Sunday, August 31, 2014

A perfect recipe for late summer

This is the time to make a big pot of GUMBO. All the veggies you need for this recipe are bounteously available at your local farm market or farm stand.

Shrimp, chicken and sausage gumbo

Seafood and Chicken Gumbo
Fresh okra is seasonal (late spring until first freeze), but you can also use frozen okra in this recipe. If so, eliminate step 1 below and add frozen okra in step 3.
(Serves 4-6)

1 lb. okra, trimmed and sliced (about 4 cups)
4 T canola oil or butter, or a mix, divided
2 andouille sausages, made from pork or chicken (optional), sliced
1 medium green pepper, diced (1 cup)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small onion, chopped (1 cup)
2 T flour
4 cups chicken stock, heated
2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 T each chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried) and parsley
1 large bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 lb. uncooked shrimp (peeled and deveined), crabmeat, or chicken (boneless, skinless, cut into bite-size pieces), or a combination
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T Tabasco or other hot sauce, ore more to taste
1.      Heat 2T oil/butter over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add okra and sauté, stirring often, for about 8-10 minutes until “roping” (thin strands of white substance) subsides. Set aside.
2.      Heat remaining oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage, if using, and cook until just beginning to brown. Stir in pepper, garlic and onion and sauté until veggies turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
3.      Stir in flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, herbs, salt, and reserved okra.
4.      Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
5.      Stir in shrimp, chicken and/or crabmeat, cover and cook another 5-10 minutes until meat is tender. Be careful not to overcook shrimp.
6.      Remove from heat. Discard bay leaf, stir in lemon juice, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Add more salt if necessary.
7.      Ladle into bowls over white or brown rice. Pass more hot sauce at the table.

Without sausage, a lighter dish

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer treats, continued: Bell Peppers

Like most cooks these days, I rarely pick up a green bell pepper, preferring instead the other colors. My favorite, at least to eat raw, is the orange pepper. But there's one dish in my repertoire where only a tangy green pepper will do: gumbo.
I'm about to make a batch of gumbo -- with shrimp, crabmeat, chicken and andouille sausage -- and will post that recipe soon. But today there's an article in the Food/Dining section of the New York Times extolling the virtues of the green pepper.
Here is one of the recipes accompanying the story. It's a Basque dish that the author says can be used as a side, a main (perhaps with the addition of some meat) or a condiment.
Peppers and tomatoes: Piperade

RECIPE: Piperade
Makes about 3 cups

  • 3 plum tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped, about 2 cups
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium green bell peppers, stem, seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon piment d’Espelette (or substitute hot paprika) 
NOTE: You also can mix red/yellow/orange peppers with the green, which makes a colorful presentation

Cut a small X into bottom of each tomato. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add tomatoes and cook until skin begins to wrinkle and peel at the edges of the cuts, about 30 seconds. Drain, rinse with cool water and peel off skin with your fingers. Roughly chop tomatoes and set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat, heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add onions, peppers and salt and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent and peppers have started to lighten in spots, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and continue to sauté for 1 more minute.
Stir in tomatoes, sugar and piment d’Espelette, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until tomatoes are starting to fall apart and peppers are soft but still hold their shape, about 15 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens like a slightly runny relish, about 5 minutes more. Adjust salt.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Healthy breakfast recipes: something a little different

Tired of the same old breakfast every day? As with anything else in life, the saying about variety ("the spice of life") holds true for the morning meal. The following excerpts an article from Eating Well about 5-Ingredient breakfasts.
Here's one of the recipes. Otherwise, go here for the article and the remaining ideas, which range from granola bars to other ways to incorporate protein-rich eggs when starting your day.

Recipe: Quick Breakfast Tacos
(Makes 2)

  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon salsa
  • 2 tablespoons shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup liquid egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters (or go with whole eggs, if you prefer)
  1. Top tortillas with salsa and cheese. Heat in the microwave until the cheese is melted, about 30 seconds.
  2. Meanwhile coat a small nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat over medium heat, add egg substitute (or eggs) and cook, stirring, until the eggs are cooked through, about 90 seconds. Divide the scrambled egg between the tacos.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Restaurant Review: Ruth's Parkside Cafe

This Northside lunch and dinner place -- open every day but Sunday -- has been quite a hit. Lately the lines for a table have been so long that we've left and gone elsewhere, so I've learned not to show up in prime time. That means lunch at 1 instead of 12, or dinner before 6:30 or after 8:00.
It's a neighborhood place, populated mostly by people 40+, and so the main crowds are relatively early.
Lovely setting for RUTH'S
Ruth's takes up part of the ground level of a newly renovated and redone canning factory on Blue Rock Road. Upstairs are spacious condos; there are a couple of other businesses on the ground floor as well as a garage for residents. There's also plenty of parking for restaurant patrons. Ruth's opened in October 2013.

