Wednesday, May 31, 2006

P.F. Chang's

I apologize in advance to all my readers who, like me, don’t usually like to eat in national chain restaurants. But they’re so hard to avoid these days, and as I said about Palomino, if it’s a higher end chain with decent food, then I’m okay with it.

When we have all these great neighborhood choices for Asian food, don’t ask me why Peter likes P.F. Chang’s so much, but he does. And occasionally, on nights when I’m feeling either really nice or really tired, I let him have his way. Tonight it was the latter, after a long day at the office that ended with the color printer not cooperating in a time of great need, as all printers are known to do. It's as if they can sense when the really big projects need to be printed and act up only then. The screen just continued to blink “Fix Image Sensor” or some such nonsense as my co-worked and I poked, prodded and tried to repair it.

So after the drama was resolved and the sun was setting, I went the lazy route and called in an order to Chang’s. We love the steamed Peking dumplings and the fact that we choose them steamed instead of pan fried makes me feel healthy even if it’s not. Then we each ordered a shrimp dish: Orange Peel Chicken for me, and Kung Pao Shrimp for Peter (see, I told you he always gets Kung Pao something). The dumplings were good, as usual, but we both frowned at the rather skimpy portion. I was delighted with the contrast between the bitter orange peel and rich shrimp in my entree and really enjoyed the nutty, chewy flavor of the accompanying brown rice, not something you find in every Asian restaurant. Even if you don't give a hoot about nutrition, give it a try because it's so much more interesting than the bland white stuff. Peter on the other hand, was most disappointed to find that his shrimp had been seriously overcooked. I asked for a bite to taste and immediately realized that he'd actually received Kung Pao Chicken instead of shrimp. Normally this wouldn't be a huge deal, but Peter is somewhat of a hypochondriac and has recently decided that the avian flu is a real threat in the US and we should therefore avoid all chicken. I think it’s just an excuse for him to eat more of his favorite animal: the pig. It was also an excuse to polish off half of my shrimp dish.

Sure, it was an easy dinner "out" that we didn’t even enjoy in a restaurant, but tonight's meal reminded me of the true benefit of takeout: you can sit in the comfort of our own home, on the couches and pillows, watching the premiere of “The Hills” on MTV with no shame.

So what did my fortune cookie say?
Your labors will bear sweet fruit.

Well, time will tell, but for now I'm taking that to mean that the battle with the copier will ultimately go our way.


The damage: about $20

Watch out for: last minute switches in your order--always, always check the bag before you leave and it's too late

Food: 3 out of 5 forks

Romance: 2 out of 5 kisses (but this just might chalked up to fatigue)

P.F. Chang's
2633 Edmonson Road (Rookwood Commons)
Cincinnati, Ohio 45209

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bella Luna

I really *want* to like Bella Luna. It’s got a charming atmosphere, convenient location, and great concept in serving regional Italian food. Since it’s located on Eastern Avenue in the Linwood area, it’s just a stone’s throw away from Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park and downtown, and would be incredibly convenient if it was one of our favorites.

My recent occasion for visiting the restaurant was a night out with a girlfriend (and now coworker) of mine. We get together from time to time to talk about life, work and most of all, the ups and downs of being newlyweds (she was married just a week before we were). Since Peter’s made it no secret that he’s not a fan of the place, I figured it would be a good choice to lessen his feelings of being left out.

Our service was quite friendly and accommodating, especially since we weren’t the easiest diners that evening. We ordered the Bella Luna Salad (we decided to pay extra to get the figs and feta) but didn’t like the overly acidic vinaigrette dressing that clashed with the sweet, dried fruit. Our server promptly brought us new salads with honey balsamic that proved to be better, but was overly sweet and thick such that it looked and tasted more like molasses than dressing.

I chose a spicy pasta dish, the bucatini, as my entrĂ©e. Bella Luna actually did well on this one, preparing al dente spaghetti-like noodles in a rich, smoky sauce chock full of thick bacon chunks. Not the best choice before swimsuit season, but the flavor was worth the splurge and I ate every last bite. Don’t tell him since I’m trying to make him healthier, but as president of the “I love the pig” fan club, I think Peter would’ve really liked this dish.

My friend ordered good old spaghetti and meatballs. The dish looked great, but she was disappointed to find that the meatballs really didn't look like they were cooked all the way through. Not wanting to bother our server with a replacement yet again, she just picked them off and placed them to the side.

