all day, spots that are only open for a few hours a night. In addition to trying dishes from some of my favorite local chefs, there are also other reasons to go – a new venue, local wines and microbrews, and new this year, Edible Columbus is hosting a Food & Artisan Fair at the event, which offers local farmers and artisan food producers to offer samples and information about their methods, farms and products.

Parfait of Walnut Cake with Buttercream Espresso from Alana's Food and Wine

The food is always fabulous at the event – you can see my coverage of previous years here: 2010, 2009.

According to the event planners, “Our signature annual event, Taste of Dine Originals, is one of Ohio’s best food and wine events, featuring tastings and samplings from 50 regional restaurants, 30 vineyards, 2 craft breweries, and a couple of micro distilleries. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or an intrigued beginner, chefs, brew masters, and winery representatives welcome you as they mix useful knowledge with tastings of signature dishes and interesting beverages. The silent auction features cooking lessons, private dinners, special events, works of art and rare bottles of wine. This year’s event will be held at Capital University’s Capital Center, at 2360 East Mound Street, Columbus, OH 43209. The event will be open from 6-9:30pm. Tickets are $100, proceeds from this event are shared by Dine Originals Columbus and The Buckeye Ranch, which offers mental health treatment and alcohol and drug services for children. Dine Originals Columbus celebrates, supports and promotes the culinary diversity that locally owned and operated member restaurants contribute to the identity and culture of our city. We are committed to strengthening the local economy and enriching our community through education and charitable partnerships. The Buckeye Ranch and Dine Originals both support this community and strive, each in their own manner, to make Central Ohio a better place for everyone.

Later this month is the other event that is one of my annual favorites, the North Market Apron Gala – we’ve personally been attending since 2006 (Paul attended last year, although I couldn’t make it). In many ways the event is the same from year to year, but with each passing year the landscape of the North Market has changed – it is a living, breathing entity unto itself which has its own ebbs and flows – as old favorites disappear, new favorites appear in their place. No matter what, each year is worth attending – not only does it help support a vibrant public market, but it’s also one of those events that you can’t go five feet without seeing someone you know. Catching up with everyone while noshing on delicious food? Count me in!

Pastry from Mozart's

This year, the event is being held on Saturday, May 19th from 7-10pm. Tickets are $75 per person and are available online or through the North Market Business Office (2nd floor of the market at 59 Spruce St, Columbus). Call 614-463-9664 for more information.

Farm Fresh and Local Produce 5/5/2012

Here it is the second full week of the 2012 growing season, and this week it was especially crowded because both the Market to Market Ride and the Half Marathon were being held at the same time. Because of that, finding parking was a little more difficult, and the North Market especially was very crowded. Good news for the farmers that sell there, not so good news for us. We finally did manage to find parking (in part because that part of Spruce St. was closed to thru traffic). And this week we had three very special little ones with us – my nephew Brandon and my nieces Autumn and Amber. They had never been to a farmers market and when I tried to explain it to them, they didn’t quite understand it (because they’re used to only seeing fruits and vegetables in the grocery store), so I asked them if they’d like to come along. There was a rousing chorus of “yes!” and off we went.

We went to the North Market first, where we picked up some more strawberries from Rhoads – last weeks, although the first of the season and therefore a little less sweet (because strawberries sweeten best when the temperature is ~80F, according to Mr. Rhoads), still were much much tastier than the berries available in the grocery stores. And while I love the ease of being able to pick up a quart of great berries a the market, I still prefer picking my own, an activity in which I plan to include the young ones in within the next few weeks. After that, I’ll get to teach them about preserving and canning. I’m hoping they’ll have fond memories in the future of the time we spend together on these activities. They’re helping me out with the garden, too – there will be a short update in a few days on how that activity is going. We’re finding it necessary to redo the bones of the garden this year to rot-resistant wood and resin. More about that, and what we’ve planted so far and have yet to plant real soon.

Strawberries

I think their favorite part of the farmers market was sampling a little bit of everything: cheese, pie, salsa, honey, and more. They especially liked the cheese.

Cheese

The hothouse tomatoes are looking good this year… these will definitely do just fine until August. 

Tomatoes

And all of the lovely produce at the markets is just screaming to be made into salad – no better base for that salad than some local spring mix.

Spring Mix

I missed out on the creamed honey this week (but Paul definitely didn’t, hence the picture) – I won’t pass this up next week.

Creamed Honey

Off to Clintonville, where there were three things in great supply – crowds, dogs, and baked goods. We navigated the first two and couldn’t pass up the third. Would *you* be able to pass up a scone like this?

Scones

Next week is the first week of the outdoor market in Worthington (and also Race for the Cure, if I’m not mistaken) so we’ll probably be skipping the North Market (or visiting it last), and definitely be hitting Worthington first. So how did you fare at the markets this past weekend? What did you pick up?