Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fennel Salad with Blood Orange, Rogue Smokey Blue Cheese & Spicy Pecans

It's been soup and winter salads here this week.  Last night's Savoy Cabbage and Apple Salad recipe is on the White House Gardens CSA blog here.  The latest round of snow dampened my enthusiasm for Cleveland Restaurant week, and I ended up canceling reservations for Lola (last night) and Crop, tonight.

So a little fishing through the fridge for salad fixings turned up a bulb of fresh fennel, some blood oranges, and a bit of Rogue Creamery Smoky Blue Cheese.  I scored the cheese last Friday when I cashed in my monthly drawing winnings of a $25 gift certificate for The Cheese Shop at West Side Market. 

I used another West Side Market vendor find for the dressing, The Olive and The Grape's Blood Orange Grapeseed Oil.

Fresh Fennel Salad with Blood Orange, Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese and Spicy Pecans

Serves 4

1 medium sized bulb of fresh fennel
2 Blood Oranges, peeled and supremed
2 T. Blood Orange Grapeseed Oil
1 T. Cider Vinegar
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese, Crumbled
1/4 c. Trader Joe's Sweet and Spicy Pecans, chopped

Remove top and a slice off bottom of the bulb of fennel, reserving some fronds for garnish.  Shave the fennel thinly on a mandoline , top side down, discarding chunks of core at the bottom (fatter) end.

Combine oil, vinegar, lemon juice and season with salt & pepper in small jar with tight fitting lid; shake to combine. 

Toss fennel with dressing in medium bowl.  Arrange fennel on four serving plates.  Garnish with orange segments, blue cheese, pecans, and fennel fronds.   

Friday, February 26, 2010

Smoke 'em If You've got 'em: Stovetop Smoker Soup

In the mood for something infused with that delicious hardwood smoked flavor, but not in the mood to pull out the grill in sub-freezing weather?

A stove top smoker is your solution.

I have this Nordic Ware Oven Essentials Indoor and Outdoor Smoker version.

The pan has a ridged base, a tray to put wood chips, also known as 'dust'. (cover the tray with foil first for ease in cleaning).

A perforated tray sits over the base and smoking tray, and it's all covered by a domed lid that traps the smoke.  The hole in the lid is to insert a thermometer, and there is an adjustable vent as well.

The chips come in an assortment of varieties: Hickory, Apple, Oak, Cherry, etc.  Unlike outdoor smoking, they don't need to be soaked first - they go into the tray dry.

And don't worry, it doesn't really stink up the house either.  I used the lowest setting on the exhaust fan, and it didn't smell smoky at all.

You don't need to restrict your smoking to protein only.  You can smoke vegetables, cheese, and garlic, and create all kinds of dishes with a hint of smoky goodness.  I need to remember to make some smoked tomato sauce when the garden gets into gear this summer.

There's even a cookbook devoted to recipes for your stovetop smoker -Smokin': Recipes for Smoking Ribs, Salmon, Chicken, Mozzarella, and More with Your Stovetop Smoker

I rubbed a couple of pork tenderloins with my newest Penzey seasonings, one with Cajun Seasoning, and one with Bicentennial Rub, and smoked them until they reached 145 degrees.

I had a little bit of one for dinner, then refrigerated the rest to make the Monster Minestrone recipe from the book. 

It makes a ton of soup, so I am going to share some, and try and wedge some in the freezer.  Which should be getting less full from the Cook What You've Got Challenge, but in fact is getting more, not less, full.

Here's my adaptation of the recipe, including changes I'd make in the future.

Monster Minestrone with Smoked Pork Tenderloin - adapted from Smokin, by Christopher Styler

2 pork tenderloins, silver skin removed
2 T. smoking chips (I used Apple)
flavorful spice rub - your choice (I used Cajun and Bicentennial Rubs)

Rub pork with desired seasoning rub and allow to rest at room temp while the smoker heats up and just begins to smoke.  Place pork on smoker tray, cover with lid, and smoke 'til 145 degrees internal temp.  (Check after 20 minutes).  May smoke a day ahead; cool and refrigerate.


1/3 c. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced (about 3 c.)
2 large leeks, cleaned, sliced thin
3 medium carrots, peeled & diced (about 1 1/2 c.)
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced (about 1 c)
3/4 # white or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and diced (I am not crazy about the texture of the mushrooms in this soup - I used white; will probably omit in future)
Half a small head of savoy cabbage, core removed, leaves shredded 1/2" thick (about 6 c.)
2 large parsnips, peeled and diced (about 2 c)
2 quarts of homemade chicken stock
2 small zucchini, trimmed and sliced (about 2 c)
1/2 # small green beans, trimmed and halved (about 2 c)
One 15 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes (I used Muir Glen); in the summer, I'd smoke some tomatoes
One 15 oz can cannellini or red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (maybe 2 cans, or one of each - 1 can gets kind of lost with all the veg)
1 c. frozen peas
1 c. small pasta, cooked according to pkg directions; don't add to any you are going to freeze

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium.  Add onions, leeks, carrots, celery and mushrooms and season with salt.  Cook stirring often, until vegetables begin to soften, 10-15 minutes.  Stir in cabbage and parsnips, cook and stir until cabbage wilts.

Add broth and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper.  Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes til tender.  Add zucchini, beans, peas, and smoked pork and simmer an additional 10-15 minutes.

Cook pasta separately, and stir into individual servings.  Don't add to portions to be frozen - it will suck up all the broth.

