Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Free appetizer with donation

Steve and I adopted our beloved Maine Coon from SPCA Cincinnati a few years ago, and animal welfare is something that we are both passionate about. One of the easiest ways to show support is through a donation, and right now T.G.I. Friday’s is partnering with SPCA Cincinnati to celebrate the “Dog (and Cat) Days of Summer.” The restaurant is collecting donations of non-perishable items, pet toys, and treats for SPCA Cincinnati, and anyone making a donation through Sept. 8 will receive a free appetizer from the restaurant.
Locations are:
* Hyde Park - 3780 Paxton Ave.
* Tylersville - 7656 Cox Land West Chester
* Western Hills - 6320 Glenway Ave.
* Fields Ertel - 9141 Fields-Ertel Road
* Northgate - 9719 Colerain Ave.
* TriCounty - 11340 Princeton Pike
* Beechmont - 7500 Beechmont Ave.
* Kenwood - 8150 Montgomery Road

For details and to download the coupon, visit Dog Days of Summer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New product: Birds Eye Chef's Favorites

As a member of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, my blog was recently chosen to sample four new Birds Eye Steamfresh Chef's Favorites side dishes, which will be available in stores next month. The parcel, packed in dry ice and shipped overnight, contained the following:
Lightly Sauced Creamed Spinach

Creamy Vegetable Primavera Risotto

Lightly Sauced Roasted Red Potatoes & Green Beans

Mushroom & Green Bean Risotto

All are vegetarian except the Mushroom Risotto, which contains chicken broth, so my husband volunteered to sample and review that one.

Primavera Vegetable Risotto

Veggie risotto

The first one we tried was the vegetable risotto. I really liked the convenience of being able to have a risotto ready in about four minutes. The cream sauce is flavorful, although I found it to have a slightly metallic aftertaste. The vegetables are of good quality; carrots are thickly sliced, peas are fat and juicy. I also like that the risotto is only 180 calories per serving. Although it is a side dish, I made it a full meal by adding diced chik'n to it after cooking.

Instruction arrows

The bag instructions are easy to understand and follow. The bag is placed seam-side up into the microwave, and red arrows show where to hold the bag when removing it. Another arrow points to a notch on the side, which notes where to begin tearing open the bag. While I followed the directions exactly, I could only get the bag to open halfway and I found it difficult to get the entire contents out of the bag. This wasn't a problem with any of the other sides we tested. I don't know the retail price so I can't say whether or not it is good value for money, but I give it good marks for quality and convenience.

Next we tried the Creamed Spinach. We tried it by itself, on top of buttered toast, and with Ritz crackers.

Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach with crackers and buttered toast

I'm sorry to say that neither of us cared much for this one; the garlic-Parmesan sauce tasted "fake" - for want of a better word - and even after giving it a good hearty stir, it was still clotted, clumpy and unappetizing. We followed the microwave wattage cooking directions correctly, but perhaps if we had let it steam a little longer we wouldn't have had the clumping problem. About the only good thing going for this one is that it is only 90 calories per serving.

Later in the week Steve decided to try the Mushroom & Green Bean Risotto. His review is below:

Mushroom & Green Bean Risotto

Mushroom and green bean risotto

The Mushroom & Green Bean Risotto suffers in the same way the spinach does. I twinned it with some tiny chunks of chicken breast and whilst the risotto did allow the flavor of the chicken to come through, the overall experience felt 'fake.' Unfortunately, there was a strong aftertaste too. A buyer would have to balance taste against convenience and whilst the latter is undeniable - a mere five minutes from freezer to plate - the former remains very much the compromise.

Quite by accident, we saved the best for last. The Lightly Sauced Roasted Red Potatoes & Green Beans was by far the most natural tasting of the lot. It worked surprisingly well with falafel croquettes (shown in photo below), and in fact is probably the most versatile of all the packages we tried. I could easily imagine having this side with a wide variety of meals. The Parmesan-olive oil sauce was a tad salty but not overpoweringly so, and the veggies were of excellent quality. I'd certainly have it again.

Roasted Red Potatoes & Green Beans

This side serves two, but I ate it all

It was fun to experiment with these new Birds Eye Steamfresh offerings. I do not usually buy frozen meals and really didn't know what to expect when the box of goodies turned up. I wish I could have said that I liked all four, but one wasn't vegetarian and the other one just didn't do anything for us. The veggie risotto is worth another try, and the roasted potatoes with green beans was very good. I look forward to seeing both of them on my grocer's shelf.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Recipe: Slow roasted tomatoes

Last year I picked up two organic cherry tomato plants at Whole Foods, and they were such prolific producers and the fruits so sweet that I saved the seed and started them indoors earlier this year. When it came time to plant them out, I couldn't just stop at one or two. Now my momentary lapse of reason has caught up with me and I'm picking a quart or more every other day, which is more than even a tomato lover like me can eat.


