Thursday, September 30, 2010

More healthy comfort food

Creamy casseroles are wondrous fall and winter treats, but the healthy foodie avoids too much actual cream.
Try this creamy (but not with cream) chicken divan. The sauce uses lowfat milk thickened with flour and enriched with yummy Parmesan cheese. Leeks add a marvelous flavor to the mix.

Serve with rice, a green salad, and a nice chardonnay (yum).

And it's all guilt free!

Healthy-Foodie Chicken Divan Serves 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced leek, white and light green parts only (about 1 large)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup low-fat milk(1% is best)
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry (try amontillado)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped broccoli, thawed, or 1 pound broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 7-by-11-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place chicken in a medium skillet or saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the center, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and slice into bite-size pieces.
  3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek and salt and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour; stir to coat. Add broth, milk, sherry, thyme and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add broccoli; return to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan, mayonnaise and mustard.
  4. Spread half the broccoli mixture in the prepared baking dish. Top with the chicken, then the remaining broccoli mixture. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan. Bake until bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from a recipe in Eating Well back in 2006.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Al Fresco Dining in Mt Adams (New!)

Rookwood Pottery Restaurant in Mt. Adams has opened a beautiful, two-tiered outdoor dining area. It includes a large bar and fireplace on the lower level and a great view of the Ohio River from the upper level. The lower level also includes some sofa-and-easy-chair seating as well as table seating.
We ate there after a show at the Playhouse last Sunday and had a really good meal.
In the photos (top one is me on the deck, of course:
A vegetable panini that my friend said was delicious;
Roasted chicken on top of corn puree and other veggies (my entree) that I liked very much -- it looks like a cream sauce but it's really creamed corn, not heavy at all but still quite tasty;
Jeni's ice cream (!!!) -- a sampler of four amazing flavors including "blackberry corn" and chocolate-cayenne.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Washington and Oregon Wines

The Wine Merchant in Hyde Park is featuring Northwest wines this month -- those from Washington and Oregon. You can try a number of them at their taste-bef0re-you-buy wine bar. It's a fun place where the staff pours generous tastes in good quality glassware.
On my recent visit, there were a couple of good Oregon Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Gris (also from Oregon) and then several whites and reds from Washington.
I'm less familiar with those, which is why I made sure to get by before the month was out.
They had a merlot or two, a couple of red blends and a white blend as well as a chardonnay, all from Washington.
Officially you'll pay 50 cents per taste, but that cost can be applied to any purchases you may make.
I know it's almost the end of September, but I'm pretty sure they'll carry some of these into the beginning of October.
Check it out!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Guilt-Free Comfort Food

Who doesn't love fried chicken? I don't like it when it's too greasy, but perfectly-done chicken is hard to beat. But as we all know, deep frying is a no-no.
So here's a delicious take on oven-fried chicken, from Eating Well.

Great news—crunchy and flavorful fried chicken can be healthy. We marinate skinless chicken in buttermilk to keep it juicy. A light coating of flour, sesame seeds and spices, misted with olive oil, forms an appealing crust during baking. And with only 7 grams of fat per serving rather than the 20 in typical fried chicken—that is good news.

Recipe: Sesame-Crusted Oven-Fried Chicken
(Serves 4)


  • 1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk, (see Tip)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 1/2-3 pounds whole chicken legs, skin removed, trimmed and cut into thighs and drumsticks
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  1. Whisk buttermilk, mustard, garlic and hot sauce in a shallow glass dish until well blended. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.
  3. Whisk flour, sesame seeds, paprika, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place the flour mixture in a paper bag or large sealable plastic bag. Shaking off excess marinade, place one or two pieces of chicken at a time in the bag and shake to coat. Shake off excess flour and place the chicken on the prepared rack. (Discard any leftover flour mixture and marinade.) Spray the chicken pieces with cooking spray.
  4. Bake the chicken until golden brown and no longer pink in the center, 40 to 50 minutes.

