Friday, December 31, 2010

Bacon and Blue Cheese Dip for New Year's

Boxer is honchoing a great virtual New Year’s party, with lots of folks joining in and lots of funds being raised for local charities. Moi is handling the food for this soiree, and a fine spread of Catalan food she’s offering up!

I wanted to share an appetizer with the gang, too, so here’s my Warm Bacon, Blue Cheese and Garlic Dip.

Perhaps this would have been more fitting for Moi’s Spanish-influenced table if I’d used Cabrales. But I made my most recent batch with Maytag blue cheese I received from my sister as part of her Christmas present to me – an Ingredient of the Month Club!

Warm Blue Cheese, Bacon and Garlic Dip

7 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup half and half
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (1 cup) - a wedge of Maytag blue is just the right amount
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons chopped smoked almonds (1 ounce) - the jalapeno-flavored ones add extra zing!

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until almost crisp, about 7
minutes. Drain excess fat from skillet. Add garlic and cook until bacon is
crisp, about 3 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add half and half
and mix until combined. Stir in bacon mixture, blue cheese, and chives. Transfer
to a 2-cup ovenproof serving dish and cover with foil. Bake until thoroughly
heated, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Serve with sliced
apples, toasted pita crisps or French bread.

NOTE: May be prepared 1 day in advance. Refrigerate or freeze. Bring to room
temperature before baking. As I learned this Christmas, you can also heat this in the microwave (if, say, you don't have a working oven).

I especially like to serve it with sliced apples, and this time around I had some fine bread from local Blue Oven Bakery as well.

The vodka fountain is up and running over at Boxer's, so check out the festivities over there, as well as what the rest of the gang is doing. Boxer is donating 50 cents per comment at her place to a local charity, and as I mentioned in my original post, I will also donate 50 cents per comment left on my blog during the same time frame to a local charity of my own choosing: the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank. Plus, if you’re not already a friend of Boxer’s and leave a comment at her place saying “Eggy sent me,” I’ll pony up 50 cents for each of those comments as well.

Wishing I could stick around and blog with all of you tonight in my jammies. But I'm headed to the river this weekend. Cindie and I are headed to dinner at Anna Ree's Andouille for some fine cajun food and some great tunes from Lagniappe, Cincinnati's only Cajun/New Orleans jazz/gypsy band. Here's a clip of them playing at Andouille in warmer days.

Stay warm and party on, people! And don't forget to stop back here Saturday morning for New Year's brunch!

The NYE Bash Has Started!

The blogger New Year's party/commentathon hosted by Boxer is well underway, and everyone's invited! Click on over to see what she's up to and for linkage to the other great participants. Remember, Boxer is donating 50 cents per comment on her blog to charity, and a lot of other participants are offering up fun, games, and donations as well.

As I mentioned in my original post, I will donate $.50 per comment left on my blog during the same time frame to a local charity of my own choosing: the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank. Plus, if you’re not already a friend of Boxer’s and leave a comment at her place saying “Eggy sent me,” I’ll pony up 50 cents for each of those comments as well.

While I head into the Eggplant Kitchen to whip up an appetizer to take over to Moi's place - you won't want to miss her fabulous spread of Catalan finger food - here's a little New Year's entertainment to tide you over.

Stop by later today for my appetizer and an actual recipe (I know I don't do those very often). And all are welcome back here Saturday morning for New Year's Brunch!

Party on, people!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Pre-Party

While you're waiting for Boxer's New Year's bash to start tonight at midnight, and if you're not too busy making festive garlands a la Chickory, check out tonight's "Food Feuds" on the Food Channel, where Michael Symon tries to settle the debate as to which of my favorite hometown ice cream vendors is the best. Will it be Aglamesi's?

Or Graeter's?

I count myself lucky to live in a city that boasts both of these stellar ice cream shops!

Happy New Year to all, and please stop back during the weekend and leave a comment to help me raise money for the Freestore Foodbank. You can find more details about what I have planned here. Join in the blogger fun and see what everyone is doing for our virtual New Year's party too!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Comment for a Cause This New Year's - And Join in the Virtual Party!

