Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Months ago I plunked down my $46.50 to see the Anthony Bourdain road show. So did my friend Cindie, who first introduced me to him by loaning me her copy of Kitchen Confidential. Sunday night Bourdain finally hit my city (Cincinnati), one of something like 17 he's hitting in 21 days to promote his new book, Medium Raw. Cindie was sick and unable to go with me, so this recap is for her, and anyone else who cares to read along. [Note: I'll be paraphrasing Bourdain here as succinctly and faithfully to the spirit of what he had to say as I can, minus the f-bombs, although you really had to be there. I've presented some of his sentiments within quote marks simply for readability.]

The pre-show soundtrack featured punk rock with a smattering of the Stones. When Bourdain strode on stage, as tall and lean as he appears on TV - in jeans, trademark cowboy boots, well-worn sport jacket, and an open collared shirt (he insists he no longer wears his Ramones T-shirt, let alone an earring, since the birth of his daughter) - the audience applauded, roared, and gave him a standing ovation fit for a rock legend.

He nearly filled the 2700-seat theater at the Aronoff Center, which typically offers touring company productions of Broadway shows at a similar price rather than one guy talking quasi-extemporaneously in front of a lectern for an hour, then answering audience questions. When the house lights came up for the Q/A and he could actually see the crowd, Bourdain quipped that these looked like Guy Fieri numbers.

Most of his stories would be familiar to Bourdain readers and watchers, especially if you've read Medium Raw (I haven't yet), excerpts from it or some of the 60+ interviews he's given in connection with this promotional tour (of which I've read a number), his blog for No Reservations on the Travel Channel, or other press. The guy certainly knows how to get press. Still, it was compelling to see his schtick in person, especially surrounded by 2699 other (wildly responsive) Bourdainophiles. Clearly, many of his stories were ones he's told, retold, embellished many times, and tailors to the audience at hand. I've always had the impression Bourdain is someone who writes the way he talks, and talks the way he writes, although sometimes his narration on No Reservations can come across as cloyingly glib and sound as though he's reading off the page. Sunday night, using that lectern only as a place to rest a single beer bottle and hold notes he referred to rarely, he was glib, yes. Cloyingly so, not so much. And things got a little edgier during the Q/A.

So just how much kindler and gentler is Bourdain these days, ten years after publishing Kitchen Confidential, three years after becoming a father, and with much more media savvy than he started out with?

He began the evening by refusing to to diss Rachael Ray, citing not only that famous fruit basket she sent him but also her participation in the South x Southwest festival, which he found discordantly cool. Then she hired one of his favorite bands, the New York Dolls, for a party at same, which he found even more discordantly cool. (Existential questions about whether or not to shoot a puppy were also involved.)

Bourdain also refuses to quit dissing Sandra Lee, even though her boyfriend (current attorney general and potential next governor of the State of New York Andrew Cuomo) may well "audit me back 20 years." Expanding on this blog post about his encounter with Lee at a premiere of "Julie and Julia" (which he called "half a good film"), Bourdain isn't backing down from describing Sandra (whose name he pronounces as "Sondra") as a force of such "pure evil" that even his current wife - an avid practitioner of mixed martial arts whom he claims has no "truck," shall we say, with his ardent female fans - was rendered immobile by Sandra's dead doll eyes as she touched him "inappropriately." Surely, no embellishment here. And easy to woo the audience with every self-respecting foodie's favorite target at the Food Network.

Nonetheless, Bourdain was charitable toward several other Food TV personalities he believes can actually cook "properly" (I always sit up a little straighter in my chair when I hear trained chefs use that term), including Giada De Laurentiis (undercut by his reference to her "freakishly large head") and Ina Garten (although he put a sinister spin on her oft-repeated "when Jeffrey comes home" mantra). Bourdain also expressed regret for beating up on Emeril in the past, saying Emeril looks like a genius compared to current network hosts and wondering aloud, "Where has Emeril gone?"

In answer to that question, Bourdain continued to beat up on the Food Network, positing that after reviewing focus group research, network honchos decided they really didn't need to pay real money to real chefs, who have their own restaurants, showed real cooking, and used "big words." In Bourdain's telling: So they said to Emeril, "Thanks for everything, Emeril. We got you a new car out back. Come see." Bourdain mimes gunshot. And then they said to Mario, "Want to see Emeril's new car out back?" Bourdain mimes another gunshot.

