Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Week Dining

It was mostly eat at home for the holidays, but we did manage a few memorable meals on the fly, and one family fine-dining experience.
Salad @ Nordstrom Bistro
Shopping with my brother two days before Christmas, we had lunch at the Nordstrom Bistro in Kenwood Mall. Tucked into the second floor of the store, it's easy to forget that it's there. This was only my second time to eat there, but we had good salads -- one with grilled shrimp and this Asian-accented chicken salad -- and you can get a decent glass of wine if you are so inclined.
Veggie Burger, J Alexander

Veg Plate: grilled artichokes, stuffed tomatoes, etc.
Another quick lunch was today with my friend Susan at J Alexander. (This place also has a respectable wine selection, but I didn't indulge today.) She had a veggie burger, and I went with a very good vegetable plate, which as I posted on Facebook had the benefit of being both delicious and (at least relatively) virtuous.
Our fine-dining meal was the night after Christmas at our neighborhood's star restaurant, La Poste. As usual, the best thing about the evening was the great wine selection and service. In the photos are my chicken entree and my husband's fish special--I forget the variety of fish.
La Poste Chicken

La Poste Fish Special

A splendid time was had by all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why it's so hard not to regain lost weight

The old term "yo-yo dieting" is probably familiar to all who struggle tokeep the pounds off. We put on some weight, go on a reducing diet (and lose weight, hooray), only to regain the pounds later.

There's a fascinating story on the New York Times website today headlined "The Fat Trap." Click here to read the whole article, which discusses research into why those lost pounds always return. Our bodies go into an altered state after we've successfully dieted, and actually fight hard to get back the fat we worked so hard to get rid of.

More evidence -- as if we needed it -- that life isn't fair.

An excerpt:
"For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat."

That tells me that, among other things, parents and other caregivers need to work really hard to make sure that our children don't become overweight.

It also tells me to stay vigilant in my own battle of the bulge; I've never been obese and at most have been slightly overweight, if you go by the standard weight charts. (This is the result of decades of daily exercise and trying to eat well -- not because I have an especially forgiving genetic makeup or metabolism.)
The lengthy Times article will appear in the next Sunday magazine. It goes into a lot of detail about research into why and how fat people get and stay fat.  We learn about how the National Weight Control Registry tracks thousands of people who have been successful at maintaining significant weight loss. Says an official at the registry: "' We had two goals: to prove there were people who did, and to try to learn from them about what they do to achieve this long-term weight loss.' Anyone who has lost 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year is eligible to join the study, though the average member has lost 70 pounds and remained at that weight for six years."

What are these researchers finding out?


"There is no consistent pattern to how people in the registry lost weight — some did it on Weight Watchers, others with Jenny Craig, some by cutting carbs on the Atkins diet and a very small number lost weight through surgery. But their eating and exercise habits appear to reflect what researchers find in the lab: to lose weight and keep it off, a person must eat fewer calories and exercise far more than a person who maintains the same weight naturally. Registry members exercise about an hour or more each day — the average weight-loser puts in the equivalent of a four-mile daily walk, seven days a week. They get on a scale every day in order to keep their weight within a narrow range. They eat breakfast regularly. Most watch less than half as much television as the overall population. They eat the same foods and in the same patterns consistently each day and don’t “cheat” on weekends or holidays. They also appear to eat less than most people, with estimates ranging from 50 to 300 fewer daily calories."

I'll stop here. If you're interested in knowing more, go to the article, or read the magazine next Sunday.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More food, cocktails, and fun in NYC

Got to move on from the fabulous New York City adventure we had before Christmas, and focus on how to make 2012 a Healthy New Year.
But here are just a few more photos from the Big Apple.....
View from hotel room (Excelsior)
At Eataly

Cake at Fiorello's, near Lincoln Ctr

Antipasto plate @ Fiorello's

Fall Classic Cocktail @Gramercy Tavern

Antipasto bar at Fiorello's

Saturday, December 24, 2011

More good eats in New York City

Merry Christmas to all!
Our pre-Christmas trip to NYC included these wonderful dishes from Gramercy Tavern. Appetizers of beef carpaccio and melt-in-your-mouth smoked trout....
Beef carpaccio
Smoked trout
We also had a great cocktail with the apps, called Fall Classic: bourbon, apple cider, Calvados, thyme and lemon.