There are several ways to preserve tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes are so small that canning really isn't an option. Instead, these little guys get slow roasted. Slow roasting brings out their natural sweetness, and they are easy to put by for later use - if you can keep from eating them long enough to store.

Slice and drizzle with oil

Slow roasting is simple: slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; drizzle good quality olive oil over them and sprinkle with a tiny amount of salt, then pop them into the oven at a low heat (200-225F) for two or three hours. Two hours and the tomatoes are still somewhat plump but very sweet; three hours intensifies the sweetness and makes them slightly chewier. The garlic bulb is in the photo because I usually take the opportunity to roast some garlic at the same time.

So delicious

I know what you're thinking: "She's nuts to run an oven for hours at a time in the middle of August." While the jury is still out on whether or not I'm crazy, I can honestly say that slow roasting doesn't heat up the kitchen like higher temperature baking might, and the results are packed with so much flavor that it's worth having the oven on for a few hours.

They are especially good with cheese and crackers

I can hardly stop eating them once I start - they are as sweet and chewy as candy - but if you are able to save some, pack them into a small container with some olive oil and pop them in the fridge for up to two weeks. They can also be placed in zipper bags and frozen.

Oh yes

Use them anywhere you would fresh tomatoes. I especially like them as a cracker topping with a good quality cheese. I don't normally promote brands on this blog, but I have to say that Trader Joe's English Cheddar ($3.99) is amazing and works particularly well with slow roasted tomatoes.

Yay! Trader Joe's cheddar is vegetarian

I should also take this opportunity to stress that investing in a bottle of good quality olive oil makes all the difference. You really do get what you pay for.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New vegan food bar to open

Donna Covrett of Cincinnati Magazine reports that Park+Vine is opening a vegan food bar August 15. Read her post here.

Friday, August 5, 2011


810 Matson Place
East Price Hill
tel: 513-251-6467


Primavista in the Queen's Tower

There are numerous places around town that have good views of the city, but few award diners with that of Primavista. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of the Queens Tower condominium complex, which is perched atop a tree-lined hillside in East Price Hill. The tired decor looks like it hasn't changed since sometime in the 1980's, but the traditional Italian dishes are timeless.

Posh white linens clash with uncomfortable captain's chairs

Vegetarians should note that the restaurant has neither a designated "veggie" section on their menu, nor a special symbol to easily locate safe options. They do, however, list all meat-free dishes together on their web site, so it is well worth viewing ahead of time.

We ordered drinks and soaked in the view while enjoying a variety basket of bread with a gorgeous garlic puree to start. This stuff is deliciously potent; one good schmear and you won't have to worry about vampires for a few days.

Garlic puree and a basket of bread

I chose Ravioli con Pesto alla Noce ($7.99) as a starter. Consisting of ravioli stuffed with spinach, ricotta and walnuts, with walnut pesto and Gorgonzola. It sounded wonderful on paper and arrived beautifully plated, but I found the dish to be dull and rather flavorless; the little dabs of Gorgonzola saving it from complete failure. Steve's choice of Ravioli Fritti del Formaggio ($7.99) was far better; everything from the superbly seasoned tomato sauce to the eggplant-tomato caponata topped with a crunchy smattering of pine nuts worked well. We would visit Primavista again just for this dish. Superb.

Ravioli con Pesto alle Noce

Ravioli Fritti del Formaggio

Each entree comes with a salad - we both opted for the house, which is a mix of radicchio, bib, escarole, and red leaf tossed lightly in a special, house-made Italian vinaigrette. Nothing inspiring, but still very nice.

Casa Mista house salad

For my entrée, I chose the Penne alla Cionni ($16.99). The tomatoes in this dish were bursting with sweet flavor, probably a result of slow roasting/dehydrating. I wish there had been more, as I felt the price was a little steep for what was basically a large bowlful of penne pasta with a few bits of tomato, portobello mushrooms, and Gorgonzola thrown in.

Penne alla Cionni

Steve chose one of the restaurant's specialties: Costolette di Agnello ($39.99), which he found very good but still not on par with the perfection of Boi Na Braza's. A staunch traditionalist when it comes to lamb chops, he found those at Primavista too fussy. Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but he thinks that New Zealand lamb, if prepared correctly, doesn't need to be encrusted with rosemary, garlic or anything else. He would have been far happier with traditional mint sauce too, instead of the creamy mustard sauce that accompanied the chops.

Costolette di Agnello

Primavista is a wonderful place to take someone you want to "wow." They certainly get it right at least three-quarters of the time. The service is impeccable and the views are stunning, but the food wasn't as good as we thought it would be, especially given the prices. I guess that view isn't exactly free.

The city view is awesome

Primavista on Urbanspoon