Check and adjust seasoning.  Don't over salt, especially if you plan to finish the soup with shredded parmesan or pesto, or my favorite Borsari Seasoned Salt - Original Blend.

Remove pork and chop after resting for 5 minutes or so.  To cool soup for refrigerator or freezer, pour into shallow pans (9x 13) and stir occasionally before packaging and labeling in individual containers.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Kitchen - I Got You a Backsplash.

One year ago this week, my kitchen was transformed with cabinets made out of actual wood, custom storage (designed by me), and the most beautiful slab of granite I've ever seen.  We've had a good year together; cooking in this space is pure pleasure.  

But the back splash, wasn't a commitment I was ready to make at the time.  I knew I didn't want it to compete with the granite.  I told the contractor to just get some plain, flat black tile.  Because I knew if I went to the wholesale tile store that I would be drawn like a moth to a flame to the most expensive tile in the joint.  He went to order the tile, looked around, and told me I really needed to go check out the options before I made up mind.  Obviously I put it off.  

A few weeks ago, it was time.  Especially around the sink, the paint was starting to get grungy.  So I sucked it up and made an appointment at the tile store.  I'd picked out something plain and reasonably priced when the sales person got called away to a phone call.  In the 20 minutes she was gone,  the shiny ($$$), pretty glass tiles pulled into the lead.  The colors, olive oil (green) and caramel sundae, matched the colors in the granite perfectly.

The tiles come in many different sizes, including a couple of patterned sheets of various small ones, that was pretty cool.  And pretty expensive.  

An $80 special diamond saw blade is required to cut them.  You also need a skilled contractor, because there can't be any cut edges showing.

On the range side, I only wanted a single row.  When the spice racks and lazy susans are back in place, you can't see much of this wall anyway.  Turns out, about 5 tiles short, so I chose to leave this edge off and use the tile behind the coffee pot.  

Ironically, I am pretty sure I brought home a sample of the identical glass tiles from Canton Cut Stone when I went to lay out my granite slab.  It was worth the wait.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cooking Fears: What Has You Quaking in Your Clogs?

Photo by Winona Leonards
I asked a group of friends, including many personal chefs, what gets them quaking in their clogs when it comes to cooking.  Mageircophobia, or fear of cooking, apparently takes many forms, including fear of causing illness, serving inedible food, presentation issues, fear of the cooking process, and fear of recipes.  

Those of us who cook for a living, and for pleasure, usually only have a few things we'd either prefer to never tackle, or some we'd like to, but fear failure.  And unlike true mageicophobia sufferers, we don't need therapy and medication to overcome our fears, we just need a good old fashioned double dog dare.

The first one to tackle, and photograph their feared food, was fellow personal chef, and sassy Cajun girl, Winona Leonards.  That beauty of a strawberry cake, above, is her mother-in-law's from scratch recipe.  

She tackled the feared cake for her husband's birthday. "While I'm nowhere near his mother's ability in the cake-making dept.....I held my own. It was a good cake. I was always so scared to make it....I conquered the beast."   I bet it was phenomenal.

Baking challenges surfaced among the group, most of whom aren't pastry chefs: Popovers, cream puffs, pastry dough, souffles.  Personally, I have made some of the worst pie dough ever attempted. 

Protein challenges were the second largest category, with trimming and cooking a whole beef tenderloin, whole fish, killing/butchering/boning poultry.

The not as familiar or common, also made the list: Bison, ostrich, alligator, turducken, octopus, eel. And foams.  Which I bet even nice restaurants in Akron aren't prone to putting on a plate.

As a technique, deep frying at home, isn't one too many people are comfortable attempting.

And parents, don't forget you can create a food fear,  we've got one fear of lentils because they were likened to bed bugs.

So what's your secret (or not so secret) kitchen fear?  If I double dog dare you, will you tackle it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two Bean, Two Pepper Salad


When I walked past the prepared foods case at Mustard Seed Market this morning, on my way to get a soup bone, I noticed they had one of my favorites, Green Bean, Chickpea, Tomato Salad.  I knew I had some green beans and grape tomatoes at home, and planned to make some this evening.

A rummage through the pantry produced no garbanzos, but a lot of cans of cannellini beans.  The tomatoes were starting to get soft, but I found a red pepper in the fridge that needed used, along with some lemon wedges and a handful of pitted kalamata olives.  

Since I was clearly no longer making the original salad, I also decided to bring a new find to the party, these Guindilla peppers I got at Trader Joe's last week.  (I agree with the La Tienda reviewer who said that these slender pickled peppers have the same sort of heat as a banana pepper, but with a much richer flavor).

So Two Bean, Two Pepper salad was born.  Here is the recipe.

Two Bean, Two Pepper Salad - by Dine-In Diva Personal Chef, Tamara Mitchell

1/2 pound of slender green beans, trimmed
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 c. pitted kalamata olives, rough chopped
1/4 c. feta cheese, crumbled
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 1/2 T. light olive oil
Salt & Pepper
4 Guindilla Peppers, stem removed, sliced
Lemon Wedge

Cook green beans in large pot of salted boiling water, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain and plunge into ice water.  Drain.

While beans are cooking toss cannellini beans, red pepper, olives, cheese and guindilla peppers in medium bowl.

Make dressing by combining oil, vinegar and salt and pepper in small jar with tight lid; shake to combine.

Add green beans and toss with dressing.  Adjust seasoning and add a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

Snow Kidding: Take a Spring Break


Just a little reminder that winter doesn't last forever.  Think Spring.


