Foodie In Training

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Easter Feast

Ryan and I made a lamb feast 2 years ago for Easter for our friends and it was a hit, so we decided it was time to for Easter Lamb: Round 2. This lamb recipe is from Ryan's mom so it was a nice way to bring family aspect to our Easter away from home.

We needed about a 10 lb. leg of lamb for the recipe and lamb is pretty expensive, especially around the holidays. So I decided to be the meat investigator and call around to various grocery stores and butchers to see who had the best price per pound. The butcher on the west side of town was definitely the most expensive, but they probably had the better quality leg than say, Kroger who had the cheapest. In the end it didn't really matter because when we went to go out and buy the lamb and other ingredients (we were out a little late Friday night and didn't get moving right away on Saturday) and Kroger and Bigg's were both out of lamb legs. Luckily, Fresh Market had plenty of lamb legs left and we were able to get a 6 lb. leg that worked out perfect for our Easter feast.

I'm going to let Ryan take it from here, he was the chef in charge of the lamb and I of course, was the sous chef, beautifully chopping the onion, potatoes and LOTS of garlic.

What's up, its Ryan...
So the lamb recipe is my Nonna's, given to me by my mom. I remember the tender, meaty, delicious lamb every Easter sunday, usually in Florida at my Nonna's home. Basically, its a meat roast, but it puts all the pork and beef roasts ever cooked to shame. We had the butcher at Fresh Market cut the leg into one inch thick "steaks". This allows you to get that tender, delicate texture without having to cook it for 6 hours. I cut away alot of the fat from the steaks once at home.

With Erin's cutting skills we lined a large roast pan with celery as a bed, then added the meat, potatoes, a couple cans of crushed tomatoes, some garlic (a couple cloves diced, a couple whole), onion, capers (chopped), and fresh mint (this was not in my grandma's recipe). I seasoned everything with some salt and pepper and cooked the roast at 400 degrees for about 1.5 hours. While we were waiting we had some panaconzata.

It came out pretty good. The lamb was pretty tender and very flavorful. The ingredients worked awesome together. It wasn't quite as tender as my grandma's. The other slight problem was that some of the potatoes could have used a few more minutes.

We had some friends over to help us eat this feast and celebrate Easter with us. Craig brought beer, JJ made a tasty green bean caserole, and Mo a great peanut butter pie. We also made a salad. The simple oil and vinegar dressing (really it was just some cheap balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and freshly cracked black pepper) that I learned from my mom was a hit.

We even had an Easter egg hunt... Erin won.

Happy belated Easter. Sorry this post is so late, we have had busy week. Check back soon for more posts. I'm going to guarantee 2 posts per week!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mediterranean Cole Slaw

Tonight Mo and I had dinner at Whole Foods.  I know you are probably wondering why I had dinner at a grocery store, but they have an awesome salad bar, soups, sandwiches and lots of interesting salads that they let you sample.  We were just eating quick before running a very exciting errand (I picked up my wedding dress!) so I got a salad from the salad bar.  It started off simply with mixed greens and veggies but then I got a little crazy and started putting small spoonfuls of all of the different salads so by the end of my trip around the bar my plate had a little bit of everything.  One of the sides was Mediterranean cole slaw and it was definitely my favorite!  
It was very light and not like your typical cole slaw because it was in a light vinaigrette.  It was just a great blend of traditional Mediterranean flavors and I wish I would have put more on my plate.  
I just got off the phone with Whole Foods to get the ingredients because I feel like it would be really easy to recreate.   I don't have the actual recipe with the amount of each ingredient but I think with a cole slaw you can just improvise.  The ingredients are as follows: green cabbage, green peppers, cucumbers, feta, diced tomatoes, diced red onion, kalamata olives (ew, I picked those out), feta cheese and the dressing is red wine vinegar, lemon, oregano, basil and olive oil.  Sounds pretty simple and it's now on my list of things to make. 

It's not a typical place to eat out for dinner but I recommend it because you can try a lot of things you would not typically eat.  Oh yea, and Mo had a shrimp enchilada that she enjoyed and she also bought some figs. 

Stay tuned for our Easter dinner, we are making lamb for our friends!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Struggles of a White Man

Last night Erin and I had dinner at Bangkok Bistro in Hyde Park. It is a very good and always busy Thai restaurant that isn't too expensive. I am actually impressed at Cincinnati's offerings for Asian food. There are a bunch of Indian options across the city, my favorite is Ambar India in Clifton, but Erin isn't big into curry. We also have our local Chinese places: Doodles and China Gourmet. Both are a step up from a fast food place you get your Moo Goo Gai Pan that sits in a shopping center or in the food court at the mall. But those places all deserve their own posts.