One of my dear blogger friends, Anonymous Boxer, is hosting a virtual New Year's Eve party, and everyone’s invited!

Boxer tends to think “outside the box,” and with the shindig she’s hosting from midnight (E.S.T.) Thursday, December 30 till 3:00 P.M. (E.S.T.) Saturday, January 1, she’s encouraging fun, games, music, food, decorations, and all manner of creative bloggy what-not. Plus she and Mr. Boxer are offering up an array of prizes that include donations to local charities.

As always, Boxer got me thinking. So I’ve decided to host a little shindig of my own and, like the Boxers, I will donate $.50 per comment left on my blog during the same time frame to a local charity of my own choosing: the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank. If you’re not already a friend of Boxer’s and leave a comment at her place saying “Eggy sent me,” I’ll pony up 50 cents for each of those comments as well.

Although Moi is honchoing the “food” for the bash, I’ll be contributing an appetizer to this virtual potluck. And everyone is welcome back here for New Years “brunch” Saturday morning. I’m headed to the river this weekend, but I’ll have posts scheduled while I’m away and I’ll snag Cindie’s computer when I can to join in the festivities.

You can find more details about Boxer's party here (check out the comments for what other party-goers have planned too). This should be a hoot! So join in the fun and remember, you won't need a designated driver for this party :)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Let It Snow . . .

It's been a lovely holiday weekend. I even managed to pull off my part of Christmas dinner without a working oven.

Santa knows what I like.
And I received my second Ingredient of the Month Club installment from my dear sister.

And then it snowed.

Beautiful to look at. But driving on snow and ice over Jellico Pass, not so much. So I'm holed up for an extra day and will head home tomorrow. Meanwhile, wherever you are, I hope you're safe and warm.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

By Jerry Larsen

Wishing you all pleasant travels, and much Christmas cheer!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas to Me, and You, and You, and You, and You

Having trouble getting into the holiday spirit? I know I'm not the only one. Some of you have been felled by flu, or drained by care-giver duties. Others challenged by snow from Georgia to New Mexico, ice upon your dock, or the need to keep your garden and chickens warm through an atypical Florida cold snap. And do any of us ever feel like we have enough time to get that ultimate Christmas "everything" done on top of the already demanding obligations of our everyday lives - even, ahem, if you live in Hawaii?

Sometimes, my friends, a little holiday attitude adjustment can be attained by indulging oneself. Which is just what my friend Cindie and I did yesterday, after tending to our "obligations." We called each other twice to make sure we were awake and on schedule, taking the new Eggy-mobile in for its 1000-mile check-up, picking up meds for Cindie and her husband and camera batteries for me, and tackling our Christmas food and gift shopping lists at Party Source, Findlay Market, and Avril-Bleh's. Phew.

Somehow we were done with our errand-running an hour and a half ahead of our scheduled lunch reservation at Jean-Robert's Table, a destination we'd been looking forward to for some time. Thankfully, they were able to seat us early and we indulged in a fine meal that melted our stress away. Merry Christmas to us!

I'll post about our delightful lunch another time. But meanwhile wanted to spread some holiday cheer. For my local readers, treat yourself to these macarons from Jean Francois and Taste of Belgium, the waffle stand at Findlay Market. You will not be disappointed! And for my long-distance readers, I wish I could send each of you a box, but apparently they're so delicate even Jean-Francois hasn't figured out how to ship them yet. So I hope you'll be content with a few photos and my best holiday wishes :)

On my last trip to Findlay Market with Cindie, before Thanksgiving, I brought home one of Taste of Belgium's limoncello-flavored macarons.
As soon as I tasted this ethereal confection and its flavor-forward limoncello filling, I knew I had made a mistake – by buying only one.

