Thursday, December 31, 2009

Healthy New Year! (and decade)

Here's to your health and happiness in the coming decade--live long and prosper!

Coming soon: Healthy Foodie (non-) resolutions -- How this year will be our best EVER.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pappadeaux -- foray into the 'burbs

Out to see "Avatar" in 3D and stadium seating, we stopped at Pappadeaux for dinner. My husband had never eaten there & I had been only once or twice at an outpost in Atlanta.
My husband liked the buzz of the place and pronounced this restaurant "fun."
One thing we could not help but notice was the preponderance of truly large people in there. I'm talking the obese and the morbidly obese, with a few overweight folks thrown in. You really don't see much of that in the city places we frequent. But that's real America these days, for sure.

Well, the portion sizes at Pappadeaux are right on track with our nation's obesity epidemic. You can order a "smaller" (to us, normal) portion of some of the dishes, but most were scaled to suit the clientele. (Of course, that could be a chicken-and-egg thing.)

The food definitely was tasty, the prices quite reasonable, and we managed not to overeat.
He started with a real deal on oysters -- 6 large ones with all the proper trimmings for only $2.95. I had a cup of very flavorful seafood and sausage gumbo.
For entrees, he had a salmon dish (small portion) with dirty rice, while I went with a made-up veggie plate of three sides: steamed broccoli (no sauce), sauteed zucchini ribbons and the sinful cheese grits. I was able to leave about half the grits behind--they were delish.
He had a beer and I had a glass of sauvignon blanc, and the bill hit about $50, plus a tip.

We had a good time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Palomino's -- Fish, Chicken and a Pizza

After Christmas, we took our visiting family to Palomino's overlooking Fountain Square. With a view of the skating rink and the decorated square, it's a fun place to dine with out-of-towners.

The food is passable--our meals included chicken piccata, a swordfish dish and a tasty thin-crust fresh tomato and cheese pizza. My nephew also had a very, very rich lobster ravioli with an Alfredo sauce--too unhealthy even to photograph!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Black-eyed Peas for Luck (and Health) in 2010

It's an old-South tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day, for luck, and therefore you can occasionally find fresh black-eyed peas around this time of year. I've seen it at Keller's IGA in Clifton some years--haven't looked yet for this New Year's Day meal.
Even if you must use frozen peas, try this recipe for NY Day. We like to have it with steamed rice and crusty bread.

Recipe: Black-eyed Peas with Fennel and Tomato
(Serves 6)

Two 10-ounced packages frozen black-eyed peas, thawed -- or an equivalent amount of fresh peas
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs--halved, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
3/4 pounds Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves cut into 1/2-inch dice (Note: you can substitute spinach or another dark green, such as collards)
1 large tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the peas in boiling water until just tended, about 10 minutes. Drain well.
Heat 2 T of the oil in the same pan. Add the fennel, onion and fennel seeds, cooking over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Add the peas, Swiss chard or other greens, tomatoes and water.
Season with salt and pepper.
Cover partially and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender, about 20 minutes.
Transfer to a deep bowl and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve Supper

On the menu:
Crab cakes (and one salmon cake for my husband, his preference)....Brussels sprouts steamed then sliced and sauteed with pancetta and diced carrots....pureed butternut squash with ginger, cinnamon, cumin and truffled honey (that's honey with a truffle in it, brought back from Italy)... sliced whole grain bread.
At the table:
The Cincinnati branch of our family--my husband, George; my mom, Wilma; our daughter, Kristina and her new (5/09) husband, Christopher; and me.
For the evening:
Candlelight service @ 5:30 PM at Immanuel Presbyterian in Clifton, home for summer, then exchange of gifts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Donna's Gourmet Cookies -- worth the (occasional) caloric binge

Donna Phelps used to sell her wonderful treats on Saturdays at Findlay Market, but then her reputation for the best chocolate-chip cookies outgrew her ability to bake at home or even in a gigantic church kitchen in Hyde Park. About a year ago, she opened the shop, Donna's Gourmet Cookies, with plenty of oven capacity, off Montgomery Road just inside I-275. She no longer has time to sell at Findlay Market -- the city's loss, for sure -- but you can find her cookies at a few in-town cafes and at Keller's IGA in Clifton, among other places.