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Marinate the chicken for up to 8 hours.
  • Tip: No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make “sour milk”: mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wine Lovers, Rejoice

Two new wine-oriented restaurants will be opening soon -- by the middle of October -- in our city. Yay!
The most promising is around the corner from the Esquire Theater in Clifton and replaces the departed (and missed) Tink's on Telford. La Poste will have a separate wine room (top photo) and I'm hoping they'll bring in some interesting and different wines. Open for dinner beginning October 4th, with lunch to follow a month or so later.
There's also a new wine store/bar/restaurant called Wine Guys (bottom photo) coming in next to the Starbucks in Rookwood Pavilion, Hyde Park/Norwood. It's a Columbus (OH) based small chain. While I do like the idea of a retail store with a wine bar -- one offering wine flights -- the list they've posted on the window is filled with commonly available wines. There's nothing unusual or adventurous, although the wines they've listed are OK.
Overall though, these are welcome developments.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time for (Yummy) Fall Ingredients

Yes, it's apple season. But it's also coming into peak time for a lot of other delicious, healthy seasonal foods. Such as: pears, mushrooms, kale, pumpkin, hard squashes, chestnuts -- to name a few.

Epicurious has a nifty feature on cooking with mushrooms, with links to an array of recipes for main courses, side dishes and pasta creations.

Here's part of their intro to the topic, and click here for a link to the page of recipes.

Tips for handling and cooking mushrooms:
  • Hold the Water

Mushrooms absorb water like sponges, so don't clean by soaking them in water or holding them under the faucet: That makes mushrooms soggy and flavorless. The best way to wash them is to rub them gently with a clean, damp paper towel or cloth.

  • Avoid Overcrowding

Mushrooms release a lot of moisture during cooking, so avoid crowding the pan when sautéing. Otherwise, they'll steam.

  • Store Properly

Refrigerate mushrooms in a paper bag or on a tray covered loosely with damp paper towels. They are best if used within three days.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dining where Barack and Michelle Did

Not only was The Corner Kitchen our very best dining experience on our recent trip to Asheville NC, but it also was the restaurant the Obamas chose for a dinner in Asheville when they spent part of their April vacation in the region.
On April 25th, a Saturday, the staff was surprised by an influx of Secret Service agents followed not too much later by the Obama party, which included two other couples who were their personal friends. Word has it that they spent the day hiking in the mountains nearby before selecting this spot for dinner.
We've been to Asheville quite a few times in recent years but I'd only had lunch at the Corner Kitchen. We had the opportunity to eat there last Saturday night, and it was stellar.
My "Cashew Crusted Snapper on Citrus Basil Rice with Snow Pea Salad and Coconut Carrot Sauce" (bottom photo) was the best dish I've eaten in weeks and one of the best this year, anywhere. It was head and shoulders above anything we ate at Jean-Robert's Table, by the way. Also in the photos, my husband's mountain trout entree -- excellent, but not in the class of my snapper.
Photos of the Obamas' visit are copied from the restaurant's website.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Help for the Sleep-Deprived (or Sleep Interrupted)

This posting isn't about food, but it's certainly on a topic that's very crucial to our health: sleeping well.
Some health-oriented folks, including doctors, believe that sleep may be the most important component in our entire health profile, above diet, exercise, vitamins, medications, and visiting doctors.
So here's some advice for those who have trouble staying asleep -- that is, you may fall asleep easily enough, but you wake in the night and can't get back.
It's from Real Age, and it's titled "Fall Back Asleep Fast with These 3 Tips"
  1. Don't fight it. Tossing and turning works for salads, not sleep problems. If you can't get to sleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed and do some light activity, like a yoga pose or a short walk. Getting your mind off sleep resets and reboots your system. Then, once back in bed, invite sleep with some soft music or meditation. (Try setting the stage for sleep by doing this 7-minute evening stretch workout with Dr. Oz.)

  2. Use the night. Dim your lights several hours before bed to avoid the stimulation caused by artificial-light pollution -- that stuff that emanates all around us thanks to TVs, computers, and indoor lighting. (And here's a great reason to nix midnight Web surfing, too.)