My complaint is the spiciness scale. After you order your Pad Thai, Chicken Jalfrezi or General Tso's chicken, the Asian person taking your order will ask "How spicy?" They will give you a scale: 1-5, 1-10, or like the shady, yet delicious Krishna Indian restaurant across from my school, maybe the scale is 1-6. Now, I'll eat the spiciest thing you can find, and I'll love it. but, for a whole meal there is a line, I want it to be outrageously spicy, but not so much that I can't enjoy the flavors. So, my initial response is usually to go one step below the highest: 9 of 10, or 4 of 5.

Now, I'm going for that comfortable eating sweat that should accompany eating hot wings or Asian food. Yet, I'm often disappointed at the mildness of my meals from these places. So, I've been erring on the side of my tongue bursting into flames recently. Last night I ordered a 10 on a scale of one to 10 (Erin ordered a 1 for her seafood stirfry). Once again, I was disappointed. Yet, I know that these Asian cooks have the ability to bring me the spiciness I crave, so what's the deal?

My only rational conclusion: I'm being discriminated against because of my race. My friend Craig, a lover of all things spicy and Indian food particularly, is a firm believer in this theory. And I now join him. I think the people taking my order see me and think "sure, this white guy thinks he wants a 10, but he can't really handle it, we'll go easy on him." It might be even more explicit, when they go to the kitchen, it wouldn't surprise me if they say, "one chicken Pad Thai, spiciness 10, its for a white guy though."

The solution? I'm not sure. I think I'm going to stop recognizing the number system. Instead, when they ask how spicy, I'll answer "as spicy as you can make it". Or, I'll just say, "pretend you are cooking it for your father, make it that spicy". Or, I just need to make some Asian friends that I can take to dinner so I can gain legitimacy at my favorite Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chalk Food + Wine Part 2

I'm so glad Cincinnati local restaurants decided to do a restaurant week. I had heard of other cities doing the same thing and always thought it was such a great idea. In Ryan' s post her said that the $25.08/person was not a really good deal, but I kind of disagree. For some of the restaurants that participated, it was not the best deal to do the tasting menu, but for many of the pricier Cincinnati restaurants, I think it's a great deal. It's a great way to experience a restaurant you might not normally go to every Saturday night for a reasonable price. And it's always good to support local restaurants.

I liked Chalk right away. I thought the atmosphere was modern with a little bit of a quirky touch. I wore my favorite red shoes and the hostess complemented me on them when we walked in and then our waitress did too. That put me in a great mood right off the bat. :) Our server was really great, she was very knowledgeable and fun and very attentive. Before I get in to the post out my meal, I want to talk about the wine I ordered. I decided on a red wine and saw on the wine list a natura carmenere. I was intrigued so I asked the server and she informed me it was a South American wine and the grapes are all organic. She said because it was organic, you could really taste all of the flavors. I decided to try the natura carmenere and it was so good! It was a really flavorful wine, not too dry. I definitely want to try and find a bottle of this next time I am at a wine store.

Ok- now about my meal. Ryan talked about our calamari appetizer and I thought it was good, I liked that it was 2 takes on calamari, but the dish wasn't really memorable compared to the rest of our dishes. The first course of my tasting menu was a potato and beet salad. The salad had fingerling potatoes chopped in small pieces, diced beets and walnuts lightly tossed in a walnut vinaigrette. On top was a little bit of lettuce and a crispy chip. There was some of the vinaigrette artfully presented on the side and a small segment of what I think was grapefruit. The potato salad was excellent, I loved the pungent flavor of the beets and the crunch of the walnuts. The vinaigrette was not heavy at all and was a nice complement to the ingredients. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the little segment of grapefruit with the salad or if it was just a garnish, but it brightened up the salad when I did have a bite with the grapefruit.