Les Macarons de Jean-Francois now have their own facebook page and e-newsletter, which is where I learned about their new winter flavors: peppermint candy cane, chocolate candied orange, eggnog, chocolate ganache, gingerbread, and pecan pie. So I treated myself to box, and settled in to savor them with a glass of eggnog last night. Although they’re not much bigger around than a quarter, these lovelies pack an amazing punch of flavor. I didn’t finish them all last night, but each one I tasted delivered exactly what it promised. The pecan pie filling was the essence of pecan pie, the gingerbread the epitome of gingerbread. And the chocolate candied orange made me swoon.

They're $12 a box, or 5 boxes for $50, which you can order at 513-381-3280 or You could take your chances just showing up at Taste of Belgium's Findlay Market stand, although they sold out yesterday.

Who needs visions of sugar plums dancing through your head when you could have these? Sometimes the best holiday gifts are the ones you give yourself, including cutting yourself some slack and giving in to a taste of self-indulgence. Wishing you all a merry, merry.
Photo by Teri Campbell of TeriStudios and 
for Les Macarons de Jean-Francois


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tom + Chee - The Little Pop-Up That Could

Once upon a time, about a year ago, a little food booth popped up on Fountain Square. It offered warmth and comfort to the Square's ice rink patrons, with coffee, hot chocolate, and its namesakes, tomato soup and grilled cheese. Garnering it extra media attention was Tom + Chee's quirky specialty, an inside-out glazed donut grilled cheese sandwich.
I confess to still never having tried the donut grilled cheese. But as a downtown office worker, I was delighted last December to be able to zip out to their booth, mere footsteps from my workplace, and return to my desk with a warm and satisfying lunch of T+C's chunky tomato basil soup and whatever combination of grilled bread and cheese I ordered that day.

I sorely missed them as a lunchtime option during the frigid January and February days after skating season was over. But after all the ice-rink paraphernalia was removed and the Square reopened for other events in the spring, T+C was back – and determined.

They were a steadfast presence on the Square not only for Market Tuesdays (which hosted a great array of other small food vendors) but also just about every weekday lunch. Unless precluded from opening due to inclement weather or because another, larger hometown food vendor (most likely of Cincy chili) was sponsoring an event on the Square, T+C was there for lunch.

They were also there in the evenings for the blossoming schedule of events on the Square, often talking up Square events on their facebook page more than tooting their own horn. They tried offering breakfast from the booth, which didn’t garner enough traffic during those early, blustery spring days to warrant continuing. So they experimented and fine-tuned, riffing on their original tomato (soup) and (grilled) cheese concept as the seasons changed.

As temperatures rose, they expanded the menu into salads, including a Caprese made with thick slices of excellent fresh mozzarella (which remains on the menu), a couple of stuffed tomato salads - one with smoked chicken salad and another filled with seriously delicious coffee-rubbed grilled steak and blue cheese (I’m hoping it will reappear) - and this salad of fresh greens and “grilled cheese croutons,” which has become a staple.

They also diversified in the grilled cheese arena, offering daily specials ranging from the Working Man’s Chee (bologna, onions, and cheese on rye)
to the Hippy Chee (a veggie version with hummus, fresh greens, and other good stuff).
And one that seemed to particularly take off, the Bacon and BBQ Grippos Chee, with potato chips tucked inside.

In the soup realm, T+C offered a cold, zesty chunky gazpacho throughout the summer.
And they continue to add soups to their repertoire (the idea being, they tell me, that T+C soups will always feature either tomato or cheese). As a serious soup lover, I think their soups just keep getting better. So good, in fact, that I’d be happy to try anything they offer, even if it didn’t include tomatoes or cheese (not that I’m encouraging you to stray from your concept, guys).

Loved this cheesy veg-filled corn chowder. (Trust me, there's lots of veggies in there - maybe they just sank to the bottom of the bowl, too shy for a close-up? Or because "Cheese Floats"?).
I also tried this black bean soup on the Square one day this fall, and while I couldn’t detect obvious tomato or cheese, it continued the streak of T+C soups being full of flavor.
The pumpkin cheese soup T+C made for the Mt. Washington Pumpkin Chuck was a great innovation, perfect for the occasion.
And speaking of being fit for an occasion, T+C's beer-cheese soup (served with pretzels, and originally offered for one of those Cincinnati old-German-town beer fests) is superbly satisfying - and such a hit that it made its way into Tom + Chee's opening week rotation on Court Street.