I'm not a baker and can't really decipher why her cookies are so fabulous, except I know she uses excellent (if not the healthiest) ingredients -- pure butter, real vanilla, and so on.

Needless to say, healthy foodies can't quite subscribe to Donna's slogan: "a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand." And we don't indulge in her stuff more than a couple times a year.

However, if you want to know whether her cookies (and brownies, bars, croissants and quiches) are worth the calories--that would be a YES.

In addition to the stellar chocolate chip, I also love her Snickerdoodles and oatmeal-raisin.
Check her website for a full list of what she offers.

Her shop is at 10774 Montgomery Road, and the phone number is 489-9600.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Doing the Chef's Table @ Boca


If there's a better place to dine in Greater Cincinnati than BOCA in Oakley, we would love to know about it. But we're pretty sure that this classy and beautiful restaurant is in a league of its own, especially with Maisonette and Pigall's out of the picture. Other talented chefs turn out marvelous food at several places around town, but none can match the sophisticated setting that David Falk and team have pulled off at Boca.
We'd never eaten at the "chef's table" there -- which is a couple of stools at a counter overlooking the open kitchen. Up to four diners can reserve the space, but on this night my husband and I had it to ourselves. You sit within easy chatting distance from chef de Cuisine Joe Garcia (top photo) and his energetic team as they produce hundreds of perfect plates of food over the course of a few hours. Meanwhile, you get to eat some of the scrumptious stuff and enjoy wines to match each dish.
Sensory overload!
These are the best shots my camera produced of the chefs at work, my husband and I (taken by chef Jim, the one with beard and glasses--thanks, Jim!), and some of our food.

It was an unforgettable evening.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lunch at Tink's on Telford

Cliftonites are lucky to have Tink's as a dining choice--it's the most upscale option in the Ludlow Gaslight District. It's where I meet my friend & former co-worker Tricia about every 2 months to catch up over a cocktail at the bar. It's also a reliable spot to take out of town guests, and the best dinner before or after a movie at the Esquire Theater, around the corner.
Today I had the grilled salmon over a corn cake, and mom had the shrimp and grits ("best thing on the menu," our waiter enthused).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Greens -- the dark, leafy kind

Dark greens are some of the superfoods, so chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber that they deserve to be on our menus regularly. And now they're easier than ever to cook, thanks to prewashed, prebagged packaging at your corner supermarket.
Using a one-pound bag of Trader Joe's "Southern Greens" mix -- collards, kale, spinach and a couple of others -- I made some delicious greens with dinner.
The photo shows them served with slices of cranberry cornbread (from Whole Foods) and a small, pan-fried boneless pork chop.

Recipe: Mixed Greens Serves 4
2 T canola or olive oil
1 cup chopped celery, carrots and/or onions
2 T minced garlic
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 16-ounce bag prewashed mixed greens, about 6 cups
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots and onions; stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir-fry for another minute.
Add broth and bring to a simmer.
Reduce heat to medium. Stir in greens, 2 cups at a time, covering pan and allowing each batch to wilt somewhat before adding the next two cups.
When all the greens are in, add seasonings and cover the pan again. Reduce heat to low and allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes, depending on the level of doneness you prefer.
Use a slotted spoon to serve.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tilapia with Fennel, Saffron, Orange and Tomatoes


The earth has provided a few foods that are so marvelous, I think of them as "magic ingredients:" they make just about anything you put them in taste heavenly.
One such fabulous food is the spice, saffron.
I have to wonder how this spice was discovered, since it's a tiny part of a tiny flower sometimes called the saffron crocus. In any case, a little pinch of this rare and wondrous, golden orange spice perks up not only savory foods but sweet ones too. (One of our most memorable bites in Italy last summer was saffron gelato at a shop in Siena.)

