Sunday, March 31, 2013

Break out of a lunchtime rut -- RECIPE

Looking for a break from your turkey sandwiches? How about roasted chicken, arugula (or spinach), roasted red pepper with a smear of pesto? If you buy rotisserie chicken, save some for this sandwich. Or poach boneless breasts in a shallow amount of seasoned chicken stock/broth until the meat is just done.
Use jarred pesto, or make your own.
It's easy, and of course delicious, and serves just as well for a light, protein-rich supper.

RECIPE: Chicken, Arugula and Red Pepper on Focaccia
Makes one sandwich

1 five-inch square whole-wheat focaccia, split in half, or two slices whole wheat bread

1 T pesto

2 - 3 ounces cooked chicken

1 T grated carrots

Arugula or spinach leaves, however many you want

Slices of jarred, roasted red pepper, patted dry


Toast the bread lightly, if desired. Spread each side with some of the pesto. Add a layer of chicken slices, the grated carrots, greens and finally, the red pepper slices. Put top piece of bread on the sandwich, cut in half, and serve!

Adapted from Recipes for Health in The New York Times (photo is theirs)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cocktails at Bakersfield -- make 'em at home!

The way-fun tacos joint on Vine Street called Bakersfield continues to be one of my favorite places in town for a satisfying, inexpensive and healthy-enough dinner. Although it's crowded and noisy no matter what time or day you go, I love it anyway.
In addition to the yummy food, the cocktails are first rate. Here's a photo of the one I had the other night -- I think it was called Chase Avenue -- with a few sips already imbibed before I remembered to take a photo.
They're generous about sharing recipes for their bourbon and tequila based concoctions (and others that feature vodka or rum, as well). Here are a couple of their best-sellers, starting with my all time Bakersfield favorite, the spicy Red Headed Stranger.
(Each recipe makes one drink)

RECIPE: Red Headed Stranger
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce ginger liqueur (such as Canton)
Dashed of cayenne pepper (to taste -- go easy until you know how much spice you like)
"Squeeze of lemon"
2 dashed bitters, such as Angostura or orange
Add cayenne, lemon juice and bitters to a shaker; stir to dissolve cayenne. Add bourbon and liqueur. Shake over ice. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with candied ginger.
Note: The ginger adds a spicy kick of its own, so start with a little cayenne unless you like to have your lips burned. It took me a couple of tries to get this drink right at home.

RECIPE: Bakersfield Sour
1 ounces Tennessee whiskey
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
1/4 ounce St. Germain liqueur
4 ounces sour mix (make your own with fresh lemon and simple syrup)
Add ingredients to an ice filled shaker. Shake or stir vigorously and strain into an ice filled highball glass. Garnish with bourbon soaked cherries (yum!)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

To Eat Well, Try Eat Well Cafe

Chef Renee Schuler
Made my second visit to Eat Well Cafe, in O'Bryonville, this week, and had a better chance to sample and appreciate what this bright, pleasant (mostly) lunch spot has to offer. I'd gone once before on a very cold winter day with a friend who doesn't really enjoy eating, which usually holds me back from full enjoyment of my own. This time I went with my ravenous husband, which gave me permission to have more than a cup of soup with a couple of crackers, as on my first visit.
He selected from one of the pasta bowls -- his choice was pearl couscous (the Israeli variety) with roasted veggies, chicken and pesto. The portion was large but, in character, he ate all of it and said "yum" quite a few times as he did so.
I went with one of the salads, also served in a large bowl, the same size as his pasta dish. The choices were called Health, East and West. Each had an interesting combo of ingredients that made it hard to select, but I ended up with the East Salad, in part because it was the only one without cheese, which I wasn't in the mood for.

