Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Local Foodie Find: The Olive Tap

I first encountered the tasty oils and vinegars from The Olive Tap at the Fabulous Food Show.  As with most booths with sampling opportunities, they were more or less mobbed by people acting like they hadn't eaten in months.  I made a note to visit the store in person, where I was sure the sampling would be a lot more civil affair. 

I finally made the trip to the Medina store recently, which is tucked into the corner of one of the strip malls on North Court Street.  There is also another location in Long Grove, Illinois.  There is a selection of about two dozen different vinegars and oils on tap in kegs for tasting and fresh bottling.

The product list provided lists two dozen extra virgin olive oils sourced from all around the world, including California, Greece, Italy, Australia, and Tunisia.  There are also over a dozen varieties infused with flavors ranging from basil, chipotle peppers, lemon, wild sage and mushroom, and maybe the best roasted sesame oil I've ever tried.

The selection of balsamic vinegars, all from Modena Italy, ranges from an 18 year old traditional, to many infused flavors like cinnamon pear, pomegranate, black cherry, and fig.  My favorite among the vinegars, and it's hard to pick just one, is the white balsamic infused with Sicilian lemon.  I can see a lot of recipes where this will add a note of brightness.

Part of the fun of tasting at the store is combining vinegar and oil tastings to create a completely new flavor.  They provide a pairing sheet of favorites, or you are free to create your own.

Don't miss the Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar!  This is perfect from drizzling over fruits and pairing with hard, intensely flavored cheeses.

In addition to their own products, they also feature wine and flavored jellies by Deanna Ferry, and a selection of condiments and accessories.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Empty Bowl Project 2010

Yesterday's Empty Bowl Project held at the Akron Art Museum brought together some great local chefs, two very talented artists, and almost 250 lucky guests, to support The Good Samaritan Hunger Center.

Zeber-Martell Clay Studio artists, Claudia Zeber and Michael Martell, did an amazing job on the bowls. Be sure and visit their studio right next to Vegiterranean to purchase more of their beautiful work, including jewelry.  (Speaking of Vegiterranean, I had the good fortune to share a table with the talented Scot Jones, and sample both of his offerings, a delicious celery root, and a tomato bisque with artichokes that was made with cashew 'cream'.)

One lucky guest went home with this gorgeous bowl, which was raffled off at the end of the event.

I served a lot of Black Bean Espresso Chili, a recipe I adapted a bit from Epicurious.  The recipe as written makes a lot, so plan to tuck some in the freezer unless you are having a lot of company.

It's very thick, so I added a little more water.  I made about ten gallons, in batches, and by the end, nearly everything had a speck or splash of chili on it, including me.

I garnished with a shaving of bittersweet chocolate, which was also a big hit.

It was a great event.  As Claudia Zeber told me "These bowls won't just feed people once. They will continue to help feed people, since all of the proceeds go to The Good Samaritan Hunger Center".

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Broccoli & Laughing Bird Shrimp Chowder

I had a half pound of Laughing Bird Shrimp from Friday's market trip, and I am still deep in the Weight Watchers trenches, trying to lose the five pounds that have settled in over the winter (almost there, then on to last year's 5).

This is my riff on a WW recipe, which serves five for a mere 3 points per serving.

Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning is a new product.  It's a grinder with salt, pepper, sesame seeds and other goodies that adds a nice kick to most everything - I've gone through most of one in about a month.

Broccoli & Laughing Bird Shrimp Chowder

1 medium potato, preferably Yukon Gold, although use what you have on hand, peeled & diced
3 c. broccoli florets
1 medium shallot, minced
3 c. fat-free chicken stock
1/4. t. Penzey's Mural of Flavor Seasoning
1. t. olive oil
1/2 t. butter
1/2 pound Laughing Bird Shrimp
1 t. Smoked Paprika
Salt and Pepper
1/2 c. fat free milk
1/4. c. 0% Plain Greek Yogurt
Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning

In medium size saucepan, combine potato, broccoli, shallot, broth and Mural of Flavor, bring to a boil, season with salt and pepper, partially cover, and cook til vegetables are tender about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in large skillet.  Saute shrimp until they turn bright red, season with smoked paprika and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Process soup in batches in blender until pureed.  Return soup to pot, add milk and yogurt, simmer til heated through - do not allow to boil.  Taste and check seasoning - I found it really needed a good dose of salt and pepper.