Not quite ready to go home and busy watching a violent thunderstorm roll in, we took our server’s advice and ordered the restaurant’s famous bread pudding for dessert, which we were told was a hit at last year’s Taste of Cincinnati. I love bread pudding, and hey, I needed more carbs, right? But this version wasn’t like any bread pudding I’ve ever had, and that’s not a good thing in this case. The consistency was much too smooth, as though the bread had been pureed in a Cuisinart instead of just soaked in larger chunks. I was also disappointed that there were no hidden “goodies” like nuts or dried cherries in the pudding, but just ultra-smooth, bland pudding. The sauce here was thin and syrupy where I like a more traditional thickened whiskey sauce with my version. We left most of it on the plate.

All in all, the food part of the dinner was a pretty mediocre experience. It wasn't food I would classify as terrible, but also wasn’t good enough to be memorable or worth in the money. I will give credit to Bella Luna for its charming, romantic atmosphere. Inside the decor is funky and brightly colored without being garish, and offers diners comfy booths filled with cushions and pillows—just right for those looking to relax, kick up their heels and gab. It’s my philosophy that atmosphere and service are half of what contributes to a good or bad dining experience, so Bella Luna got that half of the equation right.


The damage: about $30 each, which seemed really high considering we had no alcohol at all (my pregnant friend looked longingly at the wine list though—did we get charged for that?)

Watch out for: the vinaigrette salad dressing

Food: 2 forks (overall inconsistent)

Romance: 4 kisses, thanks to good lighting and 1/2 price bottles of wine served on Wednesday nights

Bella Luna
4632 Eastern Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45226

Monday, May 29, 2006

BLT Bites

It was finally hot enough this weekend to feel like summer. I had to bring an appetizer to our family gathering in Ryland, KY (that's right, the location of our wedding reception) and picked this recipe for its decided summer-ness. Peter and I had a busy day of yard work, with my focus on scrubbing the mossy scum off our back deck, so we bought all the ingredients with the plan to just quickly assemble everything once we arrived. Great idea in theory, but definitely not in practice. These bites took so long to prep that they had to be a side dish for our dinner (see, even trained culinary "experts" have their share of troubles in the kitchen). Never mind though, because they were still yummy and delicious and received rave reviews. What's even better is that they require just a few fresh, tasty ingredients. Just the right tempting amount of BLT, perfect for an appetizer OR a meal accompaniment!

36 cherry tomatoes
2 cups chopped lettuce - we used Bibb
8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
3-4 Tb. mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Slice the very top and bottom off the cherry tomatoes, using a serrated knife for ease of preparation. Using a knife or mini melon baller, remove the pulp from the tomato and rinse, making sure tomato is still whole. Set the tomato top side down on a paper-towel lined cookie sheet to drain. If you cut all the way through the tomato cup, it's okay.
  2. Chop lettuce and place in a mixing bowl with the crumbled bacon. Add enough mayonnaise just to combine and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Turn over tomatoes and stuff tops with lettuce mixture (we found the easiest way was with our hands).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cactus Pear

I remember when this restaurant was located in Madeira, in that location that's been a swinging door of sorts. Now it's a Ferrari's (and we eat there often), and Cactus Pear has branched out to now have two locations: one in Blue Ash, the other in Clifton. Since we were (yet again) out in the area looking at houses, we decided to check out the Blue Ash location.

Cactus Pear bills itself as a Southwest Bistro. I'm not completely clear on how "Southwest" differs from traditional Mexican fare, but I can tell you that there were many interesting menu items, all of which sounded delicious. Atypical things such as tofu and eggplant fajitas, Enjoying the bistro's delicious (and free) chips and salsa, we decided between things such as tofu and eggplant fajitas, various noodle dishes. Incidentally, the salsa was not just any salsa, but a dark, rich, smoky and most out of the ordinary salsa that we could've eaten plain with soup spoons.

We ordered what I thought sounded like the most interesting appetizer: casserole of chihuahua (Peter says this should be pronounced chah-hoo-ah-hoo-ah) beans with beef and cheese. It came served warm with flour tortillas so we created mini burritos right there at the table. The taste was good, and reminded me of those chilitos I used to get at Zantigo's (now Taco Bell) on Ridge Road.

