Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Culinary Smackdown: Cabbage with Sausages and Grapes

Herewith my usual last-minute entry for the Culinary Smackdown, hosted this month by Grumpy Granny. I'm delighted by what my long-time Smackdown peeps contributed this month for Battle Cabbage. And to welcome some fabulous newcomers to this friendly foodie fray! Click on over to GG's host post here to find links to everyone's entries in the comments. Stay tuned for her announcement of this month's winner, who will win bragging rights, the opportunity to post a Culinary Smackdown winner badge on their sidebar/wall, and in turn become next month's host, judge, and "theme-picker."

This month I borrowed from a Mario Batali recipe that had me at the thought of cooking grapes for the first time. I substituted ingredients all over the place, failed to measure anything, and still managed to whip up something I'm not disappointed to call supper.

I had a sweet white onion on hand, so didn't go out of my way to buy a red onion.

I found seedless red grapes, which I suspect are different than Batali's recommended "wine or purple grapes."

I went foraging in the freezer for sausages and came up with some Roasted Red Pepper Italian Sausages from Carfagna's – a wonderful market and butcher shop that is as much of a must whenever I visit Columbus as, apparently, are stops at Jungle Jim's and Ikea whenever KY food bloggers come to Cincinnati.

I had the last little bit left in a bottle of red wine vinegar, and didn't worry whether it measured 4 tablespoons or not.

And then there was the cabbage. Foolish me, I picked up bok choy, thinking the delicate little head sitting next to it was Savoy cabbage when (I learned after googling images after my shopping trip) it was the called-for Napa cabbage after all. Oh, well. My honkin' big bok choy would not go to waste.

Although the recommendation of grilling the sausages sounds like a fine one, I browned mine in a Dutch oven while I sliced my onion and cabbage and plucked the stems from my grapes.

After removing the sausages, I wilted the onion, then added the sliced bok choy gradually (thickest to thinnest) to compensate for what I guessed would be its cooking time variance from Napa cabbage. Impatient and on the clock, I put the lid on the Dutch oven to hurry the cabbage cooking time along. Then added the grapes, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and bok choy greens. Topped with the sausages, here's dinner tonight.

Warning: Cooked grapes are hot! But I really liked my quick taste of this combination. Now I'm off to taste it for reals, with a glass of red wine, and settle in for the finale of Top Chef. I would be a happier camper if I could be rooting for Chef Ed Lee tonight. But after eating at his restaurant, 610 Magnolia in Louisville a couple of weeks ago, I can't complain.

I'll be around to check out the rest of the Smackdown entries later. And you can betcha a big post about 610 Magnolia is in the works. Plus more from other great KY restaurants I've visited in the past 1+ month.

Happy Smackdown, happy Leap Day, and thanks to all my talented and marvelous bloggy friends!

xoxo, eggy

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cheers to Birthdays! Meadowlark in Dayton, Ohio

My birthday month travels have, thankfully, now concluded. But before they did, a last-minute trip north to visit friends in Lima was in order. Because girlfriends don’t let girlfriends celebrate birthdays alone.

Lima friend Tricia had planned to celebrate her own February birthday with a visit to friends in Kansas City. When that fell through (sigh, so many of my friends are feeling the tug of caring for ailing and elderly relatives), she and Amy decided to throw a par-tay at home. Of course, Becky and I decided to drive up.

Becky suggested we stop in Dayton for lunch on the way – her treat, for my birthday. I recalled a Dayton restaurant I’d loved from another trip with our foursome, Meadowlark, where we’d enjoyed a fine brunch and I tried migas (scrambled eggs with corn tortilla strips and other goodies) for the first time.

Since that pre-camera, pre-blog meal, Meadowlark has moved into a new location a couple miles off I-675, not more than 10 minutes total from I-75. It’s one of those “don’t let the strip center fool you” locations – this one larger than the last, where we waited nearly an hour for an open brunch table. It’s a warm, contemporary space filled with cool artwork. And great food.

Becky and I didn’t arrive until around 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, so I have no idea how long the wait might be at their new digs at peak times. (Meadowlark's website says they accept reservations for 5 or more and let smaller parties call ahead to get on the waiting list.)

Clearly people will wait for food this fresh! Here’s my grilled chicken sandwich, on crusty bread from Dorothy Lane Market. Accompanied by roasted tomatoes, tapenade mayo, and – best of all – thin slices of batter-fried lemon, it was a knock-out. I want to try my hand at those fried lemon slices at home.