Serve soup topped with shrimp and garnish with Everyday Seasoning.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Laughing Bird Shrimp Stir-Fry

A trip to the seafood counter at a lot of local grocers can lead to a disappointing meal since we aren't fortunate enough to live near an ocean.  I think a lot of the fear of cooking fish in these parts comes from an experience with less than stellar quality product.

You need to find a dependable fishmonger, and I am fortunate to have Kate's Fish at the West Side Market. Fresh product, reasonable prices and excellent service.  My Friday trips to the Market usually mean seafood dinners for the weekend.

I was looking forward to the first Alaskan Halibut of the season, but I was also intrigued by the new Laughing Bird Shrimp.  They are sustainably farmed in a Cleanfish Alliance approved closed loop aquaculture system in Belize.  They are nothing like any of the farmed shrimp from China.

They are small, 61-70 count per pound, and peeled and chilled on-site and never frozen.  All natural - no hormones, antibiotics or preservatives.  They are creamy white when raw, but turn a really cool deep vibrant red when cooked.

So what's for dinner?  Weight Watchers is going well, if you don't count the part when I am usually hungry.  Technically by the time I gotten around to figuring out what to cook, with a glass of wine for inspiration, I had one point left for the day.  Fortunately shrimp are low in points and I had plenty of veggies to come up with a plan.

I found about a half cup of chopped onion, some Kousa zucchini, about a half of a red pepper, some snow peas, garlic and some white mushrooms by rummaging the fridge.

Laughing Bird Shrimp Stir-Fry

Serves 1

1 t. canola or peanut oil

1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1 Kousa zucchini, sliced on the diagonal (sub regular zucchini, 1 small)
1/2 c. snow peas, sliced on the diagonal
1 c. mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves, garlic minced
1 t. canola oil
1 t. butter
Penzey's Bankok Seasoning to taste
4-6 oz. Laughing Bird Shrimp
Salt and Pepper
drizzle of toasted sesame oil

Heat 1 t. oil in large skillet or wok then add onion and saute a few minutes.  Add bell pepper and zucchini and saute a few more minutes.  Add snow peas, garlic, and mushrooms and saute until crisp tender.  Season with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of Bankok Blend.  Set aside in covered dish.

Heat one teaspoon of oil and butter.  Add shrimp and saute until bright red.  Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.  Add to vegetables and toss to combine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Akron Cooking Classes: Think Spring Edition

I don't know about you, but I am most definitely ready for spring!  If you've suffered from a little too much cabin fever due to the snowy winter, join me in the kitchen for some fun classes to gear up for the new season.  I've even reserved two dates specifically for custom classes - you pick the topic and bring your friends.

Become a Locavore: Your guide to shopping & cooking with farmer's market, CSA Shares (community supported agriculture), and your own garden. 

Spring is almost here! Join me for this fun and informative class.  I'll give you the secrets of shopping for local foods, and cooking seasonally.
It doesn't get more local than your own backyard, so we'll also cover how you can start your own edible landscape.

We'll prepare an Herbal Salad, Pasta Primavera, and Chocolate Lavender Brownies.

Thursday, March 25th 6:30 - 8:30 pm, $50 per guest
Saturday, March 27th 3:00 - 5:00 pm, $50 per guest
Saturday, April 10th 10 am - 12 pm, $50 per guest

West Side Market Cleveland Tour

Take a trip to the West Side Market in Cleveland with me and learn the ins and outs of shopping at this fabulous market.  Bring a shopping tote and a small cooler with ice.  $40 per person

Friday, March 26th - leave Akron 9:30, approx, 1 hour round-trip travel, and 2 hours of shopping time
Knife Skills with Professional Knife Sharpening by Kevin Noon

Learning how to use a knife, plus having a sharp one, is one of the most useful kitchen skills.  I am very excited to be able to offer the combination.  Bring your knives, scissors, food processor blades, and gardening tools, and Kevin will set up a sharpening station in the garage will we do a basic knife skills class.  We'll make and enjoy a stir-fry meal with the results practicing our cutting skills.  (Minimum of 6 guests, maximum of 10).  Pay for your sharpening services separately, via cash or check.