I usually make the following recipe with halibut, but any mild fish will do as well. I had tilapia in the freezer, plus all the other ingredients. Voila!

Recipe: Tilapia with Fennel, Saffron, Orange and Tomatoes
(Serves 3-4)

2 T canola or olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped fennel bulb (most of one large bulb)
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup chopped onion or leek
1 can diced tomatoes
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
Pinch of saffron
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
1 pound tilapia filets

Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add fennel, celery and onions or leeks. Saute, stirring frequently, until vegetables start to become tender and brown a bit (about 4 minutes).
Add tomatoes, orange zest and juice, saffron and pepper flakes. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes, until mixture begins to simmer. Add seasonings and water. Cover again and let mixture heat well.
Add fish, re-cover, and cook another 5 minutes. Fish is done when it turns white all over.
Adjust seasonings, adding more salt if you like.
Serve with a green vegetable and crusty bread. A little sauvignon blanc would go great with it, too!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday Survival Guide, Part 6: Staying Fit in Cold Weather

This dilemma stretches well past the holiday season: how do we stay fit when it's cold, dark and (worse) icy outdoors?
I am a dedicated exercise fanatic, and I'll bundle up and head outdoors even in the coldest weather. But I'm a complete coward about treading on ice. Since winter weather also brings out the cave-man instinct to eat more--storing up calories until the spring--we had better figure out how to burn off the hearty foods we're consuming. Here's my advice for all healthy foodies (including aspiring ones) to consider.

1. Get outdoors, even for short bursts. Put your exercise clothes out at night so first thing in the morning you can jump right into them and out the door. Fifteen minutes in the neighborhood makes a great start to your day. I'll go out saying to myself "just fifteen minutes" but once I've warmed up, that 15 stretches into 20, 30 or more. Do what your schedule will allow, and something is always better than nothing. Add a short walk at lunchtime and another one after work, and you're getting a decent amount total.
2. Join a gym, sign up for Jazzercise classes, get into mall walking -- in short, you do need a backup for times when outdoor exercise is just not an option. At least in Cincinnati (and probably elsewhere, too), fitness clubs over-expanded in the boom years before the crash of '08, and most are desperate for new customers. If the deal they offer you is too expensive, talk them down. It's really doable!
3. If all else fails, exercise inside your own house or apartment. Get free workout DVDs from the library or find exercise shows on cable television. This is not something I've ever had much interest in, but I know people who swear by their own private indoor workouts. A treadmill or elliptical trainer in the basement works for some folks, too.

Whatever you decide, make yourself a promise to get off your duff and shape up -- if in fact you're not already in the fitness habit. (If you are, bravo!)

I had a Jazzercise instructor once who used to motivate the class by saying if we work harder we can EAT MORE. She had us trained to call out those last two words in unison. I can think of no better reason to work fitness into my day than that very thing -- now I can EAT MORE. Woo-hoo!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wine Flights at PF Chang's -- DEAL!

I took my mom to lunch at PF Chang's -- had not been in perhaps a year -- and discovered their new-ish deal on wine.
Chang's has always had a lot of nice wines by the glass. As with most restaurants, the good stuff is pricey. But here's the thing: you can select any three wines from the extensive by-the-glass list to make up your flight. The official pour is 2.5 ounces, and the price is $9 no matter which wines you select.
We were just at 20 Brix, a wine-oriented restaurant in Milford, and their "taste" size is 2 ounces, with prices all over the place--you can easily pay $4-$5 there for one two-ounce pour.

I was not intending to have wine at lunch today, but simply could not resist this offer.
Furthermore, the bartender was a little generous with those pours--I don't think anyone is back there measuring.