Then Bourdain moved on to Bobby Flay, who in this scenario is probably getting nervous, because he's a real chef; he's got restaurants. But, as Bourdain spins this tale, the network offers Bobby a deal that will keep him on the network for years. "Our audience research tells us that 98% of viewers think you're an arrogant pr**k." So they offer Flay Throwdown in order to satisfy viewers who want to see Bobby be put in his place by "regular cooks" at podunk local cooking competitions across the country. That magical mystery tour brought big audience response at the Aronoff. Although when Bourdain said Bobby could probably best anyone in a local chili cookoff - especially here (the home of Cincinnati chili, an entirely different food group) - he received an even wilder response. I'm not sure whether Bourdain was taken aback by the many boo's or genuinely tickled to have provoked such a response.

When addressing another Food TV mainstay, Iron Chef, Bourdain's first remark was that he loved the original from Japan (big applause at the Aronoff). Who didn't, including its incomparably camp dubbing? Bourdain said he often wants to like the Food TV U.S. version, especially given the guest chefs, saying things to his wife like, "Hey, Babe, come watch - Wylie Dufresne is on!" Then you look at the caliber of clueless judges and, well, sigh.

Regarding other shows in the food competition TV genre, Bourdain brought up Hell's Kitchen, saying that while he likes Ramsay personally and many of Ramsay's other (Brit-based) shows, Hell's Kitchen is horrible, a show where no one could possibly believe any of the contestants has the skills to be worthy of the prize: winning an executive chef spot in one of Ramsay's restaurants. "Where's the suspense?" asked Bourdain. "Whether the morbidly obese guy who had a heart attack last week can make it across the kitchen to the Fry-o-later this episode without passing out?"

In comparison, when it came to Top Chef, Bourdain had nothing but good things to say, glossing over his absence since Season 4, which aired in 2008. He insisted he's always loved the show, watches it avidly, and reminded us he's been on the show many times. Per Season 7 promos, Bourdain is finally back - perhaps willing to return to the fold thanks to the presence of his friend, Eric Ripert, as part-time TC judge? In any case, Bourdain's TC appearance is likely to help sell copies of Medium Raw. (I just hope the prize for the episode on which he appears is more substantial than an autographed copy.)

Bourdain asserted his respect for the caliber of TC contestants (at least those who make it past the first few weeks) and stressed what they're up against, and what he himself couldn't do. "Make a souffle? Without a recipe? No recipes, cookbooks, internet, phone, contact with friends? These are tough challenges." Bourdain staunchly stood by the shiny beacon of Collichio's bald-headed leadership when it comes to making decisions about who stays and who goes, even when he knows producers are probably freaking out that a favorite is going home ("Oh, no, not Tre!" was one example he cited). Bourdain is clearly in Tom's corner that TC should be judged on a "what have you done for me lately" aka "any given Sunday" basis.

Bourdain also tread lightly on Alice Waters, for whom he has had incendiarily harsh words (did I mention the guy knows how to get press?), then backed off, saying elsewhere that he disagrees less with her goals than with the elitism with which she tends to present them. Emphasizing the economic realities of busy families with strapped budgets, he pointed to people who flock to Popeye's on $1.99 night. "It's not that they think they're looking for delicious chicken from Popeye's, or worried about eating locally. It's that they can get three pieces for $1.99."

Without further disparaging Waters, or missing a beat, Bourdain moved on. "But being a hypocrite . . . and a dad . . . my daughter eats organic." He transitioned into reflections about how he's changed since being a working cook. Back then, he viewed himself as simply being "in the pleasure business," not caring where, say, a tomato, came from or whether it was local, healthy, or organic. Just whether it tasted good, looked good on the plate, and had a cost-effective price point. Being a dad, however, he says he's become much more attentive to issues of where food comes from.

Citing one recent story that got his attention, about ammonia being used on outer cuts of subprime beef for fast-food grade hamburgers, he said that when the government gets too involved in regulating "healthiness," "cleanliness," etc. in the food industry, the sound of jackboots may soon follow. However, he believes we're all entitled to burgers that do not have cleaning products among their ingredients. After a much more passionate and amusing discussion than I will attempt to recap (and which received tremendous applause), he then said, "But when it comes to hot dogs, you're on your own. That's a case of implied consent."

