Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vegan Grill Recipes -- Yummy whether you're eating vegan or not!

Grilling doesn't have to rely on meat alone. While steak and burgers may be the first things that come to mind when thinking of outdoor cooking, there are plenty of interesting options beyond the standard grilled zucchini, peppers and portobello mushrooms (not that there's anything wrong with those reliable grillable veggies).
Food & Wine Magazine's website has a nifty set of vegan recipes for the grill, which range from Grilled Polenta and Radicchio (in photo) to Spinach Fettuccine with Grilled Summer Squash or Grilled Broccoli and Bread Salad with Pickled Shallots.
Click here to check out these recipes, and more.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Foods to keep you cool

All of a sudden, it's mid-summer hot. We're looking at highs in the 90s all week, and this is Ohio.
While we all know that cold drinks can help cool us down, you also can help lower your body temperature by eating the right foods.
Go for foods with high water content, and keeping them chilled helps, too, naturally.

Here are a few reliably cooling foods:

WATERMELON and other melons, such as cantaloupe

CUCUMBER reminds me of the old saying, "cool as a cucumber;" it's a fine ingredient pureed in drinks and cocktails, and very cooling

MINT is refreshing and relaxing as well as cooling; add some to iced tea and feel your body temp fall back. I've gotten real fond of homemade mint juleps this spring, too

GREEN SALADS are an obvious summer cooler, and add watery fruits such as strawberries or peaches to your salad, along with the above-mentioned cucumbers and radishes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Hate "the Taste"

One of our town's biggest food events -- if not the biggest -- of the year is Taste of Cincinnati. But I avoid it like the proverbial plague. Here are my reasons:

1. I don't like crowds....and it's always mobbed
2. I hate to eat standing up...which is pretty much what you have to do there
3. Too many calories for too little pleasure (see #2)
4. The wine choices are lousy, and I don't drink beer (and I don't like drinking wine from plastic cups anyhow
5. It's often hot and humid, with no shady places to hang out (also see #1)
6. Parking is a bitch, and then you have to walk and walk and walk....which I do every day without fail for exercise, but don't like to for "social" occasions
7. There are too many drunk and obnoxious attendees (see #1)
8. The food isn't all that good -- how could it be, with preparers having to make mass quantities and meet the demand of long lines (see #1)
9. The fare is too expensive for what you get (see #2)
10. The bands are too loud, at least the ones that I don't like are.

Just my opinion, folks -- obviously, many thousands feel otherwise.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grill-Friendly Wines -- for Memorial Day

Weather permitting, most of us will celebrate the (unofficial) start of summer this weekend by spending as much time outdoors as possible. That includes cooking and eating, as well as any kind of play and exercise we can devise.

The healthy foodie likes her grill as much as most people, although we don't often barbeque meat. However, for the holiday, we'll make an exception. On our menu for a grill-out on Sunday: marinated pork tenderloin, and grilled beef tenderloin, as well. And I'll probably throw some veggies on the grill, too: red peppers and zucchini, and perhaps portobello mushrooms.

What wines will we have? If the temperature hits 85 or higher, we'll start with a fragrant white wine (gewurtztrminer, viognier, godello or torrontes are all possibilities) and perhaps a lovely rose (I've got one in my basement fridge that wants to be consumed). For the main course? Here are some options.
A lot of people recommend (red) zinfandel with grilled meats, but be forewarned: zins tend to be very "hot" -- meaning high in alcohol -- and can quickly put you on your butt. I am not crazy about anything highly alcoholic on a hot, humid day. Other possibilities:

Merlot has a characteristic fruit-forward flavor profile that will support the spice of marinades and barbecue sauces. Grilled pork chops, chicken and garden-variety salads with lighter dressings also mingle well with Merlot.
Shiraz/Syrah another varietal that makes the grill-friendly wine list. This varietal is delicious with just about any red meat. Offering dynamic, somewhat aggressive fruit flavors, balanced with more mellow tannins and a softer-fuller body – this wine’s place to shine is definitely at a barbecue gathering.
Cabernet Sauvignon is made for steaks with a higher fat content and burgers. (Not the best match for my tenderloins) The tighter tannins are significantly mellowed by the meat’s fat, producing a palate pleaser to remember. Top your burgers with bold cheeses, like blue or sharp cheddar and this varietal gets even better.
Pinot Noir a flexible varietal that is known for being extremely food-friendly. Can go from grilled fish to a juicy burger in a single sip! Pinot Noir is an ideal candidate for grilled fish – especially salmon, burgers and chicken both bare their best in the presence of Pinot Noir. If you aren’t sure if what wine will work with your grilled dinner, Pinot Noir will likely be your best bet.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eat Local for the Globe -- June 9th

Here's an upcoming evening of fun and really, really good food. Mark your calendars!