I had a marvelous flight of Adelsheim Pinot Gris, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay ($11 a pop there if you just want a glass of that), served in the cool tower pictured here (not a great photo, though, sorry).
Our server said they'd had this deal for almost a year.
I say, go for it before someone in top management realizes that this is a bargain for the discerning wine drinker!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sidewinder Cafe -- Northside

There sure are a lot of interesting eateries in a two-block stretch of Hamilton Avenue in Northside. Honey is my favorite (and one of the best in the city), but I also like Slim's and Melt, to name the best. This week I finally made it to Sidewinder's Coffee and Tea, a few doors north of the Northside Tavern.
The decor and ambiance are just as funky-boho as many of its neighbors. Sidewinder reminds me somewhat of Sitwell's on Ludlow, in that it's a coffee house with a hard-liquor (but no beer and wine) license. My friend and I had a light lunch -- soup of the day and a half sandwich --which we liked. But my treat was a cup of Hot Buttered Rum. Mmm, mmm, that hit the spot!
Sidewinder is at 4181 Hamilton Avenue and it's open every day.

New Wine Bar & Pub in College Hill

Just opened Friday 12/4/09: Marty's Hops and Vines on Hamilton Avenue in College Hill.
They're serving wine by the glass or bottle, craft beers (in bottles and on tap) as well as light food. Wine and other items are available to purchase, and if you drink a bottle on the premises you pay the retail price plus a $5 corkage fee.
Owners Marty and Kate Weldishofer are longtime College Hill residents and community activists who hope their new venture -- at 6110 Hamilton across the street from College Hill Cafe -- will become a gathering place for the neighborhood. They're open Tuesday - Saturday.
For more info, call them at 681-4222.
I just heard about Marty's from my friend, Jean Huwer, who owns property in College Hill. Haven't been up there yet, but it sounds like a place worth visiting!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pasta Fagioli

Our past experience with Pasta Fagiole (or Fagioli) has been as a bean and pasta soup. But at 20 Brix, they made it a true pasta dish. On a dark and stormy night, I tried to recreate that satisfying meal with ingredients I had on hand. Feel free to substitute onion for the shallot -- I had none of the former but a bit of shallot -- or omit the red wine if none is handy. (We had the remains of a bottle opened a couple of nights ago, no longer very good for drinking.)

Pasta with Beans, Sausage and Tomato (Pasta e Fagioli) Serves 2-3

2-3 T canola or olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 3-ounce Italian sausages made from turkey and/or chicken, cut into slices
2 cups cooked beans -- white beans or a mix of white and kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes (no salt added, preferably)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups pasta, such as penne or rotini
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add sausage slices and continue to cook until shallot becomes translucent and sausage begins to brown, about 2-3 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium and stir in beans. Add tomatoes, seasonings and broth. Cover and cook for 3 - 5 minutes, until mixture starts to simmer.
Stir in spinach, cover and cook another 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water and drain.
Add pasta to the skillet.

Serve in bowls, passing cheese at the table.
This is a complete meal--add crusty whole grain bread and a glass of red wine!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Garlic Bread Pudding

Here's a savory (not sweet) bread pudding, something like a very custard-y stuffing. It can be the centerpiece of a vegetarian holiday meal or a dynamite, hearty side dish for a roast. Use good quality whole grain bread, rosemary focaccia or whole wheat sourdough.

Garlic and Herb Bread Pudding
Serves 8 as a side dish

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 T olive oil
2 T minced fresh garlic
1 cup fat-free milk
1 cup fat-free half and half
3 large eggs
2/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 T grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T fresh or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups cubed bread
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place tomatoes in a bowl, cover with boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain well and finely chop.
Heat oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Beat eggs lightly in a deep bowl; add milk and half & half and mix well.
Stir in tomatoes, garlic, 1/2 cup mozzarella, 1 T Parmesan, thyme, salt and pepper.
Place bread evenly in a shallow 1 1/2 quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Pour milk mixture over bread, stirring gently to coat. Let mixture stand 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with remaining cheeses.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Recipe: Green beans with pecan pesto

I love to make pestos of all kinds, varying the ingredients -- different herbs instead of or along with the traditional basil, various nuts in place of the pine nuts, and so on. This pecan version is a healthy-foodie winner as it has no cheese and less oil than many pesto recipes do.

If you have leftover pesto, wrap two-tablespoon portions in plastic wrap and freeze. Defrost and use with pasta, in a salad dressing or even as a sandwich spread.