Bourdain went back into provacateur mode talking about how he attempts to discourage his daughter from wanting McDonald's, a theme he returned to when an audience member asked him for his thoughts on school lunch programs. Bourdain said he admires Jamie Oliver's work and thinks Jamie is taking the high road, although it may be too late for that to succeed, and suggesting that sometimes the "low road" is what's needed. Bourdain's ostensible low road: To combat the pervasive advertising power of fast food chains aimed at children, turn messages on their head and scare the crap out of kids. "How hard can it be to scare the crap out of a three-year-old?" Following Bourdain's line of thinking, what puts fear into kids is being marginalized. So . . . he claims he plants ideas in his daughter's head like this: "There are cooties in McDonald's food. I heard on the schoolyard from the other parents that your friend Hunter got cooties from eating there, and then it spread to another kid on the schoolyard." Bourdain talked about a schoolyard rumor back in his own days that Chunky (I'm presuming the peanut butter) had rat hair in it, which went viral long before the internet, resulting in plummeting sales for said product. Bourdain had many more deterrent suggestions to offer: eating at that fast-food joint will result in penile shrinkage, etc. Bourdain is all about tailoring the message to the target audience: whatever age, sex, gender, geography, or other demographic.

He also talked about travel and No Reservations before asking for those house lights to be turned up for the question-and-answer portion of the evening, when it became clear many audience members were drawn to Bourdain for his travel expertise, some of them with extensive travel background, some just starting out. One young man got up in front of the microphone, proclaimed his desire to travel the world, and asked Bourdain for advice on where to start. "How are you going to support yourself while you travel around the world?" was Bourdain's initial response. Then he offered Viet Nam as a suggested first great travel destination. "Your expense will be in getting there. Once you're there, it's relatively cheap." In answer to this and other questions, Bourdain talked about his attraction to the scenery, food, and people of Viet Nam without any semblance of irony. He says he plans to live in Viet Nam for a year and write a book about it, although he doesn't know when that will be. Probably not until No Reservations gets canceled. He is decidedly not giving up The.Best.Job.In.The.World. At least willingly.

Another questioner was a young woman who said she's leaving for London next week to go to some sort of travel writing school and aspires to the be the female version of Bourdain, although her mother is not happy about that. "Your mom is probably right," quipped Bourdain, who then mentioned that London is the second most expensive city in the world. Nonetheless, he recommended that while she's there, she check out Fergus Henderson's restaurant, St. John. A great meal for a great price, he said.

An impish-looking white-haired man came up to the microphone, identifying himself as "Raisin, from Kentucky," and said, "I just talked to my bookie, and the over/under on how many times you'll drop the F-bomb is 110. You're already up to 94." Bourdain clearly got a kick out of that one, announcing after another skatelogical tirade, "I think we're up to 110" and later, "I've put money on 140."

Re: the upcoming season of No Reservations, Bourdain promises an even more dysfunctional Thanksgiving show, and talked up his recent visit to Paris with his family and Eric Ripert, wherein his daughter ate oysters of her own volition and purportedly grabbed a Sebastian-looking lobster (a la Little Mermaid) from the top of a towering seafood display, tearing into it with gusto that did her daddy proud. Nonetheless, he insists he's not trying to raise a foodie kid. "After all, she eats her boogers too."

Bourdain also spoke avidly about his determination to "confound and confuse" both the Travel network and his fans by changing up episodes on NR. The freedom he has doing The.Best.Job.In.The.World includes unleashing the craziness, passion, and creativity of himself and his team, and one example he is obviously jazzed about is the black-and-white food porn episode shot in Italy, shown in letterbox format, "with everyone being dubbed - even me," said the provacateur, full of pride, "although there may be only 8 people still watching by the end of that episode." OK, Tony, you foster aspiration, curiosity, and skepticism in all of us. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Winding things down on the Q/A, Bourdain accepted a few more questions, teasing that he wanted to end on a "d*ck" joke." A young woman stepped up to the to microphone, saying she travels frequently to France, where she's involved in culinary research. She wanted to share an anecdote, a situation she wasn't sure how to respond to. She said she was asked to explain the project to a group of Americans, including legendary culinary curmudgeon Jeffrey Steingarten. When Steingarten asked her what she was doing next, she said she was returning home to Cincinnati, to which he replied, "Why? What is there to eat?"

In response to this question, Bourdain had zero kindness or gentleness. No Dora the Explorer references or sugar coating. He lashed out at established food critics who view the world of food through a lens of entitlement, describing them as being driven from restaurant to restaurant in black Towne cars, never touching street food, and lacking culinary curiosity. Tony's big finish: "They hate food, they hate themselves, they hate their lives."