While waiting for our entrees, musicians entered the restaurant looking to set up and start playing. Peter eyed them nervously, wondering if they were going to be loud and disruptive, but they were most pleasant. I got to mouth "Fly Me to the Moon" across the table to Peter, who actually looked amused.

For dinner I had the blue corn enchildadas , which were covered in a sweet, flavorful mole sauce and sour cream. Peter had the beef tamales, which were topped with a tangy tomatillo sauce and yes, more sour cream. Truth be told, with the exception of the sauces our two dishes didn't actually taste all that different. There was an overwhelming amount of tender, shredded beef inside and for once, we requested a box to take home leftovers. Peter encouraged me to dump the rest of our salsa on top of the rice I was packing up, which I reluctantly did just as a server came back to the table to clear our plates. Embarassesd, I felt like that person who tries to take home all the free rolls or salad at the Olive Garden. Peter of course made the most of the opportunity and reported to the server that I was stealing salsa. Nice. A few minutes later, the server dropped off an entire plastic container of the salsa, all packed up and ready for us to enjoy at home--what a great surprise and way to take home a little more of our dining experience. Since chips and salsa are officially Peter's favorite meal, we were both ecstatic.


The damage: $61.61, for one app, two entrees, wine (two for me, one for Peter) and a pint of salsa!

Watch out for: I honestly can't think of anything!

Food: 3 out of 5 forks (good, but not the best I've ever had)

Romance: 3 of out 5 kisses (it increased to 4 when the musicians started)

Cactus Pear Southwest Bistro
9500 Kenwood Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45242
(513) 791-4424

Monday, May 22, 2006


My mom's been out of town for almost two weeks and we wanted to welcome her home with a dinner out. Really, we wanted and did start at Jeff Ruby's Tropicana. Though it's received mixed reviews locally, it's somewhat of a guilty pleasure that I liken to my ongoing obsession for MTV's Real World series. "Excessive" is the adjective that comes to mind when I think of this and almost any other Ruby restaurant, but like Las Vegas, they're good in small doses. I love Tropicana's decadent manchego cheese ravioli, adore the green apple martinis, and am afraid to admit that I like to steal glances at the shirtless guy who works in the women's bathroom (don't tell Peter). But tonight the place was dead as a doornail, so after a single drink each we elected instead to go to a few doors down to Brio Tuscan Grille.

Yes, it's a chain, and in my oh-so-snotty way I typically avoid that restaurant genre, but Brio is one of the few exceptions I'll occasionally make. After a week and a half of rain, the nice weather beckoned us to Brio's lovely patio that sits at the heart of Newport on the Levee, in clear view of the fountain and valet parking stand. With the exception of traveling to a client meeting, I hadn't been outside all day, so the fresh air and sunshine were a welcomed change. Though it was right in the middle of the busy dinner service, the fact that it was a Monday meant that we got right in with no wait at all.

We began with the Brio Bruschetta appetizer for the table to start. We were deep in conversation so the appetizers all but vanished before our eyes, but not before Peter had time to remark about how much he really loves grilled bread. He was right. The grilled bread doused in flavorful olive oil was a perfect base for the grilled shrimp and roasted red peppers topped with melted mozzarella cheese.

Peter ordered the Bistecca salad as a next course, and our waiter generously offered to split this between the two of us so we could each taste. While I'd assumed that "bistecca" translated to something involving beef, I was instead surprised to find that this was more of the traditional iceberg lettuce wedge salad, complete with bleu cheese crumbles and dressing, bacon pieces, and chopped tomatoes.

For dinner I went with the fish special of the day: a sauteed tilapia with a cream sacue, roasted new potatoes, and spinach with prosciutto. The server advised us that they're making some adjustments to the menu tomorrow, so Peter ordered the "Straw and Hay" pasta dish that's about to be discontinued. It was a mix of regular and spinach fettucine with peas and bacon in a light alfredo cream sauce. His was just okay (I see why it's coming off the menu), while mine was divine and should be a permanent menu feature. My dad's lamb chops must have been good because he didn't offer us any bites, and my mom went lighter and had a crab cake appetizer as her entree, trying to be mindful of the cruise they're going on in just a few weeks.

Convinced that we simply couldn't and shouldn't order dessert, we ended up talking ourselves into sharing a chocolate cake among the four of us. The cake itself was a bit bland and gelatinous, but the vanilla bean gelato and chocolate fudge drizzle on top made up for it, so we had no trouble polishing off the entire dish.