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Sky is Falling: Real Simple Billing

If you subscribe to any magazine, you've been the recipient of multiple mailings requesting renewals and payments.  Some magazines have even gone to a, usually disguised in the fine print, automatic renewal system that requires you to tell them to stop rather than the other way around.
I've subscribed to Real Simple for several years.  They seem to send out a more than normal amount of reminders and bills.  But this one really went a little too far.

The bottom screams: 4TH REQUEST FOR PAYMENT.  Now that part was probably true.  But after going on-line as directed at the bottom to check my account, my subscription was in no way in danger of being suspended as threatened.  I was paid up for nearly another year.  Then the next day a magazine arrived and showed a 2012 expiration.  

This notice didn't just cross in the mail with my payment - the payment was made and received months before.  So are they hoping that I (and others) will just knee jerk react and send another check?

I contacted the on-line customer service and expressed my dismay at this scare tactic and inaccurate billing.  No reply.  Then a few days later I was sent a a link to complete a survey about my on-line customer service experience.  Are you kidding me?  So I completed the survey and let them know they were misinformed if they thought my request was responded to.

Then I got an e-mail that simply said that my account was cancelled as requested and that a refund was forthcoming. 

Someone at Real Simple made a business decision to use this billing strategy.  Guess what?  I suspect I am not the only one that had the complete and total opposite reaction than the one they were hoping for.  Bye-bye.  Insulting your customer's intelligence is bad business.  It's that simple.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gadget Love: Neti Pot


As a lifelong allergy sufferer, I watched with a combination of fascination and revulsion, when the Neti pot was demonstrated on an Oprah show with Dr. Oz.  Neti is an ancient practice of nasal irrigation.  

You fill the little pot with warm water, stir in a little sea salt (think tears), tilt your head over the sink, insert the pot into a nostril, and the water flows through your sinuses and comes out the other nostril.  Switch sides.  Gently blow your nose and say 'ahhhh'.

It takes a few minutes to get the hang of it.  Seems a little freaky that it comes out the opposite side, but trust me, it does. It works best when you relax and let it flow.

During heavy pollen days, flush after working outside.  This time of the year when the indoor air tends to get dry, and you wake up feeling like someone stuffed your sinuses full of cotton, the Neti provides instant relief. 

You can get Neti pots in most drugstores.  Don't spend the money on 'special' salt - use fine sea salt, not table salt, from the supermarket.

I recommend the Neti pot to anyone who feels stuffy, and have had many converts join the fan club. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Deborah Madison Lyceum Series Cuyahoga Valley National Park

I had the pleasure and privilege of hearing Deborah Madison, award-winning author of nine cookbooks, including Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets, speak at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association's Lyceum Series.

If you think it's impressive that the nationally acclaimed author came to Ohio in snowy February, consider this: It was her second trip in two weeks.  Last week she spoke at Wooster College, and checked out the new co-op in Wooster, Local Roots.

And it turns out, she actually was an Ohio resident, although she was too young to recall living here.  Her parents owned a farm in Minerva when she was a baby.  She said that she when she learned that the Cuyahoga Valley National Park had farms and farmer's markets within it's borders, she was intrigued and wanted to visit. 

When she wrote Local Flavors, which was published in 2002, she researched and visited farmer's markets across the country, including the then fledgling Cleveland North Union Market.

She wrote of how the local flavors of Northeast Ohio were driven by corn and tomatoes (crops which are still summer favorites here), and that new farmers to the market were told to "Go home, look at some food magazines, and watch TV Food Network and see what foods are popular and different."  And bit, by bit the market diversified and grew.  North Union now has 8 markets in different locations vs. the one that existed when Deborah first did her research.

She explained the roots of the farmer's markets, in the 1970's, started as commodity farmers attempted to divest themselves of vegetables deemed unmarketable in supermarkets.  Oddly shaped items that didn't match the physical ideals of supermarket consumers were usually discarded.  Farmer's markets provided an outlet to sell those items - the eggplants with noses, the three legged carrots,  and the stunted, but still tender broccoli and cauliflower.

Farmer's markets have evolved to include something old and something new.  Regional favorites, things to fragile to travel,  mushrooms and other foraged foodstuffs, along with some newer things that would never be seen in supermarkets, began to appear as farmer's market gained popularity.

She explained how local food culture plays a role in "your local".  She currently lives in Santa Fe, so naturally chiles and ground corn products are part of the local food culture, but when farmers experimented with growing and selling okra, they didn't find a ready audience for the traditionally southern crop.

While she explained that she isn't totally anti-supermarket, she pointed out there is a community and social aspect that is missing when things are tossed into a cart while having a cell-phone conversation. Interaction between farmer and consumer, and the other shoppers is part of renewing America's food traditions.

Sometimes the interaction is there whether you like or not.  Because Madison is so well known at her market, a quick trip through isn't really an option.

She also touched on crop biodiversity.  She read from a chart that listed the number of crops grown in area in the 1920's, and the same area in 2000.  Many fruits and vegetables were lost, and not surprisingly, corn and soybeans topped the 2000 list.

She is a board member of the Seed Savers Exchange, and stressed the importance of saving heirloom and open pollinated varieties.  She talked about Russian botanist Nikolay Vavilov, subject of Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famin, who spent his life collecting and cataloging seeds.  Ironically, he died from starvation rather than eat the the collected seeds.

She pointed out that cheap food causes people to not pay as much attention, and that much like paying for therapy rather than taking a friend's advice, paying a higher price for food makes people consider and select it more carefully.