Saturday, April 10th 3:00 - 5:00 pm, $50 per guest, plus cash for your sharpening services

Custom Class - You gather 4-10 friend, you pick the topic, I'll create a custom class for you.  Day or evening sessions available. $50 per guest.
Thursday, April 1st  day or evening session
Tuesday, April 13th day or evening session

Call Tami at (330)571-8214 to make your reservations.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Glimpse of Spring - Peas with Mint

After a record breaking snowy February, we've been smiling and happy in Ohio the past few days at the appearance of the sun and relatively balmy temperatures - 50's today in Akron.

A trip to the West Side Market on Friday netted the above haul.  As I was leaving the vegetable arcade, one of my vendor buddies yelled to me that he had "English beans".  That was a new one to me, so I asked him to show me.  He produced a fresh English pea, and split it open to reveal the contents.  One dollar a pound.   (I saw another sign on the way for "English Beans"; must have been what was on the box at the terminal).

I bought two pounds and it took me about 15 minutes to pop them out of their shells, and I got about 2 1/2 cups for my trouble. A few were sporting little sprouty tails, but most were small to medium and perfectly sized. 

I usually grab some fresh mint, and I had a spare leek, so I based my Smashed Peas with Mint roughly on a recipe from Martha's site, and adjusted for what I had on hand and bearing in mind my Weight Watchers points.

Ahh, so springy.  Now if asparagus would only appear.

Smashed Fresh Peas with Mint

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 pounds fresh English peas, shelled and rinsed
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced and cleaned
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper
Splash of Dry Vermouth
2 T. water
1. T. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped

Heat oil in med saucepan over low heat.  Saute leek, shallot, and garlic until soft, but not browned. Season with salt and pepper.  Add peas and heat through about 5 minutes.  Deglaze pan with a splash of vermouth.

Transfer to food processor and pulse to roughly smash with 2 tablespoons of water and 1 t. oil.  Remove half and process the remaining until a little smoother than the first half.  Combine and toss with dill.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

*If you aren't weight watching, add some butter, ricotta, fresh goat cheese, etc.  Something to make them a little more creamy.  As is, the recipe is kinda nice and chunky.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Goodbye Borders, I'll miss you

My obsession with books goes back to my first tour of the tiny basement library at Uniontown Elementary School.  I read with abandon, escaping to other places whenever I could.  During the summer, the Bookmobile used to park at the intersection of Route 619 and Cleveland Avenue, and I would always check out the limit for the two week until it returned.

As an adult, non-fiction books have taught me a number of skills, most notably cooking and gardening.  While there is no substitute for hands-on experience in either of those endeavors, the inspiration from written words and beautiful photographs can't be underestimated.

I've acquired quite a collection.  I'm purely guessing, but I say the cookbooks probably number in the 500-600 range, and the gardening books 150 or so.  I've donated hundreds to the Akron-Summit County Library over the last few years, and I sold about 100 on Amazon.

I've never been in a bookstore that I didn't find something to add to the collection.  When Waldenbooks first offered a rewards point credit card, I was probably the first to sign up.  Instead of air miles, I took my rewards in books, and in the initial years of living in an older house, the points added up quickly.

I remember when Borders came to Montrose in 1994.  Rosemount Country Club actually relocated some of their golf course where the Wal-Mart was built, and satellite plazas began popping up, including the one housing Borders, across the street.

At the time there was a small, independent bookstore in Fairlawn Towne Plaza, Pickwick Books, which I think threw in the towel before the Borders even opened.  I'll never forget paying for some books at the going out of business sales and the clerk bitterly saying, while surveying the waiting line, that if that many people had shopped there regularly, they wouldn't be closing.

So Borders opens, a giant store with books, music, and a coffee shop.  It was a busy place in the days before everyone had the internet.  The tables in the cafe were almost always filled, and the armchairs tucked throughout the store were usually occupied as well.

During my years of corporate torture, a stop at Borders was often my reward after a stressful day at the office.  It was a perfect place to decompress before going home (and less dangerous than stopping at a bar).

I've spent most of my time in the magazine, cooking, and gardening sections.  When I found myself unexpectedly widowed at 38, I worked my way through the grief section, often in tears on the floor of self help.  I've spent many hours and many dollars in that store.

