Dinner Out @ Mayberry

My friend Tony and I were looking for a place to eat, and while I'd happily been to Mayberry for dinner on the weekend, I had heard good things about the lunch menu too.  We ended up switching from a lunch to a dinner get together, but turns out that during the week they're open til 7pm with the same menu all day.  This'll be a quick post because I was much more focused on catching up with Tony than I was on the food (I know, quite a faux pas).

The Food:  As has been well documented, "The Burger" is crazy big.  Tony said it was just a bit spicy - enough to be a reminder of the flavor.  Also, he said there was some yummy seasoning on the meat to go with the egg, onion marmalade, and bacon.  I got the Sloppy Josh - a slow-cooked, shredded beef sandwich with rosemary, creamy coleslaw, and spicy mustard.  It was tasty, although next time I think I'll ask for some hot sauce to give it a bit more of a kick.

Both meals came with salad greens and a creamy house dressing.  For $7-8, these are solid portion sizes with great ingredients - definitely notable in the "best bang for the buck" category.

The Ingredients:  The only note about local, organic, or sustainable ingredients was that the beef for the hamburger is local.  By the time we were done eating, they were about to close up shop, so I didn't hang around to ask about the ingredients.  Yet another reason to go back.  Josh, the chef, was easy to talk to and I'm sure he'll be happy to share what he knows.  Of course, the more ingredient sources that are provided on the menu the better, so noting the local meat is a start.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  When we came in at 5:30, we were the only people there.  Josh came out and talked with us a bit and asked if we were bloggers when I asked about taking photos.  We got into a conversation about chefs being frustrated with bloggers, and he said people could dance on the tables if they paid as much as they did at Alinea.  I mentioned we're going to Chicago and San Fran this summer and looking for some foodie opportunities, and he gave some recommendations for places in Napa Valley.

Mayberry's interior is small - 27 seats I believe - and they don't take reservations.  So if you want in on a Friday or Saturday you should plan to persevere or come early.  They've got some great local art on the walls, and coupled with the chalkboard menu the whole experience is close-knit and homey and decidedly comfortable.

In somewhat unrelated news, we ran into Laura and David from Cincinnati Nomerati on the street during our post-meal walk.  Twitter came up in conversation, and I decided to make at least a small jump in - check out the new Amateur Foodies profile and follow us if you'd like.  It will almost certainly be primarily just another spot to promote the blog, as well as to follow what is happening around town.  But who knows, maybe I'll get into it.

We'll have to do a longer, more substantial, post about Mayberry's weekend dinner one of these days.  It definitely warrants another trip back sooner rather than later. Check out a few more photos below...

Mayberry on Urbanspoon


Tour: Cincinnati CAM Asia Supermarket

I found out about the Cincinnati CAM Asia Supermarket a while back while searching for some Yamasa Usukuchi soy sauce while I was excitedly perusing my new Momofuku cookbook.  Turns out they actually didn't have it, but in the process, we stumbled upon a Cincinnati gem.  Findlay Market has Ottugi (around the corner) and Saigon Market (on location), but CAM has 5 times as many options and is definitely worth the drive up to Evendale.

The Location: CAM is at the corner of Reading Road and Glendale Milford Road - you can take I-75 to exit 14 or I-71 to exit 15 and be there in a snap.  It's in a strip mall and is about the size of a typical small supermarket.  UPDATE: The phone number is 513.733.1828.

The Goods:  If you're looking for something for a Korean, Japanese, Chinese, or Thai dish - they probably have it.  We've only been there a couple of times now, and there's so much that is unfamiliar that I can't really say much more about their selection until we dig more into home cooking in all these cuisines.

We've been excited to find great frozen dumplings (which you simply can't make for as cheaply as you can buy them there), steamed buns (for the Momofuku pork buns we love), chile paste options, kim chi, and ramen - lots and lots of ramen choices.  If you haven't eaten ramen since college, you should definitely get yourself some Shin Ramyun Gourmet Spicy (David Chang's fav) and load on some bamboo shoots, nori, fish cake slices, scallions, and pork belly and have yourself a soul-warming meal.

Sarah and I will definitely be heading up to CAM consistently.  In fact, now we even keep a CAM list to go with our lists for Findlay/Farmers Market, TJ's, and Kroger's (sometimes there's a Jungle Jim's list, but we don't make it out there very often).  Check out the slideshow below for more...


Beef Jerky @ Home

Beef jerky is one of those things that when it's good, it's great.  But it can also be pretty expensive for such an addictive snack.  With a little bit of work though, you can make a tasty treat that is great to have around the house.

Here you'll find our dearly held family, er, Alton Brown recipe - we get our flank steak from the Eaton Farm (here on FB)...

1.        Flank Steak
2.        2/3 cup Soy Sauce
3.        2/3 cup Worcestershire
4.        1 TB Honey
5.       2 TSP Black Pepper
6.       2 TSP Onion Powder
7.       2 TSP Red Pepper Flakes
8.       1 TSP Liquid Smoke (optional)

Thinly slice steak along the grain of the meat.  Place sliced steak and all marinade ingredients in a zip lock bag.  Refrigerate at least 3-6 hours.  Drain and pat dry and place in dehydrator (a great item to find on Craigslist by the way).  The time always varies, so just check in periodically to see when you have the texture you would expect for jerky!

