Thursday, March 24, 2011

Izzy's Deli - West Chester, Ohio

A trip to Jungle Jim's isn't gluttonous enough for me, so we decided to hit Izzy's Deli while we were down that way a few weeks ago.  For the longest time, I thought Izzy's was just a company that made really great pickles, until I finally got bored enough to look at the jar, then look'em up online.  A sandwich menu half a mile long!  Free pickles on every table?  Why hadn't anyone told me about this?!  Oh wait, my sister had.  She raved about the turkey rueben, and how it was loaded with sweet slaw, instead of the dreaded 'kraut that strikes fear into the heart of FvF family women.  

Tempting as that was, I went with the Andy Furman - Black Angus roast beef and creamy cole slaw on pumpernickel - and added melted Swiss.  Ding ding ding!  We have a winner.  I only got half a sandwich on my sister's advice, and I'm glad I didn't go for the gusto with a whole.  All sandwiches come with a giant potato cake that's bigger than the sammiches themselves.  Wait, did I say potato cakes?  What I meant was "batter-fried goodness from heaven."  The crispy, buttery outer shell of a funnel cake, filled with potatoes, onions and seasonings.  
The sandwiches mostly all looked the same, but it wouldn't be a trip to Izzy's if I didn't at least post a pic of their original Reuben.  Again, 'kraut sends me running like a kid avoiding a spanking, but I did nibble a bit of the corned beef and it was delicious.  

Service wasn't much of a factor in this place.  Think along the lines of Skyline.  As long as the gal keeps your sodas full, there's not much to think about.  They pretty much always have one cook and one server, which wasn't an issue when we went - but I'd imagine it could be a real pain around lunchtime.  The prices could have been a bit more reasonable (almost $7 for a half sandwich), but you have to consider you're kind of paying a smidge for local love and kitsch factor.  Plus, they have little bowls of free pickles on every table. So, I made sure I ate what felt like at least $2 worth of pickles to balance things out.  

4.5 out of 5 sporks!  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Simple Suppers: Beef Massaman Curry

After I had this curry at Pearl Bay, I really wanted to try making it at home.  After looking up recipes, it looked crazy simple - I just had to find the Massaman curry paste.  I checked with grocers all over town and damn near gave up until one of my lovely readers (Jan, I'm looking in your direction) hipped me to a place right down the road from Chez FvF called Far East Market. It's in the Airway Shopping Center, right by my beloved Big Lots.  We wandered around for almost 30 minutes looking for it and finally asked the cashier, who pointed to another half of the store that we didn't even realize was there.  They had every imaginable curry paste in all varieties of sizes, and for just over $1 per small can.  I can't recall the name, but I've experimented and the one in the yellow can has the best flavor.  

To feed two hongry people with one serving of leftovers, here's what you need: 

1 small (4 oz-ish) can Massaman curry paste
1 15 oz can coconut milk (I recommend using the light version, hoss)
1 lb sirloin, sliced thin or cubed*
1 large yellow onion, cut into large pieces
2 carrots, coined
4-6 small waxy potatoes, diced on the large side (red or baby gold work best)
red pepper flakes
crushed peanuts or cashews, for garnish
*You could really use about any cut of beef for this, but this is my preference because it cuts cooking time in half. For larger, tougher cuts, cook longer in the coconut milk mixture.  

In a dutch oven over medium heat, empty the entire can of curry paste and stir in the thick cream from the top of the coconut milk until blended.   Slow stir in the rest of the coconut milk and continue to cook until the fat of the milk starts to bubble and froth.  Lower the heat to a simmer and add your beef.  Add water little bits at a time, until the meat is just submerged.  Let this cook for at least 20-30 minutes.  If you have longer, take the time. The longer beef cooks in fatty liquid, the more tender it becomes.  

Add your veggies and red pepper flakes (to taste - this curry paste is surprisingly mild, even for me), stir and cook for another 30 minutes or so over mid-low heat.  Garnish with crushed peanuts and prepare for the shame of licking your bowl at the end.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Balls-out Lasagna Bolognese

Damn near a year ago, Serious Eats posted one of the most full-boar lasagna recipes I'd ever seen.  Now, this isn't something that I'd undertake just for the Mister and I, especially considering the things pasta does to my insides.  But, last month when I was expecting a house full of hongry dudes, it seemed like the easiest way to feed a crowd without going broke.  With the notice being a little on the short side, I didn't exactly have time to hunt down some of the ingredients (lamb, veal stock, etc), so I improvised.  I had every intention of following the SE recipe (though some of the ingredients made me scratch my head), but time and funds 86ed that idea this time around.  I'm sure the full-on version is superior, but  making a few substitutions didn't put limitations a seriously delicious outcome.  Behold, y'all - the bolognese of the gods.  