Iconoclast, trying to leave the audience with a bombastic finish? Or just a guy who misses his wife and kid, wants to collect his share of the box office, and move on to the next city?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Scenes from one of the newly legalized venues (5th & Race) for street food trucks in Cincinnati at noon on opening day!
I bought a white pizza from the Wood-Fired pizza guys with this seriously hot (700 degree) mobile pizza oven.
So did Laurie Quinlivan, the City Council member who came up with this plan for street food trucks. I also spotted Roxanne Qualls.

I went for an early lunch, to bypass possible press and crowds. Others may have experienced larger crowds later? Despite the new law allowing street trucks to start serving as early as 6:00 a.m.and remain open until 3:30 p.m. (please correct me if I don't have this straight), it will be individual decisions on the part of each of these entrepreneurs as to when they come and go. Habanero's was just arriiving at noon. By 4:00 in the afternoon, Senor Roy's was the only truck still at the designated 5th & Race parking lot.

Best of luck to all the brave vendors. Hope the downtown office crowd realizes you are a geat new option!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


OK, kids, let's slow things down a tad.

Summer is officially here. Sometimes the hot and humid weather (where I live, at least) slows my appetite and inclination to cook.
On the other hand, the plethora of produce available this time of year gets the cogs turning in the old culinary cortex and makes me want to taste every fresh vegetable I can lay my hands on.

As the winner of the June Culinary Smackdown ("Picnic Baskets"), it's my duty and pleasure to select next month's theme and serve as host/judge. So, without further ado, the theme of the July Culinary Smackdown is:

Summertime (Veggies) - and the Livin' Is Easy

I encourage you to take your inspiration from whatever's in season in your corner of the world and spotlight a veggie or two. Maybe from a local farmers market, or your own garden?
No need to knock yourself out and make umpteen dishes like I did last month (you can see Team Eggplant's winning picnic spread here). But I do favor the philosophy of La Diva (two-time winner and last month's host/judge) that these Culinary Smackdowns are a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves. Perhaps you'd like to experiment with a veg or variety new to you? Or try out a new preparation for an old summertime fave? Whatever you choose, I'm confident we'll all pick up some tasty suggestions from each other.

Here are the rules:

1. Prepare at least one dish, featuring at least one summer vegetable, yourself (and include photo of same). You aren't required to cook/heat your veggie, but for the purposes of this contest, you need to do more than, say, slice a lovely tomato, put it on a plate, and snap a photo.

2.  Any dishes you enter may include more than one vegetable, along with any proteins, grains, legumes, condiments, etc. of your choosing. Just remember that the point here is for at least one summer vegetable to play a starring role.

3.  The deadline for entries to be posted is midnight E.D.T., Saturday, July 24.

4.  I'll post my own submission on that date (not a contender in this competition). Please add a comment to let everyone know "you're up."

5.  I'm trying to give everyone plenty of time, to accommodate whatever weather, vacation, summertime laziness, or other issues may impact your schedule. If you post your entry before July 24, please come back here on the deadline date and post a comment with a link to your entry so we can all find you and no one is overlooked. I'll check out all the entries and announce the winner on my blog.

6. To paraphrase Gershwin, even if your daddy ain't rich or your ma all that good-lookin', ANYONE can enter, and NEWCOMERS are welcome! (I'm pretty much of a newcomer here myself.) If you don't have your own blog and want to join in the fun, I'd be happy to feature your dish on my blog - just send me a photo and description, and please email me in advance to give me a heads-up.

7. Opportunities for "bonus points" have sometimes been mentioned in these Smackdowns. Without quite going there, I'll say that what I'm hoping to find - and usually do - is inspiration from everyone's contributions. I will also mention that Eggy loves some fresh herbage.

Have at it, and I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


A few of you asked whether that building shaped like a picnic basket I featured a couple of weeks ago was for real. Yes, it is, located in Newark, Ohio, and home of the Longaberger Basket Co. I have no Photoshop skills, nor could I think this up on my own. Here's an aerial photo of the real deal:

Meanwhile, one of our recent lightning storms smote what was possibly the most enormous and garish Jesus statue in existence (known around these parts as "Touchdown Jesus"). You couldn't miss him driving up I-75 between Cincinnati and Dayton. That's TJ on the left, and the remaining steel structure on the right.
I shook my head when I heard the church was committed to rebuilding the sculpture at a cost of something like $700,000. Surely that kind of cash could be put to better use to help people, causes, or clean-ups that really need it?

