Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mystery of the Missing Gordon Ramsay Dog

Followup to episode 4 last night: I have changed my mind and that queen B from Texas, Sara, has got to go! At least Virginia made a relatively moving plea to stay and Rachel gallantly offered to take her place if Chef really wanted her to go instead. Sara only seems interested in creating as much havoc as possible and making everyone on her team (a concept she doesn't really get: TEAM!) as miserable as possible. I'm happy that Tom was finally the bootee--it was getting a little creepy watching him talk to himself a la Michael last season AND he had zero talent in the kitchen except for rolling his eyes when criticized.

But now for the mystery of last night's show: Whatever happened to the Gordon Ramsay Dog at Pink's??

B-Side and J-Unit of TVgasm.com in Los Angeles are on the case of the Gordon Ramsay Hot Dog Scandal! Check out their gluttonous adventure (and the Martha and Rosie O'Donnell dogs!).

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hell's Kitchen 2, Episode 4

Is it just me or does Kevin kind of remind you of Lenny in "Of Mice and Men"?

Huzzah! Another Monday and only 2 hours to go till Hell's Kitchen 2. I really like the way Fox chose to bundle two episodes, one repeat, one new, into the two hour time slot. Somehow just one hour is never enough and the repeat really puts me in the mood for the next volley of mayhem in la cuisine.

Somehow, the gratuitous "show-me" chick Virginia (purportedly a "newlywed" per her official bio on the show's website) has become my absolute least favorite wannabe. Her little "I wish chef was here to put on our lotion" as she sunned herself in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikini and her "Miss me!" (to chef as he was leaving the boat) really grate on my last nerve. For the moment, I am still rooting for Heather the sous chef. Anyone else have favorites/candidates for booting off the show?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Not your mama's BBQ sauce!

Well, here it is again already, another Sunday night and I am cooking in the cool cool cool of the evening for the rest of the week, for air conditioning in my house is between slim and none. No matter. My neighborhood grocer had a good sale price this week for Boston pork butt roast ($1.29 lb.) and so, my dear friends, it is once again time for slow oven-roasted pulled pork barbecue Chez Willa.

A long distance phone call tonight from The Palate (and a little smack talk about BBQ sauce) brought out reminiscences of his little barbecue tour of the south several years back. I had given him an old dog-eared copy of Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood to use as his Baedeker and he fondly recalled a visit to a small place in Columbia, South Carolina, smack dab in the middle of the mustard-vinegar BBQ sauce belt, where he first was exposed to the yellow sauce. Bored with the usual red, I am hellbent on bathing my fork-tender pork shreds with a golden glow and shall, therefore, dispatch myself to the kitchen immediately to whip up this little concoction:

South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce

1 c prepared mustard
1 c red wine vinegar
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 t black pepper
1 t dried minced onion
1/2 t salt (optional)
1/2 t cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan, add all ingredients, stirring to blend and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cool. Brush on during or at the end of grilling. Also serve at the table. Refrigerate leftover sauce; will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks. VERY spicy!

Makes about 2 cups.
Adapted from a recipe provided courtesy of Pork, The Other White Meat.

This red version is from a recipe I clipped out of the local newspaper many years ago. It is called

Dr. Black's Mother-in-Law's Best Ever BBQ Sauce

1/2 c cider vinegar
4 T brown sugar
2 T yellow mustard
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 c ketchup
1/2 t salt (optional)
1/4 t cayenne pepper
4 T Worcestershire sauce

Add ingredients to small saucepan, stirring to blend over medium heat. Simmer 30 minutes or till desired consistency, stirring from time to time to prevent burning. Cool. Will keep in regrigerator for 2 weeks. Good with beef, chicken or ribs.

And this is a very rare recipe for a Black Barbecue Sauce, found mainly in Kentucky:

Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce
A classic Western Kentucky Style Black Sauce. Traditionally served with Mutton.
(Being a Kentucky girl, this sauce has a special interest for me.)

2 t vegetable oil
1/4 c minced onion
1/4 c + 2 T distilled white vinegar
1/3 c + 2 T Worcestershire Sauce
2 T + 1 t light brown sugar
2 t lemon juice
1/4 t ground black pepper
1/4 t Tabasco sauce
Scant 1/4 t ground cloves
Scant 1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t coarse salt

Heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until onion is soft and light golden brown. Add the remaining ingredient, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. (The sauce will thicken slightly.)

And finally, here's a link to Cooking with Amy's Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce. Now this sounds like another winner!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Gelato vs. Ice Cream

How in the world can you follow up a visit to the patisserie of a world-renowned chef? In this case, by crossing the river again and paying a visit to Cincinnati's venerable Findlay Market. From wandering down the wide covered sidewalk which is the Farmer's Market Shed, perusing freshly cut flowers and bedding plants, herbs, and organic fruits and vegetables (and where I lucked out and bought a gallon ziploc bag full of freshly picked baby lettuces for only $2), to strolling in and out of the produce stands surrounding the market house, the cool of this overcast morning made for a wonderful time to shop.