Recipe: Green Beans with Pecan Pesto Serves 6

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, packed
1/2 cup Italian parsley, packed
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds French green beans (or haricots verts)

Puree all ingredients except beans in a food processor until smooth.
Cook beans in boiling salted water until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.
Toss beans with one-half of the pesto, or more if you want. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Friday, December 4, 2009

20 Brix -- Milford OH wine destination

Whether you're a wine novice or an oenophile, I recommend the restaurant 20 Brix as a marvelous place to learn about and enjoy a huge variety of wines. We tried it for dinner on a Saturday night--reserved well in advance--and the verdict was 8 thumbs up. The place was packed, including the bar and lounge, and everyone seemed in a party mood.

For dinner, I had a salad called Autumn on a Plate followed by a pasta fagiole dish--penne or a related noodle with white beans, tomato and locally made mild Italian sausage. We all liked the food and especially liked how the menu is chosen so that most dishes complement a wide variety of wines.

Because here's the thing: everything on the extensive and well-documented wine list can be ordered by the taste (2 ounces), glass (5 ounces) or bottle. We all ordered by the taste -- and the pours seemed more generous than 2 ounces-- and therefore got to try several delicious wines.

It's 20 miles from our home, and there are plenty of other good restos closer, but we will return to 20 Brix. Check it out!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts and Currants

This is a riff on a classic southern Italian combo. I used the relatively hard to find (& expensive) pasta orecchiette, but you could substitute bow-ties (farfalle) or rotini. You could also substitute golden raisins for the harder-to-find currants, but I think the search for currants is worth the effort.

(I did photograph my dish, but due to a computer problem I could not upload the photo, so I'm using clip-art.)

Pasta with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts and Currants
Serves 3-4
1/3 cup dried currants
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted until golden brown
1 large head cauliflower, cut into one-inch florets
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt to taste
12-15 ounces orecchiette or other pasta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 T chopped parsley

1. Soak the currants in the wine for at least 15 minutes, while you work.
2. In a medium saucepan of boiling, salted water, blanch the cauliflower until fork-tender but still firm, about 3-4 minutes. (Test as you go--it would be bad to overcook the cauliflower at this stage) Drain well.
3. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and keep warm, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid to add to sauce.
4. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute for about one minute, until it becomes fragrant. Add blanched cauliflower and stir-fry until it begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add currants with their liquid, crushed red pepper and pine nuts. Cook until heated through, just a few minutes. Add cauliflower and pasta, stirring well. Cover and allow to heat for another couple of minutes.
5. Stir in pasta water and cheese. Taste and add salt, if needed.
6. Remove to a serving bowl or individual plates. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
7. Serve immediately, and pass more cheese at the table.

P.S. -- My husband loved this dish!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Healthy Foodies' Holiday Survival Guide -- Part 5 : Managing Stress

Thanksgiving weekend segues into prime shopping/decorating/socializing/travel time. We all run on overload for the next few weeks. How to avoid letting it overwhelm us? Here are a few ideas.

1. Give yourself a spending budget and stick to it. You don't have to get anal about it and make a list of how much you'll spend on each gift, decoration, party, etc. But do have an overall idea of what you can afford to spend this season so that the January bills don't land you in the dumps, emotionally as well as financially.

2. Don't expect too much from the holidays. Your family will probably not solve all its issues; peace on earth (or even in your household) probably won't come to pass. The TV ads showing blissful family reunions are just marketing--not what our real lives are or need to be.

3. Practice patience, kindness and understanding. You can become a little bit of Christmas cheer by cutting the other guys some slack. Make the effort--you'll reap emotional rewards.