But I was truly taken aback when I read that PETA offered to provide the church money to rebuild the gigantic statue in the form of a Jesus with a lamb in his arms and an inscription that reads: "Blessed Are the Merciful. Go Vegan" (I shudder to think how large a font would be required to make that message visible from I-75.)

PETA's letter of offer said, "As thanks for working with us to spread this lifesaving message, we will also send your congregation free copies of our 'Christianity and Vegetarianism' pamphlets, vegetarian/vegan starter kits and children's stickers showing a baby chick declaring, 'Jesus loves me too!'"

Yikes, Eggy happily enjoys and prepares many vegetarian and vegan dishes. But forcing extremist views down anyone's, er, throat, not so much.

It makes me sad when the city where I've lived so many years, and which has many admirable arts and culinary traditions, plus increasing revitalization, makes the national news for things that make us look like a hick town, or worse, and apparently TJ has made the national news. (I'll redact what I was going to say about some of our former embarrassments.)
Nonetheless, I am hopeful about a couple of new developments. It looks like food trucks might officially be allowed soon, at least at specified locations. (Cincinnati has only about 3-4 food trucks so far, but as soon as these entrepreneurs appeared on the scene, regulators got hot and bothered about regulating them.) For goodness sakes, we have a Purple People Bridge, why not have food trucks to feed the people on the bridge and elsewhere?

Another upcoming effort really makes me smile: An installation of painted pianos throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky "on streets, in public squares and parks, and at other fun locations – for anyone to discover and play" and in conjunction with Cincinnati Public Radio. Called "Play Me, I'm Yours," this is something that apparently has been done in London, NYC, Sao Paolo, and Sydney (paging Diva!). Here's a clip:

I guess they're looking for old pianos to be donated, have artists in place to paint them, and are looking for people to be watchdogs over these pianos in public places. (Hmmm, how could I phrase doing something like that on my resume?) I love the idea of this kind of interactive art. Just can't imagine what the heat, humidity, and rain may do to them. Many people may have old and out-of-tune pianos taking up space and happy to donate to the cause. My mom would not be one of them, although I would love to get her to Cincy during this event and cajole her into playing out in the fresh air!

To get off my soapbox and share something truly goofy . . . from Nebraska, the state where I was born, here is Car Henge (yep, I'm not making this up either):

Car Henge is a bizarre midwestern tribute to Stone Henge (you know, that one in England, where pagans/Druids hung out and worshipped the Sky and the Sun and the Solstice). This one is made of abandoned cars. I can't think of Stone Henge without thinking of Spinal Tap (back during my early manuscript-wrangling days in NYC, I had the odd privilege of getting tickets to film previews via the magazine I worked for; no one anticipated this movie!).

To wish you all a belated happy Summer Solstice, here's a clip that I hope you makes your outlook on the week go up to an "11" - which is always "one better than," isn't it?

Check back for my announcement of July Culinary Smackdown. I promise it's coming soon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


This post is dedicated to all the great dads out there - past, present, and future. And especially to my own dad.

One of the great things I've discovered since I started this blog is how many men are cooking, on a regular basis, often for their families, with a lot of passion about food, many of them passing that on to their kids. Keep up the great work, guys! I hope your families know how lucky they are. And don't stop cooking even if they don't appreciate your efforts.

I also know that for some of you, Father's Day is a tough reminder of loss, or anticipation that this may be your last Father's Day together. Hold on to what you've got, be they memories or time well spent in the present.

I'm lucky to still have both my parents - hale, hearty, and travel-worthy. Dad just returned from his most recent trip, to Poland and Finland, and I can't wait to see his photos. An architect/academic/artist/photographer, now retired from the workaday world, but not retired from his many interests, Dad was kind enough to be a guest speaker at my book club about a book on Frank Lloyd Wright, hence the cake photo at the top of this post..

Dad inspired, encouraged, and educated me from a young age to use a camera, a hobby I'm glad to have gotten back to.

And he seems to like my food. One of my earliest ambitious cooking attempts was a multi-course "international" dinner I somehow put together for my dad's birthday when I was only in high school. Fearless, and clueless, in my youth, I actually attempted to make eggroll wrappers from scratch. After numerous fails, I realized the store-bought kind might be a better bet.

Another special-occasion dinner I prepared ages ago was for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary (they've now passed their 50th!). My siblings and I managed to pull off the surprise party, with a few of my parents' closest friends. My most memorable faux pas for that event - aside from putting guests through mid-August Cincy heat and humidity with only a box fan - was using hard-shell peas I didn't know should have been removed from the pod in lieu of snow pea pods.