She has a new book coming out soon, Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market.  When it comes to fruit, she made a couple of points.  First, that we've stopped smelling the fruit before purchasing, and also that we are losing the variety names.  Using plums as an example, supermarket options have reduced the names to "red" and black", when in fact there are dozens of varieties.  She pointed out that both farmers and consumers need to start naming varieties so they can be asked for again.

Regarding seasonality, she pointed out that in season means, in season where you live.  Supermarkets reflect the "season of the world".  Local seasonal foods also usually have a natural affinity.

She recommended that everyone develop at least a basic grasp of botanical plant families, because plants from the same family also tend to taste good together, such as carrots and dill, spinach and chard, and tomatoes and eggplant.  I thought that was interesting, because I had just pulled The Anatomy of a Dish, off the shelf earlier that day, which actually diagrams flavors by botanical family.

If you missed Deborah's talk, I have good news for you.  She will be returning in August and doing a book signing for her new book.  Be sure and sign up for the newsletter at the Countryside Conservancy to stay tuned.  Also, please consider become a member of the Conservancy and supporting them financially.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blog Updates: New Domain Name, Follow Me & Comment

I've changed my domain name for the blog to - please update your bookmark.

I've also added a followers gadget on the right column - I know you're out there, so I'd love it you add yourself to the followers.

Finally, I have changed the format for leaving comments.  You may now comment without having to sign-in to another program.  Click on Comments, leave your comment, then click down on the drop box to anonymous.  Please write your name in the comment though.  I moderate all comments because every once in awhile there is one that is completely inappropriate.

Thanks for reading.  I'd love to count you as a follower and look forward to your comments.

Cheers!  Tami

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Foodie & Wine Fun in Akron, Including Cooking Classes


What's there to do around town for food and wine lovers?  Quite a bit, actually.  This photo is from the last Cleveland Fabulous Food Show, where I attended an included food and wine pairing seminar taught by Master Sommelier, Matthew Citrglia.  Despite the stale tidbits supplied for the tasting, it was a very informative, fun way to spend an hour at the show.  

The 2010 show dates have already been announced - November 12th-14th. You can sign up on-line for updates, or follow on Facebook or Twitter.  

I'm not sure how, or if, they will be able to top last year's evening with Thomas Keller, but even if you skip the 'talent' portion of the show, it's a fun way to kill a day.

Northern Ohio has a local Slow Food Convivia; you can join and attend local events.  They also have a blog and Facebook fan page.

The Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, in addition to sponsoring the farmer's markets, also has some classes and events.  Be sure and sign-up for the newsletter to stay informed. 

If you don't mind a bit of a drive, The Culinary Vegetable Institute, and home of The Chef's Garden is in nearby Milan, Ohio.   I just checked the Earth to Table event schedule - who wants to go to the May dinner with Dave "I'm not your bitch, bitch" from Top Chef with me?? I am so excited for this one.

Cleveland Foodie started an excellent movement to support the The Culinary Vegetable Institute's children's programs, and got a lot of local chefs to donate gift certificates as a prize.  The deadline to make a donation and enter to win a year of fabulous dining ends February 13th, so get on it.  Here's a link to the post

Looking for a restaurant that doesn't have a location in every city in America?  Cleveland Independents is your go to.   Their quarterly gift certificate sale is a good excuse to try some new spots, and believe it or not, there are still some left from the first quarter sale, including some for one of the few in greater Akron area, Papa Joe's.  (Warning: turn down the volume before clicking on restaurant links; they invariably have some kind of annoying mood music that never fails to give me a jolt).

Papa Joe's has a prepared food carry-out and a nice little wine store, including the area's only Enomatic tasting system.  Buy a card, load with money, and taste up to 12 wines, priced by the ounce.  You can also book the wine room for private events.

The menu includes a few native favorites, including Akron's official appetizer, Sauerkraut Balls.  Sauerkraut Balls are to Akron what Wings are to Buffalo.  They were voted the city's official food by Beacon Journal readers in 1996.

Cleveland spots: I'm a fan of Crop Bistro see my chef's table tour postFlying Fig is a favorite.  Looking forward to trying Table 45, which also has a chef's table, but I need some more bodies to book one and make it worthwhile.  Can't decide? Score one of the Decks, and get $10 off at all of the independents - $29.95, what a deal.  

Cleveland Restaurant Week is coming up February 22nd - 27th, 2010. 45 downtown spots will be offering three course (appetizer, entree, dessert) menus for $30.  I've got reservations for Lola and Crop.  Will try and squeeze in Greenhouse Tavern.  (I really can't afford to blow off the gym anytime soon...)

Ken Stewart's Grille is an Akron institution for fine dining.  The specials list is usually exhaustively long, the service is attentive, and I've never had a bad meal there.  There's also the Ken Stewart Lodge and adjoining Tre Belle in Bath.  I've only dined at the Lodge a few times, and attempted Tre Belle once and it was packed.

Beau's Grille, located in the Hilton across from Summit Mall, added a beautiful outdoor patio.  Haven't dined there recently, but I've had some good meals there.

Craving a burger?  Akron has two drive-in options, open year round, that are famous for their burgers. 

Swenson's has added quite a few locations since the original on South Hawkins in 1934.  You order the cheeseburg (not a typo) with everything (mustard, onions, and pickle), and get a seasoned patty  which is rumored to have a little sugar in it, nestled in a buttered toasted bun.  Get a double if you are really hungry.

The Galley Boy features two patties, and a thick relish/mayo sauce and is topped with a olive on a pick.  I used to love 'em, but haven't had one in years. 