The salad was impressive in its combination of flavors and textures, as well as the evident care that went into preparing the ingredients. I was especially impressed by the high quality of the pulled chicken, which was lean (all the skin and fat had been removed) even though it included bits of dark meat, and clearly not some kind of industrial meat. The other notable ingredient was what they called orange supremes, which was slices of fresh oranges with the white membrane removed -- something that you almost never see anywhere. I know the amount of labor it takes to slice an orange that way, and appreciated every bite. Rounding out the salad were sliced almonds and a nice sprinkling of fried wontons.
Along with the salad, I had a large mug of chamomile tea, which hit the spot on another cold, wintery day (even though it's the end of March).
While I don't think the cafe itself has a website, the venture that includes catering can be found online here.
Chef/owner Renee Schuler was chef at our favorite rural getaway, Murphin Ridge Inn. 
We both really liked our meal here and definitely plan many return visits. Healthy and delicious, too! It's at 3009 O'Bryon Street and is open Monday - Friday 11-8:30 and Saturday 9 - 4.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Hot-Spot (very hot) in OTR

Zula Restaurant and Wine Bar is the latest addition to the restaurant and bar scene in the part of downtown Cincinnati known either as the Gateway Quarter or, more broadly, by its traditional moniker "Over-the-Rhine" (OTR for short). Having opened toward the end of February, Zula has been discovered by hordes of young urbanistas who have made it hard to find a table at the area's other watering holes and foodie destinations (A Tavola, Abigail Street, Senate, Bakersfield, to name a few). Unlike most of their neighbors, however, at least Zula does take reservations.
One of the bartenders at Zula

We arrived early-ish on Saturday night without reservations but were lucky enough to find a couple of seats at the bar, where we started with cocktails and moved on to sample menu items from Chef Tsvika Silberberg, who goes by "Vic."  He has spent the past 12 years cooking at the Celestial in Mt. Adams before getting this chance to open his own place.

Menu specialties include an array of interesting preparations of mussels; we tried a simple tomato-and-garlic sauce and appreciated the plump, fresh shellfish in a tasty broth.
Otherwise, we split a nice salad that included hearts of palm and haricots verts, then each had a "hot plate" -- lamb moussaka for me (a surprisingly light version of what often is a heavy dish) and sliced, cured salmon for him (which he "yum-yum"-ed through every bite).
We also split a pleasantly light dessert, an olive-oil based pound cake topped with citrus salad, no cream or ice cream to weigh it down.
For those who crave something heartier, though, there were richer desserts.
Haricots Verts Salad

All in all, we had a great time and were impressed with just about everything -- the drinks, scene, food, etc.

Salad station @ Zula

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Break in Music City

This week was spring break where I teach (University of Cincinnati), so my husband and I drove down to Nashville TN to catch some live music and see what that up-and-coming city is all about. He had been there briefly many years ago, but otherwise we had never really done the town.
Outside Opryland

We saw a terrific show at the Grand Ole Opry -- photo of us in front of the place (and the big guitar) is here-- as well as an intimate, acoustic set at the red-hot and hard to get into Bluebird Cafe.
Other highlights included a tour of RCA's Studio B, where Elvis recorded the majority of his music, along with many other influential musicians of the 1950s and 1960s.
The food scene, however, was disappointing. Admittedly, I didn't do much advance research and made no reservations, so we were at the mercy of our location -- downtown, walking distance to the honky-tonks and so forth -- and the advice of random people. We got sent to barbecue joints, Southern cooking meccas, and the like. Everything was very heavy, and for the most part not all that good.
We would return to Nashville though, and the Opry, to hear the amazingly high quality of musicianship on display at the major venues. And next time, I'll try to plan better in terms of where to eat.
The band Exile at the Grand Ole Opry 3/19/13

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pasta at Panera

New at Panera Bread: in addition to the long-time, tried and true lineup of sandwiches, soups and salads, the chain just added three new, seasonal pasta dishes. Here's an excerpt from their announcement, along with a recipe for one of the dishes.
I can't vouch for the health profile of these pastas, but if you stick with the 8-ounce serving, you won't go overboard. The recipe below is richer than anything I would make or eat. I've added a few notes in the ingredients list where you could cut some of the fat and calories.
Pasta entrees at Panera Bread

"Each new pasta entrée is offered in an 8- or 16-ounce serving and includes the choice of a half cafe salad or cup of soup. All are served with freshly baked bread.