For my entree, I tried their lamb, which was amazing -- the plate included several different cuts of the lamb (in small pieces, thank goodness) and a bit of tasty lamb sausage as well.

Gramercy Lamb Entree
Christmas is upon us, and I have house guests and lots of cooking to do, so the rest of my NYC foodie adventures are still to come.........

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A few NYC foodie highlights

Guess I couldn't have been too unhealthy in food choices, because my bathroom scale today says that I didn't gain any weight living it up in wonderful, exciting Manhattan, NYC.
Fab breakfast at Nice Matin

We loved our hotel, the Excelsior on the Upper West Side. It's a half block from Central Park and faces the small park adjacent to the American Natural History Museum, where you catch the B or C train downtown. Some people say that's too far away from Midtown (it's at 81st), but its remove from the craziness is what we love. You can easily get to the touristy things but come home to a residential neighborhood at night. Our morning routine--coffee at arguably NYC's best cafe, Joe's the Art of Coffee, followed by breakfast at Nice Matin (in the Lucerne Hotel, on Columbus at 79th)--had us interacting with few tourists, and we made friends with a couple of New Yorkers who gave us great tips about where to eat and shop.
Joe's has several Manhattan locations

Without making this a super long post, here were our favorite foodie finds (aside from the aforementioned Joe's and Nice -- photos of them above, including my scrambled eggs with smoked salmon breakfast.

1. Dinner at Gramercy Tavern, one of Danny Meyer's flagship restaurants and a favorite of many Manhattanites. (No photo now, as I have temporarily misplaced my regular camera -- these are all from the cell phone camera) Everything about it -- ambiance, service, drinks and food -- was perfection.
Tacos at Red Cat in Chelsea
2. Lunch at Red Cat (amazing shrimp tacos, in photo) in Chelsea. The tacos melded flavors wondrously, and the Campari spritzer I ordered with it was a great accompaniment.
3. Dinner at Calle Ocho, adjacent to our hotel, was surprisingly good. My husband's "vegetable paella" (in photo) was excellent.
Veggie Paella

Once I retrieve my camera and download those pix, I'll post part 2.
Finally, the Christmas window displays in the city are always worth a detour. Our faves were in Bergdorf Goodman. Here is a photo of one of them.
Fanciful window display

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Did I say not always healthy? What an understatement!

We always try to make healthy choices when we eat out, and being in NYC should not be an exception. But it's such a rare treat for us to hit that great city, we sometimes feel the bonds of discipline slipping away when confronted with an interesting, totally-not-Cincinnati menu.
For instance, at Gramercy Tavern -- the culinary highlight of our 6 day/5 night New York adventure -- I succumbed to an amazing lamb dish recommended by our waiter.
Given that it is Christmas week, we have been away since last Weds., my brother arrives tomorrow for the duration of the holiday, need to get the house ready, etc. etc. etc., I may not be able to catch up on the blogging for awhile, at least not as fully as I would like.
Bear with me, dear readers!
This photo is of a marvelous, large canvas that hangs in the spectacular lobby of the Rose Theater (Jazz at Lincoln Center's venue) -- our favorite experience of the week in NY.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Healthy Foodie Holiday Survival Guide, Part 3: Fitness 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  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!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Healthy Foodie Holiday Survival Guide -- Part 2 (Party Time)

Going to parties? Eating at restaurants? Family feasts to attend (and/or host)? Candy turning up from Santa? Too busy to exercise, too stressed to sleep enough? The list of challenges to our health over the next six weeks or so is very long indeed. What's a healthy foodie to do?

Let's start with the parties. If it's potluck (or even if it's not and you know the hosts well enough to bring a dish to add), my strategy is to bring something that is going to improve the health profile of the buffet table. I almost always bring a veggie dish because many parties would have no vegetables if it weren't for my contribution. The idea here is not to forego all holiday treats -- there'll be plenty of that -- but to make sure you can balance some of the high-calorie goodies with more nutritious dishes.