The rich flavors of Ohio’s oldest public market will be on proud display at Findlay Market’s second annual Eat Local for the Globe event to be held on Thursday, June 9, 2011 from 6 PM – 10 PM. The event will feature locally sourced food, wine, beer, and Findlay Market fare. Tickets are $50 per person and all proceeds benefit the Findlay Market Fund. Public markets serve a public purpose and are operated to pursue civic goals. Support for Findlay Market ensures that Cincinnati’s great public market will be here for generations to come, generating a wide range of public benefits from small business incubation to food waste composting to cultural enrichment activities for shoppers to enjoy.

Event Highlights:

- Dinner by the bite prepared by the talented chefs at Findlay Market, including chefs from: Fresh Table, Skirtz & Johnston, Bouchard’s, Gramma Debbie’s Kitchen, and Pho Lang Thang

- Exciting wine pairings from regional wineries Kinkead Ridge, Harmony Hill and Equus Run plus plenty of Christian Moerlein beer and craft cocktails by Molly Wellmann

- Dessert provided by Findlay Market’s own Dojo Gelato and Taste of Belgium

- Cash bar after dinner with music by the WNKU’s ever-popular “Mr. Rhythm Man”

- Each guest will receive a silkscreen printed poster created especially for the event

- Guests will have an opportunity to tour the Findlay Market District and learn about plans for its continuing revitalization

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Springtime Ravioli; Salmon burgers w/ roasted veggies

Two recent dinners: Ravioli with Asparagus, Zucchini and Pesto; Salmon Burgers with Roasted Fennel, Beets, Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts.

These were easy fixes, thanks to the ready-made ravioli (from Trader Joe's, arugula and Parmesan) and pre-made salmon burgers (from Whole Foods, on sale recently--stocked up and put them in the freezer).

For the Ravioli Sauce: 1/2 pound asparagus spears, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise and then into half-moon slices
Canola oil for sauteeing
2 cloves minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1/2 cup cooking water from the ravioli

For the roasted veggies (with salmon burger):
1 sweet potato, peeled (if desired) and cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced
2 cups brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 beet, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
Toss in 2 T canola or olive oil, add salt and pepper, roast in 375-degree oven until all veggies are tender, about 30 minutes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

New "spring" menu at La Poste

La Poste is such a welcome presence in our neighborhood--gaslight Clifton--and I was looking forward to their new menu, which debuted earlier this month.

I've had dinner there twice since the new menu has been available, and have to report that it's rather disappointing. One expects spring/summer dishes to be lighter than what you'd have in the winter months, but it was terribly hard to find what I had hoped to see. No light salads, no veggie-based entrees (except the cheesy, creamy kind), and even the fish preparations were too oily and, well, heavy.

The steamed mussels and clams (pictured) were an exception, and I appreciated that dish as an appetizer on my second trip. I also ordered the mushroom ravioli without the cream sauce, and that was fine. (It was plenty tasty without being sauced in cream.)

Desserts have improved since the place first opened last fall -- not that dessert is going to qualify as something light. I shared a panna cotta with my friend on one of the recent occasions.

One of the wait staff told me they planned to offer lighter fare as specials, but the choices on the two nights I was there didn't qualify as anything light.

I hope this problem will correct itself before the heat of summer settles in.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Great Ideas for Getting/Staying Healthy -- from Top-Notch Chefs

Check out these diet and fitness tips from eight celebrated American chefs, including Elizabeth Falkner (at left), who among them have lost about 600 pounds. How? Creativity in the kitchen -- squeezing every ounce of flavor out of healthful ingredients, for instance; knowing when to indulge and when (most of the time) to hold back; and figuring out all kinds of clever ways to move their butts, also known as exercise. (The other photo is of delicious mussels, recipe linked from the article below)

Some of their advice: cut down on portion sizes, learn how to boost the flavor of healthful foods, eat more plants (an idea I fully support, even though I am not vegetarian), and don't skip breakfast, ever.

