Tuesday, April 30, 2013

(Gourmet) Weekend in the Woods

Murphin Ridge Inn Main House
If you live in the city or suburbs -- as most of us do -- you're probably well aware of the benefits and costs of urban/suburban life. On the downside, my husband and I notice a profound disconnect from the natural world. Don't get me wrong; we prefer the diversity, convenience and fun-factor of city life. But we also treasure our occasional forays into quieter places.

Last weekend we drove out to Adams County, just 70 miles east of our Cincinnati home, for another visit to our favorite rural retreat, Murphin Ridge Inn. This particular weekend attracted us thanks to the first "Spring into Spring in Adams County Arts and Crafts Day" held on Saturday 4/27. It also happened to be the end of the 2012-13 academic year and the start of my summer vacation.
The fair (or arts & crafts day) took place on a gorgeous farm just a few miles from the inn. On the same property and owned by the farm family is As It Was Antiques, which sits atop a hill overlooking miles of farmland greening up into the growing season.

Top highlight of the fair for us was participating in a cooking class with Murphin Ridge Inn sous-chef Josh Catone. Here he is with my husband, and a close-up of the asparagus-and-fresh-ricotta crepes that he/we made.
Cooking with Josh Catone (right)

Crepes for lunch
As for the Inn itself, I can't recommend it too highly. There are 10 rooms in the guest house, one of which has a fireplace and another has a whirlpool; but we always stay in one of the cabins dotted around the property. Each A-frame cabin (there are 9) has a porch with rocking chairs, king or queen bed, fireplace and whirlpool, along with a little fridge where you can store supplies.
The highlights for me out there, though, are the wooded trails on the property and the nightly bonfire. Along the trails, you often can stop and listen, and hear no human-made sounds. I just love that.
The bonfire provides the evening's entertainment (believe it or not). The place is so isolated you can't possibly go out in the evenings, so you eat at the inn and then sit by the bonfire for an hour or two afterward, chatting with other guests.
People love the meals, too -- in fact, it was as a foodie destination that I first made a point of getting out there. Here's a photo of one of our meals -- salmon and a vegetarian potato-dumpling kind of dish -- but my favorite munch out there usually is breakfast.
Entrees at Murphin Ridge Inn
We had two breakfasts this time, and the best was Sunday morning's multi-grain pancakes, which departing owner Sherry McKenney calls Foggy Bottom Pancakes (long story about how she came up with the name). They were the best thing I ate all weekend -- well, those crepes were awfully good, too -- and in such a lovely setting. Here's a photo of one of the inn's gardens as seen from the breakfast room.
Springtime at MR
Also right next to the main house -- which is where meals are served but it's separate from the building that has the guest rooms -- is a grove of trees with countless bird feeders and many comfy chairs and benches where you can hang out and check out the dozens of birds of many species sure to be chowing down.
The Inn has many loyal repeat guests, and there's no reason why if you live in metro Cincinnati (or Dayton, Columbus, or Lexington) you can't become one, too.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Foodie Destination Murphin Ridge Inn has changed hands

Murphin Ridge Inn, Adams Co OH
Fans of this wonderful, rural getaway an hour's drive east of Cincinnati know that owners Darryl and Sherry McKenney have had their 10-room, 9-cabin luxury inn on the market for a couple of years, at least. Well, they finally found the right buyers. Paula and Jerry Schutt have officially taken the reins this weekend -- April 27-28 -- and the truly beloved Darryl and Sherry have retired and moved on to be with their far-flung children and grandchildren. They've owned the place for almost 16 years--a time that saw significant expansion (adding the beautiful cabins to complement the 10-room guest house) and improvements.

We spent the last weekend of April at the Inn, in part because we wanted to check out the first ever "Spring into Spring in Adams Country" arts and crafts fair held on Saturday. By luck, it was the McKenneys' last weekend, so we got to participate in wishing them well.
The new owners are keeping things the same, for now, and retaining the entire staff, including chef and sous-chef. (Murphin Ridge initially got on my own radar because of its notable contributions to the foodie world, but we came to love it for so many more, non-food reasons!)
Sherry and Josh, departing owners

My next post will tell about the arts and craft fair, the meals we had at the inn as well as all those other reasons that you probably would love this place, too.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

We Tried Barrio (Tacqueria)

Barrio is the latest tacqueria in what's become our city's taco-land: Northside. Compared to the slightly more upscale Django and the decidedly downscale Tacocracy, Barrio falls somewhere in between. Django has a wider range of menu choices since they've added a few entrees; Tacocracy is a hole-in-the-wall that doesn't have the interesting tequilas and tequila drinks of Barrio. (In fact, Barrio wins hands-down IMHO over Django in its bar offerings, as well.)
Barrio tacos

My husband and I had a nice chat with Barrio's owner, Gary Sims, a Cincinnati native who spent a couple of decades in the film industry of SoCal before finding his way back east. He's been open for about a month and is still, of course, getting the kinks out of the operation. For instance, although they offer dozens of tequilas, they've had problems procuring mezcal, which is listed as a main ingredient in some interesting cocktails (but which they can't make right now).
Owner Gary Sims (with his taco truck)