Since I'd read earlier in the week about Madison's Produce now making their very own homemade gelato, I had been dying to try it. Mary had had gelato at Amorino in Paris on her last visit and was mad about it. And so, after stopping in the new Bella Luna Deli, we headed off to Madison's. Although it was still only 8am, there were already a lot of shoppers out and about and while Mary stopped by an ATM, I went straight for Madison's freezer case, full of Madisono's Gelatos and Sorbets.

Curious to have a taste, I noticed a small counter near the back of the shop and soon a salesgirl came out to offer samples: Amarena Cherry and Vanilla. The cherry was sublime. Incredibly smooth and flavorful on the tongue, it left no discernible butterfat film on the roof of my mouth. Later, upon reading the label, I discovered that Madison's gelato contains only 6% butterfat as opposed to premium ice cream's 16-18%.

Madison's gelatos are pricey, even more than Graeter's, at $4.49 a pint. But they are also a totally different animal, lighter, yet full-flavored, incredibly creamy and delicious. For now, they are offering several flavors of gelato and sorbets, including the aforementioned Amareno Cherry, Stracciatella (chocolate chip), Chocolate, and Blueberry, as well as a bracing lemon sorbet. If you're looking for a change of pace this summer, consider one of these icy new delights as a dessert pairing with fresh fruit. Yum!

In Search of French Pastry (and Jean-Robert's Greenup Café)

When I e-'d mon amie, Mary, about Jean-Robert's new café earlier in the week, she shot me back a response asking what time we should go on Saturday. Thinking the first Saturday might be mobbed, I suggested sometime early in the day. Firing right back, she said, fine--she would pick me up around 6:30am so we could be first in line (if there was one) for the 7am opening! So, bright and early, we were off to Covington in search of the only real French patisserie in the tri-state area.

After making our way across the Suspension Bridge, we headed to Greenup and 3rd Street to park and soon spied a French flag, with "Open" emblazoned on it, hanging from the front of a pretty Italianate-style house. (There is no sign.) After taking stock of the lay of the land, we concluded that the entrance was on the left side of the house, up two steps to a small porch.

Despite marking our arrival at 7:02am, we were the 3rd and 4th customers of the day! Bakery staff was still stocking the cold case and some items were lacking prices, but, my oh my, what was there was mighty impressive.

While Mary decided upon a still warm pain au chocolat ($1.55) and un café for her breakfast choices,

I was still in a quandary trying to make up my mind. So much to choose from!

Looking for something special and light, I chose the fruit mousse of the day ($3.50), in this case, a chilled strawberry and vanilla molded one, served on a large wafer cookie squiggled with chocolate.

After paying our tab, we made way to the front room of the house and a small table for two in front of a very long Italianate window facing Greenup Street. The room was painted a warm pink color and was decorated with French clown memorabilia and a cardboard cutout that I promptly dubbed the "Keep On Truckin' Chef"!

After finishing our delicious treats, we decided to explore the second floor which the bakery staff had invited us to do. The walls of the staircase area were painted a grassy green color and a primitive brass sculpture was situated on the landing between the first and second floors.

The front room on the second floor was painted a bright nectarine orange, with Thonet bentwood armchairs and natural wood tables. A framed antique poster of "Dalí descend dans le métro" greets diners as they enter the room.

The middle room was painted a deep rose color and had white tables set up in a squared off horseshoe-shape, reminding me of a board room.

A closet with the door removed contained shelves and a quirky set of antique "See no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil" monkey candlesticks. The room's decorations were funny, funky, French and unexpected.

Making our way back down the stairs, we stopped again in the bakery to check out the additions to the case. This time there were individual sized Bavaroises ($3.25), Opéra Cake ($3.50), Crème brulée ($3), Amadines ($3.25), Lemon Tart ($3.25), Fruit Tart (market price), Chocolate Mousse ($3.50; Deluxe, $4.50), and Chocolate or Coffee Éclairs ($2). Croissants range from $1.40 for plain, to $1.50 for Pain Raisin and $1.55 for Pain au chocolat.

I decided the temptation was too great (and who knows how long it will be before i get back here again?) and sprang for one of the beautiful pieces of Opéra cake to take home for a midnight snack. Mary, meanwhile, was staring intently into the case and softly said, "Isn't that a macaron decorating that cake?"