Becky was equally enamored with her fresh haddock sandwich. Sandwiches come with frites or vinaigrette-dressed fresh greens. We both opted for the greens, which were some of the most truly fresh I’ve encountered at any restaurant.

Meadowlark also does salads, specialty pizzas and mac + cheese at lunch, and a more wide-ranging dinner menu. There are plenty of veggie options, and their proteins are sourced from the likes of Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis and Niman Ranch.

Becky was happy to try out a couple of craft beers from their extensive selection, including a gluten-free sorghum beer. Since I was driving, I opted for the Meadowlark Virgin Mary at the top of this post, a more than satisfying beverage that includes beet juice in addition to traditional Bloody Mary ingredients.

So how was your weekend? Are you ready with your Battle Cabbage entry for the Culinary Smackdown?

Our host this month is Grumpy Granny, who is already up here, with a dreamy red cabbage and sweet potato lasagna. Head on over to link your Battle Cabbage post in GG's comments section, and check out all the other swell entries for this friendly little monthly blog-cooking competition. I always come away with such inspiration from the other participants – and I'm tickled to see our group growing! Deadline isn't until Wednesday, so am hoping to squeak in with an entry of my own despite a busy month and cabbage-purchasing faux pas (:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Amuse Bouche from Last Weekend in Louisville

I'm still full from my food-centric visit last weekend to Louisville, but here's a taste . . . as I scramble to pack for yet another travelin' weekend.

The tongue salad with mustard ice cream above was one of the highlights in an across-the-board fascinating dinner last Friday at 610 Magnolia. I'd wanted to see what this restaurant had in store long before chef Edward Lee became a contestant on Top Chef. Full report to come here or on the "other" blog I write for, AllTopChef. Or both. Stay tuned.

My Saturday lunch choice was new-ish Taco Punk in NULU on Louisville's East Market Street (an area full of interesting locally focused restaurants, shops, and galleries). The grass-fed beef, Amish chicken mole, and Lucky Duck tacos from chef-owner Gabe Sowder, formerly of 610 Magnolia, did not disappoint!

I've recently rediscovered my love of chocolate and confections of all ilks (quality makes indulgence worthwhile!). Ghyslain, which offers some of the most gorgeous desserts I've ever seen or tasted, turned out to be right across the street from Taco Punk. In addition to offering delectable sweets, Ghyslain is a bustling French-inflected cafe with two more locations in Indiana and online ordering through their website.

As I walked into Ghyslain, two women emerged and sat down at an outdoor table that unseasonably warm winter afternoon. I had an inkling they might be the folks who were kind enough to accept my invitation to dinner at Harvest, just down the block, after friend Cindie wasn't able to accompany me on this trip after all.

With nothing more to go on than a facebook picture, I kinda thought that might be Joyce Pinson (food blogger at Friends Drift Inn and columnist for the Appalachian News-Express), with whom I've struck up an online friendship. But I wasn't sure, and didn't want to be too forward. When I walked back outside, emboldened by the purchase of chocolate, I ventured my guess: "Pardon me, but would you by any chance be Joyce Pinson?" Joyce and her sweet friend Rhoda laughed. They thought I might be me too, and had been looking for an online pic of me on Rhoda's phone to confirm.

We got to talkin' on the Ghyslain patio until I remembered the time on my parking meter might run out and Rhoda confessed to being chilly outdoors (yep, it's still winter).

The three of us rendezvoused for dinner at Harvest (another fine Louisville farm-to-fork restaurant, which has made it into the James Beard Award semi-finals!) and got lost in conversation before we had to scurry to the Anthony Bourdain/Eric Ripert show (and compete for parking with the Van Halen and Farm Machinery Show fans in town that night).

I'll try to get more specific posts up about the great restaurants I visited in Louisville this trip, including my brunch the following morning at Garage Bar, the newest venture from Michael Paley, chef at Proof/21C, which is coming to Cincy across from the Aronoff later this year. Hangtown fry with house-cured bacon, anyone?

I'll have a house-made bialy from Garage Bar's wood-fired pizza oven and a side of whimsy, thank you.

I had one more stop to make Sunday afternoon before I-71 with its rolling rural hills merged with I-75 and dumped me back into city traffic, the Napoleon Grocery and Deli.