  3. Treat your nose. Allergies can prevent and disrupt sleep, thanks to all the congestion they cause. Consider over-the-counter nasal strips or a nasal saline or antihistamine spray for a stuffy or runny nose. (Not sure if you have allergies? Read up on allergy testing.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beer, beer and more beer

We went to Asheville NC this past weekend, in part for me to report about the craft beer scene that's gotten so huge there in recent months. The city was voted Beer City USA 2010 in an online poll, beating out longtime winner Portland OR.
My husband did most of the tasting/drinking, since I don't have much appreciation for the stuff.
Here are a few photos of the breweries we sampled.
Lexington Avenue Brewery -- top photo.
Thirsty Monk (specializes in Belgian beers) -- middle photo.
Highland Brewery -- the area's largest, which gives guided tours.
I'll post about our best dining experience soon. Meanwhile, the cocktail I had that evening is at right, the Vanderbilt Martini.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In a hurry? Try this inexpensive dinner

This is a go-to weeknight meal around our house:
Packaged Indian entrees (these happen to be vegetarian) from Trader Joe's;
frozen brown rice in a microwavable bag (not pictured);
Indian nan bread -- whole wheat if you can get it;
a green veggie, usually broccoli steamed on the stove.
This will feed two for about $5 or less, and of course you can make more for a larger family.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Exceptional Mexican

We're in Asheville NC, home of the Biltmore Estate, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Craft Brewing capital of the U.S. I'm here to report about the brew scene, mostly, and also to visit family and friends.

When we arrived yesterday, our first culinary treat was to try Chorizo, a relatively new Mexican eatery opened by the owner of the longtime local Mexican fave, Salsa.

We ate on the patio, enjoying the white sangria and a beer. I had excellent pork enchiladas -- not too cheesy -- and my husband had a fabulous salmon taco. (Photo shows the enchiladas.)

Two (or would that be four?) thumbs up for this one.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Healthy Foodie does Jean-Robert's Table (Birthday Dinner)

When choosing where to go for my bday dinner, it was a no-brainer: try the most anticipated restaurant to open in Cincinnati within the past several years. Jean-Robert de Cavel is our city's most celebrated and most talented chef, and the whole local foodie world has awaited his new venture, Jean-Robert's Table. They've been up and running for at least a month, plenty of time to iron out any kinks. We were thrilled to put on some nice threads and head downtown to check it out.
The place has a beautiful interior. It feels spacious and cozy at the same time, with exposed brick arches separating the two main dining rooms and a comfortable bar with a few lounge tables along one wall. We arrived a half hour before our reservation, grabbed a table in the bar, and had a drink -- Champagne for the birthday girl and a cocktail called The Belgian (featuring Belgian ale, vodka and a few other ingredients) for my husband.
Chef walked by and we had a nice chat with him, getting his guidance on what to try from the dinner menu. Our bar server Molly also gave us some tips.
When we were seated, we selected from a moderately extensive menu of about 10 appetizers and a like number of entrees.
We liked all our dishes -- photos are above. For starters, I had a nightly special shrimp salad with watermelon and cantaloupe chunks and a rich dressing; he tried the "surf and turf" (tuna and beef) tartar.
His entree was the bacon-wrapped salmon, and I went with the skate wings. Despite the bacon wrapping, his dish actually was less rich than mine, but only because we had them leave off the cream sauce that came with his. A bottle of Calera Pinot Noir from California's Central Coast complemented our fish entrees very nicely--in fact, we loved the wine and plan to look for it retail.
Since it was my birthday, I also indulged in a lavender-honey creme brulee as dessert.
I'd have to say that the bacon-wrapped salmon was my favorite of all that we tried.
We enjoyed the evening very much, but truth be told, the food was too rich for my taste -- even as a birthday treat. Next time I will order more carefully and steer clear of a starter with a mayonnaise dressing AND an entree floating in too much oil.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Guacamole with a punch"

Check out this nifty take on guacamole, given real zip with the addition of roasted tomatillos.

I think avocado is one of nature's perfect foods, so it's always nice to find variations on ways to enjoy it! Avocado is chock-full of calories, and adding these chilies and other veggies cuts the dip's calorie tally almost in half....but you still get that luscious, creamy avocado taste.