My veggie dishes are always appreciated and get eaten as fast as anything else on the table! I'm not saying bring cut up celery and carrots (not that there's anything wrong with that), but instead, use your imagination with winter veggies such as Brussels sprouts, acorn or butternut squash, or year-round favorites like broccoli or green beans. Just don't add cream of mushroom soup or other fat-laden ingredients.

What to go for at the buffet tables:
1. Crudites--Yes, the cut-up raw veggies, but without unhealthy dips. Weil suggests a yogurt dip, and I would add hummus as a good-for-you dip for veggies.
2. Mixed nuts -- Nuts are filling and very tasty; be careful not to go overboard though, since they are full of calories. Go for unsalted nuts if at all possible. You won't get as thirsty for more caloric beverages (why do you think bars put out bowls of salty snacks but to make you drink more?), and too much salt is not beneficial to your health.
3. Smoked salmon -- because of its high Omega-3 fatty acid content. It's tasty too, but of course also expensive. You won't be tempted to overeat this because there's probably not going to be a whole lot of it.
4. Grilled figs and blue cheese -- kind of an odd choice (who has access to fresh figs this deep into November?), but even dried figs are super for their vitamins and fiber along with "a little bit" of the cheese for calcium and protein. 
And to avoid:
Dips, cocktail franks and mini-meatballs, anything fried, and foie gras or other meat pates.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Healthy Foodie Holiday Survival Guide -- Part 1

Thanksgiving weekend has segued 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  alcohol, and find at least a half hour per day to do nothing.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

"A little purity between holiday binges"

I love that idea -- let's focus on good, basic, non-processed and simple foods between the big deals of Thanksgiving and the holidays to come.
A former chef at the Berkeley foodie mecca, Chez Panisse, has posted this cauliflower soup recipe that will be just the ticket. Cauliflower is at its peak season now -- vendors at our Findlay Market have lovely, home-grown heads this weekend -- and this recipe has a blessedly short ingredient list.
Give it a try, even if you have to get your ingredients at the supermarket!

Recipe: Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup
Serves 8

Ingredients:
3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large, fresh head cauliflower, broken into florets
Salt, to taste
5 1/2 cups water, divided
Olive oil and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

1.   Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat without letting it brown for 15 minutes.
2.   Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot tightly and stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender. Then add another 4 1/2 cups hot water, bring to a low simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes.

3.   Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency. Let the soup stand for 20 minutes. In this time it will thicken slightly.

4.   Thin the soup with 1/2 cup hot water. Reheat the soup. Serve hot, drizzled with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good food at two of my fave restaurants

Roasted pear at La Poste

Quiche at La Poste
Within the past few days I've enjoyed lunch with my friend Susan at La Poste in Clifton, and dinner at Local 127 with husband and friends.
Both restuarants are reliably good choices for us, and these recent visits did nothing to dim my ardor.
At La Poste, their wine savvy is unsurpassed in this metro area, and one of the sommeliers there recently told us that they now have the most extensive wine list in all of Ohio -- more than 900 bottles. Sheer size isn't enough to impress me all that much, necessarily. What I really love about their wine choices is that they are so adventurous and clever. Even the by-the-glass selections have few wines that I'm familiar with, which is just great. Luckily, every server knows a lot about the wines so you can get great advice about what to order with what.
Our lunch -- with a little bit of wine, French of course -- was from among their healthier options. Susan got the egg white quiche (I think it had spinach and I'm not sure what else), and I went with the roasted pear salad, stuffed with some prosciutto and a little goat cheese, one of my fave things they do.
Dinner a couple of days later at Local 127 included another always-order, their Waldorf Salad, and for an entree, their stellar scallops. I love the way Chef Geddes plays with textures in food -- there's always some crunch to add interest to the flavors.

Local 127 Scallops

Monday, November 28, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Reality Check: How did you do?

