June 21, 2012

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

I participated in the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” bike ride on May 19, 2012.  The event was a collaboration between Renaissance Covington and Queen City Bike in honor of bike month and in support of local farmers.
The day started at an urban garden near Findlay Market where we had breakfast provided by Savor Catering and Events.  Breakfast included egg, cheese and sausage breakfast burritos on whole wheat tortillas along with plain yogurt parfaits topped with homemade fruit-and-nut granola.  The yogurt parfaits were so completely delicious.
We biked to Park + Vine to stop for water and learn a bit about their store. If you're not familiar, Park + Vine is reminiscent of an old "general store" and focuses on selling eco-friendly home-goods and other various products.   

We headed north up Vine to Relish Restaurant Group's OTR garden.  Justin Dean spoke with us about the group's part in revitalizing that particular block of Vine Street as well as their efforts to locally source the food on their menus.  Relish collaborates with Berea College for some of their sourcing and also for their seed-saving program which yields unique and heirloom varieties of produce.  Both Lavomatic and Local 127 are part of the restaurant group.

Our next trek took us to the west side (all the way up Warsaw!) to 8th and Enright to visit the Imago Earth Center. This was, by far, the most surprising part of the day for me.
Imago's grass-roots movement started about 35 years ago when the founders set out to create an eco-conscious center of focus for their neighborhood.  The Earth Center includes a nature preserve, a green house, and also many sections of land on their acreage along with garden beds planted in the yards of the residents in the surrounding Price Hill neighborhood.  Among their crops were many fresh herbs including lavender and sage.  Imago is supported by a host of volunteers from local schools and organizations in Cincinnati.

Next, we biked to the Anderson Ferry which took us across the Ohio River to Route 8 in Northern Kentucky; the last (and only) time I was on the ferry was at least 20 years ago!
We rode 3 miles west to McGlasson's farm and Jack McGlasson spoke with us about their variety of crops and the family's long history of selling at local farmer's markets and their own road-side produce stand on Route 8.  The stand opened for business earlier this week and McGlasson's facebook page offers some great information; including this year's exciting addition of maple syrup.  
Our final destination was the Covington farmer’s market, at Roebling Point.  I was worn out by the time I got there but I did buy a dog biscuit from Savor's booth.  Georgia was a good sport and stayed couped up in the house all day, she loved her treat.
We enjoyed lunch provided, once again, by Savor catering.  The sandwich and salad combo was satisfying and the sandwiches were served on a soft, rosemary bread.  The flavorful greens in our salad were from the OTR urban garden we visited earlier that day, radishes from Carriage House Farm and tomato and cucumber from Neltner's farm.  I love a good ranch dressing, it really compliments a simple salad like this one.

Across the Roebling bridge and back to Findlay Market...
Many of us, having lived in Cincinnati most our lives, were unaware of the gardens in urban settings, suburban neighborhoods and large farms just miles from Covington and downtown Cincinnati.  It was very inspiring to see all the efforts in our area and it fosters a sense of community and ownership in eating local.  I will probably never grow my own garden but it is reassuring to know that I can choose to buy from local farmers or eat at local restaurants who source their ingredients directly from our region.  

A video was produced of our adventure. It does a great job of capturing all the ground we covered and all the details I missed:)  Hope to see more events like this in the coming months and years!  Here's a link to the You Tube video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Sfz8FZWpc

June 18, 2012

Moerlein Lager House

Some pics and a few comments of May ROTM (restaurant of the month) at Moerlein Lager House.  We went on the evening of the Smale Riverfront Park dedication and it was an all-around fun evening; culminating in a fireworks show.  Does it get much better than that?  Nope. 

Parmesan garlic fries with sides of black pepper aioli, curry ketchup and regular ketchup.
Our table split a meat and cheese board comprised of house-made goetta, candied pork belly, mozzarella and bacon chive cream cheese.  Delicious.  When I go back I will likely order a meat and cheese board for my entree, it was very fresh and satisfying and the perfect amount for one or two people to share. Lager House offers a selection of six meats and seven cheeses and you can choose a board with any variation of 2 or 3 meats/cheeses. 
I get that a Caesar salad does not scream "German biergarten" but I give this salad two thumbs up.  It was flavorful and the perfect precursor to a smaller meal, say, if you're splitting an entree or one of the previously-mentioned meat and cheese boards.
And now for one of the worst mis-orders of my life: Hops Smoked Pork Belly with spaetzle, marinated mushrooms and creamy Brussels sprouts.  Do you ever have one of those nights where you simply can't figure out what you want to order?  So you look at the menu compulsively and make a minimum of 5 different selections and when the server asks you what you want you blurt out the one thing you really don't want?  Yep, I do that too, I did it at the Lager House, and it made me grumpy.  The best part of this dish was the spaetzle, but even that was not the best.  The items on this plate were collectively too heavy and the flavors clashed.  Again, mis-order on my part.  My palate said "NO" to it all. 

I didn't try the baby back ribs but I heard they were good and the sauce, apparently, has a bit of a kick to it.  Perfectly complemented by a mound of onion rings on the side.

The surf and turf got rave reviews as well; 6oz filet and lump crab cake.  I did not try the surf or the turf but I did enjoy my taste of the spinach risotto and would consider splitting this dish on a future visit.
Here's a picture of the view from our outdoor table on the west side of the restaurant.  The park was full of people of all ages and I loved seeing all the energy and excitement!

Moerlein Lager House on Urbanspoon

June 11, 2012

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Mint Buttercream

Sadly, my oven broke about a month ago.  I'm a little back-logged on writing cupcake and other baking posts so I figured I'd do some catching up!

This batch dates back to my second-adventure-in-cupcakes: moist chocolate cupcakes with a fluffy creamy vanilla mint buttercream.  I loved the flavor of the chocolate cake in my Chocolate Cherry Cordial Cupcakes but I did not love the texture and crumb factor.  My goal with these cupcakes was to find the best moist chocolate cupcake recipe.  Googling ensued and I chose one from an experienced cupcake baker.  I did change up the recipe for the cupcakes a bit.  I did not have enough cocoa powder so I melted a few ounces of baker's chocolate with a 1/4 cup of butter and added that to the mix. 

I could have swarn I saved the recipe I used for these cakes but I can't seem to locate it.  Since they weren't my favorite I won't worry too much about it.  If you want to bake some exactly like this, sorry!  Whatever you do, invest in high-quality cocoa powder.  It is my next step into the baking frontier. 

The buttercream was adapted from both experience and reviewing several recipes:

1 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar (give or take)
1/2 tsp. mint extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

The trick with the buttercream was to spend some additional time whipping it.  With my first couple attempts at buttercream frosting I didn't spend enough time on this step and it was obvious with the finished product.  Whip, whip, whip and just when you think you cannot whip any longer- whip some more.  You won't be sorry, people will oooh and ahhhh at the frosting and then you will be very happy:)

I added mint and chocolate morsels to the batter for an extra dose of flavor.
These cupcakes were moist and fluffy and almost too soft to handle the buttercream.  That's such a catch 22 when it comes to cupcakes.  Do you bake a cupcake whose texture you prefer or do you find a recipe that can handle a mound of frosting?  The latter usually results in a dry, crumbly cake.  Perhaps we say "who cares?"  Grab the whole cupcake, squash it into a ball and shove it into your mouth; then the texture presents no problem.
The chocolate cupcake quest continues!