Blow your diet for the week with fries, onion rings, or potato puffs (aka Tater Tots), and add a thick shake. 

Skyway Drive-In got started a little later, in 1952, but has also expanded and has a devoted following, including Jimmy Buffet, who was known to place a big order when he swung through on summer tours.  Although I don't stray from the burgers, fries, onion rings, shake route often, they also have delicious vegetable beef soup from an old family recipe.  

One of the funniest stories was a friend who said they tried one of the drive-ins and hated it.  When asked what she ordered, she said the shrimp basket.  They're burger joints.  Order a burger.

The drill at both places is pull up, turn on your lights, place your order with car hop who magically appears, turn lights off, wait a few minutes, food appears.  Tray hangs outside the window in the summer; inside in the winter.  Call ahead for carry-out and you're home with a greasy sack of delights in no time.  Be sure and tip the car hops, but not run over them as they dart around the parking lot.

In the mood for ethnic eats? Grab yourself a copy of Laura Taxel's newly updated Cleveland Ethnic Eats.  Follow her blog and Facebook fan page to get the scoop.

Doesn't happen often, but if a Chinese craving strikes, I order from House of Hunan.  Which is located next door to HomeGoods, so it can be an expensive 15 minutes for me.  I've heard great things about Pad Thai in Montrose, but haven't dined there.  There is a new Thai place in Independence at Rockside Commons  Plaza that's excellent.  I've heard good things about Cilantro in downtown Akron (I didn't link them because they have their website password protected, hey webmaster!).

Pizza?  I don't order very often because I'd rather make my own.  Luigi's in downtown Akron has a cult following, but I can't really remember if I've ever eaten there.  Maybe once.  

Speaking of Luigi's, you could be in the neighborhood if you attend the Akron Artwalk.  Monthly you can catch a shuttle, see glass blowing demos, visit galleries, including my friends at Zeber-Martell Clay Studios, and eat at a variety of restaurants.  Chrissie Hynde's vegan restaurant, Vegiterranean is also in the neighborhood.

Become a member of the Akron Art Museum for the opportunity to attend a variety of events.  They also do free outdoor concerts in the parking lot during the summer.

The Cuyahoga Scenic Railroad has monthly wine (and some beer) excursions scheduled.

Hiking, biking, and maybe a picnic?  The Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers a variety of trails and activities.  CVNS is one of the top ten most visited national parks in the country.

Local wine?  There are a lot of wineries in Ohio, believe it or not. For Akronites, you can't beat The Winery at Wolf Creek.  In the summer you can sit outside on the deck overlooking the winery, and in the winter there's a cozy indoor tasting room. 

If you are looking for other wine events, be sure and sign up for the weekly newsletter.  

Summer and fall are festival season in Ohio.  Practically every weekend you can find a town celebrating something.  Here's a list of a few.  The one I try to attend is the Akron Arts Expo at Hardesty Park.  It's free and the artists are pretty good quality. 

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens is another source of events, and has an annual arts & crafts event in the fall.

Cooking Classes: Well of course I'm partial to the personal culinary coaching provided by Dine-In Diva Personal Chef Service.  Come to my place, or I'll come to you. Subscribe to my newsletter on any page of my website, and follow as a fan on Facebook to stay informed on upcoming classes.

The Loretta Paginini School of Cooking, in Mayfield, offers a lot of classes, and you are likely to see Loretta, her daughter Stephanie, and the professional students, at trade shows, and in TV appearances.  There is also a nice division at the Fishers Foods store on Cleveland Avenue in North Canton. Sign up for their e-mail list, and note that classes tend to sell out quickly.

The Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson has a nice selection of classes, and will also be hosting chef John Ash for some classes and a dinner in April. They also have a small store selling gourmet cookery including All-Clad pans.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Akron Local Food: Don't Buy Food From Strangers


I had lunch yesterday with a fellow personal chef whose first day as a local resident was yesterday . She's moving from California (and hoping her moving truck makes it through the next storm front this week).

Over Short Rib Sliders (awesome), and Thai Peanut Soup, heavy on the peanuts (ok, but the peanut quantity was a bit weird), at Moe's in Cuyahoga Falls,  I tried to give her the skinny on what and where to eat and procure foodstuffs locally.

We squinted at a map (I forgot my readers), and she scribbled some notes, and I was going to send her a nice email with some links to recap, but decided to post it all here for future reference.

First, our awesome farmer's markets sponsored by Countryside Conservancy.  Go to their link to get the locations and dates of the in-season markets, and to sign up for their mailing list which will give you e-mail heads-up on what's coming up.  There are winter markets on the third Saturday of the month at the Happy Days Visiting Center @500 W. Streetsboro Rd. in Peninsula.  

My second favorite source is the West Side Market in Cleveland.  It's only open Mondays, Wed, Friday and Saturday.  I usually go on Friday; Saturdays are very crowded.  My go to organic veggie source is The Basketeria, run by the friendly Anita and Tom.  They source as much local stuff in season as possible, but off season, they are my #1 source for organics.  Send them an e-mail and you'll get a weekly e-mail on Thursday with the specials, and special prices for insiders.  Tell 'em the Diva sent you.  I'll be doing some kind of demo at the stand on a Saturday in March - if you have an idea, send me a note.  

The Cheese Shop, Kate's Fish, The Mediterranean Market, Pinzone's, all at West Side Market, take good care of me, as well as a host of the fruit and veggie vendors, who ply me with fresh figs in season, and whatever other tempting things I can't resist.  And in winter, you can't beat fresh, organic herbs for $1 each.  I stock up and usually get a few weeks out of mine.  