I'm very happy that the Big Meal is over; now we have a breather between the super-caloric Thanksgiving feast and the holiday parties, food gifts, extra treats and family dinners around Christmas and New Year's.
Taking stock of how the TG weekend went, I'm thrilled and somewhat surprised to find that I didn't gain an ounce between last Wednesday and this morning. Not sure how to account for that, but I'll take it.

I did follow my own advice about managing the caloric challenges, such as not drinking alcohol before the dinner itself, having only one dessert, and taking walks early and late in the day.

In any case, here is a recipe for a healthy main course that will help you get through this week of atonement for the Thanksgiving meal and the days of leftovers that have followed. It's easy to throw together, even after a long day at work or all those holiday-related errands on our to-do lists.

Recipe: Chicken Braised in Vinegar with Garlic and Celery Leaves
Serves 4

Ingredients:

1.     1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2.     1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 2-inch pieces
3.     Salt and freshly ground pepper
4.     2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5.     Celery leaves from 1 large bunch
6.     1/2 cup chicken stock
7.     1/2 cup red wine vinegar
8.     1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
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Instructions:

In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; add it to the pan in a single layer. Cook over high heat, turning once, until well browned, 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook over moderate heat just until fragrant, 1 minute. Add most of the celery leaves and stir just until wilted, 30 seconds. Add the stock and vinegar and cook, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is reduced to a few tablespoons, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the parsley and the remaining celery leaves and serve.

Source: Food & Wine 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eat right to avoid the "Big C"

Tips for a Cancer Free Diet!
by Leroy Templeton



We all know about the cancer dangers inherent in smoking and other environmental carcinogens, but diet is less often discussed as a cause of cancer. And yet, as recent studies show, diet plays a significant role in approximately 30% of cancer diagnoses. That’s right, almost one third of those diagnosed with cancer can blame, in part at least, what they eat. This is a scary thought, no doubt, but there is some good to it. Since diet is something you can control, you can make your diet fight cancer, rather than promote it, by keeping a few things in mind:
·         Eat Natural Foods           
-          As many of the preservatives and additives in synthetic foods contain carcinogens, it is important to try to eat as natural as possible
·         Avoid Red Meats
-          Red meats have been shown to correlate highly with colon cancer in a number of studies. Its best to substitute leaner poultry and fish whenever possible
·         Monitor Sugar Intake
-          Too much sugar upsets the body’s natural chemicals balances and disrupts the cell division process. When this happens  you put yourself at risk for a number of cancers including pancreatic cancer and pleural mesothelioma
·         Eat More Foods with Antioxidants and Flavonoids
-          Antioxidants help flush out bacteria in the body and flavonoids help repair damaged cells in the body. These nutrients boost the immune system and foster an environment where cancerous tumors have difficulty surviving. They are found in bitter foods like coffee and dark chocolate as well as citrus fruits.

The battle against cancer is not an easy one. But take every precaution you can. Ultimately, if you keep these tips in mind when managing your diet you will be eating much healthier, lowering your chances for a number of health problems as well as lowering your chances for cancer by about 30%. Not to mention, you may even shed a few pounds too ;)
List of cancer-fighting foods

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do these things and have a healthier Thanksgiving

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), 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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Take this survey about dining out in Cincinnati

Dear Readers,
I'm a professor at the University of Cincinnati and a group of my students is doing a project this term related to dining out in Cincinnati.

They and I would be delighted to have your input on the survey. It's very short -- just 10 questions -- and you can answer it in just a couple of minutes.

Here is the link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SZ6SZMR

Many, many thanks!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chicago eats: Frontera Grill, Cafe Spiaggia and Xoco

I'm in Chicago for a few days -- such a wonderful restaurant town it is.
Our first stop is always Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless's regional Mexican cuisine par excellence. In these photos -- Frontera's grilled cobia (mild, white fish) with a terrific pumpkin sauce, spaghetti squash and a marvelous marriage of delicious ingredients.
.
That's all I have time for right now....more to come!
Frontera Entree

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"The ultimate Thanksgiving wine guide"

Still deciding what to offer as drinks for (or near) the holiday?
Look no further than this guide for wines, cocktails, mocktails and hot toddies.
Their "10 top bottles" to pour at turkey time includes five American-produced syrahs, ranging in price from $8 for a Smoking Loon to $20 for a couple of California and Washington bottlings, with a couple in between.
The link also takes you to plenty of recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts as well as tips for turning out your best holiday meal ever.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This is outrageous!

