Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bad Girl Bread Brunch + Happy Valentine's Day

Birthdays don't take a holiday, but I like to make a holiday of my birthday. Alas, weekend getaway plans did not come to fruition. But Cindie and I had a fine food-filled morning today, an abbreviated version of the trip we'd planned to Columbus.

First stop: fork heart knife. Brunch doesn't get much better than this. Thoughtful twists on traditional dishes, made with carefully sourced ingredients, in a cozy, casual setting - just four indoor tables in the narrow storefront that also houses fhk's catering kitchen. You can taste the care put into every bite, and you feel like family as soon as you walk in the door and see the welcoming smile on Sierra's face. You could probably wear your bedroom slippers to this homey spot - although you might regret that choice if you had to wait outside for a table, even on a day as warm as this one in Cincy. We arrived when they opened at 10:00 and got a table immediately. When we left at about 10:45, the line was beginning to form.

Menus change each week for fhk's open-to-the-public Saturday and Sunday brunches and their Wednesday and Thursday dinners. I salivate every time I see a new menu, handwritten on butcher paper, on fhk's facebook page.

Today Cindie and I both opted for the Greek strata - artichokes, olives, feta and "Bad Girl" bread from local Blue Oven Bakery. (Yes, that's really the name of the bread.) It came with a salad of greens and blueberries with blueberry balsamic dressing. (Sierra and Leah, if you're ever giving cooking lessons, I would love to know how you manage to make your dressings so flavorful yet light.)
Don't let the perspective on that photo fool you. The strata portions are large and filling for just $8 or so. Cindie and I also split an order of fhk's signature potatoes bravas and had to ask for boxes for our leftovers.

Next stop: Park + Vine (a few blocks south of fhk on Main St., near 12th), a lovely shop with all manner of eco-friendly products, plus local and vegan foodstuffs, including offerings from Northside's Picnic and Pantry. I came away with a compostable birthday card (with seeds in the paper) for a friend, and the first in a series of sweets purchases, from local Chocolats Latour.

Then we hit Findlay Market, which was bulging with Valentine's Day specialties. I resisted the urge to snap a pic of heart-shaped filet mignon from one meat stall, but couldn't pass up this chocolate-covered baklava from Areti's Gyros. Seriously, could there be a more decadent dessert than baklava covered in chocolate?

Cindie and I were also powerless to resist Jean-Francois' Valentine's macaron assortment - baci (chocolate and hazelnut), mon chéri (chocolate and cherry liquor), kir royal, hot kiss (spicy chocolate), and bittersweet and passion fruit. Cindie made the mistake of trying to share hers with her husband. Me? I'm saving them all for myself.

And then there was the chocolate mousse at Fresh Table. Cindie asked for a spoon so she could eat hers on the spot. I'm trying to pace myself . . .

A couple of savory options I couldn't resist from Fresh Table were house-cured gravlox with capers and mustard sauce.

and, to be extra healthy :), a slab of Fresh Table's veggie lasagna:

Off to taste my purchases, and will report back once I come off my sugar high.

Thanks to all who commented on my refreshed look and fab new header designed by the inimitable Minx, my blogging partner over at AllTopChef. You can also find me on my new Eggy facebook page, where I'm having fun sharing tidbits and links in a different format from my blog.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Look + Milk-Braised Pork

To accompany the roasted veggies in my last post, my goal was a “celebration worthy” entrée that wouldn’t be too time-consuming to prepare. And somehow I was drawing a blank. I was at sixes and sevens just trying to settle on a protein. So, as I often do when in need of inspiration, I started scrolling through the voluminous recipe files saved to my c: drive. When I came upon this one for Milk-Braised Pork, I stopped in my tracks. Quest ended. Immediately lifted out of my culinary funk.

I hadn’t made this sage- and lemon-laced pork dish in a couple of years, but coming across it felt like running into an old friend. In fact, it was shared with me by a much-missed once-upon-a-time blogger whose recipes I cherish to this day. In addition to her great recipe ideas, I always appreciated her kindness, culinary enthusiasm, and solid pointers. Here’s the dish in her own words (with my photos).


So here's how to make it. Buy a 2 lb boneless pork loin from your butcher or grocery store.
I bought mine from Eckerlin's - one of my Findlay Market faves - 
and as always, it was a generous hunk o' meat - well over 2 lbs. for 7 people.

Put it in a container and rub the whole thing with 1 Tbs chopped sage and 1 Tbs chopped garlic. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight, if you can.

When it's time to cook, remove the meat from the fridge, bring to room temperature, scrape off the sage and the garlic and season GENEROUSLY with salt and pepper. Heat a Tbs of olive oil in a Dutch oven and then add the loin. You want to brown it WELL on all sides--don't move it around while each side is browning--and the process should take about 15 minutes.

In a saucepan, heat up 3 cups half-and-half and 3 cups of cream. (Bring it to a boil and then shut off the heat.)

Transfer the well-browned pork to a plate, pour off the fat from the Dutch oven. Turn the heat to medium, add 3 Tbs butter, and when it foams add 20 peeled cloves of lightly crushed garlic. When the garlic is brown on the edges, add 20 sage leaves and stir to coat. Place the pork back in the Dutch oven, pour in enough of the hot milk mixture to come up 1/2 to 2/3rds of the sides of the pork. Bring to a simmer and add strips of lemon peel from 3 washed lemons and season with salt to taste (the salting and tasting is important to do here).

Partly cover and simmer until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 140 (20 to 30 minutes). That’s key! Pork at 140 is PERFECTLY cooked pork. The reason this dish is such a triumph is the pork is super juicy inside--that's because it was cooked to 140. Once there, turn off the heat and allow the pork to cool then refrigerate for a couple of hours, or until you're ready to serve.

That's all the cooking. When it's time to eat, pull the pork from the milk mixture and carve into thin slices. Heat the liquid to a "soupy custard" and when the liquid is loose, lay the sliced pork back in and heat up with the sauce. Serve it with coarse salt.

As you might recall from my last post, when making this meal I had to come up with work-arounds for an unexpected oven outage. Although I’d planned to cook the pork to that PERFECT 140 F. in the oven, it actually worked just fine on the stovetop. Upon rereading the directions, I’m not sure JJ ever intended it to be cooked in the oven. In any case, a culinary angel was looking over my shoulder when I selected this dish – and helped make everything go smoothly.

Speaking of good karma received via the internets, thanks to everyone who sent me birthday greetings yesterday on facebook and otherwise.

You might have noticed a few changes around here, and they are my birthday present to myself.

Minx, my blogging buddy over at AllTopChef, designed my fun new header – thanx, Minx!

I’ve also changed up my sidebar to include a couple of link lists, one spotlighting some of my favorite food bloggers, and one devoted to “my blogging community” – apologies to those of you who belong in both camps :) Plus I’ve added photos/links to a few of my favorite posts.

And I’ve started an Eggplant To Go facebook page, where I’m posting tidbits and links that tickle my little purple eggy heart, especially when I’m slow in getting blog posts up. It will definitely tickle my little purple eggy heart if you click the link near the top of my sidebar and “like” me.

Best wishes to the Java Junkie (wherever she may be) and to all my fine blogospheric friends!