My dad and I haven't always seen eye-to-eye. He thought I was nuts when I moved to NYC after college, and was no doubt relieved when I moved back to the midwest. I think I gained his respect when I applied my editing skills (first developed during that NYC stint) to his own academic tome (talk about some manuscript-wrangling, Moi!).

I also have to thank my dad for supporting my writing, even though this whole blog thing is way new to him. He's a self-proclaimed low-tech guy, but I've learned he actually reads my blog - at least when Mom tells him to:) - and I was bowled over when he suggested I should be doing more with my writing. Great to receive such encouragement.

Speaking of encouragement, thanks to everyone for your kind comments here and on host/judge La Diva's blog re: Team Eggplant's Picnic Smackdown entry. We're thrilled with the win, and I'll be announcing the July theme next week.
To all of you out there, love the ones your with, and celebrate at any opportunity!


Saturday, June 19, 2010


No, that's not the theme of the next Culinary Smackdown. But Team Eggplant has been announced the winner of the June Culinary Smackdown: Picnic Basket, and we are tickled pink, er, purple.

Big thanks to uber-busy La Diva for her hosting efforts, to the other talented cooks who participated (you can find Diva's round-up of their dishes here), and to the rest of Team Eggplant!

Quick update on a couple of my dishes. Those pickled sugar snap peas grew on me after being in their brine longer. Great crunch from both pod and pea.

For those roasted radishes many of you commented about, I made a horseradish-sour cream dipping sauce, which added some zing to the leftovers. And I melted some blue cheese over a slice of that savory cake to counter its dryness (since I foolishly failed to follow the recipe as closely as I should have).

As the winner of this month's Smackdown, it's my duty to select the theme for next month's contest. I'll announce it next week and try to give everyone ample time for their July entries. Thanks again to all!

Here's the recipe for the savory cake, which Moi requested. Let me know if yours turns out more moist than mine did.

Savory "Cake" with Bacon, Chervil, and Figs (Cake Sale aux Lardons et aux Figues
From Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard, from the section “Three Recipes for a French Picnic”
The author's headnote: "Somewhere between a tea cake and a quiche, cake sale is a marvelous invention; it often graces buffet tables at parties. You can vary the filling as you choose - olives, hazelnuts, feta, bacon, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes have all gone into the mix at one point or another. This is one of my favorite combinations, adapted from Cakes Sales et Sucres by Christian Ecckhout (Editions Auberon, 2007). 

1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
7 ounces lardons, pancetta, or bacon, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup whole milk
8 dried figs (the tender, partially rehydrated kind)
2 packed tablespoons chervil, chopped
1 cup grated Comte cheese, lightly packed

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a small bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Line a 9-by-5 inch metal loaf pan with parchment paper.

In a small frying pan, fry the lardons until they have rendered their fat; drain on a paper towel.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and salt. Add the oil and milk; whisk until light and foamy.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until just combined. Don't overwork the batter - a lump or two is fine.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir lightly to combine. Transfer the batter to your loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then unmold onto a wire rack and cool completely. Place the loaf on the picnic blanket (or coffee table) and lt your guests cut themselves a slice. Store wrapped in aluminum foil.

Yield: Serves 8-10 as an hors d'oeuvre

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Welcome to Team Eggplant's entry for the June Culinary Smackdown: Picnic Basket. We seem to be developing a little tradition of wacky accessories and occasional costume changes. Odie, who humored us by donning a lobster apron for our last Smackdown entry, came up with the idea of wearing a bear costume for this one. With no bear-ware readily available, Cindie moved on to the next best thing, borrowing this fellow and a vintage picnic basket that looks just like the one my grandma used to have.

Posing a borrowed bear in the rain, however, would not be a good idea. So when the weekend forecast called for thunderstorms on Saturday, we decided to postpone our pic-a-nic fest to Sunday. And, boy, were we glad we did. Saturday morning brought torrential rains under a sky so thick with clouds it looked like dusk at 10:00 a.m. It doesn't get much more humid than this on the banks of the Ohio River, where Cindie and Odie live, and their air conditioners had not yet been installed for the season, leaving sweat pouring off us, and every bit of paper - be it t.p. or recipes - damp to the touch.
Sunday was an improvement in the weather department and, even better, Cindie and Odie's go-to guy, Wayne, helped get the a/c's in! He and his girlfriend, Karen, were added to our guest list for the evening's feast - the more, the merrier, and I always make enough food for an army :). As the heat and humidity began to drop in the kitchen, Cindie and I could finally begin to think about prepping, cooking, and baking. 