I sure am glad Peter gets along with his in-laws so well. I had a lovely time tonight and wouldn't mind repeating tonight's meal frequently.


The damage: I honestly have no idea. There are times I still act like a major daddy's girl and let him pay, hoping it makes him feel needed.

Watch out for: parking at the Levee. It's expensive to park there and seems specifically designed to make sure you can't find your car at the end of the night. I advise the lot across the street, if it's available, or the valet parking option either at the Levee or Tropicana.

Food: 3 out of 5 forks (though our meal was good, I just can't bring myself to go higher on a chain)

Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses (close your eyes, forget your in KY, and you might just be able to imagine you're in Tuscany)

Brio Tuscan Grille
1 Levee Way, Suite 1140
Newport, KY 41071
(859) 431-0900

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pacific Moon Cafe

I've always heard that there's no better place for dim sum in Cincinnati than Pacific Moon Cafe. I've been a fan of the cuisine ever since I lived in San Francisco and used to frequent the extremely well-know establishment called Yank Sing. I've even experienced the privilege of having dim sum in Hong Kong where it just doesn't get any better. I was in heaven while my family looked warily at each cart of food, certain that they would get food poisoning at any moment. But right here in river city, it's a little more difficult to find authentic dim sum, so when Sihui, one of our co-workers, offered to make a reservation at Pacific Moon and serve as a guide to those who were interested, we (and six others) jumped at the chance.

I love the whole concept of dim sum. It's kind of like my obsession with tapas, but with an Asian spin, consisting of small plates of food best shared among friends. While I love eating out, I find the excessively large portions of food typical in many restaurants overwhelming, not to mention boring after several bites. Maybe it's the influence of Peter's ADD-ness on me? Regardless, any kind of dining experience in which I can sample many different flavors all in the same meal makes my tastebuds happy.

As we arrived one by one we ordered tea, discussed the recent Da Vinci Code movie release, some of us nervously eying our chopsticks. When we were ready, Sihui signaled to the servers that we were ready to get started. Here's how it works: servers roll carts around the restaurant, each containing dozens of steaming hot round metal containers and ceramic plates of items. The servers pull the lids off the containers, give a brief description of its contents, and you have a few seconds to respond with your yes or no answer. There must be at least 100 different items from which to choose, but Sihui did a fantastic job of ordering and two minutes later the oversized lazy susan in the middle of the table was overflowing with containers of unrecognizable dishes. Don't like what's in front of you? Just spin the wheel until you see something that piques your interest!

We all bravely dug in, sampling steamed pork buns, bean curd rolls stuffed with pork, mushroom dumplings, roast pork, scallop dumplings, fried tofu, short ribs, and curried calamari. Thankfully, Sihui had steered clear of the chicken feet (and yes, they look just like you'd think they would, but covered in sauce). Far and away my favorite dish was the jalapeno peppers, which were split lengthwise down the center and stuffed with shrimp. The dish had just the right hint of spicy kick from the jalapeno, an ingredient I don't recall seeing in Asian cuisine. The crispy salt and pepper prawns also went over well, but were somewhat of a disaster at our table. Peter managed to spray his shirt, shorts, and the tablecloth (thank goodness I bought him all those Tide to Go stain sticks for Christmas) with a reddish orange sauce while pulling the head and peel off, while another co-worker made the mistake of attempting to eat the prawn without peeling anything off. The only dish that the table unanimously dismissed was the beef tendons, and I have to admit that they looked and sounded scary enough that I couldn't force myself to try even a small bite.

After a brief pause to sip our green tea and ice water, we dug into the dessert cart. Even though we were stuffed, we still managed to polish off chocolate tarts with mango filling, custard buns, and sesame buns filled with sweet bean paste. I truly had trouble breathing at that point, and wished I'd worn pants with an expandable waistband.

We tried so many things that I was convinced that the check was going to sting, but everything is priced by the plate or container in the $3 - $5 range, and therefore turned out to be surprisingly affordable. In the end, a small price to pay for such a fun outing. Who knew you could have such a good time with your co-workers when you're not forced to be together and without any alcohol involved?