I looked where she was looking and, sure enough, it certainly looked exactly like one half of those light as air little cookies! Turning to address the salesgirl behind the counter, we asked the fatal question. Could there be, at long last, real macarons available in this area? Hélas, not really knowing what she had was worth its weight in gold around here, she said, No. It was just a chocolate cookie. Little does she know. And I can only hope that my request to the café's manager that the pastry chef consider making some real macarons, rather than just using them as a decoration on another dessert, comes true!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

700 Falling Hams

Image from "Oral Fixations", © 2005 James Duesing

I know, I know. Where in the world did they all come from? Leave it to my friend Jim to use his ardor for food to inspire a subject for a 7 hour single channel video installation. To quote from his website:
The project is a darkly humorous look at a habit of endless consumption and the resulting accumulation of waste. A narrative gradually emerges from the on-screen action that depicts a large mouthed character who dances while flossing its one protruding tooth. A conveyor belt regularly delivers factory-farm fresh hams that the character delights in taking one large bite from and then tossing aside. Over the duration of the piece the hams begin to pile up in the room until at the end of seven hours the room is filled with the refuse of this gluttony. The viewer is encouraged to revisit the piece periodically throughout the day and see how the discarded hams build an oddly humorous environment of waste around the character.

Here, little piggy, piggy!

Margaret's Garden

This is my friend Margaret with her ever faithful cart of plant goodies. She's been selling herb and perennial plants at Court Street Market and at Findlay since, oh, the mid 1990s or so. I first met her when I was working at a fine art printshop in Over-the-Rhine. On my morning strolls to make a bank deposit or pickup lunch, I would make sure to stop by her cart for a little chat or to buy a new find for my miniscule garden. It was Margaret who first introduced me to pineapple sage (really a member of the mint family--just check out those square stems!) with its sweet rich fragrance and end-of-summer red bell-shaped flowers. I'll never forget the afternoon I was sitting on my front porch reading and suddenly was distracted by a loud humming sound. There was my first sight of a tiny little hummingbird, sipping the nectar of my pineapple sage's first flowers. It was a delightful little moment.

Margaret also offers a wide selection of other culinary herbs: French tarragon, lemon verbena, several varieties of thymes and basils. Everything she sells is beautifully well-grown and large for the price. I have had a star-crossed love affair with her fabulous collection of lavenders for over a decade (I love them, but they love sun and my garden offers mostly shade :-( ) -- but if you are more fortunate than I in that department, you may pick up some Hidcote, Munstead, Jean Davis (whitish-pink) or Dentata. These are only a few of the kinds she carries with Dentata being my favorite. A tender perennial, I have actually successfully wintered this variety over in a hanging planter in my kitchen. And its toothed leaves are wonderfully fragrant.

Margaret also can make a custom fresh-cut flower bouquet for you. In the cooler days of spring, she even has old-fashioned, spicy smelling, deep pink sweet peas. Somehow that seems only appropriate. Margaret is a wise and giving lady who loves to share her knowledge of nature with her patrons and, especially if you are a gardening novice, she will be happy to help point you in the right direction.

Margaret's Garden
Farmer's Market Shed at Findlay Market
1801 Race Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Hours: Saturday 8am-3pm

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

O Superman...

Come on, let's face it: you've had your fill of Cosmos and they are so yesterday. Grab that retro cocktail shaker and liven up your evening with these little treats: a luscious Key Lime Martini or its melon flavored relative, the Kryptonite one. And, in honor of that beautiful aquamarine-colored French liqueur, Hpnotiq, let's make a batch of Hpnotinis!

Key Lime Martini
2 oz vanilla vodka
1 oz lime juice (Key lime juice preferred)
1 oz half and half cream

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain the drink into a chilled, sugar-rimmed martini glass and serve.

Kryptonite Martini
Beware. This cocktail almost glows in the dark--you can almost sense it's toxic! If they'll turn the legendary "Man of Steel" into jello, heed the warning: Drinker, beware!

2 oz vodka
1 oz Midori liqueur

Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a large martini glass and garnish with a cherry. Sip slowly. Glow. [sigh]


2 oz vodka
1 oz Hpnotiq

Aw, you already know the drill!

Ziploc Omelets

My friend Mary forwarded this weird-sounding recipe for Ziploc Omelets to me this morning. Since today is the Summer Solstice and we have several more months of steamy heat to look forward to, it sounds like a great (almost) non-cooking option for staying cool in the kitchen. With a simple green salad dressed with a lemony or dijon mustard vinaigrette, some fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert, and a glass of iced tea you are guaranteed to keep your cool. I think I know what I'm having for dinner tonight!

Ziploc Omelets

Crack two large or extra-large eggs into a quart-sized Ziploc freezer (very important) bag. If preparing more than one, write each person's name on individual bagg with a waterproof Sharpie marker.

Add whatever omelet ingredients you like such as vegetables, cooked meats and cheeses to the bag. Avoid using too much cheese or fresh tomatoes as they make more liquid.

Seal the bag, being very careful to squeeze out as much air as possible, and then shake to mix the eggs and ingredients. (Air left in the bag will make the bag float, and the egg will cook unevenly.) Squeeze the baggies to scramble the ingredients. Double check that each bag is sealed and there is no air in the bag.

Drop the bag into a pot of rolling, boiling water for exactly 13 minutes.

One large pot may accommodate six bags. For more omelets use additional pots of water.

Lift the bag out with tongs and open carefully to avoid burns from escaping steam (think microwave popcorn).

