Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cause I wanna be Southern!

Okra pods should be about 4"
Fried Okra night at my house! A treat I usually reserve for ordering out as I always assume that frying is messy and time consuming. But luckily I was completely wrong.

I was at Findlay Market on my usual Tuesday peruse of the fresh veggies and I saw a little quart of okra; my eyes and memories just lit up. I could see myself as a kid popping the deliciously, crispy fried bites into my mouth and my mom smiling as I ate my "veggies". I grew up in the south west so fried treats always seemed to creep into meals. I remembered bowls of gumbo and stew that had cooked all day and thickened with the okra. I honestly could almost smell the oil frying and the soup…I was a bit blinded by the okra and ended up buying it all along with some terrible sweet corn from this vendor. But the horrible corn is another story…

So can I really make fried okra? How do you fry something? Do I need to buy a fryer? What kind of batter do you use? Is this going to be hard, cause if it is I am out!? Oh goodness the questions that came to mind, there were too many to count. So I did what every good American does these days and I scoured the internet in search of recipes and someone that knew what they were doing! I learned that Okra is a very good source of fiber and protein, two things everyone needs and made me want to eat more.  Food Network of course returns 35 different recipes and all the knowledge you could ever want, but for some reason a link from Google caught my eye…! And by goodness if her charm and "craziness" didn't win me over it was her easy step by step instructions with pictures of how to fry okra that did the trick. So I grabbed her recipe, gave it some tweaks and went for it. This is how I spent my evening:

"Southern" Fried Okra Recipe
• Okra: However much you like, cut the tops off and slice about ¼" to ½" thick
• Milk: I used Vitamin D milk because who has buttermilk on hand?
Flour: I bypassed using flour, I think I honestly just forgot about it
• Cornmeal: Yellow cornmeal so I can make cornbread some day, duh
• Oil: Normal vegetable oil works just fine
• Big heavy-bottomed frying pan: I have a cast-iron skillet that works awesome but I am sure any shallow pan would work

Extras: Always salt and pepper your frying batter (the cornmeal) and taste it, a trick my mom taught me. I added some cayenne pepper to the batter as well to give it a kick!

Shake an Bake Okra
Make it: Take your cut okra and soak it in a shallow bowl with just enough milk to cover. I found the longer it soaked the more it started to look like I was making rice crispy treats. The sticky okra combined with the milk made a yucky looking paste as I stirred to cover this crazy vegetable. After it had thoroughly soaked I drained the milk out in a colander and tossed the okra into a Ziploc bag with the cornmeal, salt, pepper and cayenne. This part was fun for the whole family, Piña and my youngest niece had fun tossing the bag back and forth and shaking it to make sure every piece was covered. Surprisingly it all stuck quite well, and was not messy at all with the bag. While the kids were having fun I heated up the skillet with enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. I then dumped all the okra into a now clean and dry colander to get rid of the excess cornmeal. Once the oil was hot enough (mom says to look for the swimming fish, I never understood that but you can always run a test to see if the oil sizzles up the sides. Remember you can always adjust your heat, I find I would rather go cooler to hotter.) I tossed the whole batch of breaded okra into the oil and let it fry away for about 5 minutes. Checked it for that golden brown doneness look and turned it to the other side for another 5 minute-ish bath (the "ish" is when you think it is done, could take 5 minutes to turn golden could take 2 minutes). Then a paper towel rest, sprinkle with a little more salt while still hot and viola you have fried okra! And I didn't even get burnt.

Finished Product
Results: Well Tiger has found his new favorite food, gobbling down these tasty morsels and gumming at them with his no teeth till they were sticky gooey messes in his mouth. My niece even popped them like popcorn making the yummy sounds of a child enjoying a brand new food, she is so like me sometimes. But Piña and her skepticism to anything foreign carefully licked at one, and decided she better leave them where they lie. So by all accounts a pretty decent success, not the results I was looking for as far as consumption from my picky eater? But me and my bottle of red wine loved every bite; and thought lovingly of memories past and now new memories to come.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lunch at Senate

Senate Outside Platform


Meal: 2 people; $39.55 with tip, trailer park dog, lobster BLT, duck fat French fries and a coke
Thoughts: $$$ JJJJ (all out of 5)
Senate is located in the new Quarter of Over the Rhine. Most of you know this area as the place you used to need a hood pass to walk thru, but is slowly becoming the young hip place to hang out.