Here's my improvised version, but feel free to follow the SE link above to the original recipe, too.  

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 lb lean ground beef (or lamb)
  • 2/3 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 2/3 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 carrot, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
  • 1 rib of celery, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • large pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine (I used pinot noir)
  • 1 C whole milk 
  • 2 C chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp minced basil 
  • For the ricotta mixture:
  • 2 C fresh ricotta*
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp minced basil (fresh)
  • 1 tbsp minced oregano (fresh)
     1 box Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles**
     1 lb+ fresh, whole milk mozzarella, sliced
     3-4 oz aged parmesan, shredded

*SE has a link to make your own, which seems 'tarded easy.  Or, look in the fancy cheese case at the grocery and eyeball the ingredients list for something with no preservatives.  You should really only see "milk, whey, vinegar."

**Next best thing to fresh pasta.  Trust me on this one.  None of the work and all of the texture you need in a sturdy noodle. Just soak them in warm tap water before and you're golden.  

In a stock pot or large dutch oven, heat your oil and butter until foaming, then add your meats, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they simmer.  This shouldn't take much longer than 10 minutes.  Using a spider or strainer, remove the cooked meat from the pot without taking the oil and juices with it.  Now that you have a pot full of delightful juices, toss in the onion, celery carrot, garlic, sage and pepper flakes and simmer over low-medium heat for about 10 mire minutes.  

Return the meat to the pot, and add the tomatoes, wine, milk, stock and bay leaves.  Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat down to low and let it simmer (partially covered) for 2-3 hours.  Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for a spell (you could whip up your ricotta mixture while it cools), then remove the bay leaves and add the heavy cream and basil.  Now would be a good time to taste it, and adjust any seasonings accordingly - though you should really only need a little salt and/or pepper.  Now is also a good time to exercise restraint and stop eating the bolognese straight out of the pot, or telling your house guests that you're going to take a bath in it.  

Now, honestly - layer it however the hell you want.  This is a personal preference for a lot of people. My only advice is to make sure you smear at least 1/2 cup of the bolognese on the bottom of your baking dish to prevent sticking, and make the top a nice, thick layer of ragu and cheese.  Because, just looks nice that way, so stop arguing and wipe that smug look off your face.  
Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes (an aliminum drip pan underneath is always advised), and let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.  

One of my favorite things about cooking a seriously kick-ass meal from scratch is that my husband wants to marry me again every time I pull something like this off.  But, so do all of his friends who come over for dinner - so, uhhh, be careful there, tiger.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Butter Cafe - Dayton, Ohio

Better late than never, I suppose. Mr. FvF and I took advantage of a Groupon offer and finally tried Butter cafe - well, about a month ago.  I'd have loved to get this to you sooner, but I've had my big girl pants on, merging and acquiring with the best of them lately for my real job, which has also eaten its way into my evening and weekends.  

