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


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


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:

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.

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

2 1/2 cups butternut squash cut into one to 1 ½- inch cubes Note: many supermarkets carry peeled and seeded butternut squash, refrigerated, in the produce section
5 cups whole-grain bread cubes (from 4 large slices of bread). Note: Bread should either be toasted before you cut into cubes or left out overnight so that it’s “stale.” If you have actual stale whole-grain bread, use that.
2 T canola oil
½ cup chopped celery and/or carrots
½ cup diced onion, leeks or shallots
2 eggs, lightly beaten, or equivalent amount of egg whites or egg substitute
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme
½ cup golden raisins, dried cranberries or a mix of both
½ cup chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the squash in a steamer insert inside a 2-quart saucepan. Add ½ cup water, sprinkle with salt, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until squash is still al dente, about 3-4 minutes depending on thickness of the cubes. Remove from heat and rinse squash under cold running water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables (celery, onions, etc.) to pan and sauté, stirring, until veggies are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.
3. Combine remaining ingredients (eggs through salt and pepper) with cooled veggies in a large mixing bowl. Add bread and squash; stir well.
4. Turn into an oiled baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 60 minutes in a preheated, 350- degree oven. 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.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Essencha -- fine teas, and good food, too

Metro area tea-lovers know that there's no better selection of fresh, loose-leaf tea than at Essencha Tea House in Oakley. You might find a greater variety elsewhere, but you can be sure that Essencha owner Tracy Monson (a real "tea person") selects only teas available in the season that they were harvested and processed. Nothing sits on the shelf there for months, losing flavor. You can choose from over 100 teas -- black, white, green, red and herbal -- either online or in person. I'm a black tea fan, drink a pot of it every morning with breakfast. One of my favorite varieties is Keemun, which you can get all around town, but which Essencha did not carry for months as they awaited the new season's crop. Happily, it's in now (Keemun breakfast, organic). I bought some of that as well as the hearty Irish breakfast blend.
Soup and Matcha Goddess Salad @ Essencha

My friends and I also enjoy the lunch menu at the Tea House. There's a homemade soup or two each day, a small but delicious selection of sandwiches, and two or three excellently composed salads. They also serve savory or sweet crepes and a few indulgent dessert treats. If you let them know in advance, you can try a more elaborate Afternoon Tea (sweet and savory snacks with your choice of tea), either European or Asian style.
Like many businesses in Oakley, Essencha has seen a drop in traffic over the past year or so due to the extreme disruption of street, sidewalk and road work along Madison Road. Thankfully, all that seems to be complete. One word of warning: the parking lot behind Essencha is hard pressed to handle the traffic for the Tea House and other shops in that block, but you can park across the street in the larger lot in front of Hugo's. Just be careful crossing busy Madison Road.
In short, Essencha is a healthy-foodie star among Cincinnati dining and shopping destinations!

Essencha is open seven days a week. Look for a special Chinese tea tasting on November 13th.  513-533-4832 for reservations or more info. Check out the website to order tea, too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanksgiving without the Turkey?

I'm not saying we'll be omitting turkey from our Thanksgiving meal -- although it will be only a breast, not the whole bird -- but you can have a fabulous celebratory meal without fowl, or any meat.

Today the New York Times health section starts a series, to run each Thursday until the big day, with vegetarian and vegan recipes to make you not miss turkey, if you choose to go that route.
The first featured recipe, copied here, is for a delicious starter, which of course you can serve before a traditional, turkey-centered main meal.
Also in this week's article is a wild rice,corn and cranberries dish that would make a great side dish.

Recipe: Coconut Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8
1 large butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oil

1 large yellow or sweet white onion, chopped

1 medium apple, any variety, peeled and diced

2 cups prepared vegetable broth, or 2 cups water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube

2 teaspoons good-quality curry powder

2 teaspoons grated fresh or jarred ginger, or more, to taste

Pinch of ground nutmeg or allspice

1 14-ounce can light coconut milk

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


2 medium red onions, quartered and thinly sliced

1 good-size bunch kale (about 10 to 12 ounces)
1. To bake the squash, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut in half and place halves, cut side up, in a foil-lined shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 30 to 50 minutes, until you can easily pierce the flesh with a knife. Scoop out and set aside.

2. Heat about half the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Add the apple, squash, broth and spices. Bring to a steady simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes.
4. Transfer the solids to a food processor with a slotted spoon, in batches if need be, and process until smoothly puréed, then transfer back to the soup pot. Or better yet, simply insert an immersion blender into the pot and process until smoothly puréed.
5. Stir in the coconut milk and return the soup to a gentle simmer. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until well heated through. Season with salt and pepper. If time allows, let the soup stand off the heat for an hour or two, then heat through as needed before serving.
6. Just before serving, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. Add the red onions and sauté over low heat until golden and soft.
7. Meanwhile, strip the kale leaves off the stems and cut into thin shreds. Stir together with the onions in the skillet, adding just enough water to moisten the surface. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the kale is bright green and just tender, about 5 minutes.
8. To serve, ladle soup into each bowl, then place a small mound of kale and onion mixture in the center.