"Flavors include: Rustic Penne Belognese, Tortellni Alfredo, Pesto Sacchettini and a kids'  entrée of Buttered Ribbon Noodles. Long, flat noodles with ruffled edges are tossed in a simple yet flavorful sauce of creamy butter and sea salt."

RECIPE: Panera Pasta with Walnuts and Gorgonzola (Serves 4-6)

1 hunk Panera Ciabatta, about 3” square (note: you could use another type of bread)
1 pound linguine
¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (note: I would use less--no more than 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons butter (note: the Healthy Foodie says, substitute olive oil here)
1 tablespoon drained small capers
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

1. Tear hunk of bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor into coarse crumbs (about 1 cup)

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

3. Meanwhile, toast walnuts in a large deep skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes, shaking pan often to prevent burning. Remove and set aside.

4. Heat oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and cook until toasted and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add butter or olive oil, capers, walnuts and pasta, tossing to coat, and add enough reserved cooking water so the walnuts cling to the pasta (a couple of tablespoons should do it). Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gluten-free Chocolate Cookies, very chocolaty!

With the disturbing increase in food allergies these days, more people are asking for gluten-free recipes. My friend came up with this one for chocolate cookies. Anything with chocolate works for me!

Hope you enjoy....

RECIPE: Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Cookies
Makes 2 dozen cookies
1 ½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, divided
½ cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup maple syrup
Vegetable spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. 
Melt one cup of the chocolate chips for about 2 minutes in a microwave, stopping to stir twice.  Be careful not to overcook or burn the chocolate.  Cool slightly.
Meanwhile, whip egg whites in a large bowl to soft peaks.  Gradually beat in ½ cup powdered sugar.  Continue to beat until mixture resembles soft marshmallow cream.
Whisk cocoa and cornstarch in a medium bowl to blend.  On low speed, mix dry ingredients into egg white mixture.  Add melted chocolate, maple syrup and remaining chocolate chips. 
Form dough into 1-inch rounded balls, and roll in remaining powdered sugar.  Arrange on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. 
Bake until puffed and tops cracked, about 10 minutes.  After removing from oven, place baking sheets on racks to cool for about 10 minutes.  Carefully remove from sheets and cool completely on racks. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why Wait for Spring?

Let's get a jump on spring by cooking with early-spring ingredients. I'm thinking about peas! Here's a recipe I like to whip out in March, when I can find fresh peas in grocery stores and the early farmers' markets. Not only does it remind me of green things and flowers--the bonus is, this dish cooks in no time. The only hassle (IMHO) is peeling the shrimp. Otherwise, it's a breeze!

Recipe: Three-Pea Stir-Fry with Shrimp

Serves 2, may be doubled

2 T canola oil
1 T minced fresh ginger
1 T minced fresh garlic
¼ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
½ cup chopped red or orange bell pepper
6 ounces snow peas, cut into one-inch pieces
6 ounces sugar snap peas, cut into one-inch pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
8 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 T sesame seeds

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add ginger, garlic and pepper flakes and stir-fry until fragrant, about one minute. Add bell pepper and stir well, then add snow and sugar snap peas. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes until peas begin to soften.
Add green peas and stock, stirring well. When mixture is thoroughly heated – about another 2 minutes – add shrimp. Stir-fry until shrimp turns pink, another 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat and add soy sauce and sesame oil, mixing well.
Serve over brown rice and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Taste of Southern France

Think of this as southern France's answer to minestrone, a seasonal vegetable soup — enriched with a simplified basil pesto (no pine nuts) — that is more common in warmer weather, when fresh basil grows plentifully. But you can make it off-season, too. Some of the ingredients are likely to be in your pantry right now (white beans, canned tomatoes and soup pasta).
Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients--it's not as hard as it looks. Note also that you can buy pre-chopped carrots, celery and onions at most supermarkets. You also can omit some of the veggies -- I'd skip the turnips -- to cut down on the prep time, and substitute jarred pesto for the homemade. And it's OK to prepare through step 2 a day ahead. This is a yummy soup that reminds me of Nice and the beautiful, blue Mediterranean!