The omelet will roll out easily onto the waiting plate.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Jean-Robert adds another jewel to the Queen City's crown

Jean-Robert's Greenup Café (Photo: WCPO)

High profile French chef Jean-Robert de Cavel adds another in his successful string of Cincinnati area restaurants with the 7 am opening tomorrow of Jean-Robert's Greenup Café in Covington. Located in the former site of the late, lamented Wildflour Bakery, the project has been on the boards since 2004 when Jean-Robert bought the building. The café will be a combination bakery and coffee house and so should be able to fill the void for French pastries left by the abrupt closings last summer of Le Cezanne in Glendale and Hyde Park and, more recently, by Divina's Delights and La Tarterie, both at Findlay Market. According to the Cincinnati Post, "In about a month, Northcutt said the café plans to begin serving breakfast and lunch and then add dinner and Sunday brunches later in the summer. Pastry chef Jean Phillipe Solnom, who studied pastries in France for eight years and chocolate in Switzerland for eight years, will bake goodies fresh each morning."

In the spirit of a friendly neighborhood hangout, the atmosphere will be a casual, but classy one. The café, when opened, will seat 60 indoors and 40 in the outdoor courtyard.

Jean-Robert's Greenup Café
308 Greenup Street
Covington, KY
Hours: 7am-4:30pm (closing time tentative) Monday-Saturday. Opens 9am Sunday. Will be closed Monday (6/26) to prepare for the addition of breakfast and lunch service by the end of next week
Telephone: (859)261-3663

Related stories:
Patrons say café like being in Paris; Famed chef opens café in Covington Cincinnati Enquirer (6/22/06)

Jean-Robert's Greenup Cafe opening Cincinnati Enquirer (6/20/06)

Fresh Gelato now available locally!

Polly Campbell of the Cincinnati Enquirer wises us up to a cool new way to chill out during this early summer heatwave in The Scoop on gelato (6/20/06). Madison's Produce sounds like an absolute must on that next visit to Findlay Market!

I especially liked this part:
There's a changing menu of flavors daily. At [Findlay] market you'll probably find vanilla - possibly in two styles - and maybe hazelnut, apricot, amareno cherry, frutti di bosco or blueberry.

They're still working on the formula for some flavors, including a strong chocolate, and experimenting with new seasonal varieties, Madison says. Many of the flavors are available in pints from the freezer at the Glendale store on the square and at Madison's at Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine.

...Madison's makes a few no-fat sorbets, as well, including a fragrant lemon-basil.

Gelato and sorbet: $2.50 for four ounces, $3.50 for seven ounces and $4.49 for a pint.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Restaurant Crit - That's some serious business!

The [London] Independent featured a piece today titled The poison pen pin-ups about the most reviled restaurant reviewers in the U.K. Like a weird game of "gotcha", apparently some high profile kitchens are actually hanging "hit-lists" with pictures of the the most well-known critics. According to Jonathan Thompson and Stephen Khan, the writers of this piece:
...Wild West-style rogues' galleries of scurrilous scribes are being slapped up alongside the fish slices.

The drastic move has been prompted by the incredible power the critics now wield. And the trick is spreading north from the designer eateries of London to Edinburgh, where chefs are preparing for an influx of metropolitan critics ahead of the city's world-famous arts festival in August.

There is a growing realisation that just one devastating review can wreck a career....

And so, a gallery of pictures on the kitchen wall is a vital tool for modern chefs. They are determined that all their employees will be able to spot the most dangerous critics.

The barebones Most Unwanted List includes: 1. FAY MASCHLER of the Evening Standard; 2. JEREMY WAYNE of The Tatler; 3. CHARLES CAMPION of ES magazine; 4. TERRY DURACK of The Independent on Sunday; 5. JAY RAYNER of The Observer; 6. GILLIAN GLOVER of The Scotsman; and 7. GILES COREN of The Times. Check out the article for all the gory details!

Monday, June 12, 2006

On the road to Hell's Kitchen

Oh, yes, my fellow couch potatoes, a whole year has passed and it is once again time for a new group of brave and/or foolhardy souls to toil in the kitchen of master chef Gordon Ramsay's ersatz Los Angeles restaurant. Ably assisted by his sous-chefs, Mary Ann and Scott, and the (almost late and lamented) maitre d' JP (Jean-Phillippe, to you!), the candidates will be put through their paces at grueling speed. Admit it - didn't you have a little soft spot in your heart for our punked out girl Jessica last season? And what of eventual winner Michael, all alone talking to Ramsay's huge billboard head at night as he swilled down a beer or three after a hot day at the pass (was he going psycho on us?). And not to forget our Southern baker boy, Dewberry, and his fits of the vapours. I really liked Dewberry. I really did. :-)

