Monday, March 26, 2007

Showing My Mom The Town...Veggie Restaurants Included

My mom came to visit for the weekend, the first time she's been able to come since we moved up here. Friday night, we took her to dinner at Aladdin's, a local Middle Eastern food chain ( that J and I enjoy a great deal. We shared a vegetarian appetizer platter with hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, falafel (theirs is terrific) and dawali (stuffed grape leaves). Then, J had a a pita roll with a gorgeous charbroiled tuna steak, tomato and tahini sauce. I had chicken sambusek (curried chicken inside a pita shell) with salad and my mommy had a big bowl of veggie chili topped with crumbled feta. We went over to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert, lemon & raspberry cheesecake for my mom and chocolate mousse cheesecake split between J & me. One of these times, I will have to try the dulce de leche cheesecake.

Saturday night, we had been poking around Oberlin, doing the bead shop and just checking things out. We had stopped in The Feve (www.the for 50 cent beers (and dollar and sixty cent Coke on my part) earlier. J was hungry after shopping, so we went back in for dinner. They will sub a Boca burger for any other burger at no additional cost, so it was a good dinner spot for my mom. It's very casual, nothing fancy, but they do burgers quite well. J and I had ours with avocado and bacon (cheddar on hers and muenster on gotta love a place that'll put muenster on your burger) and my mom tried an Erica's, with portobello in addition to the avo. We all had tater tots, too. J usually objects when I make them at home, but she loved these. The spicy seasoning on hers must have helped. My ma got hers plain & I got mine stinky (with garlic), all of us getting a different dipping sauce. I liked my mom's chipotle mayo best, while J favored the Thai peanut sauce she ordered and the garlic mayo I got. We also had some decent jalapeƱo poppers. I'm so glad Ohio has a smoking ban now, so that I can enjoy bar food without having asthma issues.

Last night, I cooked a vegetarian pasta dinner at home, making enough to send the leftovers home with my mom for their dinner tonight. J loved the endive so much that she said she could just have that for her meal. Surprisingly, mojitos go remarkably well with these dishes. My mom & I had them to break in the jigger measure she bought me over the weekend.

Garlic Caper Pasta
1 c. freshly-grated bread crumbs (I used some day-old sourdough & made some of the pieces chunkier for more interesting texture)
3/4 lb. pasta, cooked (I used campanelle, but something like radiatore would be great, too)
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely-chopped
Splash of lemon juice
6 tbsp. capers
1/4 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Grated pecorino romano or parmesan

Heat oil in skillet. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden. Add lemon, capers, parsley and bread crumbs. Stir until golden. Toss with pasta. Serve with cheese. Serves 4. I suspect that the dish would be even better with half olive oil and half butter, with some pine nuts tossed in.

Baked Endive with Walnuts and Cheese
4 Belgian endive heads, thoroughly cleaned & trimmed
1/4 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 c. walnut halves
A couple handfuls pecorino or parm, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make 2 length-wise cuts, in a plus-sign, to endive, leaving ends uncut and attached. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper. Tuck into a glass loaf pan. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 32 minutes. Top with nuts, then cheese and bake, uncovered, until cheese melts, another 10 minutes or so. Serves 4.

Meadowlark and Jeet India

Week before last, I made plans to go to dinner not once, but twice with friends while I was down in the Dayton area. Tuesday night, I had plans for dinner at The Winds with friends from the UCC where I interned last year. Mike and Tammy are a really cool couple about my oldest uncle's age. In fact, Tammy went to high school with Vic. I worked at the bookstore with her way back in the early 90s, then became reaquainted with her and met Mike when I was at that UCC. They are very involved in the church and also with P-FLAG. Both are deep thinkers and really interesting to talk to.