Recipe: Guacamole with Roasted Tomatillos
Makes about 1 1/2 cups, serving 4-6


1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, husked

1 jalapeño or 2 to 3 serrano chilies, seeded if desired and roughly chopped

10 cilantro sprigs, plus additional leaves for garnish

Salt to taste

2 small or 1 1/2 large ripe avocados

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice


1. Preheat the broiler. Cover a baking sheet with foil and place the tomatillos on top, stem side down. Broil two to five minutes at the highest rack, until charred on one side. Turn and broil the other side for two to five minutes, until charred. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender, tipping in any juice that has accumulated on the baking sheet. Add the chilies, cilantro sprigs and salt to the blender and blend to a coarse purée.

2. Peel the avocados and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Mash with a fork or pestle. (Do not use a food processor or a blender so you can retain some texture. Stir in lime juice, tomatillo mixture and salt to taste and combine well. Transfer to a bowl and serve with baked or microwaved tortilla chips or crudités, or use for tacos or avocado sandwiches.

Source: New York Times, 9/13/10

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another quick weeknight dinner (inexpensive,too)

Quesadillas are one of my guilty pleasures, although I rarely indulge in the cheesy ones at restaurants. It isn't just the cheese; what bothers me more is the trans fats in most mass produced tortillas, especially flour tortillas.
When you make quesadillas at home, you can select the best tortillas and control what goes inside them.
Here's a recipe for some very tasty and healthful sandwiches.

NOTE: When selecting tortillas at the store, read the ingredients label and avoid those that say "partially hydrogenated" anything. Even if the nutrition label claims the product has zero grams of trans fat, that's often misleading because it's
per serving, and if the designated serving size (usually way less than we'd eat) has less than a gram of trans fat, they can claim "zero" grams. The stuff still adds up, even at .75 grams per serving.

RECIPE: Turkey and Onion Quesadillas
Serves 4

  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 10-inch whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 8 slices deli turkey, preferably smoked (8 ounces)
  1. Combine onion and vinegar in a bowl; let marinate for 5 minutes. Drain, reserving the vinegar for another use, such as salad dressing.
  2. Warm 2 tortillas in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about 45 seconds, then flip. Pull the tortillas up the edges of the pan so they are no longer overlapping. Working on one half of each tortilla, sprinkle one-fourth of the cheese, cover with 2 slices of turkey and top with one-fourth of the onion. Fold the tortillas in half, flatten gently with a spatula and cook until the cheese starts to melt, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is golden, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm. Make 2 more quesadillas with the remaining ingredients.
Adapted from Eating Well magazine

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dinner tonight: inexpensive, tastes and looks great, easy to make (Perfect!)

This pasta dish is a snap to put together, you can feed a family for under $10, and of course it's super healthy.
Fiddle around with the ingredients if you don't like something about the recipe. For instance, cauliflower can substitute for broccoli. And you can add some meat or other protein, such as cut-up rotisserie chicken, without adding much to the cost or taking away the healthful benefits.
The more garlic, the better.........and add as much cheese as your waistline and/or cholesterol numbers will allow.

Recipe: Farfalle with Broccoli and Grape Tomatoes Serves 4

(Note: I used whole-wheat bow ties, or farfalle, but penne or rotini will be good, too)


4 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces

10-12 ounces uncooked pasta, preferably whole grain

2 pint-size containers cherry or grape tomatoes

2 T canola or olive oil, plus cooking spray

3 T minced garlic, or more to taste

½ cup dry white wine or stock

1 tsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper

½ cup grated cheese, such as Parmesan or mozzarella


Cut grape or cherry tomatoes in half and set aside.

In a large pot, heat several quarts of salted water until it comes to a full boil. Add broccoli and let come to a boil again. Add pasta to this pot and cook until pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Pour mixture through a colander to drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan to medium-hot, adding cooking spray as needed, making sure that the bottom of the pan is evenly coated with oil.

Add garlic and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add wine or stock along with tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Add oregano and seasonings, stirring well.

Stir in pasta and broccoli, cover and let mixture simmer for another couple of minutes.