This year's Hell's Kitchen 12 seem to hail mainly from two states this year: Texas and New York. For better or worse, this year the teams are divided into men vs. women. (Wait. Didn't we already see what a joke that was already on The Apprentice?) Hmmm. Well, anyway, they are: Gabe, 27, a marketing executive from Chicago, IL; Garrett, 27, a former prisoner/chef from Cedar Park, TX; Giacomo, a pizza maker from Euless, TX; Keith, 28, a chef/bartender from South Hampton, NY; Larry, 38, a fishmonger from Arlington, TX; Tom, 43, a former stockbroker from Belleville, NJ; Heather, 25, a sous chef from Port Jefferson, NY; Maribel, 31, a cafeteria chef from Brooklyn, NY; Polly, 43, a caterer from Ben Franklin, TX; Rachel, 39, a personal chef from Dallas, TX; Sara, 31, a deli manager from Dallas, TX; Virginia, 25, a salad chef from New York, NY.

"Yes, chef! Yes, chef!" - the cry of the terrified minions as the Great One throws another hissy-fit...

Hell's Kitchen 2
Tonight only from 8-10 pm ET/PT; ensuing Mondays from 9-10pm. FOX Network.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

La BonBonerie

Now entering Wonderland (Click to enlarge)

After a fun morning of shopping at Trader Joe's, it was time for a little kicking back at lunchtime and Mary suggested we go to La BonBonerie in O'Bryonville for tea. The BonBonerie has been around since the mid-1980s and is cherished as the most long-lived place in town for gorgeous made-to-order, custom cakes. The bakery also carries a wide selection of small, single portion desserts like mini-cheesecake bites and cupcakes, as well as properly crumb-y full size scones, among the various cakes and tarts being coveted by a shopful of customers.

The quirky and whimsically appointed Tearoom was full of happy patrons when we arrived during a cold, drizzling rain. Charming in a fetching mismatched kind of way, each table was different and mated to a variety of orphaned chairs. It reminded me a little of the place I used to hangout in when I was in high school: rather boho and a lot of fun. A server showed us to a small table for two, which was decked out with a girly pink frou frou lamp, and left us with menus to peruse as I tried to drink in the atmosphere. It was a lively scene full of mothers and children, friends catching up on the day's events, and an elderly couple sitting near the door, monitoring the rain's progress. Mary, a longtime habituée, of BonBonerie, served as my guide on this culinary adventure.

Quiche of the Day

The menu was chockful of food and drink options, and I deferred to Mary's good taste since this is one of her favorite haunts. Since I hadn't been there before, we decided to split our choices and ordered the Quiche du Jour (on this occasion, asparagus) served on a bed of baby greens with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, fresh fruit and tea cookies and the Tea Lunch, with three types of finger sandwiches (cucumber, egg salad, and cheese spread on date-nut bread), fresh fruit and cookies (each $7.50). To wash it all down, Mary suggested we order a large pot of black tea infused with violets ($4.50). It was the perfect choice, taking the chill off the day and lending our meal a delicate floral flavor. Other drink options include tisanes, espresso, and Italian sodas. (There are over 75 varieties of tea alone!) There's even a white hot chocolate.

Tea Lunch for One

After lunch, while waiting for a break in the downpour which the former drizzle had become, I found myself coveting a funky square wooden table near the door with gaps between its planks. It was painted that old shade of greenish blue made popular by folk art collectors and (dare we speak her name?) Martha back in the 80s. It was artfully distressed and so was I. I want it for my kitchen! And I want it now! ;-)

Tempting goodies in the bakery case (Heaven help!)

Before leaving, we made the short trip up the stairs to the bakery. It was a madhouse, but we managed to get through the crowd to make some purchases for midnight snacking later. No doubt, we'll be back again!

La BonBonerie
2030 Madison Road (Entrance and parking is on O'Bryon Street)
Cincinnati, OH 45206
Telephone: (513) 321-3399
Tearoom open Monday-Friday from 7:30am-5:30pm and on Saturdays from 8am-3pm
Bakery open Monday-Friday from 7:30am-5:30pm and on Saturdays from 8am-4pm

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"French Cocktail Hours"

Coincidentally, just after writing about "Apéro" time last week, today comes word of a special promotion by the French Government Tourist Office. From June 2-12, tout le monde in New York and Chicago is invited to enjoy special "French Cocktail Hours" from 6-8 pm at participating restaurants throughout both cities.

For those of us in flyover country and points beyond, there is still an opportunity to participate by throwing our own little soirées. As an added incentive, they are sponsoring a contest for Best Party and with some très fabuleux prizes! GRAND PRIZE is a 6-day/5-night trip to Paris, including round-trip airfare from Air France and accomodations in a luxury aparthotel from Pierre & Vacances CITY for the host(ess) with the mostest and a guest (Value: $3,000); 2 "First Prize" winners will be granted their dream dinner for four at a local French restaurant ($500 value each), and 10 "Second Prize" winners will make off with a special "French Cocktail Hour To Go" gift basket, including a selection of Trois Petits Cochons pâtés and toasts. (Value: $50 each).