The damage: much to my surprise, it was only $20 per person, including tip

Watch out for: getting there! The location is unassuming and easy to miss, so make sure you look for the large sign that reads Market Place along Montgomery road and turn there. Also, Sundays are super crowded and not the best for dim sum newbies

Food: 4 out of 5 forks

Romance: 3 out of 5 kisses (though we're off the market, I think this would be a great place for groups of friends to go to introduce other friends for potential setups)

Pacific Moon Cafe
8300 Market Place Lane
Cincinnati, OH 45242
(513) 891-0091

European Cafe

We were out house hunting last weekend and came across a great little spot I hadn't been to in a couple of years. If you're ever in the downtown Montgomery area, home to the original Montgomery Inn, the classic Pomodori's of Clifton fame, and Germano's, but are more interested in a lighter, faster meal, this is a stop to put on your list.

"What's European about it?" Peter wondered as we walked in, and even now I'm not really sure I have a good answer. Sure, they claim that Greek-style gyros are their specialty, but other than that the menu isn't all that European-themed. There are plenty of classic lunch favorites to please any palate, from soups (none on Sundays though), sandwiches and salads. We briefly perused the menu and quickly settled on the gyros, both lamb and chicken, since they're just not something you see every day. And because we've been on such a health kick lately, we added on an order of onion rings to share.

Our service was attentive and prompt in the bustling cafe, and the counter was perfect for us to sit and debate the pros and cons of the open houses we'd just attended. Our gyros were delivered to us steaming hot and handily wrapped in foil wrappers for ultimate ease of stuffing our faces. The tangy cucumber yogurt sauce served on the side was the perfect complement to the flavorful meat as we poured it on the soft, fluffy pita bread. It's pretty hard to ruin onion rings, but these were especially light, crispy and golden brown. Delicious with gool old Heinz Ketchup.

I was pretty full after all that, but that didn't stop my sweet tooth from forcing me to order some of the homemade baklava. The single serving consisted of two triangles that were plenty large to share, and the employee who retrieved it from the case for us was kind enough to heat it up before we ate it so that the flaky pastry soaked with honey and nuts absolutely melted in our mouths. In my attempt to feed Peter a bite with my plastic fork, I watched him go at it with such anticipation that he actually bit through one of the plastic tines. Since he didn't spit it out, I'm pretty sure he swallowed it.

The only thing we didn't try was the scary-looking hookah on the counter. What do you do with those things, anyway? Yes, I'm pretty naive as far as those things are concerned, but I'm sure Peter would be happy to supplement my knowledge in that area.

I don't know if we'll be able to come to any resolution on where to buy a house in this lifetime, but I know we'll be back to this great lunch location soon.


The damage: a very reasonable $16 total, including tax and tip, for 2 gyros, onion rings, and soft drinks (that didn't include our $2.95 dessert)

Watch out for: crowds on weekends and closing early (2 pm) on Sundays

Food: 4 out of 5 forks

Romance: 1 out of 5 kisses

European Cafe
9450 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45242
(513) 891-4551

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I warn you upfront--I'm going to gush about this one, and as a result this posting will be longer than most.

Some of my favorite dining experiences are those unexpected times when we just happen to go to a great place. Peter and I met at Lowe's after work, in an attempt to choose a new kitchen light. Unsuccessful at making a purchase but full of new lighting ideas, we were both cranky and starving by 7 pm. Peter nonchalantly suggested Boca, which took no convincing to get me to agree. Skeptical that the always-crowded restaurant might not accept us, I called to first be told we'd have an hour wait (really? on a Wednesday?) but then convinced the hostess to hold one of the front tables for us if we arrived within 10 minutes. We got there in 5.

From start to finish, this dining experience was flawless. Truly, Boca ranks up there as one of our favorite, if not the single favorite, restaurants in Cincinnati. We were fans way back when they were located in a hole in the wall in Northside (now home to the delicious Honey). But, like Bangkok Bistro, this restaurant has a special place in our hearts because it is the first place we ever dined as a couple. As I've said in previous posts, it was a phenomenal first date, and one neither of us will ever forget. It made such an impression that as part of Peter's marriage proposal to me, he had my sister photograph him in all of the places we'd gone on our first date, holding signs that read "Will," "You" "Marry" and "Me?" A wonderful and touching surprise, evidenced by the photo above.

I could write an entire post about how great our server was. He was competent and knowledgeable about the menu, yet friendly like a guy next door all at the same time. When I inquired about specific ingredients in particular dishes and asked for his recommendations, he expressed informed opinions that showed he'd tasted everything on the menu and had passion for his real favorites.