Check out some pictures in the slideshow below.


Existential Eating #6

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future Existential Eating strips, please email or comment below.  Sadly, our current collective imagination will run dry.  If its related to food, it can be the topic of an Existential Eating comic strip.  Just share your idea and Ramsey will do his best to draw it up (probably, someday).


Check out Ruth Reichl: Food with a Side of Politics

I've been stuck in one behemoth of non-fiction after the next for the last several months.  Every time I tried to claw my way out I got stuck again for some reason.  So, when I picked up Ruth Reichl's Tender on the Bone looking for an easy read on staycation a few weeks back, it was truly a breath of fresh air.  Astute readers might have noticed me dropping Reichl ideas and quotes in other posts.

There probably won't be a lot of book recommendations or reviews here on Amateur Foodies, but since I did just read 3 food books in 3 weeks, it seemed silly not to mention it.  Comfort Me with Apples is the follow up to Tender on the Bone, and while Garlic and Sapphires has a bit of different flow to it, itis essentially the next book in a series.

I'd say this quote from Comfort Me with Apples epitomizes what I most enjoyed about the trio:

Ruth:  "I may write about the life of leisure...but I don't live it.  And I'll have you know that the hospitality industry is America's largest employer."
Michael (soon to be husband): "How silly of me not to have known that you had a serious political mission."

And there you get a little window into my world.  I doubt the average reader enjoys Reichl because of her politics, but I bet a lot of people can relate to her search for finding what she loves and battling some moral questions along the way.

All three books are light reads, but they all evoke a range of emotions, and of course whet your appetite.  I'd recommend them to about anyone, but to a food lover especially, and even more so to someone who is trying to figure out how politically correct it is to pay $50-100 for a dinner with all the struggle in the world.

Have you read any good books lately that have food as a main component?  I've really enjoyed the non-cookbook parts of Momofuku's cookbook - David Chang's stories are quite interesting.  Anything of that sort you'd recommend?


Brunch Out @ Annabel's

Mount Lookout is quickly becoming one of our go-to locations for food in Cincinnati. If you already knew, bare with us, we don't end up going that far east too often unless we have a special destination. But, the bevy of excellent restaurants are (or is it is?) putting the neighborhood on the map. Annabel's is next door to Nectar, and with all the accolades the latter has received, and how much smaller Annabel's space is, I could imagine them developing a bit of an inferiority complex. Yet, based on the menu we saw and the food we tasted, that shouldn't be happening any time soon.

The Food: We'd glanced at the menu of Annabel's on the way out of Nectar the last time, and knew it looked good. Really studying it at brunch last Sunday, we were happy from the top to bottom. Salivation started the moment we sat down - they had a couple beautiful tarts sitting out on the counter right next to us, and the place smells fabulous.

We ordered the breakfast croissant and scrambled eggs with lump crab. The croissant for the sandwich was fantastic (it was a bummer to learn they weren't to be found in Cincinnati - they said they thought they came from Wisconsin) - flaky and buttery. With scrambled eggs, bacon, spinach, onions, tomato sauce, parsley, and romano, the sandwich has a great mix of unique and familiar flavors.

You don't even have to get the crab eggs in your mouth to taste the meat, they are so aromatic. With light, fluffy eggs, and plenty of butter (creme fraiche and dill too) there was some savory goodness on our plate. We added just a bit of salt and the flavors really popped. Annabel's doesn't skimp on the crab - sometimes its a mystery when you order something with crab trying to figure out whether or not there really is any in there. But back to the eggs - they were so juicy and creamy, and with a croissant on the side perfect for sopping up the juices.

Sarah kept "mmm"ing throughout the meal. It was very good. The server said that I probably had the cleanest plate ever. They're not very big portions, but every bite was delectable.

The Ingredients: There's nothing on the menu about local or organic ingredients, but we asked and got some more information. The server said the eggs are from a local farmer, and that local ingredients are a "big part of our restaurant." It would be great if they'd put that info on the menu too. We were also told that when the farmers market opens, basically all produce will come from there, and that they get their bacon from Kroeger and Sons at Findlay.

The Story, Setting, & Service: As I mentioned at the top, Annabel's is next door to Nectar. But, they have very little in common in terms of the decor and set up. Annabel's is cozy, and has lots of sunlight streaming in. There is cool photography (taken by the owner's father) of markets, animals, and other candid shots. They've got a couple tables outside, and if it was a bit warmer, it'd be awfully Parisian feeling to languidly dine on Mount Lookout's square.

There's a sign saying "we have parking meter timers" on the counter, a thoughtful touch that tells you they're paying attention. The accordion music on in the background adds to the French feel. Oh, and the servers are nice, smart, and attentive. All of this adds up so that it's not totally surprising that when I looked at Urbanspoon they had a 100% rating before we went. They've fallen drastically to a 98% since.

We'll definitely be heading back to Annabel's, probably more frequently if we lived in any other neighborhood than Northside. Mount Lookout vs. Northside - a good brunch battle, but it's not really a fair fight since we can walk to one and it takes 20 minutes to get to the other.