While some of the city’s most interesting and entrepreneurial new food vendors have decided to give up brick-and-mortar locations in favor of trying the food truck option (such as New Orleans To Go), the T+C team always seemed to have its heart set on using its Fountain Square tent as a springboard to a permanent indoor location, as demonstrated by this little Lego creation, a tip jar of sorts for the T+C "Building Fund."
Photo courtesy of Thadd Fiala

Last summer Tom + Chee secured a space on Court Street just west of Main, across the street from the Courthouse. During their off hours from the booth on the Square, they spruced up the interior and dealt with a variety of infrastructure issues, like water, electric, and inspections. I remember the location as being formerly occupied by Patoushnik’s (was that 10 years ago?), which had soups and sandwiches worth making the lunchtime trek for. While I’m hoping positive soup karma will bless Tom + Chee, I’m also thrilled to see how much they’ve brightened up the place with fresh paint and their signature yellow and red colors.
When I finally made my way to Court Street on Friday of T+C’s opening week, I was delighted to see it packed with seated patrons, as well as others, like me, happy for carry-out.
And I’m loving the expanded menu! T+C’s blackboard menu includes a whole section of variations on the popular Grippo’s potato chip-filled grilled cheese (second column from the left), including one I’ll have to try next time, the Italian, with vinegar Grippo’s.

On Friday, I opted for a couple of daily specials I hadn't seen before: 'Shrooms and Swiss on Rye and Spicy Mushroom Soup with Gouda. Loved them both! (My only disappointment was to find the lid on those new soup containers wasn't securely fastened, so some of the delectable soup was lost in transport.)
I was delighted to find gouda added to T+C's cheese array with this mushroom soup. (I'm still bummed that the one time during the summer they offered artisanal cheese from nearby Capriole, they were sold out by the time I arrived at their booth at noon.) Perhaps more cheeses will be added once they figure out what flies with their new Court Street clientele?

And I can’t wait to taste what T+C will do next. Continuing the comfort food theme, they plan to add pot pies, meatloaf, and mac ‘n’ cheese to the menu once they get that pesky oven up and running, plus a variety of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Eventually, they want to add breakfast and dinner, maybe even late night fare, and expand to additional locations. They also hope to make more ingredients in-house, I'm told (like pesto and hummus), and in an ideal world would love to serve veggies from their own garden.

Meanwhile, Tom + Chee continues in its booth on Fountain Square during the December ice-skating season ("Of course," Mrs. Tom told me. "That's where we got our start!), although they sensibly close the booth when the cold results in too few patrons. For updates on when they'll be open at both locations and what they'll be offering, check out their continually updated facebook page.

It’s a step at a time for these determined and pragmatic folks, and their Court Street opening is a big one. Tom + Chee offers affordable comfort food done well. While many of their offerings have a sense of whimsy, it’s clear they’re serious about their food and continually pushing it to the next level. As it says on a plaque I spotted at their Court Street location, "Never, Never, Never Give Up."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy Holidays, and Thanks - My 100th Post

My November somehow got swallowed up by my day job, my "other" blog, and holiday preparations. But I'm back, and my first thanks goes to those of you who've stayed in touch, even worried about me for not having posted in a while.

A week ago Wednesday I loaded up the new Eggy-mobile and headed to Tennessee for a cock-eyed holiday weekend at my parents' place, rendezvousing with my sister's family, who drove in from Iowa. If you thought our Thanksgiving dinner included the ingredients in this photo at the top of this post, you would be wrong.

I love the foods of autumn, not to mention the opportunity to pull out all the stops in the kitchen (isn’t that why Thanksgiving was invented – oops, maybe not). But this was not one of those Thanksgivings. So my second thanks goes to all my friends who've shared their T-Day dishes via their blogs - the virtual feast you've offered up has filled me almost as much as savoring them in person would have (and with 0 calories, fat, or carbs).