We intended to have just a quickish sort of meal, but when we saw the newly expanded dinner menu we had a really difficult time choosing between our options and after ordering glasses of an Australian Shiraz, elected to go with four courses each (well, it started out as three and we added on dessert). I started with a seasonal special, the morel mushrooms with fiddlehead ferns in a cream sauce. It was to die for. The entire dish tasted like spring, with fragrant green flavors of the ferns and onion grass, earthy mushrooms, and a delicate yet rich sauce that I sopped up with my warm bread. Peter had the grilled romaine salad, one of our standbys, which didn't disappoint. The smoky, charred lettuce is a beautiful complement to the creamy caesar dressing with shaved parmesan topping.

Next we each had a pasta course, sharing between us appetizer-sized plates of what had to be homemade pappardelle (wide, flat pasta) with cinghiale (boar meat sauce) and a spring pea ravioli with butter basted lobster. The lobster "raviolo," as it's phrased on the menu, was divine. Sweet yet creamy, the sugar in the pea filling matched perfectly with the based buttery lobster. The pappardelle was delicious, but we couldn't honestly tell the difference between this and your average meat sauce made with ground beef.

For our third course, we couldn't escape without our real favorite, the scallops with carmelized Brussels sprouts (which the menu now indicates as "3-hour" sprouts), shaved parmesan and truffle oil. This is one of those dishes that is so distinctive and memorably good that I can close my eyes, think hard, and imagine its flavors on my tongue with minimal effort. I'd commit my first born child for this recipe. Our server was nice enough to split the dish between us so there wouldn't be any fighting, which was a wise move.

Not wanting the meal to end and being true conoisseurs of dessert, we chose to have both the classic mascarpone cheesecake with hazelnuts and a new dish: crispy waffle with apple fudge and vanilla gelato. The waffle was good but sounded a lot better than it tasted, and the cheesecake's smooth, light consistency won us over as it always does.

I drove by our old apartment on Erie on my way home, just for old time's sake.


The damage: More than I'd like to share, but not that much to pay for such a great dining experience that I'd put against any other I've had in Cincinnati and beyond. We're also very good tippers when servers prove their worth, so in short, it was a lot of money.

Watch out for: this place on Thursday-Saturday nights. If you're not in a "going out" sort of mood, this place can let its great reputation swell its head a bit too much.

Food: 5 forks - there's not a better meal in the city.

Romance: 5 kisses - there's no better place to go for a first date, a fifth date, or a fiftieth date.

3200 Madison Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45209
(513) 542-2022

Monday, May 15, 2006

White Chicken Chili

Here's the recipe for the slow cooker white chicken chili Peter made over the weekend. We chose the "longer" method of cooking on low heat for 10 hours (we elected to do this overnight) and though the onion smell was so strong it made us toss and turn in our sleep, it was DELICIOUS after having simmered all that time. We're still eating the leftovers and it's getting better everyday. Other than chopping the raw ingredients, this recipe couldn't be easier or faster.

3 15-oz. cans Great Northern beans, drained
8 oz. cooked and shredded chicken breasts (we grilled ours, diced it, and added about twice as much for good measure)
1 cup chopped onion (any kind of onion is fine)
1 1/2 cups chooped yellow, green or red bell pepper (we used yellow and red only 'cause they're the sweetest)
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3 1/2 cups chicken broth

sour cream (I always go with fat free)
shredded cheddar cheese (gotta go full fat here)
tortilla chips (we like blue ones)

1. Combine all ingredients except topping in slow cooker.
2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
3. Ladle into bowls and top with sour cream, cheese and crushed tortilla chips.

*Adapted from Fix it and Forget It by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good

Saturday, May 13, 2006


I make way too much out of parties. I know this about myself, and yet I can't ever seem to keep myself from overthinking each and every detail of the entertaining experience. I have a pillow on my couch that says "WWMD-What would Martha do?" and people regularly come to my house and comment on how appropriate this is. But for some reason, even if my previous party bombed, the slate is wiped clean and nothing can keep me from being excited about the propsect of having the next great event.