Since Mike had a church meeting, we ended up at Meadowlark ( instead of The Winds. Ending up at Meadowlark is never a bad thing. The atmosphere is pleasant and the food, featuring high-quality organic foods and often locally-produced items, is phenomenal. I would rate Meadowlark among the top 3 Dayton restaurants, along with The Winds and El Meson. Mike had the crab spaghetti, which he said he "would recommend to anyone" and Tammy had the roast chicken thighs. These are stuffed with a mixture of feta, ricotta and olives, then roasted with oregano, lemon and wine. Tammy confesses that she rarely orders anything else there because she loves the thighs so much. I feel the same way about their garlic chicken. It's served with perfectly cooked rice and a ladle of meltingly soft lima beans cooked with capers and spinach, all topped by warm goat cheese. Oh, man! Dessert was great, too. Tammy's profiteroles looked scrumptious. Mike and I indulged in chocolate cake sprinkled with nuts and served with an amazingly deeply flavored toffee sauce. We talked about the state of the church, my schooling and theological ideas and places we had traveled until Mike was nearly late for his meeting.

The next night, I met Laurel for Indian. We went to Jeet India ( near Wright State University. It's relatively new and, while I probably still prefer Ajanta in Kettering, very good. I need to get over to the east side & find a good Indian place up here. We shared an appetizer combo and some pappadams. Then, I tucked into bhatura & the kind of chicken tikka masala I've been hungry for for months and Laurel had shrimp biryani. Great stuff and a very good time spent talking theology, inner work and other such heady topics. I was tempted by the gulab jamun and the ras malai, but didn't think to order dessert until I looked up from our conversation and realized they were trying to close.

First Day of Spring

I celebrated the first day of Spring with my usual first day of Spring meal. I was at my grands', so I made it for them, remembering that it was the meal I made for them the first night I met J. I always try to make salmon patties, asparagus and boiled new potatoes with dill for the first day of Spring. I usually steam the asparagus and add plenty of butter, salt and pepper to the potatoes. I could eat the salmon patties for several meals in a row without tiring of them.

Spring Salmon Patties
1 (14 oz.) can salmon, bones & skin removed if they bother you (they make me feel all shuddery, so I pluck 'em out)
1 sleeve crushed saltines
1 egg, lightly beaten (can I just take a moment here to enthusiastically recommend free-range
organic eggs? They really do taste much, much better for everything!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Oil for frying

Mix everything but oil. Heat oil in large skillet. Form mixture into patties & fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper-towel-lined plate. Serve with tartar sauce or aioli.

Celebrating Irish Heritage

My Protestant Scots-Irish great-grandma is probably rolling in her grave to know that I celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but I do. I usually wear both orange and green, to honor both of the Christian heritages of the country, but I figure I am part Irish, so I might as well celebrate. Some of my pagan friends wonder why I would celebrate a saint reknowned for ridding Ireland of paganism. I'm not celebrating him or that, though. The celebration this year started the Tuesday before, when I took soda bread to class to share.

Irish Soda Bread
3 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. caraway seeds (honestly, I forgot to add these after going to the store just for them and the bread was still very good...but I like the flavor when I remember to add them!)
1 c. raisins
1 c. buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, soda & salt. Add butter & mix with hands until the texture is like cornmeal. Add caraway & raisins. Whisk buttermilk with egg. Fold into dough. On a floured surface, turn dough over on itself 9 or 10 times. Shape into round. Cut cross in top and bake 15 min. on parchment-covered baking sheet. Reduce heat to 350 degrees & bake 15-20 min. Bread is done when it is nicely browned and a toothpick put in the center comes out clean. This is at the height of its deliciousness when still nice and warm, slathered with butter, but is very good cooled, too.

The rest of the St. Paddy's celebrations involved my wife's cooking...when I got home from my weekend class Saturday night, she had corned beef & cabbage waiting. Yum! I usually make a Guinness lamb stew, but the corned beef was a nice switch from that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Church Cookbook Supper

Since I had a worship service & a meeting afterward last night, I made a casserole in the afternoon that J could just pop in the oven after worship. When I mentioned "hot chicken salad" to her, she made a terrible face. When it came to the actual eating, though, she loved it. So did I. She made cheese biscuits to go along with it and we had chunky applesauce and spring mix salad to go with it.