Adapted from a favorite source, "Recipes for Health" in the NY Times.
(Serves 6-8)

For the soup:
1 1/2 cups canned white beans, drained and rinsed 
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and sliced
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 14-ounce can, with liquid
2 cups shredded savoy or green cabbage
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium-size zucchini, scrubbed and diced
2 medium-size turnips, peeled and diced (optional)
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and broken into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups), blanched for five minutes and set aside
1/2 cup soup pasta, such as macaroni or small shells
Freshly ground pepper

For the pesto: (NOTE: You also can use prepared pesto)
2 large garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed
Salt to taste
2 cups, tightly packed, fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan for sprinkling

1.  Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, and add chopped onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the leeks and garlic. Stir together for a few minutes, and add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and the mixture is fragrant, five to 10 minutes. Stir this mixture into a large soup pot, add the beans and all of the remaining vegetables except the green beans, and bring back to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
2. While the soup is simmering, blanch the green beans for five minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside.
3. To make the pesto, mash the garlic with a generous pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Remove it and set aside. Grind the basil to a paste in the mortar, a handful at a time, then add the garlic back in and mix together well. Work in the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, then stir in the cheese.
4. Add the pasta to the simmering soup about 10 minutes before serving, and cook until al dente. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt. Stir the blanched green beans into the soup and heat through. Serve, adding a spoonful of pesto to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional Parmesan for sprinkling.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Nice" restaurant with no butter in the house -- and no deep fryer

I've posted about Seasons 52 before, so this will be brief. My husband joined me for dinner there -- newly opened in Rookwood Plaza, Hyde Park -- over the weekend. In the photo is my filet mignon dinner with mashed potatoes (475 calories for the plate, the restaurant claims) and his broiled trout with roasted potatoes and carrots (about 400 calories).
Entrees @ Seasons 52

On a previous visit, our waitress said that if a customer asks for butter, he/she is out of luck. There is none in the house. Plus she said the kitchen doesn't have a deep fryer.
I think these are great developments and urge everyone to patronize this restaurant. If you don't live in the Cincinnati area, fear not, because it's a chain with locations in several states. I first became acquainted with it in Atlanta, and then Chicago, before one opened here.
To find out if there's a location near you, check out their website:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Creamy, comforting soup -- without the cream

You'll love this soup that substitutes cauliflower puree for cream.

RECIPE: Creamy Vegetable Soup
Serves 6 (~200 calories per serving)

1/2 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, sliced into thin ribbons

1 head of cauliflower, core removed, cut into florets

2 tablespoons organic butter

1 medium sweet potato, peeled, roughly chopped

1 medium carrot, roughly chopped

2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

1/2 small yellow onion, peeled, diced

2 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed

1 cup broccoli, roughly chopped

2 quarts vegetable broth

1/4 cup water

Salt and pepper, to taste

FOR SERVING: Toasted bread, optional
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese, optional

Steam cauliflower florets until just tender. Place cauliflower in a blender with 1/4 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of butter and blend until well combined. Season generously with sea salt and pepper. Blend again. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add carrots, celery, and onion, cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft.
Add salt, pepper, thyme, sweet potatoes and broth to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat back to medium and cook 25 to 30 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are fork tender, add broccoli, cauliflower purée and remaining chard and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
Serve with bread and cheese, or on its own.