Here is the formula to follow: dream up your party and scour your Blackberry for the perfect VIP list. Ponder the potions for a heady selection of French "Apéros" and cocktails and tasty, decadent French hors-d'oeuvres. Brownie points will be given for using featured brands such as Marie Brizard liqueurs, Ricard Pastis, Duboeuf wines, Pommery Champagne, Idol Vodka, Kronenbourg 1664 beer, Trois Petits Cochons Pâtés, and Le Rustique cheeses. (Really. This is one of the potential tiebreakers!)

To enter, put your party together; take pictures of the revelry; and submit them along with a brief essay (no more than 100 words) describing how you organized it all. To improve odds of winning, include all supporting materials produced for the party, including invitations (printed or e-mail), food and drink menus, photos, etc.

Send your application by mail to:

French Cocktail Hour Contest
PO Box 210
Harrison, NJ 07029-9902

or apply on-line here. All mailed entries must be postmarked by 08/11/06 and received by 08/18/06.

Bonne chance et bonne santé, mes amis!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Lemon Drizzle Cake

I was reading the London papers online, as I am wont to do, when I came across this easy recipe for Lemon Drizzle Cake in an article about what to bake for school fêtes (man, that's a word I haven't come across since reading all of those old Agatha Christies!).

Anyway, as much as I really lurve chocolate, the summer heat really makes me yearn for something light and lemony. Romano's Macaroni Grill has a killer lemon cake called Lemon Passion ($4.99)(here's "Jacqueline's Version"), but you can make this simple recipe without such a big production -- and you can even do it as cupcakes. Let's bake!

Lemon Drizzle Cake

This recipe, from Mrs S. Parfit, is fabulously simple. It also works well baked in muffin cases, in which it only needs about 15 minutes at 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

4oz/110g soft butter
6oz/170g self-rising flour
6oz/170g sugar
4 T milk
Grated rind of a large lemon
2 eggs

For the syrup:
3 T confectioners sugar
Juice of a lemon

Preheat the oven to 160C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 2lb loaf tin or 6-7in (15-18cm ) cake tin with baking parchment. Beat the cake ingredients together until smooth, then scrape the mix into the tin. Bake for about an hour, covering the cake after 40 minutes if it gets too dark.

Mix the syrup ingredients together. While the cake is still warm, prick it all over with a skewer or fork. Pour over the syrup. Leave it to cool in the tin before serving.

From Readers' recipes, the [U.K.] Telegraph, 3/6/2006.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Let them eat...Graeter's Herb Bread!

As a teenager, I couldn't think of anything that tried my patience more than the concept of breadmaking. Sure, I really wanted to make it, but held back from actually doing it. Measure, proof, stir, knead...and wait wait wait for the rise, the punchdown, and the rise yet again! The waiting seemed endless to me then, having the impatience of the young, yearning for instant gratification. But now, as the decades fly by, I find myself patiently nurturing the webby growth of the yeast strands in the flour mixture and inhaling with pleasure the homey aroma of my soon-to-be freshly baked bread.

I really hate running out of bread during the week and during my foray to market last weekend, I completely forgot to buy some. This provided me with just the boost I needed to finally try making this recipe for Graeter's Herb Bread. Graeter's, most widely known for its luscious French pot, small batch ice creams (even Oprah is addicted to them!), also is a locally owned bakery chain. Every year, coinciding with Kentucky Derby Saturday, Graeter's bakes this fragrant and savory herb-nut bread as part of the Civic Garden Center's Plant, Herb, and Hosta Sale fundraiser. As far as I know you can't buy it any other time of the year and so I always used to stock my freezer by buying several loaves for future use. It is delish fresh or toasted and I have a special fondness for sandwiches made with freshly poached chicken, lettuce/arugula, and tomato, slathered with homemade mayo and either pesto or Dijon mustard.

This recipe was published many years ago in the Civic Garden Center's Members' Bulletin. A special note stated: "This is the recipe for the herb bread that you all wait for at our special events. Enjoy!! This recipe has not been published for at least six years." And here it is again. I hope you like it as much as I do--and bless you, Miriam, wherever you are!

Miriam's Herb Bread
yield: 1 loaf

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
2 T sugar
1 T dry yeast

2 T unsalted butter, softened (optional)
1 t salt
1 T dried parsley
1/2 t dried tarragon
1/2 t dried dillweed
1 t dried minced onion

1/3 c chopped walnuts

2 1/2 c bread flour

Combine warm milk and warm water with sugar in large bowl and add yeast, stirring well to dissolve. Let proof. Add butter, salt, herbs and onion. Add half of flour and mix well. Add nuts; mix. Add just enough flour to make dough easy to handle; turn out onto lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes.