Click here to read the full article, from Food & Wine Magazine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Take a biscuit (and a cream puff?) @ Take the Cake

Okay, biscuits aren't the world's healthiest food. But when they're made right, biscuits are hard to pass up.
Take the Cake (a bakery/eatery in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati) makes biscuits right.
When we went for lunch a couple of weeks ago, I randomly ordered chicken stew with a biscuit. The stew was cream-based and a little too rich for my taste, but the biscuit was stellar.
We returned this past weekend for brunch, and I was happy to see that perhaps half of the brunch entrees came with a biscuit.
Pictured are our breakfast entrees: ratatouille (with a biscuit), pulled pork and coleslaw (with a biscuit), and a breakfast burrito (no biscuit).
The coffee was really good, too.
It was busy but we happened to arrive when the line to order wasn't but a few people. It got longer, later. There's enough turnover that people managed to find a seat before their food was ready.
One more thing: you place your order right in front of their pastry case, of which the top row included a tray of amazing looking cream puffs. The only thing that saved me from going back for one to take home was that the line had gotten really long and I didn't want to ask my friends to wait.
Another friend who lives in Northside says that cream puffs are a weekend special at Take the Cake.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shrimp tacos -- easy to make, fun and healthy, too.

Yes, this is an easy dinner and you can make it very healthy.
A few tips:
Saute shrimp quickly with some salt/pepper. Remove from pan and cool slightly. (I also added a handful of cut-up asparagus to the pan, so I had a green veggie in the meal.) Cut into smaller pieces and remove tails. Toss with lime juice and chopped cilantro and add mild or medium tomato salsa.
In a separate bowl, add prepared guacamole or mashed avocado.
In another bowl, put chopped up cold veggies -- I used shredded carrots, diced tomatoes and a few chopped radishes (in season now) for a little kick.
Heat the tortillas in the microwave for just a few seconds.
Everyone makes his/her own, adding to the tortillas in whatever proportion s/he feels like. You can add chopped lettuce and shredded cheese, if desired. More salsa also will be a hit.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Favorite Screw-Cap WInes -- Great for Picnics

Due to a problem with the host of this site (Google's blogspot), my posting from earlier this week about delicious screw-cap wines disappeared. Blogspot posted a notice saying all of their sites were stripped of any posting after Wednesday of this week.

It didn't even get saved as a draft. Very annoying!

Here are two of the five wines that I recommended, one white (left photo) and one red (right).

Crios Torrontes is a fine example of Argentina's best white-wine varietal, torrontes. Fragrant and fruity but with enough acidity to stand up to a variety of foods, it's one of my go-to white wines. The screw-cap makes it super portable and great for cookouts and picnics.

Try The Chook Shiraz as your red wine choice for those cookouts and picnics. It's wonderfully balanced, with delicious fruit and good structure to match with grilled meats, from chicken to steak and everything in between.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five delicious screw-cap wines: terrific for picnics

I love the convenience of screw-cap wines; for me, it is a selling point rather than any kind of detriment. (No cork snobbery here.)
These closures become more sensible than ever when you're dining -- and drinking -- al fresco.

Some of my favorites, all widely available and under $20:

Crios Torrontes (2009) -- a crisp, rich white with a lovely aroma and full flavor, it holds up to grilled seafood and fatty fish such as salmon. This is Argentina's standout white wine, and Crios is among the best I've tasted. (pictured at left)

Perrin & Fils Cotes-du-Rhone Reserve -- try to get the 2007, a great vintage in the southern Rhone, but even a later vintage of this reliable red blend will be delightful.

Plantegenet Riesling (2008) -- is actually from western Australia, a not well known region of that country. This is highly quaffable, very food friendly, and goes for about $10-$12.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (2009) -- not the least expensive New Zealand sauvignon blanc out there, but definitely one of the most excellent. I love NZ sauvignon blanc as much as any white wine, if only because it goes so well with the light, healthy food we tend to eat. You'll appreciate this one with shellfish, or summer salads.