Photo from the NY Times
You may think we have a do-nothing Congress in Washington. Perhaps we should amend that to do-nothing-except-obstruct-progress. I'm talking about this, a headline in today's NY Times, reprinted in our local daily:

"Congress Blocks New Rules on School Lunches"

And here is the lead:
"In a victory for the makers of frozen pizzas, tomato paste and French fries, Congress on Monday blocked rules proposed by the Agriculture Department that would have overhauled the nation’s school lunch program.
The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program — were meant to reduce childhood obesity by adding more fruits and green vegetables to lunch menus, Agriculture Department officials said." 
A victory for America's industrial food system (aka "makers of frozen pizzas, tomato paste and French fries") is a defeat for America's children, and therefore for America's future.
The Times article is brief, and doesn't explain the rationale for the congressional action, except to say that big food manufacturers called the move "reasonable." I would say, "awful."
The non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a statement condemning Congress for "protecting industry" rather than "protecting children's health," as of this morning they hadn't posted a response on their website.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A world apart, and yet so near the city: Murphin Ridge Inn

Best eggs ever?
After hearing about (the restaurant, in particular) Murphin Ridge Inn for literally years, I finally was able to get out there last weekend. We didn't really know what it would be like, but in almost all respects, it exceeded our hopes for a short, nearby getaway.
We met several couples from metro Cincinnati -- the main source of patrons for the inn -- who have returned multiple times. Since it's only 72 miles from our driveway, out east in the Amish farmland of Adams County, Murphin Ridge Inn has to be the nearest rural, luxury retreat to home.
Don't be intimidated by "luxury," because it's not all that expensive for the quality of the accommodations, service, setting/scenery, and food. 
We stayed in one of the nine private cabins, which looks rustic from the outside but wow, was it fine once you step through the door. (For that matter, the front porch with two rocking chairs and a two-seat swing was a good place to hang out, as this photo of me suggests.)
On the porch of our cabin @ Murphin Ridge
The cabin had a king-size, four-poster bed, a whirlpool tub beside large windows overlooking pastoral scenery, and a glassed-in, two-sided fireplace -- among other comforts. 
We also enjoyed hiking on the grounds through woods and near Amish farms, and after dinner sitting around the fire pit talking to other guests.
But since this is a food blog, I'd better get to some discussion of the restaurant. First of all, it's a fun place thanks to the personalities of the owners, Darryl and Sherry McKenney, who make everyone feel welcome. To get to the inn, you have to drive quite a few miles on an unlit, narrow and windy road, so despite the restaurant's reputation as by far the best place to eat in that part of Ohio, the vast majority of dinner guests also are inn guests.
Dinner was good -- my husband liked his locally farmed chicken dish and my steak was fine -- but breakfast was outstanding. Sherry puts out a huge bowl of her homemade granola and vanilla yogurt near the reception desk, which is the start of your morning repast. Once you are seated, breakfast comes in a couple of courses, which vary each day. The granola was so delicious that we brought a few bags of it home. 
The other highlight of our breakfast was Sherry's scrambled eggs. OMG they were good -- fluffy, rich, and cooked to perfection. They were so fine, I ducked into the kitchen after the main breakfast crowd and asked Sherry for an eggs-cooking lesson, which she generously provided. Now I know how to wow my out-of-town family guests for Christmas morning brunch -- although I intend to practice a couple of times in advance.
All in all, we were delighted with our short visit to Murphin Ridge Inn.
Interior, our cabin

On the grounds at the inn


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Holiday-worthy recipe: Butternut squash and bread stuffing

This has been a popular recipe the past two Thanksgivings, so I'm posting it again. You can buy already cut-up chunks of butternut squash at stores such as Trader Joe's or Kroger's (in bags in the produce department), which makes it so much easier to use. This stuffing recipe is super-healthy, thanks to the beta-carotein and fiber in the squash; the high-fiber whole wheat bread; protein from the eggs; the diced vegetable base; and the raisins and nuts. (If you have nut-sensitive people to feed, of course you can omit those.)
What might surprise you a bit however is how doggone good this stuffing tastes. It will be a real winner at your table, guaranteed!
Another bonus: you can make this recipe in advance; just refrigerate unbaked and pop it into the oven on turkey day.