Annabel's on Urbanspoon


Dinner Out @ Local 127

It's been a while since we went out to a truly nice restaurant - one of the top places in town.  There are a handful of places that come with an expectation and anticipation before you even sit down that they will deliver a fantastic meal.  More than that, we were hoping for an all around great experience.  Local 127, recently named Best New Restaurant by Cincinnati Magazine, did not disappoint on this night.

The Food:  A creative menu greeted us at Local 127, and we were excited to work our way through the options.  They have tasting menus with 5-7 courses that are $65 or $90, but they didn't steer us in that direction (probably because with an event going on downstairs, it's unlikely they had as much room to be flexible in the kitchen - see more below).  We chose the Chef Combo from "cured & pickled," the slow poached egg with grits, pancetta, and smoked hot sauce from "small," and the scallops (which the server really talked up) and duck from "large."

The appetizers came first on a beautiful large plate separated into quarters.  The options included smoked trout, smoked chicken breast, local terrine, and chicken liver mousse.  There was a bit of sweetness in the pickled onion in the trout which paired quite well with the smoky, juicy fish.  Popping with flavor and buttery goodness, this was the prized part of the plate.  The liver was smooth and rich, and was nicely presented in a mini mason jar - it felt like Ohio.  Pieces of pickled pear complemented the pate well and added some much appreciated additional texture.  The chicken was pretty plain, but the pickled radish helped out to bring some energy to the dish.  Finally, the terrine was straightforward and good, and the pickled green beans again made each bite considerably more lively.

Next up was the slow poached egg.  We expected a bit more ooze from the egg, but maybe it cooked a bit while we took pictures.  The pancetta was very thinly sliced and breaks apart easily as you eat - sometimes you have to fight with pancetta and prosciutto, so we thought it was well done.  We've used the dried shallots at home, and to me they taste a bit burnt.  But for Sarah they taste sweet and add a nice crunch.  This is as good a time as any to mention that Sarah and I have been talking about the subjectivity of eating.  I've read a lot of Ruth Reichl lately, and when she is interviewing with the NY Times for the head food critic position she quotes herself as saying:
There is no right or wrong in matters of taste.  It's just an opinion.  And in the case of restaurants, an extremely subjective one given that no one has the faintest idea if what you taste when you bite into an apple is the same thing that I do.
This is all simply to say - we all have different tastes.  Duh.  Now, back to the meal...

Before the entrees made their way to us, they brought a smoked chicken and lemon risotto taster with shitake and oyster mushroom.  I'd bet a lot of money that's what they were eating downstairs.  I'm glad they were - the risotto was delicious.

Sarah said "I haven't had scallops like these in years," and backed it up by sharing that with the server.  They were very, very good.  So good, they stand alone.  The crispy puffed rice, smoky bacon, and bed of pureed potatoes were all nice accompaniments, but the seafood was the rightful star.  Our server had not led us astray.  Our duck breast with sweet potato, arugula, and pecans was a beautiful dish with gorgeous presentation.  The brown meat is super flavorful, and before we knew it, we were... full!

We passed on dessert, but they bring warm chocoalte chip cookies anyway.  Crispy and warm, with melting chocolate and a yummy saltiness that I've come to really appreciate in sweet things.

The Ingredients:  From the starting comments following "have you been here before?" to the very end, our server was talking about the farm to table concept, importance of the local economy, and about where the ingredients came from or were made.  It was a bit of overkill at times, but compared to the alternative - most places have no idea where things come from - it was greatly, greatly appreciated.  They have a list of ingredient sources on the menu, although it would be great if they told you what specifically came from where.

We certainly appreciate that they are going out of their way to embrace the concept of local foods, as well as educating their diners about the process.  There are certainly a growing number of restaurants in town that are purchasing from local producers, and it would be great if they would all communicate with their customers about that decision.  It could certainly have wide-reaching effects.

Bravo to Local 127 on the high quality ingredients and their commitment to supporting all things local!

One small note before moving on: they have a "heart healthy" icon that denotes options given the stamp of approval by Christ Hospital.  Interesting that only one item on the whole menu has that icon.  I heard about this new plan on the radio and everything - goes to show how far advertising can go!  Maybe they'll expand these options in the future.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Local 127 hasn't burst on the scene without its share of mixed reviews.  It definitely is not an end all rating, clearly, but when only 69% of Urbanspooners say they like it, I've got to imagine the Relish Restaurant Group folks have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.  From the reviews we've been reading and hearing, though, things are on the upswing - and based on our experience, they're doing quite well.  Pretty cool too that they have a quote from Epiventures on their menu as one of the "media" comments - glad to see they're paying attention to the blogosphere!

The server was working hard - talking quite a bit, and explaining things whenever we asked (and sometimes not).  We probably got so much attention because we were there on an evening that a group of OBGYNs had rented out the whole downstairs, and we apparently missed Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis giving a pep talk (I would love to know how he connected with the group in his speech).  We were seated in what they said was the usual VIP room upstairs, and while they talked up the fact that there were windows and natural light, it was a very simple space that wasn't too impressive.  Things moved pretty slowly, but we liked it.  If you're in any kind of hurry to get somewhere, you should definitely let them know.

From what we could tell, things haven't changed too much decor-wise since the space was Pigall's.  A bit less stuffy, but I can see why there has been some back and forth about the level of pretentiousness.