For cheap canned goods, cleaning stuff, and weird close-out stuff, you can't beat Marcs.  The one in Cuyahoga Falls has a pretty decent organic section, and even has a deli. (Full disclosure - I personally wouldn't do their deli foods; I pretty much stick to the West Side if I am doing those).  They only take cash, checks and Discover, so plan accordingly.  

Personally, I'm thankful they finally got scanners and started taking Discover, as I'd abandoned them for awhile. You are also wise to avoid peak shopping hours there, and check your impatient foot-tapping, eye rolling tendencies at the door.  Some stores are better than others, and at mine, the clerks all know me, but if you are in a hurry I guarantee there will be twenty five people trailing behind two check-outs while someone is paying in lint covered pocket change.  You also can't rely on them having the same items from week to week. You should get their weekly flyer in your mail.

If I have to shop a grocery store, Giant Eagle (a chain out of Pittsburgh) is my choice.  Their natural and organics selection is decent, and the larger stores have decent, clearly identified, gluten free choices.  Their natural chicken and ground turkey are acceptable when you can't get it direct from a farmer. 

If you wander a little north to Hudson, or Brecksville, Heinen's is excellent.  No carts in the parking lot - you pull up and they load your car.  The only fresh salad bar worthy of piling it on and paying the sometimes, shocking total.  I really wish they'd move closer to Akron.

Trader Joe's is another store we need around here, but the closest one is in Woodmere.  But it's conveniently located next to Sur la Table, Penzey's, and Michael Symon's B-Spot, so making the trip isn't that painful.  In the summer the outdoor landscaping is beautiful.

My fellow Akron blogger over at Dad Cooks Dinner, has compiled a nice list of ethnic markets in the area, including his recent road trip post to the Mexican grocery.

West Point Market is the place to head if you have a fistful of cash burning a hole in your pocket.  The most impressive cheese case in the area (be sure to get a cheese club card for a free pound after it's full - I think I scored a $45 pound of parmesan once with mine).  I still sometimes wander around slack jawed admiring the shelves.

The wine selection is also outstanding.  They recently moved the knickknack and tchotchke section to the back of the store into the former tea room, and expanded the wine section into the space.  I recently attended the sold out tasting of 50 red wines under $15, which was more difficult than you'd imagine.  After about 10, they either taste pretty good or really bad.

If you want to impress your date with dinner at home, their premium meats and seafood are worth the splurge, and their ready to cook entrees are restaurant quality. (Or you could hire Akron's only personal chef to come to your house and cook it for you).

On my desert island shopping list at West Side Market: The parmesan covered pita chip dippers and black pepper parmesan bread, and creme brulee from the bakery, the truffle butter from the dairy case, wine, and some Vosges Dark Chocolate Bacon Bars.

For eggs (and chickens), Brunty Farms is my source.   Stock up at the farmers market, or pick up at the farm and meet the animals.  I just visited yesterday and the six piglets are getting bigger by the day.

In addition to my own vegetable and herb garden, I am a three year member of Community Supported Agriculture, aka, CSAs.  CSA members support their local farmer by paying for a share up front, around $500 in this area.  The farmer uses the money to buy seeds and plants, then in season, the members get a share of the produce for around 20 weeks.

I belong to White House Gardens in Sharon Center.  We have a blog you can follow with recipes and harvest info, and there was just a Facebook fan page created.  Pictures of the farm are on the fan page. I think it's waiting list only already this season.

You can find local CSAs in your area through Local Harvest.  Two other local ones that have availability (or did at least a month ago) are Baker's Fresh Produce and Honey, and Greenfield Berry Farm.  Both of these are farmer's market vendors and I've purchased from both.

If you want some local cheese, my two favorites are Mackenzie Creamery and Lake Erie Creamery for fresh chevre, and Great Lakes Cheese.  For grass fed selections, including my favorite, Lemon Zest, visit the farmers market.

For fresh sweet corn, hands down my pick is Graf Growers, who have their own little farm stand of goodies, in addition to the garden center in season.  I can eat it nearly every day in season, plus I put five dozen ears in the freezer.  Looking at this old post made me want an ear right now.

Look for another post soon on my favorite places to eat out, plus one on classes and events.

It makes me proud to see how far we've come in just a few short years for people seeking local foods and supporting their farmers.  Cuyahoga Conservancy's motto (and t-shirts) say it all:  "Don't Buy Food From Strangers".

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nicoise Salad with Green Beans & Fingerlings vs. CAT FUD

When I was a kid I loved tuna casserole.  We had it often, as many families in the '60's did.  Frozen mixed vegetables, Campbells Cream of Something Soup, canned tuna.  I can't remember if there were noodles or the potato chip topping that others seem to be nostalgic about.  Probably not chips, because we wouldn't have wasted a good chip that could have been dipped in Lawson's Chip Dip.

My mother's other canned seafood creation that made it into semi-regular rotation, Salmon Patties, however, was one of two things I pretty much refused to eat. Period.  Liver & Onions is the other, in case you wanted to know.  Which my sister loves, and actually has ordered it in restaurants.  Go figure.  The salmon patties featured dried breadcrumbs, celery, and bones, and fortunately the dog could be persuaded to eat some, although I remember balling up a fair amount and hiding them under my leg to escape the table.

The love/ hate relationship with  canned seafood all came to a crashing halt on the fateful evening that Tuna Casserole night intersected with Stomach Flu visits the Snyder sisters night.  I don't remember eating tuna casserole again after that, probably because, my mother had to clean up the mess and probably had no appetite for it again either.  