The first thing that greets you is this bar, and you'll also be impressed by the fanciful light fixtures (which the host calls pendants), sculptures, and paintings by local artists.
Fanciful decor, including the bar

The menu has lots of healthy choices, which always makes me happy. At lunch, I usually get either one  of their house-made soups with a half-sandwich or a vegetable/spinach stir-fry with feta cheese over brown rice.
A newer addition is this short cocktail list. Their wine choices are limited but they had a couple of yummy wine specials that we really liked.
Cocktail list
My dinner choice here is the "airline chicken breast" with a lemony sauce, some sauteed kale and white beans, along with a few roasted potatoes. This time the chicken was a bit overcooked, kind of disappointing, but usually it's a delicious flavor combo. (No photo)
My husband usually gets the grilled salmon, which he liked just as well as always this time.
Grilled salmon
The homemade pies and other desserts are a treat here, but we passed. My favorite is the two-crust raspberry pie -- hard to resist!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Restaurant review: Presidents Room @ the Phoenix (Restaurant Week)

We took the opportunity of Cincinnati Restaurant Week -- which runs through 8/18 -- to try the newly reopened restaurant at the Phoenix, downtown. The chef who opened Enoteca Emilia a few years ago is now chef at the Phoenix, and you can see some of the same menu items that he cooked at Enoteca.
But I think the cured meat and cheese plate, pickled dishes and such unusual pasta dishes as Spaghetti Nero actually worked better at the casual, boisterous Enoteca than at the staid -- and rather stuffy -- old Phoenix.
For Restaurant Week, as at all the other higher-end participating establishments, you choose three courses for $35 from a significantly limited menu. First course choices were a couple of salads or what they called clam chowder, which my husband and I both ordered. It was a tasty enough soup but the greenish puree included just a few tiny pieces of clam and was lukewarm. It was only OK.
Same had to be said for the entree choices -- quail, the spaghetti Nero, a vegetarian dish with polenta and a fried egg, and a pork dish. I tried the polenta and it too arrived lukewarm; the fried egg didn't add anything special to the flavor profile and all in all was rather bland.
My husband had the spaghetti, which was spicy thanks to chorizo breadcrumbs tossed throughout, but I'm afraid it was otherwise unremarkable.
Popcorn Polenta (but nothing popped--?) @ Phoenix

Another thing we didn't care for was the "fried biscuits" that they served instead of rolls or regular dinner bread. They were greasy and unappealing.
Dessert was somewhat better -- I enjoyed the sweet corn panna cotta but didn't like the (again greasy) little crullers that came with it. He had their version of German chocolate cake with a small scoop of vanilla bean gelato. The cake was cloyingly sweet and the gelato ho-hum.
Phoenix desserts: German Cake (l) and Panna Cotta

The evening started with a very good Sazarac cocktail, and (I remember this from the old Phoenix) the wine by the glass choices were nice. That's a reliable thing carrying over from the restaurant's glory days: excellent libations.
I hope this experience was just a Restaurant Week (RW) miscue, but alas, it didn't make me want to rush back.
I think many restaurants screw up RW by trying to serve the least expensive things they have in the kitchen so they can make money on the $35-for-three-courses deal. But in my opinion RW should be seized as an opportunity to gain new customers. Serve your very best stuff and make everyone want to bring their friends and family again. We've see other local restaurants do that -- for instance, La Poste and Metropole last year. It seemed to us that the new Presidents Room was filled with people who hadn't been there before, all ordering from the limited menu (even though the regular menu was available), and I can't imagine that too many fellow patrons made return reservations on their way out.
It was disappointing, but so it goes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New in Oakley: Stone Bowl (Sushi and Korean)