One of my recurring party rituals is to produce way too much food for the number of guests in attendance. Always better to have too much rather than too little, right? My most recent gathering made no exception to my rule. Billed as a simple lunch/brunch/snack, I could have kept the meal pretty straightforward. Instead of just one kind of sandwich I insisted on three: ham and brie, turkey and cheddar, and egg salad, for the vegetarians in the group of course. I set up a yogurt parfait bar with berries, granola and yogurt. There were raw veggies and dip, including green beans and pea pods, my favorites. There were Terra chips that everyone thought was pot pourri--those didn't go over too well. Since it was cold, very late last night Peter made a white chicken chili in the slow cooker. I had lemonade and fruit punch, and orange juice and champagne that never made it out of the fridge. For a sweet finish, cupcakes of course (white cake, raspberry filling, white frosting), and chocolate covered strawberries. Wait, did I forget to mention the lemon hummus with pita bread?

All this for about 10 people, when clearly I was more prepared for 20 to 30. I was feeling under the weather Thursday-Friday, which made the preparation challenging, and in the end I feel a little let down. Why did I make so much food and now what do I do with the leftovers? I fear the leftovers will rot and mold as they tend to do in our house, when our fleeting attention spans have moved on to the next meal. Am I left with so much extra because summer is approaching and people are more eating more sensibly and exercising portion and calorie control? I'll figure it out, and will still look forward to the next party. But with me and party food preparation, it's kind of like drinking too much alcohol. You swear you'll never do it again but then find yourself right back in the midst of the exact same thing. And enjoying it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Peter's Full of More than Just Dewey's Pizza

I'm officially filing a complaint. I first created this blog by myself with all my own individual information, then had the idea for this great blog in which BOTH my husband and I would post our opinions on various restaurants where we've dined together. Realizing that having everything in my name was a little self-centered, I went through the rather arduous process to change everything so that it didn't just say "Angie" anymore and said "Angie and Peter" everywhere. So now I ask you, where the heck is Peter in all this posting? He claims to be this fantastic writer/editor/food critic extraordinaire, but I'm starting to think it's all a bunch of bull. He's even boasted that his last name is now "Blogsome" instead of "Blocksom," but again, he's all talk and no write.

It's not like it's that hard. He could be writing about the great pizza we just had at Dewey's (by far our fave in the city), or how we raved about both the House Salad and the Candied Walnuts and Grape Salad, or how we now smell like roasted garlic from our Edgar Allen Poe and sausage/onions/prosciutto special order, but no. You can see for yourself from the picture here exactly where he is and what he's doing.

Write in and tell him that he should support his wife and that he should be part of this wonderful phenomenon known as electronic journaling. Long live the Internet!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Our Neighborhood Bistro

I have a confession. We didn't even start out intending to go to Bangkok Bistro tonight, and to be honest we eat there with such regularity that I feel strange including it as a "review." We were headed for nearby Cumin but hadn't realized it was closed on Mondays. So being ultimately tired and lazy, we went for the next closest alternative and ended up at our old favorite. Seriously, we're probably there at least once a week at this point in our dual career lives, alternating between dining in and carrying out.

But we go there time and time again because it's consistently good. Whether we're in the mood for sushi, pad thai, or edamame, the menu at Bangkok covers a range of Asian food to suit our mood. It's also a special place for me because it's the site of our second date. First date, we went all out and did it up right at Boca. Second date, we went for the more friendly, neighborhood favorite of the Bistro. I vividly remember that second date, partly because of the excitement and optimism that surrounds a new relationship after a phenomenal first date, and partly because we ordered the sushi boat. That's right, I said boat. Much too much food for two people, and it comes extravagantly presented on a large wooden boat form that's sure to raise a few eyebrows, especially if you're sitting in one of the cafe tables that line the street like we were.

This evening, tired from a long day spent traveling, I was quite pleased to switch gears and go to one of our old favorites. I truly love starting my meal with the Hot and Sour Spicy Shrimp Soup (hmmm...I'm starting to see a trend here with me and spicy shrimp). The soup is a deliciously spicy broth flavored with sliced mushrooms and 3 large, whole shrimp. It's a healthy portion, and tonight I enjoyed mine so much that I had trouble getting down much of my Drunken Noodle entree. Peter enjoyed his regular dish, Pork Pad Thai, though he didn't have quite as much left over. But that's the beauty of almost all the dishes at Bangkok Bistro--they're perfect as tomorrow's lunch, midnight snacks, or just to finish right there and then at the table with a satisfying pat of the belly.

I didn't have the sushi tonight, but I frequently do. No, it's not the quality of Beluga, but it doesn't cost nearly as much either.

I'm sure we'll be back again next week. And hopefully as many weeks as we're married.