Recipe:
Butternut Squash, Fruit and Nut Dressing
(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:
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

Instructions:
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. NOTE: you can refrigerate the stuffing in the baking dish, uncooked, for up to one day in advance.
5. Let cool slightly before serving.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What wines are best with Thanksgiving dinner? Plan-ahead advice

If you're the one in charge of planning -- and producing -- a holiday meal, you've probably already given your menu some thought. (That is, unless you do the same thing year after year, which is easier, but boring, IMHO.) I'm clipping recipes from magazines and haven't decided on much of anything yet. However, here are a few items we can check off our lists.
First of all is wine. If you don't have a well-stocked cellar that you can just dip into at whim, you might want to look at the list of easy-to-find, holiday-worthy wines that Food & Wine magazine published last month. They've selected a few TG-meal-compatible choices from national grocery stores such as Trader Joe's (my favorite), Whole Foods, Costco and Target. None are expensive, and each one should complement turkey with the trimmings quite adequately.
A few highlights are below, or click here to read the Food & Wine article.
FROM TRADER JOE'S: three sparkling wines, including NV Gloria Ferrer Brut and an affordable Champagne from Piper-Heidseick.
FROM TARGET: their own label sauvignon blanc in a "wine cube" -- yes, a box. F & W says it's pretty good, and only $18 for 3 liters.
FROM WHOLE FOODS: a bargain Spanish temperanillo/malbec blend for just $10.
As with the rest of my meal, I haven't decided completely on what wine to serve, but I'm leaning toward a spicy Gewertztraminer for white and perhaps a cru Beaujolais or Chinon as a red (I've become so enamored of out-of-the-way French reds of late -- they are eminently food friendly and delicious).
One other note: I can't see any reason to pour expensive wine on this particular holiday. The focus of the Thanksgiving meal is family, friends and togetherness, plus an array of traditional dishes and ingredients that aren't the best combo of flavors to showcase your best bottles. Save that stuff for Christmas -- and New Year's.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Which diet is healthiest? Here's a new ranking

U.S. News & World Report has come up with "Best Diets for Healthy Eating," ranking 20 diets for their nutritional value and safeness. The highest score is 5, down to the worst at 1. The scores give safety double the weight of nutrition because  "while you can modify a diet to some degree to adjust for nutritional imbalances or deficiencies, mere tweaking won't make an unsafe diet safe," according to the magazine.
Here are the top 5 best diets:
1. DASH diet -- low in saturated fat and salt, very heart-healthy
2. Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet -- almost as good as the DASH diet, according to the panel of experts that came up with the ratings. Good fiber and calcium content and also low in sat-fat.
3. Mediterranean diet -- also very healthy, with the added bonus of encouraging regular wine consumption (three cheers for that).
4. Mayo Clinic Diet -- interesting in that it promotes eating plenty of low-density foods, where you feel full for longer on less.
5. Volumetrics Diet -- similar to Mayo Clinic in its emphasis on low-density foods.

Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig come next, by the way, at #6 and #7.

To read details about how the rankings were done, and more about the diets themselves, click here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

At the market -- even in the cold

I'd like to share a few photos from the farmer's market this morning. Findlay Market in downtown Cincinnati is not a roadside stand or tailgate affair; it's a year-round, elaborate, you-can-find-everything place to shop, six days a week. (They're closed on Mondays, most of the time.) And there's way more than food to choose from -- although that's what brings me down almost every weekend.

But at least until Thanksgiving, it's also a place where farmers from three states bring their autumn produce. I even saw fresh asparagus down there today.

And you can find wonderful Christmas gifts and decorations at our market, as well.
These are just a few of the goodies I saw today -- and there's a whole lot more inside the main market and in the storefronts around it.