Anyhow, I'd heard a lot of mixed reviews about the place, so I was anxious to form my own unbiased opinion.  They have a lot of free-range, organic and gluten-free options at Butter Cafe, and not just your standard breakfast/brunch/lunch fare.  Jelly donut pancakes, coconut French toast kabobs, and even gluten-free waffles.  I'd been dead set on trying to g/f waffles (because c'mon, how many places do you have the option?)  but a shopping excursion had delayed the late breakfast we planned on until well into lunch time, barely an hour before they closed.  In light of that, I was more in the mood for a sandwich.  The Mister had the grilled cheese with bacon (remember, no tomato - he's from Indiana), and I had the club on g/f bread.  Club sandwiches are one of my seriously guilty pleasures, because the havoc wreaked on the roof of my mouth by that warm, toasty bread is second only to the complete annihilation of my innards by the same foe.  But, with the upcharged option of gluten-free bread (Udi's brand, not baked in-house), I could eat all three slices without guilt or crippling fear.  I'm not sure what the other options were for sides, if any, but we both chose tots.  
Mr. FvF's grilled cheese was pretty standard fare, but he was more than happy with it.  My club sammich, on the other hand, was a total mammoth.  It towered a good six inches (that's what she said) and its bread overfloweth with fillings.  Unlike the Filling Station, Butter Cafe understands that a club is supposed to have turkey AND ham, not make you choose between the two.  The ham & turkey didn't stand out, but the bacon was thick-cut, crisply cooked and super tasty.  Tomatoes were decent, and leaf lettuce is always welcome in the place of iceberg.  The toasted Udi's bread toasted up more firmly than regular breads, leaving you with destruction of both the upper and lower palates in its wake.  The tots were good, but could use some work.  The seasoning was great, but the potatoes themselves were really dry and gluey.  I'm guessing since it was 30 minutes til close, they weren't fresh at all.
Butter Cafe serves soft drinks, but if I remember correctly - they're bottled or canned, which means no refills. Which also means a firm "no thanks."   Luckily, they have carafes of cold water on the table and ask you if you're good with water or would like anything else.  I'm sure it's tap water, but that's what we drink at home.  If I went to the dentist, I'm sure they would thank me for drinking flouridated water, if they weren't so busy yelling at me for pretending I'm too cool to wear a mouth guard to sleep.  
The service was good, and the young gal was fairly knowledgeable about the menu - pointing out that they dust the tots with a mixture that does contain gluten, after I'd ordered my sandwich on g/f bread.  As our server rang us up, she asked if it was our first time and what we our first impression was, which was thoughtful.  I was hoping to go home with some gluten-free baked goods, but the bakery case was empty. Disappointing, but probably for the best.  Price points are a bit all over the map, which irks me.  $8.50 isn't too shabby for a giant sandwich with tots, but the yogurt parfait clocks in at $6.50 and the cucumber plate (dusted with pepper and parm) is $5.50.  Does not compute.  

I think I'll give them a solid 4 out of 5, points removed for dry tots and weird price skewing.  

Butter Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Abuelo's - Beavercreek, Ohio

I've been to Abuelo's twice before this - once impressed, the other unimpressed, regardless of my crippling hangover.  the first time was for a friend's going away party and I wasn't paying much attention to the food, but remember it being pretty good.  The second time, I switched it up and ordered something with steak and was sorely disappointed. The meat was soft but chewy, not much higher than run-for-the-border grade.  I'd always wanted to give it another whirl (avoiding the steak entrees) because, frankly, it's a really bitchin' place inside.  It's one of the only Mexican restaurants that genuinely remind me of Mexico, with it's architecture, fountains, statues and lighting.  This was the view from our table:

 It always throws me off that at such a swank-feeling restaurant, almost every other diner you see is dressed like they got a surprise invite to dinner after a day or working in the yard.  I'd already eyeballed the menu, so my heart was set on the stuffed chicken medallions with chorizo, poblanos and queso blanco.  With all those great ingredients, it would be tough to make it taste bad - but they really knock it out of the park on this one.  The chicken was tender and juicy, stuffed with spicy goodness, coated in (I'm guessing) panko, and somehow not the slightest bit greasy.  I'm not normally a big fan of this style of cooking beans, but even they were aces, with little bits of bacon stewed in with them and a nice smoky flavor.  I had to force myself stop eating them in order to avoid ruining our romantic evening with a fart symphony.  I was also a big fan of the Skinny Margarita on their drink menu, consisting of just lime juice and tequila, with a touch of Splenda.  I love margaritas as much as the next gal, but I have two problems with them: Mexico totally spoiled me on good ones, and they're a real waste of calories when using a mix and/or triple sec.
 Mr. FvF had the Fajita Chimichanga, because one entree name isn't good enough for him, and he really likes saying "chimichanga."  I had a bite of that, and his papas. They were both good, but he agreed we'd probably both be ordering the chicken medallions next time.
The service was as close to perfect as you can get.  Our server was friendly, attentive and easy on the eyes.  It seems that Abuelo's doesn't hire ugly people, which is alright by me.  I always find it easier to digest a meal when Gollum isn't staring me down asking if I want dessert.  The price points were so right on, too.  I'm a big stickler for the dollars charged not matching the amount or quality of the food served, and it felt like we were robbing these people. My dish was around $14, while Mr's was just under $9, and copious amount of fresh, paper-thin chips with salsa for free.

5 out of 5 sporks!