We enjoyed the limited menu -- chips with dips, a few other appetizers and salads, burritos and tacos -- and found a couple of good tequila drinks with ingredients they did have on hand.
The space is large, but broken into more intimate areas. The bar room itself seems quite inviting. There's also a large, shaded patio -- not open yet but just about ready to go. The "grand opening" of the outdoor space is set for May 3rd, when Barrio will be hosting a 3-day Cinco de Mayo party, with live music every night starting at 9 PM.
If you make it there, be sure to check out the art (which is for sale) on the walls. That plus other decor gives Barrio a cool factor the other tacos spots can't quite match. At least, in my opinion!

Monday, April 22, 2013

You'll Love This Cocktail (I sure do)

Maple-Bourbon Smash
(Makes 2 drinks)
Bourbon-Maple Smash

1 ounce maple syrup
2 ounces fresh orange juice
1/2 - 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
8 dashes bitters
1 slice orange, about 1/2 inch thick, plus more slices for garnish
4 ounces bourbon
Sparkling water, chilled

In a small pitcher or cocktail shaker, combine the syrup, orange juice, lemon juice and bitters. Add the orange slice and muddle lightly. Add bourbon and stir well. Divide mixture into two rocks glasses. Fill the glasses with ice, top with sparkling water and garnish with a half-slice of orange.

NOTE: I made a non-alcoholic version, too, for a non-drinker, and it was pretty darn good, too! Just don't add bourbon; all else is the same.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Best-kept (dinner and wine) secret in Cincinnati

First course, Chef's Table 4/18/13
The "nice" restaurant in the middle of the University of Cincinnati main campus is called Mick and Mack's. Its weekday lunches, which include a pay-one-price themed buffet that changes every day, is popular with faculty and staff when they have occasions to do something other than eat at their desks or grab-and-go at the food court.
What most townies probably don't know, however, is that Mick & Mack's also hosts monthly wine tastings and "chef's dinners" that cost $15 and $20 per person, respectively -- and are open to the general public. That's right, you don't have to be affiliated with UC to get in on these incredible bargains.
We've been going to the wine tastings -- held the first Thursday of every month, including over the summer -- for about a year now. Each month has a theme (Australia, Italy, France, for instance, or the annual "cheese and chocolate" pairing every February), includes generous pours of four wines and an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner with dishes chosen to complement the type of wines for the evening.
And yes, all that for $15 per person, sometimes bumped up to $20 for more upscale wine selection. A local wine distributor discusses the drinks and brings extra bottles of each wine for sale at the event.
On the third Thursday of each month, Mick & Mack's hosts a chef's table dinner.
We went this week for "Cooking with Berries." For this type of event, instead of buffet service, diners select from two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts. A glass of wine (again, generously poured) is paired with each course.
To see the upcoming themes and dates, click on the links above. Reservations are required but they don't ask for an up-front payment.
They take reservations via email, mick_macks@uc.edu. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Avoid Wasting Food (we do way too much of it)

The statistics are alarming -- Americans overall waste up to 40 percent of the food we buy.  Either it's scraped off our plates in restaurants because they've given us more than we can (or should) eat, or we let it go bad in our refrigerators -- among other scenarios that add up to a great deal of waste.
A blog link posted on Whole Foods' website addresses strategies for being more careful about how we buy, store, and consume food. "12 Ways to Stop Wasting Food" suggests such things as better organization of our fridges and pantries, buying small amounts of ingredients from a supermarket salad bar, expanded use of our freezers and judicious use of leftovers. Not mentioned in this article is how to avoid waste in restaurants, but the same principles apply: don't order more than you can eat or take home with you in a "doggie bag."
When you're having dinner before a show, let's say, or on the road and your hotel room doesn't have a way to preserve your leftovers, try this: my husband and I ask for not only the doggie bag but also for a plastic fork and a napkin, and then we look for someone on the street who is down on his luck and might appreciate the food. It's not always easy to make that connection with someone, but we have been fairly lucky in finding a grateful person to take the food that otherwise would have gone in a trash can. (This works best in larger cities, of course....and, sadly.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's Good Now? Early Spring Ideas

Springtime, Allium, and other Seasonal Vegetables

            Although our region’s peak growing season is still a few months in the future, early to mid-spring brings several in-season treats. The delicious fennel bulb does best after hard freezes but before the heat of summer, and now is the perfect time for local onions and other plants in the Allium family – leeks, shallots, ramps, garlic, scallions and chives. Nutritionists consider all of these vegetables great sources of fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
            Onions, of course, are grown all over the world and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are the second most commonly cultivated vegetable worldwide after tomatoes. According to the website www.vegetarian-nutrition.info, onions and onion extracts can relieve asthma, bronchitis, and cold symptoms, and the WHO “supports the use of onions for the treatment of poor appetite and to prevent atherosclerosis.” 
            Onions, leeks and fennel form the basis of the following vegetarian recipe. It makes a good entrée for two people, perhaps served with rice or noodles; we enjoyed it recently as a side dish with pan-fried crabcakes.