Second course I chose the butter poached cod. It was served over carrots and green lentils and there was a light buttery sauce surrounding the meal. You can see in the picture that on top are some blue flecks, that is salt! I just tried doing a little research to see if I could figure out what kind of salt it is, but I am still a foodie in training, so I'm really not sure. I think it might be crystalline sea salt. Anyway, the cod was really good, wonderfully cooked and it paired well with the carrots and green lentils. The light buttery sauce was also really nice and not very heavy, which I like. The bites with the blue salt definitely had a salty kick to it, but it really enhanced the flavor of the fish.
My third course, dessert, was just pure sin in the form of a double chocolate cupcake. It looked so pretty when our server laid it in front of me I almost didn't want to eat it, but that didn't stop me from immediately taking the chocolate piece from the top and taking my first bite of rich (and I mean rich) chocolaty goodness. I'm not really a chocolate or dessert person, but this cupcake was like the mother of all cupcakes. It was a chocolate cupcake with a layer of ganache and then a 2 inch layer of chocolate mousse frosting with chocolate chips, sprinkles and the chocolate piece on top....whoa. Needless to say it was amazing and I only ate about half of it because it was so rich and I was getting full.

I would definitely go back to Chalk, I really liked the atmosphere and the back patio looked like it is probably a happening place when the weather is nice. My grade: A

Sunday, March 9, 2008

1/2 Restaurant Review: Chalk Food + Wine

This past week was Cincinnati Independent Restaurant Week. A group of Cincinnati restaurants that are locally owned and operated each offer a three course tasting menu for $25.08. It's not an incredible deal, but it was a good excuse for Erin and I to try a new restaurant in the area. She will be posting her experience separately, to talk about her choices on the tasting menu.

We considered our many choices and all the Jean-Robert restaurants sounded good. Jean-Robert is a local French chef who runs several restaurants in the Cincinnati area. Neither of us have been to any his restaurants, but he has a reputation as one of the most refined chefs in the area. His flagship restaurant is Jean-Robert at Pigall's. But, they weren't offering the restaurant week special, so we decided to go to one of his newer ventures: Chalk Food + Wine.

The concept of Chalk is comfort food with a fine dining flair. Regardless of the food and the menu, the atmosphere as you walk in to Chalk is modern and fun. The front of the restaurant is a sleek wine bar with several high top tables. We were sat in the back dining room, and got a glimpse at a small rear patio, which I'm sure would be fun in the summer. There was certainly a casual and cool feel to the menu and the wait staff, who were dressed in t-shirts and jeans. The menu was separated into familiar categories with different names: Starters, Hand Food (sandwiches), Eat Us (entrees), Friends (sides), and Sweets.

We decided on an appetizer, calamari steak prepared two ways, to supplement the modest tasting menu. The duo was a nice start to the meal. The first was more of a traditional calamari- breaded and fried with tangy tomato-based sauce. As a "steak" it was a little thicker and tougher than I like, but still great flavor. The second presentation was a salad of onion, cucumber and carrots in some sort of Asian type of sweet and sour dressing. There were some big chunks of calamari and the dish was very fresh and flavorful.

For my first course, I chose the barbecue chicken and sweet pea salad. It was as elegant as fried chicken and peas could be presented. There was a small piece of fried chicken placed on a neat pile of green peas. It was topped with a little barbecue sauce and a delicious onion ring. The highlight of the dish was a garlic puree. It was a mild, with the flavor of roasted whole garlic cloves and went really well with the peas.

My main course was lamb porterhouse. It was a small piece of lamb leg, complete with bone. It was cooked perfectly, just barely medium with a simple salt and pepper seasoning. It was served with some mashed potatoes and sauteed mushrooms. The natural juices of the lamb and mushrooms made for a great sauce and a hearty dish.

My dessert was a peach bread pudding. It was served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. I'm a big fan of bread pudding and it was a nice finish to the meal.

Just glancing at the regular entrees and the rest of the menu, the prices seemed very reasonable. The atmosphere was modern, but still relaxed, and it is in an underrated part of town- Covington. Great service and very good food, made for an overall very pleasant experience. I don't know if its the place to go for gourmet fair, but for your favorite comfort food with some flare at a unique place, Chalk Food + Wine is great choice.

Grade: A -

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mom's Meatloaf with a twist!