4. Take care of yourself--eat right, exercise, minimize caffeine, don't drink too much (despite what my little clip-art above says), and find at least a half hour per day to do nothing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tips on enjoying sparkling wine

Happiness = Champagne. That works for me. If I can't get Champagne, other bubbly wines can bring a smile to my face, too. From USA Weekend, here are a few interesting tips about how to serve and enjoy sparkling wine.
1) "Don't pop the cork." It's better to "cover the bottle with a napkin and slowly twist the cork loose." You won't waste wine or break something with a wayward cork.
2) "Maximize the Effervescence." To do so, serve at a properly cool temperature and use a tall flute.
3) "Drink it with food." A good tip for virtually all wines, in my book. And Champagne goes with all foods, even those that don't take well to other wines.
4) "Make it last." If you don't finish the bottle, use a stopper.
5) "Expand your palate." Try bubblies you haven't tasted before; compare several side by side to learn about the different styles of sparkling wines. We like to do that on New Year's Eve: ask your friends to each bring a bottle of Champagne. Oh boy!

Thanksgiving at the Phoenix

We took my mom for a special TG dinner downtown at the lovely Phoenix--no longer open to the public as a restaurant on a regular basis. They still have a booming private-parties business as well as occasional wine dinners and occasions such as Thanksgiving.
We appreciated that it was menu service rather than an all-you-can-overeat buffet: butternut soup or a salad, turkey or prime rib, mashed sweet or regular potatoes, pumpkin or apple pie. As you can see, the portions were large enough (we took some turkey home, even).
One feature of the Phoenix that has not changed is their delightfully low markup on bottles of wine. We splurged on what would have been at least $45 on most lists, and enjoyed a beautiful bottle of Acacia Pinot Noir for a mere $29.
My husband said, we might make this an annual tradition. Sounds good to me!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Xoco in Chicago

This is Rick Bayless's new venture -- he's the genius chef behind Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, the regional Mexican restaurants on North Clark Street in Chicago. Xoco (pronounced choh-ko) is a slang word for little sister, a waiter at Frontera told us. It's right next door to those great Bayless landmarks. Photos show my perfect sandwich and salad and an exterior of the storefront.
While waiting in line to have dinner at Frontera last week, we chatted with a couple who recommended Xoco for breakfast. I didn't think we'd fit it in at all, but on our last day in town I gave up on the Michigan Avenue shopping scene--to crowded--and headed on over. I arrived right at noon, just before the line started snaking out the door.
As with all Bayless's restaurants, it was worth the wait.
This is ultra-casual--you order at a counter, they give you a number, and when there's a spot for your party at a counter or table, they bring your food to you. The choices at lunch center on tortas (really good sandwiches on amazingly yummy rolls), either baked in a woodburning oven or grilled.
I decided on the Woodland mushroom baked torta: woodland roasted mushrooms, goat cheese, black beans, arugula and chile salsa. I also got a side salad of romaine, arugula, jicama and cucumbers--and I'm so glad for that because it came with the best salad dressing I have had in living memory! (I asked the cook about it later and got the ingredients: olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, pureed avocado and a little sour cream. She did not give me proportions but I am going to try making it.)
The sandwich could not have been better.
The menu also includes six entrees served only after 3 PM (night comes early in Chicago--remember it's on central time and closer to the north pole). All those sound fabulous--dishes such as pork belly vermicelli, seafood stew (shrimp, mussels, catfish, red chile, potatoes, onions, etc.), wood-roasted chicken pozole, short ribs, and so on.
One more thing you must know. Xoco also features "bean-to-cup chocolate" drinks with "Mexican cacao beans ground on premises."
I want to go back to Chicago soon if only to eat here at least a couple more times. Bueno!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Reminder Tips for Healthy Foodies

As foodies, we will enjoy the wonderful tastes of this day, served with a heaping dose of fellowship and love. Yippee! Meanwhile, remember these tips to keep it pleasant and not overdone:

1. Walk, yes....Nap, no! On ordinary days, naps can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But today it's much more important to walk off some of that high-fat meal you just had. Bundle up, take your umbrella if need be, and head outside. Talk a family member into coming with you. The time will fly.