Grease a clean large bowl and place dough in it, turning dough over to coat top. Cover and let rise in warm place until double in size (about 1 hour). Punch dough down. Roll into 18"x9" rectangle, then roll up, beginning with short side of dough. With heel of hand, press ends to seal. Fold ends under loaf. Place seam side down in greased 9"x5"x3" loaf pan. Cover and let rise till doubled in bulk (time will vary). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place loaf in lower middle rach of oven. Bake 25-30 minutes or till top sounds hollow when tapped. Turn out of pan and brush top with butter or milk. Cool on wire rack.

So far, so good


Update: Alas, I seem to have allowed the second rise to go too long. Although the bread tastes and smells great, it fell during the baking and ended up about 2" high! Like a good scientist, this just requires some more experimentation. I can't give up now! ;-)

Tastes pretty good anyway!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Nice: Going Straight to the Source for Provençal Cuisine

Socca (peppery flatbread), tarte aux blettes, (a sweet pie based on Swiss chard), fried sardines, alouette sans tête à l'ancienne, gnocchi -- Mark Bittman writes about "Vieux Nice" and the pleasures of the native dishes of Provence in this article in Sunday's New York Times Travel section. (Registration required.) A nice cold glass of kir and a square of hot pissaladière sound really good to me right about now!

Say it isn't so, Mrs. Beeton!

Mark Brown, arts correspondent for the (London) Guardian reports today that, according to a new book, "Mrs Beeton couldn't cook but she could copy". On a visit to the world-famous Hay-on-Wye book festival in Wales, Beeton biographer Kathryn Hughes, author of The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton revealed that:
Isabella Beeton was only 21 when she began cookery writing. Her first recipe for Victoria sponge was so inept that she left out the eggs. Seven years later she was dead. How did she come to write the seminal book? "The answer is she copied everything," Hughes said.

It took Hughes five years to track down the recipes which she discovered had been brazenly copied by Mrs Beeton, almost word for word, from books as far back as the Restoration.

But Hughes says we should not necessarily think badly of Mrs Beeton. "Although she was a plagiarist, she was adding value. She was an extraordinary innovator." Mrs Beeton had the radical idea of putting the ingredients at the start of the recipe. She also came up with the thought that it might be a good idea to write how long something should be cooked for.

Sadly, after her death in childbirth at 28, Mrs. Beeton was exploited by her publisher husband (whom her biographer alleges probably infected her with syphilis) who recognized that her "brand" should not be allowed to die, too. A regular prince of a guy, he continued to publish updated prefaces to her book as if she was still alive.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Birthday Boy

I'd like to send belated happy birthday wishes out to our pal Garrett, of Vanilla Garlic with this toast of champers! :-)
Fondant au chocolat with raspberries and whipped cream

And, if I'd been in the neighborhood, I would have baked him Clotilde's sinfully rich Melt-in-Your Mouth Chocolate Cake, as interpreted here by our friend, Monkey...

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Foraging at Findlay

This morning, unlike Friday, arrived bright and clear with a cool, gentle breeze in the air. While I was somewhat groggy from lack of sleep, thanks to the relentless "thunking" noise coming from a party next door until almost 4 am (which, by dawn's early light, I could see had been coming from their endless game of "cornhole"--don't even ask!), I got dressed and readied myself for my friend Ruth's 9:30 am arrival.

Making a list and checking it twice, I plotted out my shopping trip from store to store and stand to stand. I knew I wanted to stop by Embrace Sweets again to say hello to Sandi and Brandi. They had told me last time that the French pastry stand next to theirs was going out of business and that they were buying its coldcase for their pastries. Since this would give them a lot more space, I was curious to see what they might add to their line. I also wanted to stop by Silverglade and Sons, a venerable merchant shop which must be described as Cincinnati's one and only fromagerie. And then on to Saigon Market, Cincinnati's oldest Asian foods store, to have a little adventure admiring its exotic and mysterious wares.

Ruth arrived right on time to pick me up, but, by the time we made our short journey down the hill to Findlay, there already was a sign reading Parking Lot Full at the entrance. Luckily Ruth recognized the man at the gate as an artist she knew and he took pity on us and waved us through, pointing toward a spot near the farmer's market shed. That task accomplished, Ruth and I went our separate ways, agreeing to meet in 40 minutes. I didn't really have a lot of things on my list this week and even less money, so I had carefully chosen my splurges.

Check out that "Spanish Drunken Goat Cheese"! LOL! (Click to enlarge photo.)

First stop was Silverglade's. Before Findlay Market's recent renovations, Silverglade's had been one of the Market's most long-lived merchant stands. Now they have their own self-contained store across the narrow pedestrian street just north of the markethouse. There have been Silverglades at Findlay Market since 1922 and they are renowned for their huge selection of more than 200 imported and domestic cheeses (many of which they import directly from Europe themselves), as well as sausages and Boar's Head brand meats. They even have a fresh, Cincinnati-made gravlax! Jonesin' for olives? They have 30 different kinds. Need bread for that yummy sandwich you'll be making once you get home? Pick up a freshly baked artisan loaf from Shadeau Breads. (sigh... sometimes I dream about the peach cream cheese Silverglade's used to carry, slathered on challah bread!) WARNING: Don't forget to take a number before you start looking because this small shop gets incredibly crowded in no time flat. (Oh! And what did I buy today? [purrrrrr] Oh, just some fabulous French Gourmandise with Kirsch cheese!)