So tonight was meatloaf night at the Kelsey/Stookey estate. :) For some reason ever since I bought eggs over the weekend I've been obsessed with making my mom's meatloaf. My mom's meatloaf was a favorite of me and my sisters growing up. When my sister and I were home over Christmas, we had meatloaf for our Christmas dinner (upon Megan's request) and I was reminded of how great it is! My mom's recipe is very simple, but I think that is what makes it so good, it is always very moist and I like the ketchup drizzled on top. Here is the recipe for mom's meatloaf:
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 of small onion chopped or 1 tsp. dehydrated onion
salt and pepper
combine ingredients and form in to loaf. Place in either loaf pan, 9 x 13 pyrex baking dish or baking sheet. Make sure you spray cooking spray so it does not stick.
bake at 350 for 1 hour
My mom told me that the process and ingredients is not exact, it's a very organic process. If the meat seems dry, add another egg or ketchup. If it seems to wet, add more bread crumbs.
I decided to consult some other recipes on Food Networks web site and came across Mario Batali's recipe for meatloaf. I didn't follow either to a tee, but I took my mom's basic recipe and used Mario's for some spice ideas. I bought about 1.6 lbs of ground beef so I used:
1 egg,
about 1/2 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs,
1/2 onion finely diced
3 sun dried tomatoes finely diced
salt and pepper
a couple shakes of dried oregano
about a 1/2 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
about 3 tbsp. of ketchup
about 3 tbsp. of Olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
I mixed everything together but I think what is really important is to not over mix the ingredients. I formed it in to a loaf and put it in a greased baking dish and let it cook for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
While it was cooking it smelled amazing
and I could hear it sizzling and cooking while a did my exercise video (talk about motivation to work it out and get it done, with such great smells in the house).
When it was done and I was cutting pieces to serve, the meat loaf fell apart a bit and I'm not sure if it was because I didn't add enough bread crumbs or egg to hold it together, or if it was just super moist. It didn't really matter that it fell apart because it tasted amazing! It definitely tasted like my mom's meat loaf but some bites had a little kick because of the crushed red pepper and some bites were a little sweet from the sun dried tomato. With the meat loaf we made some green beans and seasoned them simply with salt and pepper and olive oil.
Overall I was really satisfied with my meat loaf. I can't wait for leftovers tomorrow!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Surf and Turf for 2 for under $15

Yes, this is our third post of the day. We have been making lots of good food lately and today was the culmination. We were planning our Sunday meal on this beautiful March afternoon. I really wanted to make meatloaf. I bought eggs the other day for brunch and I wanted to use some of the eggs for the meatloaf. Ryan was inspired by the 60 degree sunny day and suggested something to cook on the grill. He stayed home and studied while I went to the grocery. While I was at the grocery store, I saw there was a special on scallops, but I thought that might be too difficult so I passed them by. When I shop for meat I always feel overwhelmed, I never know what cut is good or bad or if the price is good. So I went up to the butcher counter and saw there were boneless New York strip steaks on special. The strip steaks were huge cuts of meat and I knew that I could never eat a whole one by myself so I had the idea of just buying one and then going back to the seafood counter and buying a few of the scallops on special and doing a surf and turf. I got a few other essentials at the store and headed home to see what Ryan would think of my idea.

When Ryan saw the steak and scallops he was definitely on board and we got to cooking. Ryan was in charge of the steak (of course) and I was in charge of the scallops. I'll let Ryan talk about the steak, but first I'll talk about the scallops. They were still a little frozen so I immediately got them in a collander and turned on the faucet on icy cold and a very slow drip to slowly defrost them completely. I found a really simple recipe in the Cooking Light Italian cookbook we got from my parents for Christmas, sauteed scallops with parsley and garlic.

Once the scallops were defrosted I patted them with a paper towel to pull out some of the moisture and salted and peppered them on each side. When the steaks were almost finished, I heated a sautee pan on medium-high heat and added olive oil to the pan. When that was ready I added the scallops and let them cook on each side for 2 1/2 minutes. When they were done I removed them from the pan, lowered the heat and then added 1/2 tbsp. of butter to the same sautee pan and let it melt. Once the butter melted I added fresh garlic and dried parsley and let the garlic cook a little bit. Once the garlic was cooked, I put the scallops back in the pan and tossed them in the butter/garlic/parsley sauce. They turned out absolutely amazing and they were a great complement to Ryan's awesome steak. I'll let him take it from here...

What up my fellow foodie wannabes? So, like Erin said, she brought home a beautiful piece of meat. A classic N.Y. strip. It looked so good, and Erin's recipe for scallops were so simple, I decided to keep it simple when cooking the steak and making sure to let the great ingredients speak for themselves. I rubbed the steak down with some olive oil and seasoned each side with a bunch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I added the steak to the grill on medium-high heat, for about 4 minutes on each side. The high flame seared and blackened each side with all the olive oil, salt and pepper forming a wonderful crust. Another key was to let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting it. I cut it in half and it was cooked so that the center was bright pink, but the outside was crusted with flavor: perfectly medium cooked. I could have even gone medium rare, but it was delicious, hearty and pretty tender.