Our new camera came earlier the day we headed downtown to Local 127. Check out some of the first shots in the slideshow below.  Sarah, our resident photographer, has been practicing up - you can expect the views at Amateur Foodies to improve steadily over coming weeks and months.

With a price tag like this, we won't be back frequently unfortunately.  But, the combination of great taste and thoughtful ingredient sourcing does put Local 127 on the very short list of places to consider if we're looking to share a special evening in the Queen City.

Local 127  on Urbanspoon


Existential Eating #5

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future Existential Eating strips, please email or comment below.  Sadly, our current collective imagination will run dry.  If its related to food, it can be the topic of an Existential Eating comic strip.  Just share your idea and Ramsey will do his best to draw it up (probably, someday).


Lunch Out @ Take the Cake

We tried and we tried to go to Take the Cake - way too many months went by before we got there.  Somehow, every time we'd make an attempt they were closed.  But alas, we've been doing our best to make up for lost time - this place is fantastic!  They're another Twitter success story, and have earned their popularity with consistently delicious food.

The Food:   The menu is on a chalkboard to the left of the cash register, and the sooner you get there the better because when it's gone, it's gone.  There are always interesting, creative dishes on the menu for both the brunches and lunches they serve.  We wanted something on the light side, and happily ordered a Mediterranean salad, a piece of broccoli, cheddar, and bacon quiche, and a bowl of mushroom soup.

I've been really digging cous cous (shout out to Courtney at Epiventures for the suggestion of mograbiyeh at Dean's at Findlay) - so was happy to see this salad get set down in front of me with some pearly goodness on top.  This salad was piled with capers, eggplant, cauliflower, tomato, cucumber, olives, micro/greens, onions, roasted garlic, and a dollop of some creamy goodness with sour cream, lemon, and tahini.  It was the best I've had in a quite a while - it really hit the spot.

The brocolli bacon cheddar quiche's most notable quality just might be its flaky, salty, buttery crust.  Sometimes I debate eating crust, in this case I'd almost order it by itself.  The filling is substantial but light, and was well balanced.  The dish also came with a small side salad - pretty straight forward.

Lastly, we had mushroom soup (basic buttons), micro greens on top, and cooked, chopped onions.  It probably could have used a pinch of salt, but it was simple and savory.

Oh, and now to post about the first food that we did not eat.  Yes, we missed out on the last eclair.  I went up to order it and another Northsider has already reserved the final one.  Note: put your name on one of these delectable desserts when you order, not at the end when you pay!  Look out for a forthcoming post on the eclair, which really does deserve a post in and of itself.

The Ingredients:  They don't say anything about their ingredients on the menu, but I do know from talking to folks who work there (who also happen to be neighbors) that they pay attention to where their food is coming from.  I know, that's pretty vague - I will get more details on the next post, promise.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  The first thing that hits you as you walk in the door is a mix of great smells.  That's always a welcome beginning to any culinary experience.  The people are so nice at Take the Cake, and the whole vibe is great.  Simple decor - concrete floors, and eclectic artwork on the walls.  I loved driving by when it was a bit colder out and seeing the steam in the front window - it looked just as cozy from the outside and it is when you're in.

With an open kitchen, if you sit at the bar, you end up watching people mixing different color fondant for a cake or making beautiful tarts.  They got slammed when we were in and handled it very gracefully.  With the prevalence of Gordon Ramsey and all the restaurant haters out there, you get the idea that all restaurant staff are constantly going crazy and yelling and out of control.  You don't have any of that at Take the Cake.  If they weren't so busy and I didn't feel bad about taking a seat, I could really just sit and watch the kitchen, the other customers, and the dance that is a small, local restaurant - very cool.

Get there early, they were darn near sold out at lunch on Friday by 1:30.  Also, prepare yourself for classic Cincinnati - I knew half the people in line when we went, and that seems to be the norm.  Particularly if you're a Northside resident, you should expect to say hi to some neighbors.

At Take the Cake, you eat healthy and feel good about it.  The portions fill you up, but don't weigh you down.  Now, if you lose control and go for pastries afterward, you can't blame it on them :).  We hope to be regulars for a long time to come.

Take the Cake on Urbanspoon


The Big Dogs of Sustainable Agriculture... in Cincinnati

Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, and Wes Jackson were at Xavier on Sunday night for an "informal conversation" about the state of agriculture in this country, and we were in the house.  When I told my mom, Noreen Warnock, about the event, she said something to the affect of - "those are the big dogs of sustainable ag" - and then promptly made plans to come.

I could go on and on here, but let me just share my top line thoughts (see below for the slideshow of photos):

- There were a lot of people there.  It was in the Cintas Center, and while it was not the whole building by any means, it was impressive and exciting how many people from the community and university that were interested in this dialogue and these topics more broadly.  I'll go back to my mom again (currently with Local Matters in Columbus) - she has been working on local, sustainable, environmental issues for about 2 decades now and has been talking a lot recently about how far we've come as a food justice movement (or whatever the heck you want to call it - a million dollar prize to whoever can figure out the new language to talk about this in a more accessible way for regular folks that don't speak "food") - so... YAY!