As much as I enjoy searching out new recipes and putting together a holiday menu, I knew going into this Thanksgiving there were so many "food preferences" to juggle I'd be better off playing sous-chef and letting my mom and sister decide the menu. On the drive back from Knoxville, I also got to thinking about Thanksgivings past.

I've come to love Thanksgiving, and turkey, and especially dressing with gravy. But T-Day appreciation wasn't something I grew up with. As a kid, we lived, at various times, hundreds if not thousands of miles away from the rest of the family. So Christmas was the "big" holiday, when we almost always drove back to Nebraska, and Thanksgiving was the overshadowed younger sibling holiday we spent by ourselves. My dad isn't fond of turkey, so for a number of years we developed our own little tradition of feasting on peel-and-eat shrimp (an exotic treat when you came from the land-locked midwest back in those days).

The first really terrific Thanksgiving I recall was the one I shared with 15 or 20 friends in Estes Park, Colorado in the late ‘70s. None of us had family nearby, and those of us who worked in restaurants were glad they were closed for the holiday. Everyone brought something, and my eyes widened to see two, count 'em, two turkeys, plus a plethora of pies, and more side dishes than I'd ever seen in anyone's house rather than a restaurant. There was also something remarkably freeing about sharing such a feast without having to deal with family holiday dynamics or concern oneself with what Grandma might think.

Ironically, the first time I cooked a turkey and hosted Thanksgiving myself turned out to be for Grandma. She and Grandpa and my parents flew in to spend Thanksgiving with me in NYC (despite their midwestern fears that I had lost my mind by moving to such a place). I lived in a tiny apartment on the Upper West Side, but being young and fearless, was determined to serve a home-cooked dinner, even if seating everyone at my unfolded fold-up table took up pretty much every last inch of space. The good news that weekend was that I lucked out in ordering a turkey that would fit in my tiny oven, and managed to get it cooked through and remain moist - ergo, was not reluctant to try again. The bad news was that said turkey was too large to fit in my under-the-counter studio apartment refrigerator, so a kind friend living in the Village, also living far away from her midwestern family, kept it in her fridge overnight and invited us all to her place for Thanksgiving brunch in exchange for joining us for dinner.

After brunch, we couldn't find a cab willing to take all of us uptown in one vehicle. So Mom and I and the turkey took one cab, and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa took another. As my grandparents' cabbie drove up the West Side Highway at a high rate of speed, the hood of the vehicle popped open so the driver could not see. This is not the kind of impression you want to make on midwestern relatives who already think your life or sanity are endangered by living in Manhattan. Thankfully, they reached my apartment rattled but safe.

Later that Thanksgiving weekend, we went to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas show. I was so broke working an entry-level publishing job that I'd never before been to Radio City. But I was as charmed by the Art Deco decor as Grandma was. It transported us both to another era in time. As the house lights dimmed for the performance, my straight-laced Nebraska grandma uttered words so shocking I will never forget them. "In my next life, I want to come back as a Rockette."

Flash forward to this Thanksgiving, one of those alternating years where my sister's family spends T-Day with us and Christmas with her husband's family. Which also means we celebrate our Christmas together at Thanksgiving. I decided to let family be my focus, letting go of my usual food inclinations.

We were graced with an amazingly warm day with temps in 70s - so warm we could not forgo the opportunity to eat appetizers outside.

For all of those "food preferences" my sister's kids have, they made an interesting discovery this summer when my nephew spent a summer internship in California and my sister and niece went to visit him. You see, my brother-in-law is seriously allergic to shellfish, so the kids had never really tried it before - until this. Turns out they rather liked it, so for our Thanksgiving Day main course we settled on surf and turf: peel-and-eat shrimp that harkened back to that earlier family tradition and beef grilled in a marinade for shishkabobs that always seems to please everyone.

For sides, my sis made roasted potatoes and I made scalloped corn (one of those nostalgia dishes for me), while plain frozen corn was as much veg as others could be persuaded to eat.