After tasting this ginormous BBQ pork sandwich on ciabatta from Napoleon Ridge Farm (they supply to Local 127 and Bouquet restaurants) and proprietor Tricia Houston's homemade cherry crisp and Boston Cream cupcake, there is no doubt in my mind. Further research is in order.

A quick shout-out to any bloggers in the area who might be interested. Jen of Our Good Food Life has taken the lead and started a Southwest Ohio Food Bloggers Association facebook page, which you can also follow on Twitter at @swohiofba, inspired by the Kentucky Food Bloggers Association, whose founders we met at the #5B blog conference earlier this month.The aim is to connect with other food bloggers in the region, including Northern Kentucky and as wide a swath of Ohio as people are interested in. Please feel welcome to join, post links to your blog posts on the SWOFBA wall, and share in the conversation.
Off to throw some clothes in my bag and head north for a change. Because the February birthdays just keep on comin' and I'm not passing up an opportunity to celebrate with dear friends.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Now Open: Tot Dogs from Lucy Blue's

I checked out downtown Cincinnati's newest purveyor of upscale hot dogs at lunch Tuesday. From the owner of Lucy Blue's Pizza, it's called Tot Dog and tucked into a tiny storefront at 634 Vine Street. So small, in fact, there's no room for dine-in seating. So plan accordingly to sample their take-out-only offerings.

The emphasis is on a variety of hot dogs and sausages. This week's featured specialty dog (called Best in Show – get it?) is an apple chardonnay chicken sausage with smoked gouda and blackberry mustard. With visions of Hot Doug's dancing in my head, I ordered it almost without looking at the rest of the menu, and enjoyed the unexpected combination.

In addition to more familiar options like brats, metts, Italian sausage, and Andouille, Tot Dogs plans to feature game sausages (including venison and rabbit) as well as seafood and salmon dogs. An array of toppings and sides are also available. The owner told me he sources locally when possible and turns to reputable distributors for some of the more exotic sausages. He also makes some of the condiments and sides himself, including the Asian slaw. Here's my slightly wrinkled copy of the current menu.

The Tot Dogs website hasn't gone live yet (the owner is still fine-tuning the menu). But you'll be able to find it here, and can go ahead and sign up for the email list.

Tot Dogs is near the southeast corner of 7th and Vine, just north of Turquoise. I'm telling you this because, even armed with the address, I somehow walked right past it the first time. Until they get larger signage in the window (it's coming soon), keep an eye out for these brightly colored curtains.
And this plaid-clad dachsund logo.

Forgot to mention when I first hit publish, but Tot Dogs is currently open only for lunch. They would like to do breakfast eventually and are definitely planning to be open late night, as their sister store, Lucy Blue's Pizza, is.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tom + Chee Filming Reality Show Pilot Sunday and Culinary Smackdown Reminder

Dear Readers, here's a two-fer for you, as I scramble to pack for a weekend of food-lovin' indulgence and potential mayhem in Louisville.

Tom + Chee
, the little TOMato soup and grilled CHEEse tent that launched on Fountain Square two winters ago during ice-skating season and now has two brick and mortar locations – one on Court St. in downtown Cincinnati and one at Newport on the Levee in NKY – has a new project in the works.

T+C has opened the doors of both its current locations to the film crew of the production company headed by former WARM 98 personality Dean Miuccio (which produced local talk show Cincinnality, aired on Fox19 last fall). They were shooting when I stopped in to pick up my to-go order Tuesday, and will be doing another shoot this Sunday at Tom + Chee's Newport on the Levee location, near the Aquarium.

The Sunday event (it has been changed from Saturday) starts at 2:00 p.m. at T+C on the Levee. Mark from Ft. Thomas Matters is going head-to-head with Mo Egger for a T+C "Baker's Dozen" challenge: That would be: consuming 13 of Tom + Chee signature grilled cheese donuts. I'm not generally a fan of "eat-offs," but this one is for a good cause, the Brighton Center.

I only managed to get this one crappy photo of the filming Tuesday at Tom + Chee on Court Street

But I did have an opportunity to talk to Dean and his crew before I scurried back to my office and day job. They have been filming at T+C only 2-4 days but said they are happy with the footage they've gotten so far, of the staff interacting, and of staff interacting with customers. Of course, they need enough footage to build a story around. They are looking forward to following the expansion plans Tom + Chee has in the works. As am I.