The damage: $70 for four entrees, and three of us had large bowls of soup to start. Plus, we've all got lunch taken care of for tomorrow.

Watch out for: service can be inconsistent.

Food: 4 out of 5 forks.

Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses (but I'm biased).

Bangkok Bistro
3506 Erie Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45208
(513) 871-0707

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Doodles Noodles

I've always driven by Doodles noodle restaurant in Hyde Park Square and wondered how the heck it could still be in business. Not that I haven't enjoyed the time or two I've eaten there, but just because it always seemed to have few if any patrons. We were running errands in the area yesterday evening, had a hankering for Asian food, and decided to give it a whirl.

We were surprised to see tables covered with white tablecloths. Seeing as we were both in "Saturday errand clothes" we thought that maybe we'd be underdressed. But a closer look showed us that the tops of the linens were actually covered with butcher's paper and crayons had been placed on each tabletop for ultimate doodle-ability (ah, I get it now).

Everything on the menu sounded good, and even better, it was almost all under $12. We ordered Spicy Shrimp Wontons to start, which arrived topped with chopped peanuts and a yummy soy sauce turned out to be tasty, but more sweet than spicy. We also ordered a cold Sesame Noodle salad to start, which was light and fresh-tasting with its shredded raw carrots, bean sprouts and carrots. For our entrees Peter chose the Kung Pao beef--I will give him consistency on this one--he hardly ever orders anything else when we're getting Asian food. I ordered Sesame Chicken with Shanghai Noodles. As so often happens when we're eating out, I try to order something that sounds healthy but tasty and Peter goes for the most fat-laden thing on the meal, and I end up eating half the food off his plate because it's so much tastier. His was great, mine was pretty bland. The cold noodle dish that was SO enormous we were sure that we'd have leftovers to take home quickly disappeared and Peter even tried to eat my bland chicken skewers when all this Kung Pao was gone.

All in all, it was a pretty good night out. We left stuffed to the gills and had to walk around the Square to get our bloated stomachs back to a normal size. I don't know if it's true, but I at least felt like it was healthier than the average Chinese take-out places.


The damage: $44, including 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 sodas.

Watch out for: Spice level - if you like spice, make sure you tell them to kick it up a notch, because Peter's 6 out of 10 spiciness wasn't so much.

Food: 3 forks

Romance: 2 kisses (good people-watching through the glass facing the square).

3443 Edwards Road
Cincinnati, OH 45208
(513) 871-7388

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I almost never get out for lunch these days. Between lunch meetings and just being so busy that it's easier to heat up read-to-eat soup, it's a rarity that I take a full hour and actually dine out for the mid-day meal. But knowing that I need to stop and smell the roses a bit more, I jumped at the chance to meat a friend for lunch at Palomino today.

Even after doing a bit of brief window shopping at Macy's, I arrived at 10 minutes before noon to find my friend sitting in the bar area because the dining room was booked up and had a 30-minute wait! Who knew this downtown spot overlooking the soon-to-be completed revamped Fountain Square was such a popular dining choice?

Our service was friendly and a bit slow, but perhaps that's to be expected on such a busy day. I ordered the Greek salad with rotisserie chicken, primarily because I've had the chicken as a dinner entree in the past and found it to be quite enjoyable. But while the cucumber-yogurt sauce and mixed greens with feta, slivered red onions and Greek olives was tasty, I was disappointed with the oily, rubbery chicken on the side. The portion seemed skimpy, and the pita bread wedges that were listed on the menu were mysteriously absent. I was more disappointed to bite down on some gristly bits in the chicken twice throughout the meal. Who wants to have to deal with politely spitting that into one's napkin while in the midst of a lively conversation?

My friend's salad looked better, and the experience was a pleasant one, but I'd attribute that more to my friend than to the food itself. Despite today's lunch, I've always liked Palomino--it certainly ranks as one of the higher-quality, more dependable, slightly more unique of the chain restaurants that are so plentiful here. Hit or miss, for sure, but it's a nice spot and not too unreasonably priced. From now on I'll stick with making this more of a pre-Aronoff choice for me when they're not so rushed. Or a drinks-only delight. Those pear martinis are like no other.


The damage: $35 for two, including two "big salads" and soft drinks.

Watch out for: the gristle in the chicken and not having a reservation.

Food: 2 out of 5 forks.

Fountain Place
505 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 381-1300