Senate has opened up just one block north of Central parkway and has quickly become my favorite restaurant to dine at. While the meal above was my first, there have been many that have followed. It is the best lunch experience whether you are eating with a friend or entertaining that big client this is the new place to try.

For me it all started with the wonderful service…you are quickly greeted with a smile from almost every employee, vying for my attention and ready to take care of me. This place already knows my style! Our waiter was right there with water, he was courtesy and knowledgeable about the menu; which helps since I tend to never order for myself. I love when you can walk into a place, talk a bit with the waiter and trust them to bring you something delicious. Mind you this sometimes ends in yucky food, but in a place like Senate you don't need to worry. They took the time with the little touches that make your dining experience exceptional; water in a plastic pitcher is boring but water in an antique jug is awesome, wood accents are boring but salvaged wood adorned with candles is brilliant! Even your walk in was unique with a step up saloon like platform. Other then the perfect service from our server Kyle, Senate has good simple food done right. It is nice to see a niche restaurant in Cincinnati take a hot dog and a BLT and turn it into an experience!

Trailer Park Dog
It is dinner with an idea in mind that actually sticks to it. The trailer park dog was dressed up with bacon, coleslaw and the Cincinnati favorite, Grippos chips crushed on top to make it more than your average dog. Mind you chips are not my favorite, nor are Grippos to be quite frank, but it was an extra zing to the meal and a salute to our hometown. Most of the meals deliver on this level, familiar food with twists and turns that make it the new Cincinnati favorite. On return visits I have continued to enjoy the "dog of the day" and love that they post this on Facebook so that I feel as if I am always in the know and can comment back about how I feel. Good food does that to me, makes me want to tell the world or at least send my compliments to the chef! PS did I mention that they have my favorite beer on tap? CHIMAY!!

So if you are heading out, try this place now. But don't forget to bring a friend or two, because what is a meal without some good conversation and company?

Welcome to My World

Welcome to my world of blogging or what not. I am just your average working mom with little to no time on my hands. Rather then put what little time I do have to good use like volunteering or giving back to the community I am sitting here at my computer thinking about food and what I am going to cook tonight, so I decided to write it all down. Why not share my love for food and family?

Food is basically how I relate to life. I don't think there is any time or event that I don't say, "Well, what are we eating?" In fact my mom is supposed to be in town this week and the first thing I asked her was where she wanted to go for lunch. Food to me is life, love, delicious, nutritious, the best part of my day! I mean we need it to live of course, but there is so much more to it than that. The kitchen, in my house at least, is the center of family life…this is the place where conversations happen, homework is completed, family calendars are kept and yummy, delectable treats that make your soul sing are created. Ok I am rambling; I apologize in advance as I will do this a lot so…food very important, blogging about food important.

Why is food so imperative in my life? I think it all began when I was a baby. My mother owned and operated the Artichoke Café along historic route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico; a four star restaurant during her reign. It was here that I grew up sleeping on top of the fridge, breaking into the desserts to indulge in my favorite guilty pleasure (chocolate mousse with black olives, gross sounding I know but early on I learned the love of sweet and salty foods) and "riding" the giant vacuum cleaner at closing time. My mother was a self taught cook that really just happened into the restaurant business. Long story short, my dad's company needed a caterer, she offered to do it, was a huge success, got more and more jobs, bought a kitchen and decided to make a go for it. Viola a restaurant is born and a passion for food is instilled in the children that followed. As the youngest of three, we all learned to love GOOD food. You know your mother is a chef when you have to bring a snack in for school and your mother packs a cheese, caviar and fruit plate or perfectly styled tea sandwiches with homemade butter cookies, let's just say somehow my snack day came up more often than the other kids. And now as a wife and mother of two I have tried to pass on this enthusiasm for food to my children (Piña; the picky one and Tiger; my newest adventure) and husband ("whatever, it's just food"). It doesn't matter how bad my day is I always know I can come home make dinner and feel better about life in general. I don't need the "runners high" I just need a pan to cook with and something to throw in it.

With that I bring to you my LIFE:
  • I review restaurants: I work downtown so most of them will be here. I love anywhere I can walk to from my office. Restaurants with niches, new places and my ultimate goal is to find that perfect hole in the wall place that I can just keep going to over and over.
  • Share recipes: Some that I come up with and others that I find thru the internet, friends and family. Usually I end up combining about 4 different recipes to come up with one good one and if it's bad I will share that too so you don't make the same mistakes as me.
  • Ramblings about good things and bad and how it all comes back to food J

If you care please join me on my adventure into the culinary world and how it can make or break each day.