This video venture is currently just in the preliminary working-up-to-a-pilot stage. When I asked Dean whether he is targeting a local or national audience, he told me he would be ok with getting it on the air locally but he thinks there are lots of national cable companies looking for this kind of reality programming.

I've been following T+C from their humble beginnings and proud to support them as they continue to dream and grow. If you're new to to my blog, you can find previous coverage here, here, here. Plus the heartbreaking news about their ouster from Fountain Square: here and here. Thanks @beingpolly and @winemedineme for helping me break that story.

On a much smaller scale, here's a reminder that the Culinary Smackdown this month is Battle Cabbage, hosted by Grumpy Granny, last month's winner and this month's host/judge/theme picker, who was kind enough to extend the deadline to Leap Day: Wed., Feb. 29. I seem to have fallen down on my Culinary Smackdown cheerleader duties, but you can find more details here.

To all the new local/regional blogger friends I met at #5B, you are cordially invited to join in the Culinary Smackdown - this month, or next.

Friday, February 10, 2012

I'm Lucky and My Friends Are a Peach

I'm hitting another birthday, and rather than bemoan this milestone, I'm choosing to make an extended celebration of it. Festivities started in January, with these succulent oysters at the "Naked" dinner at Azur in Lexington, a meal so spectacular it deserves its own post (to come, I promise).

Thanks to Stephie of Small Girl Adventures and her boyfriend Brett, I finally ate at A Tavola in Over-the-Rhine. After tasting their wagyu meatballs with goat cheese (truly, The Best Meatballs in the World), I am looking forward to trying their wood-fired pizzas. And everything else on A Tavola's menu.

Dear Stephie even baked me birthday cookies! She is building her own baking and catering business, Small Girl Delights, and you should check it out now!

Stephie's sweet treats were almost enough to mend my broken heart when Chef Edward Lee got booted from Top Chef this week, just shy of going to the finale. But I will console myself by dining at his Louisville Restaurant, 610 Magnolia, next weekend. Ed did a great job of representing himself, his adopted city, and the caliber of cooking going on here in the middle of the country. (Here's the podcast he did with my blogging teammate Laura Kluvo on AllTopChef - one of our best exit interviews all season.) I've been proud to root for Ed, and I can't wait to taste what he does in his own kitchen, free of the constraints of the goofy Top Chef challenges.

My Louisville weekend will also include the Anthony Bourdain/Eric Ripert traveling road show, for which I now have an extra ticket, if you know of anyone who is interested . . .

My birthday happens to coincide with Cincinnati Winter Beerfest, the craft-beer capper to Cincy Beer Week. Lucky me, I'll be spending my b-day at the 5B (Believers in Better Beer, Bites and Blogging) blog conference. Looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting in person some bloggers I've so far only had the privilege of getting to know online.

One of my dearest long-distance blogger friends, La Diva, who also has a February birthday coming up, was kind enough to think of me when she received an extra copy of Lucky Peach, the David Chang/McSweeney's quirky quarterly quasi-food magazine. It's a publication filled with compelling personal writing on topics that go beyond food. The design and illustrations are fresh and fascinating enough for me to recommend it to my artsy friends who aren't foodies. It's a hefty tome of print worth holding in your hands, turning off your phone/fb/twitter/pinterest, and settling in with. It may remind you of where your first love of books came from, and it's edgy enough to keep you flipping the pages.

After one horribly depressing birthday in my early twenties when I lived in NYC, I decided to take charge of coming up with my own ways to celebrate, big or small, sometimes just indulging in nerdy things of my own predilection. It's a strategy that has worked pretty well the last 30-odd years. Still, a true surprise is one of the best birthday gifts ever, and I've received one this year, thanks to Boxer, whose papier mache, puppy porn, gorgeous photos, and big heart always lift my spirits and remind me why it means so much to me to be part of the blogging community. She checks in on me to make sure I'm ok when I haven't posted in awhile, and lookie what she made for my birthday. Yep, it's Eggy meets Mr. Potato Head meets Archie McPhee, courtesy of my favorite PNW gal!

Big thanks to all my blogger friends who share their corners of the world, and the unique corners of their minds. You keep me going through my rough patches, and always inspire me with your talents, your wide-ranging interests, and your kindnesses.

I'll be back with more tales from my birthday adventures. Meanwhile, I'm just gonna experience them :)

xoxo, eggy