2. Limit liquid calories. 'Nuf said.

3. Wait at least a half hour between dinner and dessert. Then take just a little bit of the dessert you love most.

4. Have fun!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One more Thanksgiving recipe

Roasted root vegetables--sweet potatoes, winter squashes, fennel, carrots, and so on-- are a healthy foodie's great friend. Each one has a marvelous nutritional profile, they are easy to prepare, and delicious. Furthermore, they make a colorful side dish for your holiday table.

Just toss a few cups of cut up veggies with olive or canola oil and any spices you have in your cabinet--just grab and go--spread onto an oiled baking sheet and roast in a hot (400 degree) oven for 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the veggies.

For those who want exact measurements, here is a recipe. Enjoy!

Roasted Spiced Root Vegetables (Serves 6 -- can be doubled)
3 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (available pre-cut at many grocery stores; just be sure the pieces are nearly the same size so they cook evenly)
1 large sweet potato, peel on or off (your choice), cut into cubes
1 cup Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (or kept whole if they are small)
2 leeks, white and light green part only, sliced or cut into strips
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into chunks
2-3 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1/4 cup olive or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon each of any of these spices you may have on hand: ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric
1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and cayenne pepper
Salt to taste

Toss together all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir well to coat all veggies with oil and seasonings. Spread mixture evenly on a rimmed cookie sheet that has been sprayed with vegetable oil. Roast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Stir veggies and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes. (Test for doneness by poking the edge of a knife into a piece of the squash. ) Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes before placing in a serving bowl.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Healthy foodies' holiday survival guide -- Part 4: THANKSGIVING DAY

On Thursday, millions of Americans will consume literally thousands of calories, overeating to the point of feeling ill. For those of us so blessed with material abundance, the meal on Thanksgiving is the holiday season's greatest health challenge. How to cope? Here are some healthy-foodie ideas for a Thanksgiving without guilt.

1. Eat a full breakfast and a light lunch. Don't "save up" for the big meal--you'll be famished, a perfect recipe for overindulgence.
2. Take a walk before dinner, weather permitting. Even if the weather isn't all that great, get off your duff for at least a half hour of exercise--more if at all possible.
3. Lay off the booze until dinner is served. Pre-dinner alcohol lowers your inhibitions and leads to useless extra calories, not just in the drinks themselves but also in snacks you'll likely add on.
4. Decide in advance whether and how much wine or other alcoholic beverages you will drink. Then pace yourself so you can stick within your pre-set limits.
5. Eat only your favorite dishes, and pass on the others. Pick only one out of these three: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and bread stuffing/dressing. Easy on the gravy, too!
6. Wait at least a half hour between dinner and dessert. If this requires a request to your hostess before the meal, go ahead and ask. If you have no influence over the timing, step away from the table and come back later. Make up an excuse if you need to. Waiting for dessert is crucial--your brain will have time to get the message from your full stomach, and you won't want as much dessert, or maybe not any.
7. Pick one dessert or very small portions of more than one.
8. Take a walk after dinner.

Remember, the fat-producing, health-sabotaging culprits in this meal are alcoholic drinks, gravy, sauces (such as that superfluous stuff people put on green beans at TG), toppings (I'm thinking of marshmallows on sweet potatoes, horrors) and desserts. Minimize those!

Take larger portions of turkey (especially the white meat), baked potatoes, roasted root vegetables, green veggies with as little sauce as possible, salads without mayonnaise, fruit salads, and just a little bit of cranberry sauce (too much sugar).

We have so much to be grateful for, including the amazing bounty that makes not eating too much such a concern. On Thanksgiving Day, let's appreciate the love in our lives, our family and friends, the pleasure of sharing this wonderful meal--and eat mindfully while we're at it.

Pumpkin pudding

Here's a seasonal dessert that's much healthier than pumpkin pie -- pie crust is yummy but not good for us. It's also way easier to make! Top each serving with a tablespoon of fat-free whipped topping, or go natural and use a tablespoon of "real" whipped cream.