As an adult, I have rarely peered into a tuna can, although I love it fresh or as sushi.  But for some reason, I always seem to have a few cans in the house.  And the Cook What You've Got Challenge seemed like a good time to get them on the table.

So last night, I sucked it up, and made this Nicoise Salad that I adapted from Fine Cooking's Big Buy Special.

Nicoise Salad with Green Beans and Fingerling Potatoes

Handful of fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
Couple of handfuls of green beans, trimmed and cut in half
1 1/2 T. red wine vinegar
2 t. grainy Dijon
1/2 c. or so of olive oil
couple tablespoons minced shallot
fresh thyme leaves from a few small sprigs
1 can of oil packed tuna, drained and flaked
1 T. capers in salt, rinsed
couple of tablespoons of drained diced fire roasted tomatoes (because I had them in the fridge)
handful of pitted kalamatas

Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water about 8 minutes, then throw in the beans for about 3-4 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  

In mini food processor combine vinegar, oil, mustard and pulse to combine.  Add shallot, thyme, s&p, and continue to process until thick and emulsified.

Toss the drained potatoes and beans with a few tablespoons of dressing.  

Toss the tuna, capers, and tomatoes with a few tablespoons of dressing.

Arrange on plate and serve with kalamatas.  Throw in a hard boiled egg if you've got one. 

When I opened the can of tuna the first thing I thought was CAT FUD (an old favorite Far Side cartoon featuring a dog hiding behind the washing machine waiting for the cat who is following the trail to the dryer that says CAT FUD.

I hesitated for a few minutes and tried to gain my composure.  While not tripping over a couple of cats who heard the can and started whimpering.  I thought about eating the vegetables and olives and giving them the tuna.  Then I tasted it.  It was good!  No wonder those cats are doing the happy, happy joy dance when I pop those cans open.  

I didn't eat a huge serving and I did share a little tuna with my favorite, senior citizen cat. But I conquered a fear of canned tuna that I've probably been fostering since the first or second grade.  I still think it's better off left to the cats, but I can eat it in a pinch.

Which brings me to the next challenge: Conquer Your Biggest Cooking Fear.  Stay tuned for more details - or visit my Facebook fan page to join in the fun. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Milk and Cookies


I clipped this Cornmeal Lemon Zucchini cookie recipe from Every Day Food.   

Interesting, because there is no egg or baking powder.  Instructions specify mixing by hand, which I have to say I was questioning when I started.  It really doesn't begin to resemble dough at all until the very end when the zucchini is stirred in.

Crunchy with an interesting texture when first baked, but after a few days, they've softened more into a cookie vs. a biscuit-like texture.  Would I make them again?  Mmmm, probably not.  

Can't have cookies without milk.  My new favorite is Hartzler in the retro returnable glass jug.  The skim actually looks (and tastes!)  like milk, not like milk water. 

Under Pressure: Gadget Love - Pressure Cooker


Pressure Cookers.  We've all heard the horror stories about the rattling, spitting contraption spewing it's contents all over granny's ceiling. And you've probably seen the Iron Chefs employing them, because when you've got an hour, and you need to cook something that would usually take three hours, a pressure cooker is the right tool for the job.

I got my Fagor Duo 10-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner through a trade discount program.  It sat in the box, unloved and unused for about a year before I screwed up enough courage to try it.  My fellow personal chefs raved about how you could whip up something that normally takes all afternoon in no time flat.  

I got it out of the box.  I read the instructions.  Then I put the lid on, at some cockamamie angle that could probably never be recreated, and it was good and stuck.  No amount of cursing at it while twisting it, produced the desired results.

I was about to chalk it up to a sign, and pitch the miserable beast, when I asked my handyman to take a crack at it. We took it outside.  And somehow he managed to get the #$@# lid off.  So now I had to use it.  

It's not ideal to use it on an electric range, which is what I had at the time, but if you actually fire the two large burners, with one lower, you can move it when it reaches pressure, instead of adjusting the flame.  It does make a bit of noise, and it will release steam, but after the first few times, you get used to it and aren't subconsciously ready to cover your face and drop to the floor screaming. 

I'm pretty sure I made this Ham and Bean Soup.  My splattered print-out is a testament to how many times I've made it since, although I really shouldn't even need the recipe anymore.  I usually double it (have the butcher saw your shank in half), but for some boneheaded reason I doubled everything except the beans this week, so I ended up quick soaking and cooking another pound of beans in the pressure cooker.   

An immersion blender is the easiest way to puree a bit of the soup to thicken it.  

Bean soup just begs for some cornbread.  So this morning I mixed up a batch of Jessica Harris's Herbed Cornbread from Crescent Dragonwagon's The Cornbread Gospels. The thyme and jalapeno added a nice kick when I crumbled it into the soup.  The bean addition wasn't seasoned as nicely since I did them separately. 

A good way to spend a snowed in weekend.  The predictions for Akron weren't nearly as dire as the rest of the East Coast, but we ended up with about a foot.  The birds are quite happy I filled the feeders before the storm, and poor Cootie, the garage kitty, isn't sure what to do.  He decided to come out and take a bath in the sun, but I suspect he'll skip his neighborhood prowl today and stay tucked in his bed.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Flowers for Jean

When I met my husband to be, not so much on a blind date, as on a "there's an extra Jimmy Buffet concert ticket because his planned date didn't pan out", I couldn't have imagined what the coming years would bring.  There was for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, and ultimately 'til death do us part.  