Chook Shiraz Viognier (2009) -- you might just fall madly in love with this fruity Australian shiraz, which rises well above the ordinary. And it's not going to cost more than $10-$12, plus it goes with grilled burgers, steaks and other meats as well as any red wine you're likely to encounter this summer. (pictured at right)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Colleges upgrade food choices -- thanks to student demand

It's a long-arc trend: food on college campuses has gotten a lot more interesting, and healthier, since the days when I was an undergrad. Although on the campus where I teach, students have plenty of not-so-healthy fast-food options, they also choose from salad bars and "square meals" that include cooked vegetables and fresh fruit. Now some college students have taken up the foodie banner and are demanding gourmet fare as well. Here's an excerpt from an Associated Press article about the trend to diversify (and localize) campus food choices. Click here to link to the full piece.

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) - Not all college students are willing to live on cold pizza, ramen noodles and greasy takeout.

Some, like Wesleyan University junior Nica Latto, prefer wedges of locally produced artisanal cheeses added to the mix, perhaps a gouda with a slightly nutty undertone or a Gruyere for a fondue party while studying with classmates.

So to satisfy palates that lean more gourmet than grub, Latto and several friends organized a co-op in which fancy cheeses from a nearby Connecticut farm are delivered each week to the Middletown campus and distributed to students, many of whom line up with baguettes - and meal cards - in hand.

While universities nationwide have updated their dining hall menus to meet the increasingly epicurean expectations of students like Latto, many students are also taking things a step further and bringing fancy fare to campus on their own.

For some, it means launching co-ops to get everything from fair-trade coffee to fancy herbs or hand-rolled butter from nearby farms. For others, it means collaborating with the vendors who stock their dorm cafeterias to get quinoa, kohlrabi or other non-traditional items on their menus.

In California, a student-run collective near the University of California, Berkeley, gained scores of members as soon as it opened last winter, the legacy of students' fight against fast casual chain Panda Express' now-dashed 2009 plans to open a site there.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A weekend worth of dining -- and marketing

Here are photos from (top to bottom):

Friday lunch at Take the Cake (Northside) -- terrific, top-quality quiche in foreground, with a salad, and chicken stew with a biscuit. It was packed, and for good reason: they do everything right. I hear their Sunday brunch is the best in the in-town/uptown area, and after this yummy lunch, I don't doubt it.

Saturday morning scenes at Findlay Market (downtown)-- A woman from Crete (Greece) is selling locally bottled olive oil imported from Greece, which she says is pure and undiluted with lesser oils. You can sample before you buy. Also a shot of some of the produce now plentiful at our local farmers markets.

Dinner at Bonefish Grill (Hyde Park) -- I can't get past ordering the seared ahi tuna (beautiful presentation); my daughter and her husband had the other fish preparations, which were daily specials.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fresh, seasonal ingredients + careful cooking = Great dish

Asparagus is my husband's favorite veggie, and while I like it less frequently than he does, in the springtime it's easier to work into our diet on a regular basis, because it's available from local farms and could not be fresher.
The other nice ingredient we've had on hand a lot lately is fresh fennel bulb, which we both like in many preparations (roasted, grilled, raw, etc.). He said, how about combining the two into a dish?
This is what I came up with -- the top photo is in the pan, the bottom one on the plate with shaved Parmesan. It was pretty darn delish!

Recipe: Bow-Tie Pasta with Asparagus and Fennel
(Serves 2, can be doubled)
2 T olive or canola oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
12 ounces fresh asparagus, bottoms trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup (or more) prepared pesto, preferably homemade
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups bowtie pasta, preferably whole wheat, cooked according to package directions
Shaved Parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced fennel and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic, stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add broth and wine (if using), cover and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high, uncover and add asparagus. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until asparagus is just tender. Be careful not to overcook. Stir in remaining ingredients -- pesto, seasonings and pasta -- cover, and reduce heat to medium.
Remove from heat as soon as the mixture is heated through, no more than another 3 minutes.
Spoon into serving bowls and sprinkle with the cheese, or pass cheese at the table.