We had a terrific meal last weekend at Stone Bowl, which has been open for about three months on Madison Road in Oakley, near Oakley Nails and in a building that was a chop house. It still has the chop house decor -- an old Tudor style building, it has no Asian touches whatsoever. And it's set back from Madison Road enough that it can be easy to miss.
But don't miss it! This family-run restaurant -- the owners live upstairs with their two young sons -- is the real thing.
Now, I have to admit that I didn't know much about "the real thing" when it comes to sushi OR Korean dishes, so we brought along my sushi-savvy friend Beth and another couple who have some affinity for Korean cooking.
Beth in particular was a huge help. When we looked at the long list of sushi offerings, scratching our heads a bit, Beth took charge and selected a range of delicious options. In fact, we heard from a staffer that when the order came in to sushi master/chef/owner Young Park, he remarked something to the effect that someone out there knows a thing or two about sushi.
Our first sushi boat was so excellent that we ordered another selection.
Artistic, yummy sushi: Stone Bowl

The evening turned into a feast!
After all that marvelous sushi, we couldn't manage five entrees, so we split two: Stone Bowl Bibim-Bap, the crown jewel of Korean dishes (we had ours with chicken, but you can add beef, pork, seafood or tofu) and a seafood version called Hwe-Dup-Bop (with, to quote from the menu, 2pcs of fresh tuna, salmon, white tuna, shrimp, white fish, avocado, lettuce, cucumber, sesame seeds and seaweed salad on a bed of sushi rice.
The Bibim-Bap was sizzling hot, with crunchy rice on the bottom, while the seafood dish--using sushi seafood--was almost like a salad. We also got an order of tempura shrimp and veggies, listed as an appetizer. Those two entrees and the crispy tempura made for a more than sufficient meal for our table.
Bibim-Bap (before mixing)

Raw fish Bibim-Bap (also before mixing)
Owner Misook Gwan (Young Park's wife) insisted we try a couple of other dishes, and sent the table an incredible vegetable and seafood pancake. Even though we were completely sated, we managed to polish it off, as it was one of our favorite dishes. She also gave us an order of a dessert called Mochi Ice Cream (little balls of ice cream"embedded inside a thin rice cake"). We chose the green tea flavor; others included mango and strawberry.
Mochi Ice Cream

Full disclosure: Misook was a graduate student who worked closely with my husband before he retired. We didn't announce our arrival in advance but she was beside herself with happiness to see Professor Bishop at her table.
This restaurant definitely qualifies as a winner for its health profile! They use no MSG, their sushi has a higher than usual ratio of good stuff (fish and veggies) to rice, they pride themselves on the freshness of all ingredients -- particularly the abundant vegetable portions and the wonderful fish -- and their care shows.
Here's a link to the main menu:
Stone Bowl serves lunch Monday - Friday and dinner nightly. On Friday and Saturday nights they stay open until 3 AM, and apparently get a good crowd of restaurant workers and partyers who are ready for some lip-smacking sushi.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton National Park is at the top of Nova Scotia -- wild and remote, surrounded by the Atlantic and a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Its famed Cabot Trail draws thousands of cyclists every summer/fall who are up for the challenge of its mountainous terrain.
Good for hikers and runners, too.
For foodies, it's not that fantastic but there is one pretty good option, the Purple Thistle at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish Beach, just inside the national park -- way, way north of Halifax.
Here are a few photos of the Lodge, its beautiful grounds, and some of the food we had at the Thistle.
Keltic Lodge, Ingonish, NS
On the grounds, Keltic Lodge
Purple Thistle, Beef Carpaccio

Breakfast, in Halifax actually

Expensive but mmmmm...lobstah!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sweet corn: use some in this salad

Corn, tomatoes, radishes -- all are fresh and at peak season at your local farm markets.
Add some creamy avocado and for protein, shrimp.

Delicious, cool (no oven or heavy stove use) and easy.

RECIPE: Shrimp and Avocado Chopped Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:
2 T prepared Dijon mustard
3 T red wine vinegar
2 T chopped herbs (cilantro, thyme, or dill)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (cooked and cut into bite-size pieces)
1 bag pre-washed mixed salad greens, chopped
2-3 large radishes, chopped or thinly sliced
I cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup edamame, cooked
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 ripe avocado, diced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1.      Make the dressing (or use another vinaigrette of your own): in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar and herbs. Add the vinegar while continuing to whisk, stir in the salt and pepper, and set aside.
2.      In a large bowl, mix together all the salad ingredients except salt and pepper (shrimp through cilantro). Add dressing and gently toss to coat. Adjust seasoning by adding more salt and/or pepper, if desired.
3.      Serve with tortilla chips (optional)