Recipe: Pumpkin Pudding
Serves 4 (can be doubled)

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup milk (or a mix of skim milk and fat free half & half)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 small box instant vanilla pudding mix (read the label--get a fat free version)

Blend sugar, spice and milk in a large bowl--by hand or with an electric mixer on low. Add pumpkin and pudding; beat until well mixed. Pour into individual dessert dishes or one larger bowl. Chill well, at least 3 hours.

NOTE: Be sure to buy plain, canned pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which is already spiced and sweetened. If you have only the pie filling on hand, omit the sugar and spice from the above recipe.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Squash recipe for Thanksgiving Day

Cubes of butternut squash make this stuffing/dressing a new favorite. I made it in September for a trial run and loved it!
The squash adds a toothsome texture (just be sure not to cook it too much before adding to the other ingredients), a pretty color, as well as vitamins, beta carotene and fiber to a traditional bread stuffing or dressing. (Southerners tend to call it dressing because you don't "stuff" it into the bird.) Dried fruit and chopped nuts make it even tastier.

It's a winner of a side dish for your holiday feast. In fact, it would make a nifty main course for a vegetarian TG, should you be so inclined--or should there be a vegetarian or two on your guest list who will pass on turkey.


Butternut Squash, Fruit and Nut Dressing

(Serves 8)


2 1/2 cups butternut squash cut into one to 1 ½- inch cubes Note: many supermarkets carry peeled and seeded butternut squash, refrigerated, in the produce section

5 cups whole-grain bread cubes (from 4 large slices of bread). Note: Bread should either be toasted before you cut into cubes or left out overnight so that it’s “stale.” If you have actual stale whole-grain bread, use that.

2 T canola oil

½ cup chopped celery and/or carrots

½ cup diced onion, leeks or shallots

2 eggs, lightly beaten, or equivalent amount of egg whites or egg substitute

1 cup vegetable or chicken broth

½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme

½ cup golden raisins, dried cranberries or a mix of both

½ cup chopped walnuts

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Place the squash in a steamer insert inside a 2-quart saucepan. Add ½ cup water, sprinkle with salt, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until squash is still al dente, about 3-4 minutes depending on thickness of the cubes. Remove from heat and rinse squash under cold running water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables (celery, onions, etc.) to pan and sauté, stirring, until veggies are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

3. Combine remaining ingredients (eggs through salt and pepper) with cooled veggies in a large mixing bowl. Add bread and squash; stir well.

4. Turn into an oiled baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 60 minutes in a preheated, 350- degree oven.

5. Let cool slightly before serving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Over-indulging in the Windy City

We arrived yesterday afternoon and went a little wild with the food and drink. First we hit Nacional 27, a place renowned for its mixologist, a man named Adam Seger. He whipped up a fabulous cocktail off the menu, no idea what was in it but it was yummy. Then we went to our favorite Chicago resto, Frontera Grill. It's gourmet Mexican--not like any other Mexi resto you are likely ever to have tried--and luscious. We split an appetizer of three different ceviches, each had a couple glasses of wine and an entree, plus each a dessert.

On the walk back to our hotel we went by Pop's for Champagne--yes, a Champagne bar. Against our better judgment we stopped in for a nightcap.

Today we're at a conference (the ostensible reason for the trip) and have vowed to dial it back a little for the rest of our stay.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Healthy foodies' holiday survival guide -- Part 3 (Drinks)

I'm sharing this from Dr. Andrew Weil's website. Here are four healthier choices when it comes to holiday party drinks. Red wine and Champagne are among my own favorites. Of course, moderation is key here, too.
  1. Sparkling non-alcoholic punch. The calories can vary, but most holiday punch can easily be diluted with additional sparkling water to reduce calories and sugars. If you are making your own punch at home, use unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate.
  2. Red wine. The antioxidant activity of red wine has been linked to heart health benefits, reduced stress, and even preserving memory. Limit yourself to a six-ounce glass, which typically has about 120 calories.
  3. Hot toddy. A combination of lemon, honey, cinnamon, cloves and brandy, this beverage has between 100 and 150 calories and provides some vitamin C thanks to the lemon juice.
  4. Champagne. This celebratory drink has about 90 calories in a four-ounce glass.