Soon after this month's theme was announced, I contemplated picnic possibilities as I drove to Tennessee, over-thinking as I sometimes do. As La Diva (last month's Smackdown winner and therefore this month's host/judge) always advocates, I wanted to challenge myself and try something new. After a good night's sleep, I opened this book (which Cindie had passed along to me) to the page where I'd left off, and fell upon a recipe that seemed perfect for the occasion.
One of "Three Recipes for a French Picnic," and described by the author as "somewhere between a tea cake and a quiche," this savory cake, featuring pancetta, figs, and comte cheese, sounded like just the starting point I needed to explore new picnic territory.
What's not to love about pancetta?
The cake/bread was easy to put together, and looked tempting in its parchment paper-lined loaf pan even before I put it in the oven.
After baking its prescribed hour, it had a nice glossy top crust.
The flavors turned out a bit more muted than I anticipated, and the lovely loaf was a little too dry, as I'd foolishly skimped on liquids (we running low on olive oil, and the recipe calls for milk and olive oil as well as 4 eggs). But I will revisit this recipe, using the proper proportions next time, and am eager to try some of the author's other suggested fillings: olives, hazelnuts, feta, bacon, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes. I always love a dish that takes well to variation.

I'm always on the lookout for intriguing new ways to use in-season produce, and have been further spurred on by committing to contribute some recipes to my local Hyde Park Farmer's Market that will be available as giveaways to the market's customers. Here are two I've submitted, and which I tried out myself for our picnic.

I had never thought of applying heat to radishes until recently. Roasting radishes brings out the turnip-y side of their flavor, mutes the bite/heat/sharpness I associate with (and, frankly, enjoy about) raw radishes, and tends to make their color pale. An entirely different way to look at - and taste - radishes.

For this recipe, I started out with these vibrant red radishes.
Then placed them on a sheet tray, drizzled them with olive oil, and added kosher salt and sprigs of fresh thyme.
Served at room temperature, here's how they turned out. I don't know that I'd go as far as the Leite's Culinaria folks who blogged this recipe and described them as crack, but I did enjoy them and am happy to now have the concept of cooked radishes in my repertoire.

I confess to being a pickle girl, as is, apparently, Deb from Smitten Kitchen. I discovered a wealth of pickle recipes on her site recently and decided to try out this one, with sugar snap peas I found at the great new farmers market in Madeira.
Also at the market, I purchased some garlic scapes, which I've never tasted or cooked with before, but was eager to try. They're 2-3 feet long, and I used thin slices in several of our picnic dishes - in the case of the pickled snap peas, in place of the called-for 4 sliced garlic cloves.

I think I was the only one of us who'd eaten sugar snaps before. Cindie and Wayne really liked them in their raw state, and were less impressed by my pickled version, which of course made them less sweet. When we dined Sunday night, they'd been in the brine a little less than 24 hours, which Smitten Kitchen suggests is sufficient. But I too was a little non-plussed - I like a little more punch in a pickle, which I might have gotten had I used dried chiles instead of chipotle seasoning (?). The fresh thyme I added was barely discernible. I'm letting the leftovers sit in the brine longer to see if I find them more satisfying that way. If not, I have plenty more pickling recipes to try out, and there are loads of other ways to prepare sugar snaps that retain their sweetness.

Cindie and I knew we'd have to appeal to conventional male appetites with our cold/room-temp picnic menu and that some meat offerings would help satisfy the guys at the table. For her main course, Cindie marinated flank steak overnight, seared it on the grill, and let it cool.
Then, with salad greens, some blanched/chilled asparagus, ripe Georgia tomatoes Cindie brought back from her beach vacation, blue cheese, and more garlic scapes, she turned out this salad.

This one was my contribution in the meat salad arena, a dish that piqued my interest as soon as I read this recipe  - one that would never have occurred to me if left only to my own devices. It turned out to be the hands-down favorite of all our picnic dishes Sunday evening, by consensus of men and women alike. It is definitely a "keeper" that I will make again.