Spoon into serving dishes and sprinkle with the cheese, passing more cheese at table, if desired.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Elk Creek Winery (Owenton, KY)

My brother's visit this weekend (that's him in the photo with me) provided the nudge we needed to finally get down to see the Elk Creek Vineyards and Winery, billed as Kentucky's largest winery and with quite a presence here in metro Cincinnati. They have a store and tasting room in the Florence (KY) mall and booths at various festivals and fairs around town.
Our first surprise was how far off the Interstate the place is.
There's a small sign on I-71 before the Rt. 127 exit and we always assumed the winery was just off the road. Not! Further, there is not another sign when you come off the exit so you have no idea whether to turn left or right. We ran inside a convenience store -- conveniently located at the end of the ramp -- and discovered that we had to drive at least 20 miles through winding country roads before we'd come to our destination.
That was okay as we had decided to devote the rest of the day to this outing, but a word to the wise here: don't expect to make it a quick visit.
The property includes a skeet shooting course, which was very popular on a Saturday in September, a five-room lodge, and the winery building. Once we found the right building, we had a nice time for the next couple of hours.
There's a deli so we grabbed made-to-order sandwiches and sat outside on a pretty patio overlooking vineyards. The weather was fine so the experience was restful after our long ride.
Then we went inside to try the wine.
They offer a variety of ways to taste and all three of us picked the "premium" tasting of their dry wines. They also have sweet/fruit wines, but that's not our cup of tea, so to speak. The sweeter wines are quite popular, however, according to our server.
For $8 per person we each selected five wines from their list of at least 15 white and red options. The pours were supposed to be one ounce each but it seemed more generous to me.
Not surprisingly, the more expensive red wines were the best, IMHO, especially a couple of Cabernet Franc wines priced at $35-$40 a bottle. My husband preferred a fruitier merlot that was less pricey -- maybe $20-$25, and he also liked their sweet ice wine.
Many of the less expensive wines seemed thin and uninteresting. We browsed their shop and gallery and my brother picked up a gift for his girlfriend, but we did not buy any of the wine.
On Saturday evenings Elk Creek has musical entertainment; however, we hit the road before we got to see who was playing.
It was worth the trip, we all agreed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beer Fest & Via Vite

At Fountain Square this weekend there's a beer festival -- continuing through Sunday.
We stopped by last night, although only my husband partook of the beer since we (my brother who's visiting from Florida & I) don't appreciate the suds.

After hanging out and listening to a couple of the bands, we had dinner at Via Vite, also on the Square. In the photos: grilled asparagus and beet salad with goat cheese; peppers stuffed with tuna mousse; spinach ravioli with a little bit of shaved black truffle. We also had some other pastas, and all were quite it wasn't really a great "healthy foodie" meal. Oh well.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Terrific Stir-Fry Dinner

This vegetarian entree is based on rice noodles -- light but filling, and great if you're trying to minimize wheat and gluten in your diet.

If you want more protein or your family isn't happy with meatless dinners, you can easily add peeled shrimp, bite-size pieces of chicken breast or bits of lean pork toward the end of cooking.

Recipe: Rice Noodles with Bok Choy and Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 4-6 servings


7 ounces thin rice stick noodles (1/2 of a 14-ounce package)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce (low-sodium if desired)
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 to 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño
2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 pound (2 medium) baby bok choy, trimmed, washed and dried, cut in 1-inch lengths
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (can include stems), plus additional sprigs for garnish
2 teaspoons sesame oil


1. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with warm water. Soak for at least 20 minutes, until soft. Drain in a colander and, using kitchen scissors, cut into 6-inch lengths. Set aside. Combine the broth, soy sauce, and rice wine or sherry in a small bowl. Combine the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes or minced jalapeño in another bowl.
2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in 2 teaspoons of the oil, making sure that the bottom of the wok or pan is coated with oil. Add the eggs, swirling the pan so that the eggs form a thin pancake. Cook 30 seconds to a minute, until set. Using a spatula, turn the pancake over and cook for 5 to 10 more seconds, until thoroughly set, then transfer to a plate or cutting board. Season to taste. Allow to cool, then roll up and cut into strips 1/4 inch wide. Place near the wok.
3. Swirl the remaining oil into the wok or pan and add the garlic, ginger and chili. Stir-fry no more than 10 seconds, until fragrant, and add the bok choy. Stir-fry for 1 minute, until it is bright green and the leaves are wilted, and add the broth mixture, the drained noodles, and the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, until the noodles are just tender and the tomatoes are beginning to soften. Add the cilantro and egg shreds, and the salt and sugar, and stir-fry another 30 seconds to a minute, until well combined. Add the sesame oil, stir together, and serve, garnished with cilantro sprigs if desired.
From "Recipes for Health" feature in the New York Times, 9/6/10.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What are your "magic ingredients?" Here are two of mine!

I've always felt that if a dish contains quality ingredients, it's going to taste good.
Of course, a cook can mess up almost anything, but as a rule of thumb when I'm creating a new concoction, I try not to worry about the outcome if the basic components are solid.
Which brings me to MAGIC INGREDIENTS: things you can add to a variety of dishes for an instant punch of yumminess.
Fresh figs and avocado almost qualify, but the former is only available a few months per year at most, and avocado isn't all that versatile because (in my experience at least) it's only good raw. Garlic doesn't count because every cook on earth knows that it's crucial to so many cuisines' tastiness.

Do you have any foods that are "magic" in your cooking (or dining, even if someone else cooks)?

Here are my two faves:
FENNEL (cooked especially, but also fine raw) and...SAFFRON.
Readers of this blog know that fennel is a recurring ingredient in my cooking. For a wider view of wonderful ways this veggie can enhance many different recipes, click here for some great ones.

I use saffron much less frequently, but when I do, it's a sure-fire way to give a dish a marvelous complexity and depth of flavor.
For a variety of recipes that use saffron, check out "Sarah Saffron's" website.

The following is my favorite, go-to recipe that has both fennel and saffron as key ingredients. (You actually can make it without those golden threads -- but why?) Halibut would make an excellent substitute for the sea bass -- in fact, I often prefer it. This scrumptious dish definitely is good enough for company.

Recipe: Sea Bass in Orange-Fennel Tomato Sauce
(Serves 4)


4 six-ounce sea bass filets
3 T canola or olive oil
1/2 C chopped onion or shallot
2 T minced garlic
1/2 C thinly sliced celery
1/2 fennel bulb, cored, sliced thin, with 2 T chopped fennel fronds reserved
1/2 C dry white wine
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 C orange juice
1 T orange zest (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oil on stovetop in a deep, 12" skillet on medium-high heat.

Add onion/shallot, garlic, celery and fennel bulb and sauté for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until veggies are tender and start to brown.

Meanwhile, heat orange juice in a microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup for 1 minute on high heat. Remove from microwave and crumble saffron threads into juice. Set aside.

Add wine to skillet and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes and orange zest to skillet, stir in OJ/saffron mixture. Bring mixture to low boil. (Can be prepared to this point in advance; transfer mixture to large Tupperware bowl, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat sauce in same skillet to low boil.)

Add fish filets and cover pan; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until fish is opaque. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to serving platter or individual plates, and sprinkle reserved fennel fronds on top.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yesterday's Cafe and Tea Room

I went here to report about it for my "Under $25" column in the Cincinnati Enquirer -- stay tuned for that article.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there's more to Yesterday's than I had expected. In addition to a ladies'-who-lunch, cute tearoom with massive tea choices and scone/quiche/salad/sandwich food options, owner Susan Schultz also has a separate coffee house (the cafe), with a full array of coffee drinks, wifi, overstuffed sofa chairs -- in short, a totally different atmosphere from the tea side of the house.
There's also a gift shop and boutique, and they have special Music Nights and other evening events, as well as a nice little selection of wines that you can order by the taste, glass or bottle.
Not at all bad for downtown Florence, KY.
That's me with my friend from a previous job -- we've both moved on -- Melissa Kavanaugh.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Eating-out Strategies, Part 2

Here's more from guest blogger Alexis Bonari about eating out without falling off the healthy-foodie wagon.
Part One (last week) discussed advanced preparation for a big night out -- such as having a healthy snack before you go and planning in advance what you intend to order. She also talked about how to ask lots of questions of your server about the dishes you're considering.