Silverglade and Sons
Storefronts 220-222 (north side of market)
Findlay Market
Hours: Wednesday, 7am-3:30pm; Thursday, 9am-3pm; Friday, 7am-4:30pm; Saturday, 6am-5pm; Sunday, 11am-4pm
Telephone: (513) 421-6156

This is Mr. Nghiep (Yip) Ho, owner of Saigon Market. He is a very kind and helpful gentleman, especially, if you are, like me, a novice at Asian cooking. (Click to enlarge photo.)

My next stop was Saigon Market. Although I venture to say I probably have at least 12 Chinese cookbooks in my collection, I tend to read them for pleasure, and have rarely made anything very complicated from them. Oh, there was that one odd New Year's Eve when I made a huge pot of homemade wonton soup. And those spicy cold sesame noodles that hot hot summer. Beef with broccoli, sweet and sour this or that, and, more frequently, easy stir-fries for supper with boneless chicken breast strips and fresh veggies. Quite honestly, I've always loved Saigon Market for its selection of black cloth Chinese shoes. Tricked out with gel insoles, they wear like iron and, like old-fashioned Keds, can be thrown into the laundry when they get dirty! (And they're only $5.50 a pair!)

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Owner Hgiep Ho emigrated from Vietnam with his parents, Xu and Janet, in 1976. They bought the building in which Saigon Market now stands that same year and started their business with only a few packages of noodles and a couple of bottles of sauce. Today Saigon Market is a veritable bazaar of Asian ingredients, including items from Vietnam, Thailand, China, Japan, and the Philippines. Other parts of the world are represented, too. They also carry a selection of West African sauces, Jamaican spices, and Mexican groceries. I even saw a jar of falafel seasoning today. Not everything is pre-packaged. You can also find bulk dried herbs and spices, as well as specialty produce like Thai holy basil, plantains, Asian cabbages, fresh horseradish, shallots, and garlic.

Many moons ago I found myself reading Chez Pim and she was blogging about Thai food. Since Pim knows her Thai food, I made a little note to myself to look for the Pantainorasingh Brand Chili Paste she mentioned. Mr. Ho led me straight to it--a 17.6 oz jar for only $2.89. Wandering around the aisles of the store I took in the dizzying array of beautiful labels, but suddenly stopped right in my tracks. There, on a shelf, sat small (3 ounce) cornflower blue plastic bottles of Orange Flower and Rose Flower Waters from Vallauris, France! Thinking of Moroccan pastries, I snatched up a bottle of the Rose Flower Water ($2.39) and made my way to the cash register to pay for my purchases. Next time, I won't stay away so long!

Thai Chili Paste and French Rose Flower Water (so excited, I couldn't keep the camera steady! LOL)

Saigon Market
Storefront 250 (south side of market)
Findlay Market
Hours: Monday - Friday, 10am-6pm; Saturday, 8am-6pm
Telephone: (513) 721-8053

On my way to finally hit the produce stands, I stopped by the Embrace Sweets.

Sure enough, there were a number of new items filling the coldcase: huge black and white iced cookies and all kinds of cupcakes, from Lemon-ginger to Matcha ($1.50 each). Next time, a couple of these cute little cakes will definitely be on my list.

Time almost gone now, I waded past some crowded stands, looking for some nice-looking lettuce. Alas, all I could find was some iceberg ("The polyester of lettuces" -- John Waters). I ended up with some pre-bagged baby lettuce ($1/4.5 oz), along with some locally grown thick-stalked asparagus and a couple of cobs of bicolor corn. All in all, not a bad trip--and such a nice day for wandering.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mahrajan Summer Festival

Looking for a fun way to sample a taste of Lebanon? It certainly sounds tempting to me, and, if you're in the neighorhood this Sunday, make tracks for the Mahrajan, the Lebanese summer festival at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Church in Walnut Hills. Enjoy authentic Lebanese cuisine and pastries, such as baked chicken with rice, green bean stew, falafel, stuffed spinach pies, shish kebab and kibbee, the national dish of Lebanon (carryout available). My good friend Nina's late father made a mean kibbee and I can attest to that because I was treated to a sample from a batch he made for this very festival, oh so long ago!

Also featured will be performances by the Alhambra Dance Troupe, along with cultural and games booths, and children's activities. Free parking is available and church grounds are wheelchair accessible.

In case you are unable attend the festival, you can still have your very own taste of Lebanese food at home by trying this easy version of aromatic Baked Kibbee made with your choice of either lean ground beef or lamb.

Sunday, June 4
The Mahrajan, Noon - 8 pm
St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Church (large hall)
2530 Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills
Cincinnati, OH
Telephone: (513) 961-0120