An old-style Alsatian peasant dish using a local (there) garlicky cured sausage called cervelas, for my version, I used preservative-free, house-smoked kielbasa and Swiss brats (think cheddarwurst, but with Swiss cheese) from one of my local go-to sausage places, Avril-Bleh's, close enough to walk to on my lunch hour.
This recipe is pretty much dead simple. I think it's the marinade - mustard, sherry vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and parsley (I added thyme, too) - which you drizzle over the sausages after cooking them, as well as over the grated cheese - that makes this dish something special.
For even more decadence, I made some croutons with a rye from local fave Shadeau Breads (they're also at the Madeira farmers market on Thursdays) with garlic in the pancetta renderings.

When I first broached the idea of joining forces with Team Eggplant for this Smackdown, Odie liked the idea of picnicking on the boat. Alas, the boat is in the shop, and after something like 7" of rain in three days, the mighty Ohio is mighty murky, so boating would not have been a good idea anyway. Still, I wanted to keep to the terms of the challenge, and needed a way to lure people outdoors and away from the thankfully installed a/c.
My theory was to go cold, crunchy, and spicy. So I made gazpacho with watermelon "ice cubes," shrimp, and avocado. I also cajoled Cindie into helping me try out a rum and lime juice drink with more of said watermelon "ice cubes," which never fully froze, despite a good 6 hours in the freezer. I'm sure La Diva has better cocktail ideas up her sleeve, but, hey, at least we tried.

With the rest of the avocados I made some guac (just for you, buffalodick), which somehow did not have its picture taken. Odie used the tortilla chips (which Karen was kind enough to bring for this last-minute idea) to scoop up my admittedly chunky gazpacho, pronouncing it one of the best salsas he'd ever had.

The best part: Cooking for friends, especially when they're willing to try my food, and end up liking it.
But for now, I'm with the bear - tummy full and ready to sleep soundly.
Check out La Diva's blog for links to more entries and news of the eventual Culinary Smackdown winner.

Monday, June 14, 2010


It's been a busy week, with serious rain and troubling flooding here and elsewhere - even O'Neill, Nebraska, where a disproportionate number of my relatives reside :) Thankfully, I believe everyone from the NE branches of the Eggplant family is safe. Meanwhile, despite weather woes, Team Eggplant managed to pull off its picnic for the June Culinary Smackdown, which I'll post about Wednesday. Big thanks to all our well-wishers - and can't wait to see what everyone else came up with!

Plenty more to feel positive about this Monday, too.

New this summer, Madeira's is a welcome addition to the Cincinnati farmers market scene. I stopped by last Thursday to source some of the ingredients for our picnic, including the gorgeous strawberries at the top of this post, plus garlic scapes, a rye from Shadeau Breads, and some prime salad greens.
I was particularly impressed with the number of local purveyors of naturally raised meats, and sad to have missed the demo by Todd Hudson, chef of Wildflower Cafe, who demo'd early, then had to get back to his restaurant. More info here and here - this market is well worth checking out.

Located in an old roadhouse a couple miles east of New Richmond and with a delightful outdoor seating area where you can eat, drink, and admire the Ohio River views, Anna Ree's Andouille is a gem of a family-owned restaurant, featuring New Orleans-style food and more, including enormous frog legs, gigantic fried oysters, a crispy flatbread topped with crawfish, steaks, burgers, and inventive specials. They also offer live music on the weekends - outside when the weather is conducive. They had a very successful music festival Memorial Day weekend, Lagniappe has more upcoming gigs, and Vince Gill was a near-miss awhile back - you just never know . . . Although you can count them to keep you up to date on their facebook page.

They've turned a portion of the huge lawn that leads from the restaurant to the riverbank into their own garden. Can't wait for their tomatoes to be ready, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed their zucchini blossoms will make into a special sometime soon.
Gotta love a garden where the scarecrow sports Mardi Gras beads!

Upon return from my weekend gallivanting, I found something truly special in my mailbox.
When I commented about this photo Dani posted on her blog, GardeningUnderTheFloridaSun, asking what the heck it was, she informed me it was speckled trout lettuce, and offered to send me some of her extra seeds.
Lookie what all she sent!
I am inspired by Dani's photographs and the glimpses she shares of her world every time I read her blog. I doubt I will ever become the gardener she is or achieve her level of photographic mastery, but she continually gives me something to aspire to. Her blog brings beauty into my world in a way that always makes me stop, at least for a few moments, from thinking about the jagged edges of my own day-to-day life. And her photos live in my mind's eye as I sally forth. I am honored and moved by your gift, and your friendship, Dani. Enjoy your mom's visit, and I hope The Girlz continue on the mend!

Wishing a happy Monday to all, especially my new friends in the blogosphere!