- Almost all of the people there were white folks.  I wish it didn't, but race matters.  Especially in this city.  Class, gender, sexual orientation, and other ways we're often divided matter a lot too, but in Cincinnati race is pretty solid indicator of inequality (not in every case, by any means, but in general).  Figuring out how to get local, sustainable food costs to be affordable is arguably the top conundrum facing this movement (something Michael Pollan and others have written and spoken about extensively).  And for all sorts of reasons (organizing to build power, equality of opportunity, etc.), I'm very hopeful that this issue can be something that brings people in Cincinnati together, not pulls us apart.

- The facilitation and format didn't quite hit the mark.  I should start by saying that I appreciate what the folks at Xavier were trying to do - create an intimate, memorable event that doesn't focus on 1 person... for lots and lots of people.  It's tough when you try to have an "informal conversation" where the folks are sitting on a large platform 20 feet from the closest audience member.  The facilitators were on their own shorter platform off to the side.  In the end, there were a number of interesting things said, but the flow just never quite clicked in my opinion.

- This group has a great rapport.  My mom (again!) was on a panel with Wes and Wendell several years back, and had prepped us for their collective demeanor.  They joked and joshed one another consistently, and we got a chance to really see their sense of humor.

And now for one more list - the most interesting/poignant things I felt were made (in no particular order):

-Wes Jackson: "We've gotta have political change and then be relentless to keep it. Small sustainable operations will only be small islands until we change the politics. We can get so tied up in the little virtues, this is what the system wants, for you to get caught up."  Bottom line: we have to pay attention to politics, policy, and power if we want to win big picture, long term - not just moral victories.
- Wendell Berry:  "A farm is modeled on integrity as an organism, so I've always been for local over organic. If you work with a grower who you know and you trust then you're using your money in a good way. Consumers need to find ways to increase their knowledge and therefore their responsibility."  Bottom line: If you have a huge organic farm that is a monoculture, that's not a great model.  Know where you're getting your food, and you're on the right path.  He also said, to follow what Wes said above: "If you've got mountaintop removal, growing a garden is not gonna help you, you need a policy solution."
- Gene Logsdon:  "There is a revolution coming"- showing how we can quit ruining land with annual grains like corn and wheat - "corn is pricing itself out of the food market."  Bottom line: He said he did some math after talking to a neighbor (he farms in Upper Sandusky, OH) and that the typical farmer has 2 million dollars invested in 4000 acres before harvest.  That is crazy!

I'll leave you with a great piece by Wendell Berry - The Pleasures of Eating.


Existential Eating #4

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future Existential Eating strips, please email or comment below.  Sadly, our current collective imagination will run dry.  If its related to food, it can be the topic of an Existential Eating comic strip.  Just share your idea and Ramsey will do his best to draw it up (probably, someday).


Tasty Links #8

1)  Epiventures on how Cincinnati Magazine picks their top 10 - interesting.
2)  It's the infrastructure, stupid.  A great piece on how we'll need better processing and distribution systems to have better local eating options - just like we'll need more doctors with a better health care system.
3)  Snowville Creamery in WaPo (hat tip: Julie at wine me, dine me).
4)  The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is getting some pub.  There are a number of sources asking that you call and/or write your Senator in support of local/small farms.

And now you're video - barely food related, but Colbert is always good for some quick comic relief...

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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The Secret Ingredient? Mint!

The only edible thing that was near abundance in our garden became the clear choice for the secret ingredient (a la Iron Chef) to revolve our meal around earlier this week when we had a couple good friends over for dinner.

We introduced the ingredient with a simple soda water with sprigs of mint as our guests arrived.  Soon afterward, our appetizers came out of the oven - potato skins with feta, kalamata olives, and of course, mint!

Thankfully, everyone was willing to work for their dinner, because we were making homemade pasta - one of our favorite new cooking pastimes.  It's so simple and so good, and now that we've gotten into fresh pasta, it's hard to go back.

Specifically, ravioli was the dish of choice, and we'd made the potato skins because the ravioli filling called for baked potato and we didn't want to just throw out the skins.  We used pecorino-romano, lemon zest, butter, and, yes, mint in the filling for the ravioli.  This recipe was from Jamie Oliver's book Cook with Jamie.  When you're done cooking the ravioli (which he sometimes calls "cushions"), you simply have to saute the pasta for a second in butter :).

For the finale, a big shout out goes to Sierra at ForkHeartKnife, because when she posted about this delicious looking blueberry lavendar sorbet I asked about making sorbet without an ice cream maker, and she generously offered hers (PS - ForkHeartKnife is moving into a physical space - the old Take the Cake spot on the corner of Main and Liberty - and if you look through the gorgeous photos of what they've been cooking up, you'll see that you want to try it out soon.  They're also doing catering, and you can catch them at What's for Dinner? on April 24-25.)!  With her help, we made a lemon/lime mint sorbet.  You may notice on the photo that we got a bit lazy at the end and didn't let it freeze all the way.  But it was mmm mmm good.

A great dinner, with a great (not so) secret ingredient - right from our backyard!  Check out some more photos below...