The care of his aging parents fell to me, and filled the last eight years with plenty of heartbreaking experience of in sickness and in health. 

The first Christmas I spent with the Mitchells, in 1988, I gave my future mother-in-law an amaryllis bulb kit.  She had such a great time watching it grow, and reporting it's progress to me, that it became an annual tradition.  Over the next twenty years those bulbs never failed to provide her with great joy, as they sent their long slender stalks towards what little sun blesses the Northeastern Ohio winter skies.  

This past Christmas was my first as the last Mitchell standing. (My father-in-law used to joke that we could hold the family reunion in a phone booth).  So I bought my own amaryllis kit.  It was simply a tall glass cylinder, some glass marbles, and the large bulb.  

I put it together as instructed.  I think I put a bit too much water in, and the bulb was not looking particularly happy.  I waited.  I watched.  It seemed to be growing particularly slowly.  Then it gained some steam.  The stalk grew tall.  A second stalk appeared.  At least four fat buds per stalk.  

And then finally the other day one flower opened.  Then another. And another.  Now I see what she was so happy about.  And the tradition goes on.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Still Cooking What I've Got

When I first issued the Cook with What You've Got Challenge,  I had no idea how much other personal chefs, as well as my Facebook friends and fans, would embrace the idea.

Especially at this time of the year, post holiday binge, when it's cold and dreary, cooking dinner can become another chore to dread.  The challenge has provided a creativity component that has made meals a little more fun.

One of the messages I received confirmed it wasn't just fun for me:

"Thank you for such a fun challenge last week. I was having a very bad week last week, and the "Cook What Ya Got" challenge was a fun escape! I am now onto planning out meals for the next few months (my goal is to plan a whole years worth of meals). I even have a couple of friends that took up both challenges. Thanks again. I will keep you updated on my progress."

It also provided incentive for some of my fellow bloggers, who documented their creations:

Patti Anatasia's Table Talk
Martha's A Simply Delicious Life
Mary Beth's Tasty Tidbits
Charity's For Life Personal Chef Service
JoEllen's Newport Personal Chef
Amy's Dinner for a Year and Beyond
My favorite CSA farmer, Debbie, posted on WhiteHouse Gardens CSA

Plus, many of the other participants posted their creations and photos on my Facebook Fan Page.  There are some amazingly creative dishes pulled from the pantries and freezers of folks all over the country.

I have to admit I ate pretty well, and other than milk, yogurt, and some fruit and vegetables, I haven't bought any other groceries this year.

Most amazingly, thanks to Jim Lahey, I have become a bread baker.  When I mixed up the first loaf of no knead bread, I'll admit to being a little skeptical.  But by the time it had cooled, and I cut into the artisan style loaf, I was sold.  I kept taking little slices and marveling that I had actually baked something so amazing.  As we speak, loaf number three is enjoying it's slow rise.

What else did I make last week?

Monday I made Tuna with Smoked Almond Romesco Sauce, Roasted Broccoli with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette, and roasted fingerling potatoes.


Tuesday I made a Toscana Soup with Hot Italian Sausage from Curly Tails Farm and a few potatoes, believe it or not, left from my CSA.

Wednesday I had unexpected leftovers from a chef client menu, of soup with turkey sausage, peppers, and black beans, and a penne dish with sweet potatoes, zucchini, black beans and tomatoes, which fed me for days.  I did however have 2 1/2 pounds of ground pork defrosted to make a couple of recipes, so I made Pork Bolognese.  I gave half to my sister, but sadly I only had a big spoonful that I actually mixed with the last of the penne dish.  I should have put some in the freezer right away, but I didn't.

I still had about 3/4 of a pound of pork left which I intended to make Pork Empanadas with, but this Pork Meatball with Black Bean Garlic Sauce popped up on a blog I was reading, and I made them that day for lunch.  Yum, but mine weren't photo worthy.  Quite the opposite in fact. 

I went out with friends on Friday night, but I did make a blast from the past recipe - my mother's homemade garlic sticks, half of which I gave to my sister with her pork bolognese.

 I ate mostly leftovers through the weekend.  I did have some extra chicken from Wednesday's chef date which I had intended to make for myself when I made them Chicken Marsala ,which I finally got around to making last night, along with some roasted fingerlings and roasted green beans with lemon zest.  A leftover piece of that chicken, sans sauce, just became a Greek Salad for lunch.  Final piece will be tonight's dinner.  

I felt like I was losing a little steam and I am jonesing for a trip to West Side Market.  Then I went "shopping" in the freezer and my resolve was renewed.  I "bought" a container of vegetable soup, a smoked pork hock which is going to make friends with some awesome heirloom beans I got at the farmer's market in the fall, and a big strip steak.  

I have enough green beans plus canned and frozen tuna, for a nice salad nicoise, to use up some more of those fingerling potatoes I scored at Sam's Club (5# for $6).

I will buy a few things tomorrow at Mustard Seed Market because they run a Groundhog Day special.  10% discount for bringing an 8x10 picture of a groundhog, or 15% if you're brave enough to dress as a groundhog from head to toe.  I will be happy with 10%.

And I will probably hit West Side Market for some fruit and veggie action this week.  But I don't really need much.  

I was able to make a nice donation for Haitian relief with my January savings.  

February's savings are being earmarked to celebrate Cleveland Restaurant Week (Feb 22nd - 27th).  45 Downtown restaurants will offer 3 course meals for $30.  I already have reservations at Lola and Crop.  February is the longest short month of the year in my opinion, and I am looking forward to ending it by enjoying someone else cooking.