So imagine my surprise, and shock, when I learned that the Montrose store was closing. I guess I should have suspected something because the selection has seemed a little less robust in the past year or so.  It also seemed like there were less people working there, especially at the check-outs, and I know I left a few times rather than wait out the long line.

I'm sure the internet, where you can now read more for free, and buy books cheaper, put a hurt on them, as well as the economy.  Even a book junkie like me probably visited and left empty handed as many times as not.  And from what I gathered from overhearing some conversations with the remaining (surprisingly cheerful) staff, the rent was increased in the plaza to the tipping point for keeping the store open.  Apparently a Hobby Lobby is taking it's space, and there are still a lot of empty storefronts in that strip.

There is a Barnes & Noble just down the street.  I actually prefer them for their bargain selection, but I don't like that they still charge a $25 annual fee for their discount program, which offers a lower discount on all books, vs. the free program at Borders which netted you a coupon a week for 20 - 40% off one purchase.

This is the final week before they close.  Books were finally reduced to 40% off on Friday, and business was brisk.  When I left there was a line stretching back to the magazine section.  The Chapel Hill and Jackson stores will remain open, but neither is convenient for me to haunt regularly.

I'll probably stop one more time this week, to 'pick the bones', as one fellow shopper referred to the closing sale.  I'll miss my Borders store.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gadget Love/Gadget Hate: Scales

These are my favorite scales.  I still use the antique one when I am processing tomatoes from the garden.  It's a little off, but I'm not going for precision when I use the old one.

Michael Ruhlman, and his book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, convinced me that I needed to get a digital scale.  It's helped me produce some pretty awesome loaves of bread this winter. Weighing, instead of measuring, especially flour, really does make a difference in the final product.

It's been a long, snowy winter.  There's been a lot of activity in my kitchen, some of it documented here.  There's been some great restaurant meals, notably the chef's table tasting menu at Crop Bistro.  

But there must be something wrong my my washing machine and dryer, because my clothes are shrinking.

Which brings me to the scale I hate - the one gathering dust on the bathroom floor.  I ignored it for months.  I've worked up a good sweat at the gym most days, and played the mind game that many fall for it, that I was at least breaking even.  I'm not.  Clearly input has exceeded output.  

It wouldn't be so bad, the five pounds gained since fall, but they've joined forces with the five pounds from last winter.  The resulting family reunion isn't pretty.  Adding insult to injury is the undeniable fact, that like some blubbery teutonic shift, the weight that has been here all along has settled in new and more uncomfortable places.  Ahh, the joys of aging and perimenopause: twice the PMS and cravings, double the bloating, with an occasional bought of unexpected fire.  

I tried denial.  That didn't really work.  I tried a few halfhearted attempts at restarting Weight Watchers.  That didn't work.  I contemplated accepting my fluffy fate.  My blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar are good.  I exercise regularly.  

I lost over 20 pounds on Weight Watchers ten years ago and achieved 'lifetime' member status by attending meetings.  I started exercising for the first time in my life then, and I have maintained that habit ever since.  I still follow many of the principles taught by WW, where fiber,and fruits and veggies are your best friends.  I always liked that the plan allows you to really eat anything you want, in moderation.  The eliminate entire food groups and all or nothing approach never works for me.  

The one approach I can't go along with this time is the 'skinny girl' approach to substituting highly processed 'treats' with questionable ingredients for the sake of saving calories and points.  

True story - I recently received a coupon for a free six pack of Fiber One Yogurt.  When I looked at the ingredient list, I probably audibly gasped right in the dairy aisle.  Sure, low calories, thanks to the aspartame and other yuck.  I left the coupon for someone willing to go there.  I'm just not there anymore.  I got fat the old fashioned way; I'll lose weight the same way.  

I'll caveat and say that I suppose if I had more than 10-15 pounds to lose, I'd be tempted, but I really think it's important to learn how to eat real food and deal with the consequences.  Butter and I haven't gotten divorced, we're just temporarily not seeing each other. I'm sure bread and cheese are going to miss me for awhile, but we'll be reunited eventually.  

If you are on Weight Watchers and want to swap some recipes or tips, please feel free to hop over to my Dine-In Diva Personal Chef Service Facebook fan page.  On the discussions tab I've started a topic for Weight Watchers. 

Here's to loving all of the scales in the house by summer!