Part Two (below) focuses on liquid calories and portion sizes. Info about Alexis is at the end. Thanks, Alexis!

Go with H2O

Alcohols and sodas are easy mistakes to make when you’re focusing on your meal and not on your beverage. What you drink is an important part of your diet, so don’t forget to keep an eye on what goes into your glass. Alcoholic beverages can contain more calories than you’d guess, and they can keep you from focusing on your diet by lowering your inhibitions. Sodas are full of sugars and calories, so avoid them as often as you can. If you’re absolutely averse to drinking water, you should work to overcome it because it’s an important part of maintaining a healthy diet, but an interim option is unsweetened tea.

Be a Control Freak

Keep portion control in the back of your mind at all times. Many restaurants serve oversized portions that could easily feed you for two meals, so focus on eating just enough of your meal before asking for a takeout box. To do this, chew slowly and manage the size of your bites. It may also help to engage in conversation to extend the amount of time that passes between bites, allowing you to feel full before you overeat.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Salade avec saumon fume

From the (very French) Bistrot du Coin near Dupont Circle, a (very French) salad with smoked salmon, shaved fennel and roasted veggies.

Sorry for the brevity of this post. I'll be back home and into blogging more devotedly. Stay tuned also for part 2 of Alexis's advice about how to eat out without blowing your diet. (I'm afraid I did not follow an of it this weekend....)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Scenes from our nation's capital

I haven't photographed food in days, which is kind of weird. Tonight we're eating at Wolfgang Puck's place in the Newseum, supposed to be pretty darn fabulous, so I'll write about that (with pix) for sure.

Last night we whooped it up at POV, the outdoor bar/lounge overlooking the White House in the W Hotel (used to be the Hotel Washington). Seriously good cocktails; loved their negroni.

But for now, here are a couple of sightseeing shots. The one that's hard to decipher is from the Newseum's terrific 9/11 exhibit....showing a wall of front pages from news coverage around the world, and the metal thing is part of the broodcast antenna that was atop one of the twin towers.

The video featuring eyewitness accounts from journalists who were on the scene that day is very moving.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Which matters more, diet or exercise? (Part 2)

The answer to this question (which matters more, diet or exercise) depends on the context of the question.
If you are asking about which is best for your overall health, the scientific evidence thus far comes down on the side of the importance of exercise. Moving our butts on a regular basis -- even if it's doing everyday activities such as taking stairs instead of elevators, walking between offices instead of emailing, doing yardwork and housework, parking farther away from the door of the store than you have to -- protects against heart disease, some kinds of cancer, diabetes, makes us sleep better, and a whole lot of other great benefits.
But if you are asking about weight control, I am convinced that diet trumps exercise for keeping the pounds off. A recent visit to my doctor reinforced that belief.
He said: Your exercise habits are terrific, keep it up. But if you want to lose weight, you have to watch what you eat very carefully. And eating healthy foods is not the whole story; you also have to watch portion size. If you eat too much (too many calories) you will gain weight, or at least you'll be unable to lose pounds.
Words to the wise!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

DC Dining -- Just getting started!

We're in Washington for a few days -- hot as blazes, but like much of the rest of the eastern half of the U.S., supposed to become tolerable by Saturday.

Last night we met friends at the upscale Equinox, right in the center of the lobbyist/lawyer/politico universe. Of course, they were all on vacation while Congress and the Prez are away, but the place was packed anyhow. Top photos of the chopped salad (with fresh local figs) and grilled salmon are from there. The food was very inventive; we really loved our side dish of summer succotash and a dessert of huckleberry panna cotta.

For lunch today I met my friend David at a Dupont Circle Frenchie eatery -- tres, tres francais -- where I had the mixed veggie salad with smoked salmon (bottom photo). The restaurant is Bistrot du Coin, and if you are a francophile, you'll feel right at home. The waiter's French accent was very sexy.

We have major dining plans the next three evenings & I will report on how it goes.