Like Erin said, the scallops and steak made for a perfect combination. While the steak was red, salty, juicy and hearty; the scallops were light and were so buttery with a light garlic sauce and a hint of lemon that was fresh and delicate. We finished the meal with a simple baby spinach and onion salad, some good French bread and some corn: an absolutely perfect Sunday meal.

Saturday Night Dinner in 30 minutes

Ryan and I made a great dinner on Saturday. I'm going to go ahead and take credit for the recipe because I went grocery shopping Saturday morning and picked up a few things and came up with this meal: Sweet and Spicy Chicken sausage with baked redskin potatoes, zucchini and squash over fresh spinach. yum!

I have posted the baked redskin potato recipe before (click here)and I mistakenly said they were roasted redskin potatoes, but they are, in fact, baked. Anyway, they have to bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, so we started prepping. I washed and scraped out the eyes of each potato and quartered them and put them in a large bowl. I usually make this with peppers and onions, but I thought I'd mix things up a bit and so Ryan chopped yellow squash and zucchini and added it to the bowl with the redskin potatoes. Ryan also chopped 1 and 1/2 white onions and added them to the bowl. My only tip for preparing this dish is to make sure all of the ingredients are chopped in to equal size pieces so everything cooks evenly. I coated the ingredients generously with olive oil and added a lot of diced garlic, salt and pepper, dried basil, dried parsley, and crushed red pepper. That went on a foil-lined baking sheet and in the oven at 425 degrees for about 2o minutes. Another tip for this recipe is to make sure the potatoes, squash, zucchini and onion are spread out on the baking sheet. Check after about 10 minutes and stir the ingredients a little so each side can be baked.

After we checked on the potatoes and vegetables and stirred them, Ryan started on the chicken sausages. We have had a variation of these before, and I think they are nice to have every now and then. There are so many kinds of gourmet sausages and it's fun to try them out. Ryan cooked the sausages on a grill pan for about 15 minutes until they were browned slightly on the outside and warmed through.

While everything was cooking I came up with the idea of serving the baked potatoes and vegetables over fresh spinach. To add another kick of flavor, I drizzled balsamic vinegar over the "salad" and also added some lemon juice. The sausages were incredibly moist and I really liked the sweet and spicy flavor. The salad was a nice surprise, the balsamic paired nicely with the potatoes and zucchini and squash. It was a great Saturday night dinner that only took about 30 minutes to make! Take that Rachael Ray...

Nothing like Mom's cookin'

My mom is a great home cook. Seriously, I was very spoiled to have her cooking for me as I was growing up. She made some American family classics like tuna casserole, we had a Mexican night every now and then, but the go to was pasta or anything else Italian. Sunday dinner was always something special. A couple weeks ago Erin and I were home and my mom had us and Erin's parents over. My grandpa was there too. Whenever there is company, my mom kicks it up a notch.

Her menu started with a great spread of appetizers. There was some sliced pepperoni and sausage, pepperjack cheese and some very good swiss. She also prepared one of her classics: smoked salmon. The salmon is store bought already smoked and laid it over some chopped romaine lettuce. She topped the salmon with finely sliced onion (I think she would have used chives if she had them), capers, salt, pepper, lemon and extra virgin olive oil. I like to eat some of the salmon on some crunchy toast or bread: a great salty, light appetizer. As if this weren't enough for appetizers, my mom also made some classic tomato bruschetta.

For the main course, my mom prepared one of her standards. Penne with garlic and olive oil as a "sauce" cooked with strips of chicken breast, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes. She sautes the garlic with olive oil and onion as a base for the sauce. Then she adds capers (one of her favorite ingredients), artichokes and sun dried tomatoes. Once the pasta is nearly cooked, she adds the previously cooked chicken breast, chopped about the same size as the pasta, to the garlic and artichoke mixture. Finally, you mix the pasta with the sauce. She served it with asparagus that was boiled and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and crushed red pepper.

For dessert, Erin's mom made a Giada recipe: panna cotta with fresh berries. It was a nice light dessert, and tasty end to a big, great meal.