Thoughts on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Sarah and I have been fans of Jamie Oliver for a while.  I think he got us when, during our brief stint with satellite, we were hooked on his show on the Food Network, Jamie at Home.  He's easy going about his recipes, and they are consistently simple yet very good and very tasty.  We don't own all of his cookbooks, but there are a few on our shelves, and more than one of his recipes has made it into "regular" status.

I wanted to take a minute and encourage folks to watch his current show on ABC - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (or the ABC homepage).  From the previews, I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy it, and I have not been disappointed so far.

In Episode 1, Jamie called a Bill Cunningham-esque radio host in Huntington (where the show is set) a bastard.  He was exactly right.  And he is consistently battling the refuse-to-change mindset of folks on the show, particularly one of the Debbie Downer cooks.  But sadly, the negative responses have been more widespread - if you happened to see Jamie on Letterman then you know what I mean.  Sad that Letterman's so cynical and can't get inspired by someone working so hard for positive change.

Episodes 2 and 3 have been solid as well.

Jamie says he "aims to anger viewers over the food system" - as well he should.  It is amazing that with all the wealth we have in this country, that we are feeding the crap we do to our nation's kids.  And to think, our elected officials have literally been bought into believing this processed food is the way to go, and the what to subsidize.  And beyond just food served at our public schools, read Yglesias on the even bigger picture of nutrition in America - it's a shame.

I could go on and on, but I'll keep it at that for today.  Now, take the 30 seconds to sign Jamie's petition, and then tune in for the show on Friday night at 9pm so that this gets some solid ratings and we get more useful TV in the future.

More on school lunches - One Tray, One Nation, LunchBox, and IATP Food and Society Fellows.

Dinner Out @ Vout

I first heard about Vout (pronounced vow-t), a restaurant in the same space as Slim's, from ForkHeartKnife in early March.  Then there were a few other posts about Slim's and this new iteration that followed shortly thereafter.  We hadn't been to Slim's in a while, and it is right down the street, so we meandered down this week during our "staycation."  On the way there, we spotted a sign for Picnic and Pantry (first details here, on wine me, dine me) - opening soon in Northside - and have a few new "bonus" details at the bottom of this post.

The Food: Vout has the same Afro-Caribbean culinary flair that makes Slim's stand out.  It is really the serving system that makes Vout different from Slim's, so read more about that below in "The Story, Setting, & Service."

The menu (see in the slideshow below) is hand-written and even has a glossary on the back side.  It has several enticing options at first glance.  We ordered a "starter" with smoked salmon, mango, and more (photo on the left), followed by the pork belly and pernil asado for "mains," coupled with "sides" of fufu and cristianos y moros (rice and beans).  I should stop right now and say what jumped out were the low prices - when you're used to a place being $50 per person, and you have mains listed at $7 (the Ohio Maiden charcuterie board at $10, that is the most costly item), you immediately feel like you are getting a value.

The smoked salmon app had great balance, and they don't skimp on such fine fish. Beautiful watercress from Ohio Maiden and a mango avocado tomato relish were all as good to eat as they were to look at.

For the entrees, the pork belly came first.  It comes with crunchy carrots on the side, and a few sprigs of baby or Chinese broccoli on top.  There is a thick crispy top on the pork belly, so hard you have to really work to break through.  I had visions of a big porky mess every time I tried to cut it.  They probably didn't mean it to be that way, but it's something to be aware of.  They give you a huge portion of belly - doing justice to the cheap price of the cut.  Most places give you so little, you feel like you're eating a filet mignon, only to learn at the butcher it costs $3 a pound.   But the pork itself was melty and delicious, just as it should be, and the crunch added a different dimension to the bites, so we're not complaining.  The pork and carrots sit in a bit of soupy liquid that was less flavorful than we imagined it might be or could have been.  There was a bit of sugar in some bites that gave us a hint of the great Momofuk pork buns recipe that still makes us smile when we think about it.

Our other entree, the pernil asado, was a simple dish that lacked the wow of presentation that you got when a huge slab of pork belly hit the table.  It was a bowl of slow-braised pork with oregano-garlic adobo rub - oregano was the powerhouse flavor.  It came with a cup of crispy, salty, spiced-up plantains that we used to scoop up our side dishes - they were quite a treat.

The fufu was 1/2 plaintain mash and 1/2 smoky mash (potatoes plus paprika), with some bacon bits and scallions (we think) mixed in.  This came in 2nd, after the smoked salmon starter, for our favorite part of the meal - straightforward and delish.  Our other side was rice and beans, which has a zap of citrus from the kumquat slices throughout.  Not bad, but needed salt, and not quite like the Brazilian beans and rice that we're used to - otherwise known as "party in your mouth."

Finally, we were tempted into dessert when the magic words of the week were uttered - lemon tart.  We asked for it to go, and they wrapped up a plate with a slice of tart and some fresh pansies and violas for garnish.  This one didn't make it long once we go to our house.