For dessert, Mom made another one of her scrumptious apple pies (too few takers for pumpkin). Some of us enjoyed it with ice cream on top. Some enjoyed ice cream sans pie.

Next up was our "Christmas morning" the Friday after T-Day, where remarkable menu consensus was achieved with Mom's homemade cinnamon rolls (although some have preferences as to whether nuts or "goop" are included).

We had a jolly time and gave each other some really cool stuff. My niece was thrilled with her Glee DVD.
My nephew, who seems to be developing an interest in cooking for himself now that he's in college, pronounced the can-opener I gave him "a good one."
Dad received his traditional "rotten banana" (yes, there's a story behind that).

Dad was also the subject of this year's pranksterism, the old package inside a package inside a package . . . I think my sister outdid herself this time - we stopped counting at 7, and I don't think anyone captured pics of all however many were involved, but this will give you an idea.
I was tickled, as always, to receive my traditional crustacean gift from my sister.
And to give her something crustacean in return (yes, there's a story behind that too).
Fun was had by all, but I think one of the coolest and most appreciated gifts of all was this framed piece of "Rent" memorabilia my sister put together for her daughter. Shannon is a huge fan of the show, and I had the great good fortune to see it for the first time a couple of years ago in Chicago with my sister and niece, performed by the original cast. One of the original Adams attended a Cedar Rapids production (thanks to a connection between his partner and a local, my niece explained to me).

The other truly memorable gift, of which I am the delighted recipient, is a custom Ingredient of the Month concoction my sister is putting together for me, with my first installment being Maytag blue cheese, from near where she lives in Iowa.

We also played a silly card game called Garbage, which always results in hilarity (and me running out of poker chips). Dad put together a slide show from long, long ago, which was a fun trip down memory lane for my sister and me, and may have widened her kids' eyes - especially the carousel of slides from my sister's high school theater days.

Alas, the festivities were over all too quickly, as my sister's family had to return to Iowa on Saturday. I stayed until Sunday morning, and managed to cook up a couple of "my dishes" Saturday night. I had fun inventing a casserole of butternut and kambocha squash, mushrooms, red onion, apple-wood smoked bacon from Eckerlin's in Findlay Market and apple-wood smoked cheddar from another Findlay vendor.
I roasted the squash and ended up making a white sauce steeped with onion and sage, and was pleased with the result.
I paired it with the Alsatian sausage and gruyere salad I made for last summer's Culinary Smackdown (I know how much my dad loves sausages, especially from Avril's). The croutons I made with Busken's rye and onion bread from my neighborhood Remke-Biggs this time didn't turn out quite as well as the ones I made from Blue Oven salt rye last summer, but that may have had more to do with me just not preparing them as well.

In addition to thanking my family for a great rolled-into-one holiday, and their support for my blogging endeavors, since this is my 100th post, I have more thanks to express.

Thanks to all my blogging buddies, near and far, from whom I've gained much inspiration (and realized that sometimes we all need a little blogging downtime).

I'd especially like to thank Velva from Tomatoes on the Vine for being kind enough to feature a couple of my photos in her Wordless Wednesday posts, and to all the fine bloggers whose food photography inspires me to keep trying to improve.

Thanks also to my new pals over at AllTopChef, who invited me to join their blogging team in September. Somehow our little blog managed to place 4th in the Mobbie Awards in the pop culture category, which surprised the heck out of this Cincinnati girl. Wrangling the ATC mailbox and pulling together posts about my favorite show is both a joy and a challenge.I hope to figure out how to balance ATC with my own blog (and if Top Chef took a hiatus of more than two weeks after All-Stars, that would be fine with me).

Much appreciation also goes to all the Cincinnati food vendors who have me excited to eat their food and talk them up - more to come, soon, I promise :)

And special thanks to Cindie, my BFFF - best foodie friend forever - for joining me in checking out what Cincy's food scene has to offer and being a good listener when I get overloaded from all my efforts.