Tastes way better than it looks here!
Recipe: Braised Fennel and Leeks
Serves 4 (side, or two as a main dish)

1 ½ c chicken or vegetable broth
½ c white wine
½ c water
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
½ c chopped onion
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried tarragon
2 T butter (optional)
Salt and freshly ground or cracked black pepper, to taste

3 leeks, white parts only, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
2 fennel bulbs, cored and cut into quarters lengthwise

2 c sliced mushrooms, any type
3 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the braising liquid in a large, deep sided frying pan: add the liquids along with the garlic, chopped onions, herbs, butter (if using) and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil.
Arrange leeks and quartered fennel in the pan. Bring liquid back to boiling, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a smaller frying pan, heat olive oil over medium and add mushrooms. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, add salt and pepper and remove from heat.
To serve, carefully remove fennel and leeks to a platter; top with sautéed mushrooms.
Note: Strain the braising liquid to remove solids and store broth in the refrigerator for another use—it will be quite flavorful.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Barrio Opening This Weekend (More Tacos in Northside)

For months, I've been driving by the former location of Painted Fish on Spring Grove Avenue in Northside, and from time to time I'd see activity as the new proprietors spiff up the place and get ready (we hope!) to open the doors.
Taco truck...Barrio restaurant!

Not more than two weeks ago, Barrio announced an opening date of today, April 12th. But when I drove by a couple of hours ago, the sign on the door still said CLOSED -- although there were worker-types coming and going. Barrio will become the brick-and-mortar location for the folks who've been operating out of the truck pictured here, and known as Taco Azul.
When they do open, they'll have a good location with perhaps the best patio space in the neighborhood -- a 'hood that already has two spots within a short walk that also features tacos.
It remains to be seen whether and what Barrio will add to the mix!
Love our tacos....

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Say Goodbye to Chianti? Global warming and the demise of beloved wines

It may not happen in my lifetime, but a child born today may never know Chianti, Bordeaux or a boutique cabernet from Napa Valley. Why? Because those centuries-old (in some cases) wine regions may become much too hot for vintners to continue growing grapes for table wines.
Here's an excerpt from a study published this week in a journal of the National Academy of Sciences:
"The study predicts that by 2050, areas suitable for grape cultivation will decrease between 25 and 73 percent in major wine-producing regions. . . . Wines from traditional regions may also be more difficult to find in coming years. . . .Wine is very susceptible to changes in climate and temperature, Hannah said, because climate changes affect terroir, or the environmental conditions in which grapes are grown. This in turn influences the taste of wine."
On the other hand, some regions that traditionally have been too cool to produce a variety of wines, especially those made from red grapes, may be able to compete with the big boys. An article on Huffington Post about this trend mentions the surprisingly good wines from New Jersey, and I also think about the pinot noirs coming out of Germany, formerly only known for white grapes.
To read more, click here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A night in Covington: Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar & Bouquet

What a good way to spend TGIF: drinks at Molly Wellman's Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar followed by dinner a block away, at Bouquet.
Bourbon fans can try all kinds of great whiskeys by the shot, as a flight, or on the rocks. There's also a cocktail of the day, and the bartender also makes a fine Old Fashioned as well as a classic Whiskey Sour, shaken with a fresh egg white to produce a lovely foamy lightness.
Molly at her Bourbon Bar

I only wish my tolerance for hard liquor was up to snuff. My limit is one, darn it. I went with the Old Fashioned by next time, I'm doing that Sour.

A few selections at OKBB
Of course, dinner at Bouquet is always a treat. The menu is so interesting -- especially in the small plates or appetizers -- that it's very hard to choose. I had a light, very pleasing cauliflower salad to start. My entree was chicken, which turned out on the dry side. My companions tried a couple of fish preparations, which they liked a lot. We were happy that the dessert list, although short, included a lighter fruit preparation along with the heavier bread pudding, chocolate concoctions, and the like. And the wine selection is quite intriguing. Great spot!
Covington's Best Restaurant (?)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cutting-Edge Healthy Foods: Bet you haven't tried most of these

Vegetable smoothies
So you're already eating kale (or other dark greens), almonds, wild salmon and blueberries. Those are all terrific, healthy foods. But here's a list of "new" -- and much less common -- items that you might want to seek out. Click on this link to read why each of them might be about to get its turn in the foodie spotlight.
1. Chia seeds
2. Coconut flour
3. Vegetable smoothies
4. Skyr (a yogurt from Iceland)
5. Seaweed
6. Hemp
7. Kefir
8. Rooibos tea
9. Almond milk
10. Amaranth

I have to admit, my own experience with these is minimal -- the occasional seaweed salad with sushi, a bit of almond milk or kefir (liquid yogurt, more or less), and a brush with rooibos tea, which can perk you up without caffeine.
Seaweed salad
Source: Eating Well magazine