The Ingredients: A solid number of the veggies are grown in house - literally.  Check out the pictures below in the slideshow.  Just behind the long tables as you walk in, there are greens growing in the sunny window.  There are also lemons and peppers and squash that are not, but very cool that they are sowing their own seeds.  If you walk just a few blocks down the street, you can see the plot of land where "Ohio Maiden" (a play on Made in Ohio) ingredients come from - it's just a few hoop houses on an average size corner lot (right across from The Village Green), but it is definitely not something you see every day in the typical urban jungle.  On the downside, the folks we asked didn't know where the pork comes from, but overall Vout is clearly paying attention to what makes its way to your stomach.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Some places have bistros or cafes upstairs or next door (ala Chez Panisse or La Normandie below the Maisonette - before it was closed of course), Slim's and Vout share one space.  Reggae on the radio and a gorgeous sunlit room make for a perfect place to sit back and relax.  On top of that, the staff is very friendly and easy going.  In particular, Maggie, who I think may secretly have identical quadruplet sisters, because it seems she works at every restaurant in Northside (maybe Cincinnati?) always adds a positive energy where ever she happens to be.

No one else was there at 6:30 when we arrived,  but it filled up a bit by 7.  I wouldn't recommend going if you're in a hurry, this is a place to chill out.  Oh, and it's BYOB, so you'll see folks coming in with a 6-pack or bottles of wine all evening.

Overall, this was a solid meal, and at around $30 for two, there was a lot of good going on for a low price.  We could have spent closer to $20 and been happily full I think.  It's exciting to have another restaurant in the neighborhood where we can walk and get dinner on a weeknight for a reasonable price and come home happy.

Bonus:  Picnic and Pantry will open soon - probably late May.  It'll be a fancy grocery store, with a focus on local foods, that will stock staples and ready to eat meals (from the catering business in the back - which will phase in over the next couple months, most likely).  The grocery will likely be open every day, something like 8am-8pm, but they really want to be responsive to customers so will try to make it fit what people want.  As for the street food in the front, Lisa Kagen (Melt's owner) and Chef Frances Kroner will likely be doing that themselves to start so that folks know they're serious about it.

I've known Chef Kroner since far before the Chef was added on (isn't it awesome when folks you know do cool things?!).  She was at Slim's when it rose to prominence, and has recently been putting together "feasts" all over the city.  See more info here at her blog.  Sarah and I hosted a feast last year, and are putting another one together now.  It was awesome - beautiful, delectable food without having to go anywhere or do anything, and costs less than we would have spent at a restaurant.  We'd recommend it to anyone - get at least 12 people together and give her a call.

Vout on Urbanspoon


Brunch Out @ Nectar

In terms of best brunches in Cincinnati, Nectar is definitely in the running. In keeping with our habit of getting the same thing every time we go somewhere once we know it is good, here are our thoughts from another tasty visit.

The Food: Nectar's menu has several enticing options, but Sarah and I both honed in on 2 items the first time we went, and haven't strayed since. The Croque Madame and Kroeger and Son's Goetta Melt. Both plates come with a nice medley of fresh fruit as well as "crispy red chile potatoes" (which aren't too crispy and aren't too chile-y, but are still a nice addition to the plate).

The Croque Madame is well balanced with fig, prosciutto, cheddar, and greens. Fig has fantastic flavor, but can often be overpowering, so this is happily well done. A nicely fried egg topped it off. The only barely-complaint: the Blue Oven bread was sliced a bit thinner last time and made it a bit easier to cut through to eat (you can't bite into a sammy with prosciutto - you take the whole thing).

All this time in Cincinnati, and I'd never really gotten into goetta. Well, my first Goetta Melt at Nectar had me at Kroeger and Son's buying a slab of my own the next day. It certainly doesn't hurt that this sandwich is overflowing with wonderfully rich hollandaise that has a nice spicy warmth from the Chipotle chile. But back to the goetta - it is crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, just as it seems it should be. Sarah and I were both scraping the bottom of our plates to make sure we didn't miss any of the flavors from this dish.

The Ingredients: "Nectar is proud to serve as many local and organic items on our menu as possible." Nice! They list several farmers and producers they source from at the bottom of the menu (this one doesn't name the sources, but the one at the restaurant does), as well as naming them on the specific meal choices - see "Kroeger and Son's Goetta Melt" above. This commitment makes us feel even better about our eating than we already did! Three cheers for Nectar!

The Story, Setting, & Service: The service at Nectar has been consistently nice and attentive. A large, open window to the kitchen makes it hard not to stare as the chefs are at work. Nice to see that they haven't seemed too crazed (it hasn't been packed).

If there is any place for improvement at Nectar, it is in the atmosphere. Sarah said "quote me on this: give me one night in here with all the things they have and I could fix this." They have kind of an odd decor, and its awful dark. The place is filled with splendid smells (note: anybody know a noteworthy thesaurus, maybe a culinary specific one? I'm running out of ways to say good!), so if they can ever please the eyes as much as the nose and mouth then their game will officially be stepped up.

In somewhat unrelated news, Annabel's is next door. I've heard good things, so am hoping to make it to Mount Lookout again soon.

We will definitely be going back because of Nectar's commitment to sourcing local and organic ingredients, as well as the simple fact that they make a darn good meal. They do a Dinner Club with a "specific theme/ingredient," and we're looking forward to trying that out as well.

Nectar on Urbanspoon

Game. Changer.

How long will we blog?  Who knows.  But we'll be taking better photographs for the foreseeable future!




Dinner Out @ Dewey's

In general, if we're going to get pizza, we've fallen into a pattern of going to either Adriatico's or Dewey's.  Dewey's is usually the choice if we want to sit down, if we want fancier ingredients, and if we're feeling a bit more conscious about how healthy our meal will be.

The Food: Our typical order is to split a regular size salad and then a medium pizza.  Believe it or not, it may be the salad that has more to do with our arrival at Dewey's in the first place - it's good, and it makes us feel like we aren't just gorging ourselves with fat.

They actually have several solid salad options, but we've gravitated toward the simple yet scrumptious caesar.  Chopped romaine, shaved parm, and big fat "croutons."  We liked the dressing so much - it's creamy and really holds to the lettuce well - we asked how it was made, and then were a bit surprised to hear the answer: it is the one dressing they don't make themselves, and it is easily available at your local grocery store.  It's just Ken's caesar.  On the one hand, empowering since we could just go buy some, on the other, a bit of a letdown that they don't have a secret recipe.  Well, I guess why mess with a good thing?

For pizzas, Dewey's is the place to go if you want variety.  We usually take advantage of the fact you can do 1/2 and 1/2, and I'd say this trip was fairly typical: our general pizza favorite on one side (pepperoni and green olives) and one of Dewey's options on the other (Socrates' Revenge - though we swapped the tomatoes for roasted garlic (still eschewing the tomatoes out of season)).  As you can see from the picture, they don't skimp on ingredients.  Their crust is light and relatively doughy, but holds the pizza together just fine.  It's probably closest to New York style, but has nowhere near the crisp.  You can get red or white sauce, and both are solid, but neither stand out.  It's the ingredients that bring the flavor, so choose wisely.

Overall, Dewey's pizza is consistently good.  Honestly though, it is never write-home-about great.  I think its mostly that there isn't anything particularly distinctive about the pizza other than the numerous ingredients to pick from.

The Ingredients:  As I mentioned above, they've got a wide variety of options, but no sign of local, seasonal, organic or other notable ingredients.  With all the options they already have, why not add some more for the conscious heads in the house?

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Dewey's is a chain, with 7 locations in Cincinnati, and then a few more scattered around the Midwest.  Our experience has been similar at all of the ones we've visited.  They have a somewhat signature serving style - everyone waits on everyone.  It could very well be someone different who brings you your salad, pizza, and drinks.  Only one person takes your order and brings your check though.  We've found that it works, but I have no idea how that plays out if you're a server.

Dewey's locations are clean, clutter-free spaces.  The atmosphere is sort of like the pizza - good, but not notably so.

As I said to begin, Dewey's is in our regular rotation.  If you've got a suggestion for a place to take that spot, please let us know.  For the time being, we haven't been disappointed, so we'll be heading back sooner rather than later.

Dewey's Pizza (Clifton/Avondale) on Urbanspoon


Gardening in 2010!

Sarah and I moved into our place in Northside last year in May, and made some fast adjustments to get a garden planted. The results were excellent - check out one round of our bounty from last year (above)!

Prep for the 2010 garden started a long, long time ago. And now, we are in the process of implementing the plans. Sarah is the brains and 75% of the brawn of the operation - I pitch in on some projects here and there.

We thought we'd share some of our photos for the preparation and first phases of this year's work. See the slideshow below for pics and captions. Lastly, here are 3 of our learnings thus far:

1. Sarah's Favorite Catalog Find: Territorial Seed Company - great heirloom selection, and they mail single heirloom tomato plants.
2. Grow Up, and Upside Down: Save space in an urban garden by hanging tomatoes on the porch and letting climbers climb vertical so they take up less space.
3. Dig Less, Eat More: Potato bags will save some hassle - and calloused hands.


Existential Eating #3


Dinner Out @ McDonald's

Who knew?  A top notch culinary experience, just around the corner (nearly every corner, as it turns out).  We don't watch much TV, so when we happened upon a commercial with all kinds of fresh vegetables that looked so appetizing, we decided to go to... McDonald's.

The Food: Sarah got this delectable double cheeseburger.  It looks exactly like the burger in the ads, and they don't even add ammonia (their suppliers do).  Wow.  Definitely tops a Terry's Turf Club burger.  And at 1/5th the price of a Terry's burger - just one dollar - it's definitely not subsidized heavily by our lobby/corporate-friendly government to be unreasonably cheap.

I opted for the chicken ranch club (see more photos below).  Just the right balance of too much bun, not enough over-breaded and over-fried chicken, and cardboard-flavored crispy bacon.  Oh, and the tomatoes, so mealy, I wish I would have ordered double.

The french fries are salty and delicious, just the way we like them.

The Ingredients: As I noted above, McDonald's has great looking vegetables in their commercials, and even has great pictures of vegetables on their boxes.  We are big fans of good looking vegetables!

The Story, Setting, & Service: The service was wonderful - it took about 15 minutes to get our small order.  While we waited, there were numerous options for flavored corn syrup and refills aplenty.  The location was just close enough to the highway that I could still smell my way to it if I went blind after eating my GMO, hormone-heavy meal.  Stellar in every way.

Jesus - McDonald's is so bad that it was even hard to write an April Fools post about it.  But seriously, their french fries are good.

McDonalds on Urbanspoon
(this actually wasn't the one we went to, we went to the one by the Mitchell Ave. exit off I-75)