Hot Chicken Salad
3 c. cooked, cubed chicken breast (I find the frozen, precooked, prediced kind easiest...thaw in microwave before adding to casserole, if you use it)
1 c. diced celery (about 5 stalks)
8 oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained
2 oz. diced pimientos
1/2 c. croutons (I used fat-free garlic herb ones)
1/2 tsp. salt
Generous grinding of pepper
1/2 c. toasted sliced almonds
3/4 c. mayonnaise
3/4 c. sour cream
2 tbsp. lemon juice
A dash of onion powder
1/2 c. breadcrumbs, toasted in 1 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix everything but the breadcrumbs & parmesan. Put in a greased 2-qt. casserole. Mix breadcrumbs & parmesan. Sprinkle over top. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Cheese Biscuits
2 . self-rising flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
Dash garlic salt
Small dash cayenne
1/3 c. Crisco
3/4 c. shredded sharp cheddar
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients with a fork. Cut in Crisco until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add cheese, then milk stirring until just blended. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a well-greased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pizza and Carnival King

A 12 year old's dream night, a trip to CiCi's Pizza where the food is plentiful and the arcade empty of other kids so Pie can play Carnival King all night without anyone complaining that he's hogging the machine. Those of you without kids may not be familiar with this chain that serves up a long counterful of not-great pizza. The cool thing is that it's all you can eat, offers a great deal for kids 10 & under and you don't have to decide what kind of pizza you want. Even better, they have a game room in the back with a big window so parents can keep an eye on screen-addicted youngsters. And the staff, at least at the CiCi's in Avon, is extremely friendly and helpful.

While I find the pizza at CiCi's fairly mediocre, I do think the huge variety they have is fun. I usually go back for seconds on the macaroni and cheese pizza. I discovered the barbecue pizza last night & it's pretty good, too. Pie almost always favors either plain cheese pizza or sausage pizza, along with a piled-high plate of apple pizza, brownies and cinnamon rolls. J goes for the spinach pizza and the chicken pizza. I am interested in the breakfast pizza, with ham & eggs, but have not tried it yet. One of the staffers suggested I try a pizza of her own creation last night, cheese and pepperoni with red onions tossed on with a heavy hand. Good stuff! But the very best thing at CiCi's, and its next-door neighbor Moe's, is that they have sweet tea.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lemon & Chicken: Ingredients of the Month?

My wife just pulled our chicken out of the oven & said, "You make the most beautiful poultry!" I have roasted a chicken with sage, garlic & lemon. I have some steamed veggies I am about to toss with olive butter and J is pouring brownie batter into the pan as I type. I also made some great lemon chicken for my grandies on Wednesday, with green beans and buttered egg noodles.

Lemon Chicken
2-3 tbsp. flour
Salt & pepper to taste
4 4-oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts,
pounded to about 1/4" thickness
Olive oil for cooking
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried parsley (or a tbsp. fresh chopped)
1 tbsp. capers

Mix flour with salt & pepper. Dredge chicken in flour. Heat oil in skillet. cook chicken until lightly browned on each side and fully cooked. Keep warm on plate. Mix the rest together in same skillet. Bring to a boil & cook until reduced to about 1/3 cup. Return chicken to skillet. Heat through & serve with sauce drizzled on top. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Sage Chicken
1 bunch fresh sage, chopped
10 cloves garlic, chopped
3 lb. roaster chicken
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix sage & garlic. Stuff under chicken skin. Put in shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice and put the leftover halves inside. Salt & pepper. Bake about 75 minutes at 375 degrees.

Olive Butter Veggie Toss
7 small new potatoes, sliced thickly
1 lb. asparagus, in 2" pieces
1 handful green beans, trimmed
1 zucchini, sliced thickly
7 oz. baby corn
1 stick butter, melted
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 small jar green olives, sliced

Steam potatoes 5 minutes. Add asparagus and green beans and steam 5 minutes. Add zucchini and steam 5 minutes. Add corn and steam 1 minute. Mix the rest and toss with the veggies.