Wine recommendation: Go with a rich white wine such as a buttery chardonnay or a golden-hued viognier or viognier blend (we popped open a white Cotes-du-Rhone, a viognier blend).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo -- and beyond

Try one of these recipes for either classic or unusual margaritas -- perfect for a Cinco de Mayo party, a summer weekend taco party, or many other occasions one can create around these tasty drinks.

Blood Orange Margarita with Ginger (pictured)
  1. 4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
  2. 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh blood-orange juice
  3. 3 tablespoons tequila
  4. 1 tablespoon Cointreau
  5. 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  6. Lime slice, for
Put the grated ginger in a small sieve set over a small bowl and press to extract the juice. Combine the ginger juice with the orange juice, tequila, Cointreau and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with the lime slice and serve. (Makes one drink)

Classic Margarita
  1. 1 1/2 ounces silver tequila
  2. 3/4 ounce triple sec
  3. 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  4. 1/2 tablespoon Simple Syrup (optional)
  5. Ice
  6. Lime slices and salted rim, for garnish
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into chilled, stemmed glass. (Makes one drink)

Blackberry-Mint Margarita
  1. 8 blackberries, 2 skewered on a pick
  2. Ice
  3. 10 mint leaves
  4. 1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila
  5. 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  6. 1 ounce simple syrup
In a cocktail shaker, muddle 6 of the berries. Add ice, the mint, tequila, lime juice and Simple Syrup; shake well. Pour into a rocks glass; top with the 2 berries. (Makes one drink)

Source: Food and Wine Magazine

Monday, May 2, 2011

Should you be eating tilapia?

Tilapia has become the ubiquitous fish in America today. It's cheap, not "fishy" tasting, boneless and skinless, and is hard to mess up by overcooking, which is a problem with many other fish varieties.
So what's not to like, right?
Actually, plenty.

The tilapia we're eating is almost entirely a farmed fish, meaning you cannot find wild tilapia in any grocery store or on any restaurant menu. And the farming is usually done on an industrial scale, with thousands of fish being harvested every day. Their feed is not natural -- in the wild, tilapia would eat algae and lake plants, but the farms fatten up the fish on corn and soy pellets. The amount of healthful fish oils in these creatures is almost negligible, thus negating the main reason why fish is so good for us.
It gets worse.
The tilapia farms are mostly in Central and South America, and they are environmental nightmares for the lands that host them. It turns out that tilapia is an invasive species that, when it gets into the wild, crowds out other native marine life.
This is just a summary of the many problems associated with this fish. We stopped buying it months ago, and while that decision has cut down on the servings of fish we eat each week, I now believe we were not getting any real benefits from it.
As with many considerations of the production of cheap, plentiful foods, the practice of tilapia farming has its defenders. It does, after all, provide an inexpensive source of protein that can help feed a hungry world. And there's a movement afoot to regulate and standardize the conditions at industrial fish farms.

Click here for a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of eating tilapia.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What are you (we) feeding your (our) kids?

It's not just what we're feeding them in their own kitchens, of course. The modern world has conspired to undermine even the most health-oriented parents' best efforts to teach their children well when it comes to what kind of nutrition they need for their little bodies, hearts and souls.

While food isn't supposed to be medicine -- it is, after all, one of life's most wondrous pleasures and a source of pure joy -- it sure as heck shouldn't be poison, either.

With something approaching half of all American children now being overweight or obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently studied three influential contributors to kids' "food environment": child care, school and the larger community. In other words, leaving aside what parents and families do to help their kids learn a healthy relationship with food, what are these other players contributing?

Well, as reported in Time Magazine, there's a lot of bad going on out there.

Child-care facilities and schools at all levels in most states don't bother to restict access to sugary soft drinks and other junk food. School lunches are disastrously unhealthy in many school districts (see Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, now running on ABC-TV, for on-the-ground evidence of the crap that passes for a nutritious meal). And children's television is overrun with enticements for the consumption of all kinds of sugar-, fat- and salt-laden foods.

What can we do about any of this? Here's some advice for parents:

For starters, take the TV out of kids' bedrooms. And then start eating dinner as a family. "Eating meals together as a family is associated with positive effects on children across many domains of life, including the development of healthy eating behaviors and the maintenance of a healthy weight status," the report says. Indeed, the American Association of Pediatrics says family meals are linked with a host of benefits to health and well-being, including better grades and less drug use.
Read more: