Friday, April 27, 2007

summer food rules

here are two of my favorite local summer foods: natural casing hot dogs from the house of meats and dog on good mustard from cajohn's. nothing beats the snap of a natural casing hot dog and this new mustard from cajohn's is awesome. it's a little spicy and the flavor can't be beat. yum!

Monday, April 23, 2007

saffron orzo with toasted pine nuts

saffron orzo with toasted pine nuts

1 cup orzo pasta
6 cups chicken stock
1 tsp saffron threads
1/2 cup pine nuts

bring chicken stock and saffron to a boil. add orzo and cook until al dente. meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a sautee pan until fragrant and lightly toasted. drain orzo and fold in toasted pine nuts.

i had all these ingredients in my pantry (leftover orzo from mediterranean orzo!) the saffron adds a bit of savory complexity to the flavor of the stock and the pine nuts have a soft crunch. good comfort food!

restaurant review: moretti's

hands down, moretti's is my favorite italian restaurant in town. if you're planning to go, i'd recommend making reservations a night or two in advance. the ratio of devoted moretti's clientele to square footage makes for few available walk in seats on a weekend and most weeknights. the fiance and i have speculated that moretti's could remove their sign and still probably do a brisk business for at least a couple of years. due to its inauspicious location and lack of advertising, moretti's just might be columbus' best kept dining secret.

the ambiance is dark and romantic, and while the dining room is nice, it's not overly so, the focus here is on food. food and great service. the wait staff consistently delivers excellent attention to detail and are more than happy to accommodate special requests.

the menu offers plenty of delicious housemade pastas, excellent entree salads and italian standards like: chicken, eggplant & veal parmigiana, veal scalloppini, lasagna, and housemade pizzas. moretti's house sauce is rich, chunky and chocked full of garlic. they offer fresh baked bread with an addictive garlic herb butter.

although the prices are reasonable ($14-$26 for an entree, included is a choice of soup or salad) moretti's offers some excellent weeknight specials:
monday - all chicken entrees $13 (includes salad or soup)
tuesday - casseroles and ravioli $11 (includes salad or soup)
wednesday -any pasta or penne dish $9 (includes salad or soup)
thursday - specials offered in bar only

i've tasted the majority of the menu, here are some of my favorites (as mentioned above, the atmosphere is very dark, the quality of the pictures reflects that):

housemade pasta: the pasta is just right. the texture and flavor of the pasta are great and it's the perfect match for moretti's sauce.

green bean appetizer: crisp green beans sauteed in olive oil and a generous amount of garlic. the skin just begins to caramelize but the center of the bean is still crisp and juicy. so good.

crumbled sausage: sausage with peppers and mushrooms over penne in a cream sauce. the rich and spicy sausage & peppers meld beautifully with the cream sauce. penne is al dente, never overcooked. ask for it with extra hot peppers (grilled banana peppers) if you dare. it sounds like a heart attack on a plate and it is, but i can't imagine a dish more worth the gamble.

fettuccini: housemade spinach noodles (to die for) served with a delicate yet rich cream sauce.

vegetable pizza: the crust has a nice combination of crispy/doughy consistency and is topped with roasted vegetables like red peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and onions. it comes with gorgonzola, but i always have them hold the cheese. the veggies and sauce are so good, it doesn't need anthing else.

traditional lasagne: all of the elements of moretti's lasagne taste fresh and distinct. the pasta is cooked to the perfect al dente, the ricotta is rich and mixed with fresh herbs and the sauce is outstanding. i like that this isn't a big gooey mess of cheese and overcooked noodles like some other italian places in town. the vegetable lasagne is also excellent, covered in freshly sauteed, al dente vegetables.

cheese ravioli: the four raviolis served in this dish are large enough for about two and a half meals. i usually finish one of them and a meatball and i'm full. the ravioli are made with either housemade spinach or tradional pasta and are stuffed with lots of soft ricotta and fresh herbs. the cheese to pasta ratio is very high. yum!

wild salmon or grilled chicken salad: this has to be one of the best salads around. choose either grilled chick or salmon to go over a huge portion of romain, roasted red peppers, green beans and pasta tossed in moretti's house made italian vinaigrette. delicious and huge. good for splitting, which moretti's is happy to do.

5849 sawmill road (in the cranston center)
dublin, oh 43017

Thursday, April 19, 2007

southwestern black bean dip

i have to say that upon reading this recipe through the first time i wasn't so sure how it would turn out. however, it was really easy to put together and the flavors in this dip really pop. it tastes fresh, not refried beany. one of the best black bean dips i've had. i served the black bean dip with trader joe's tri-color flax seed tortilla chips.

southwestern black bean dip
(from epicurious)

2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large bell pepper (i used orange)
1/2 medium onion. chopped
1 tsp olive oil
two 15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed & drained
3 tbs fresh lime juice
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
2 tbs water

sautee garlic, pepper & onion in oil until onion is translucent. in a food processor, blend beans, lime juice, cilantro, spices & water until smooth. add onion mixture & puree until smooth. chill dip, covered, at least 3 hours and up to one day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

beeb's deli: documented dining

i've been interested in beeb's since i read an article (in the dispatch's food section?) where the purveyors were quoted as saying they had researched delis for almost a year prior to opening their doors. i'm game for trying anything someone worked on for a year before launching. on a recent day off after perusing the library for new cookbooks (found one! more on that later) i stopped in for lunch.

upon entering, you step into a vestibule with a large scale menu mounted on the wall. i really like this because there are times when i want to spend 10 solid minutes pouring over a menu to make the perfect selection. no pressure from a goofball at the cash register giving you the "it's lunch, not marriage, just choose already" look. i chose the create your own option and came up with a grilled turkey sandwich on 8 grain bread with lettuce, tomato, black olives and tomato basil mayo. the sandwich was delicious. in true deli style, the sandwich had a larger quantity of turkey than i perfer. i recognize this is my issue, not beeb's. the turkey was extremely flavorful and all of beeb's meats are msg and preservative free. the tomato mayo was awesome. i'd buy it by the quart if they sold it. the bread was soft & delicate but still had a great grainy texture. sandwiches are served with salt and pepper kettle chips and a half pickle. very good. the interior is bright and comfortable and the service is fast and friendly. i'll definitely go back.

beeb's deli
76 powell road (near the intersection of rts. 23 & 750)
lewis center, oh 43035

Monday, April 16, 2007

roasted beet salad with fresh dill

i really love beets. and i'm ashamed to say this is the first time i've roasted them myself. i used to think "they're just so easy and tasty out of a can, why go to all the trouble?" today i am converted. fresh roasted beets are really so much better than their bland canned relatives, there's no reason to ever look back.

fresh beets have to be one of the most beautiful raw vegetable (and by vegetable, i mean root). i was literally transfixed while scrubbing them over the sink. check it out:
roasted beet salad with fresh dill

6 medium beets (i used 3 golden & 3 red)
1/4 cup dill, roughly chopped
1/3 cup red onion, thinly slivered

3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs muscat wine vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp sugar

roast beets using the following method: trim roots and stems away from beets. scrub clean. wrap in tin foil and roast for about 1 hour in 415 degree oven. let cool. using paper towel, gently slip off skins.
slice beets and combine with slivered onions and dill. whisk together vinaigrette. pour over beet salad and toss. cover and refrigerate over night.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

cameron's: documented dining

ideally, a restaurant review is the result of many visits to an establishment and tasting a wide variety of their menu offerings. however, there are times when i have a fabulous meal out but don't have the info or inclination to do a full review. enter, documented dining. documented dining is a review of a meal, not the a definitive review of a restaurant. here's the first installment, from a wonderful evening at cameron's.

first course:
for my birthday dinner this year, we started with the buttermilk fried calamari. l loved the creole tartar and the chili pepper jam. the batter was a little less crisp than i like but over all it was a tasty dish. i think next time i'd like to try the goat cheese beignets. the fiance had a warm goat cheese salad to start. a slice of warm goat cheese is served next to a salad of field greens, pancetta, sun dried cherries, pine nuts and port wine vinaigrette. seriously good.

the fiance had the soy glazed salmon with wasabi sticky rice. the salmon was wrapped in nori (cute play on sushi) and was served with lemongrass butter and hoisen sauces. i'm not a big fan of salmon but this dish was outstanding. it has me wondering if i could duplicate the wasabi sticky rice.
contrary to my vegetable-loving nature, i ordered the "steak that surfs". the plate was comprised of a ny strip, 2 buttermilk fried shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and a housemade steak sauce. everything was excellent. the housemade steak sauce was what enticed me to order the dish but i couldn't find much evidence of it on the plate.

i loved every bite of the meyer lemon gratin. it was light, delicate and not too tart.
the fiance had the new orleans bread pudding. the consistency was just right and i loved the golden raisins.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

greek panini

here's another olive bar special. warm feta, mmm...
if you've got a panini press, put it to work. if not, put the panini in a non-stick pan, place flat metal turner on top of the sandwich and then place a soup can on top of the turner to weight it down.

greek panini

2 slices italian bread
olive oil spread (or butter)
artichoke heart
roasted tomatoes
cippolini onions
zucchini, sliced with a vegetable peeler and marinated in greek vinaigrette
quindilla peppers
sliced greek olives

slice ingredients and assemble panini. grill until golden brown.

clockwise: artichoke heart, roasted tomatoes, feta, cippolini onions, zucchini, quindilla peppers, peppadews, sliced greek olives (center)

Friday, April 13, 2007

a well equipped kitchen

i'd like to share some of the elements of my kitchen that make culinary life a bit easier. i think we can all agree that cooking in a well equipped kitchen can lead to a special kind of foodie nirvana.
here are some of my favorite things in the kitchen:

bar mops sold by the pound
i got these at sam's club and keep them stacked in a drawer. i use them to dry my hands as i cook, wipe down counters and a million other kitchen duties. when one is soiled, i throw it into the laundry and grab another. sometimes i go through half a dozen in a day. i'd rather have 30 of these guys than 2 kitchen towels from williams sonoma (about the same cost). plus, by not using gobs of paper towels, i'm being friendly to the environment.

lots of poly cutting boards
same theory here as with the bar mops. have lots of them so that when they get dirty you can just grab another. if i see them on sale i usually grab a couple, i think i got the last few for $2 each. there's nothing more frustrating than needing a cutting board and realizing the two you own are both in the dish washer. use separate boards for meat and veggies.

quality cutlery
nice knives are worth the investment. i recently got these two beauties for my birthday! not only do quality, sharp knives make your job easier, they're also safer to use. the less pressure you need to exert on a knife to get the job done, the less chance you'll slip and cut yourself.

cookbook cupboard
i dedicated a cupboard in my kitchen to a selection of cookbooks i'm using and storage for my culiary magazines.
organization + recipes = culinary nirvana! the black book in the center is a homemade cookbook (photo album filled with index cards instead of pictures, complete with tabs) of all my family's recipes. i made them with my mom and gave a copy to my sister.

pizza stone
a pizza stone is good for so many other things than cooking pizza. you can bake cookies on it or you can use it to heat left overs that need to stay crisp (like anything fried). i keep mine in the oven at all times. even if you're not cooking directly on it, it will radiate heat evenly through the cooking time as the oven turns the heat off and on to maintain temperature. the darker it gets, the more seasoned it is.

Monday, April 9, 2007

strawberry pecan cornmeal pancakes

cornmeal is my favorite variety of pancake. i think it's got way more flavor and superior texture to your average flour-based pancake. this is an easy way to dress up cornmeal pancakes.

strawberry pecan cornmeal pancakes

1 box of jiffy corn muffin mix (8.5 oz)
1 egg
2 tbs vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup diced strawberries

mix together corn meal, egg, oil and milk. let sit for 15 minutes. toast pecans in a saute pan until they become fragrant. dice strawberries. fold strawberries & pecans into batter. cook in non-stick pan. batter will bubble slightly when ready to be turned. garnish with sliced strawberries and pecans.

Friday, April 6, 2007

mediterranean orzo

if you're a regular reader, you're going to figure out that i love mediterranean flavors. i regularly make a meal out of the olive bar at whole foods. here's a recipe with some olive bar favorites.

mediterranean orzo

1/2 lb orzo
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
3/4 cup mixed olives
medium tomato, diced
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, diced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
juice of one lemon

cook orzo until al dente. in large non-stick saute pan, saute onion with olive oil until soft. add tomato and cook a few minutes. add remaining ingredients and saute until heated through and flavors are combined.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

ice cream so good...

...that it prompted a marriage proposal.

ok, i'm not saying the proposal was 100% due to the ice cream, but the fiance did ask me to marry him over a cone of handel's chocolate pecan.

this youngstown phenomenon, started in 1945, is now available all over ohio, in pennsylvania, indiana, virginia and california.

what makes handel's so great is the absolute quality of all the ingredients they use. for example, the chocolate pecan is chocked full of huge, salty, half pecans. mmm. so good. there are some other delicious flavors (tiramisu, spouse like a house, coconut cream pie and chocolate peanut butter ripple, to name a few) but the chocolate pecan is so good, it's all we really get. the fiance has taken to calling handel's "the chocolate pecan store". youngstown natives tell stories of people lined up around the block all day long when handel's opened on the first day of the season.

don't believe me? ask national geographic, who named handel's the best ice cream on the planet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

mom's meatballs

cooking for someone is one of the ways i know best to show my love for them and i give my mom the credit for that. she provided the basis of my passion for food.
her cooking is a pillar of family get togethers and the taste of her signature dishes triggers many happy memories. some of my fondest memories of my grandparents are of us spending long summer days picking fruit and then canning it in our cool basement. i loved cooking with her as a kid and i still love cooking with her.

in addition to having excellent street cred, my mom is a certified winner of the betty crocker award. here is one of her most famous recipes:

mom's meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 tsp dried mint (secret ingredient!)
2 tbs ketsup
plain bread crumbs - start with 1/2 cup and add more until mixture forms semi-firm meatballs

mix ingredients by hand and roll into balls. saute in frying pan until browned and cooked through. add to marinara and simmer for at least 30 mins.
sometimes i use ground bison instead of beef. the result has a good flavor and is healthier for you but has a firmer texture.

Monday, April 2, 2007

if grapes grew in heaven...

they would be muscats. this is a variety so delicate, aromatic and deliciously sweet that they taste like little spheres of heaven bursting in your mouth. the skin is delicate, not bitter and the flesh is juicy in the middle, firming up just a bit near the skin. they are sweet, but not cloyingly so and the flavor is aromatic and complex.
muscats are the oldest known variety of cultivated grapes and can be made into all sort of yummy wines, including asti spumante, sherry, clairette de die and dessert wines.
i got these for $2.99 a pound at whole foods but would have willingly paid $10. seriously, if you see muscats at your local grocer, don't pass them up.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

hawaiian pizza kebabs

internal dialog day dreaming about hawaiian pizza the other day:
"i love hawaiian pizza.
warm pineapple is so good... i'd like to grill some pineapple and glaze it with brown sugar and rum. what if i used the toppings of hawaiian pizza for a kebab...? i should serve it with something bready, 'cause i love pizza crust.
you know, you can grill a pizza.

woah! what if i put the pizza dough on the kebab?
that might be a disaster. what if things go horribly wrong?
what's the worst that could happen?"

so i did it, and here's how it turned out:

i really like the way the glaze tasted, especially on the pineapple. surprisingly, the pizza dough faired pretty well on the grill. just be sure to brush them liberally with olive oil prior to putting them on the grill. the dough had a nice crust on the outside and was soft (but not totally done) on the inside. overall i'm pleased with the way things went. next time i think i'll take some pizza dough and bake it in the oven with some of the glaze on it instead of incorporating it into the kebab.

hawaiian pizza kebabs

for glaze:
6 tbs dark rum
5 tbs butter
2/3 cup brown sugar

for kebabs:
canadian bacon
green pepper
1/4 ball of pizza dough, cut into quarter sized pieces
olive oil

boil ingredients for glaze gently until the liquid thickens slightly. meanwhile, prep kebab ingredients. precook onions and peppers in microwave with 1/4 cup water for 4 minutes. assemble kebabs and brush with olive oil. put kebabs on the grill and let cook for a couple of minutes. brush with glaze and turn. repeat brushing on glaze and turning until kebabs are slightly browned but not burnt.