02 Oct 2013

Recipe: (Healther-But-I-Promise-You-Won’t-Know-It) Chicken Pot Pie

No Comments Food, Recipes

Sometimes you just want a little comfort food. I modified this chicken pot pie recipe from Smells Like Home for last night’s dinner and the girlfriend told me she’d definitely like it if I made this again. I consider that a pretty good review. As always, I’ve reduced the recipe to make a small amount since I don’t often need to serve more than two; increase as you need to.

(Healther-But-I-Promise-You-Won’t-Know-It) Chicken Pot Pie

serves 3 (or two with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 large onion, chopped fine
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • green beans, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cups half and half
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine (optional)
  • 1 large chicken breast, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/3 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley
  • refrigerated biscuits (use reduced fat if you prefer)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and add half the oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté the chicken until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside.
  2. In the same pan, add a bit more oil if needed, sauté the onions, carrot, and green beans until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer cooked vegetables to a bowl with the chicken; set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter to the same pan. When melted, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half, chicken broth, and thyme. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer and let it simmer for 1 minute to thicken. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the wine (if using). Turn off the heat and transfer the vegetables and chicken to the pot, stirring until the filling is well-combined. Mix in the peas, corn, and parsley.
  4. Pour the filling into a 9×9-inch baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and top the filling with the biscuits. As a note: I couldn’t fit all the biscuits in my 9×9 pan, so I cut a few in half so I could squeeze them in around the edges of the dish. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
06 Aug 2013

On Southern Charm*

No Comments Love and Relationships, Personal

If you’d have asked me to describe the person that I hoped to spend the rest of my life with when I was sixteen, that person would look nothing like Sara. She, for starters, probably wouldn’t have been a she, she probably wouldn’t have curly, blonde hair, and she she probably wouldn’t have been an athlete either. But for all the things I didn’t expect and have come to love and respect quite deeply about her, one of the most eye-opening has been dating a Southern woman. Before I get much deeper into my story, a little background. I’m a Northerner. Completely and entirely. My grandparents on both sides were Clevelanders, relatively late-wave immigrants and the last time I heard a drawl when I wasn’t watching Fried Green Tomatoes or a terrible, 5 AM rerun of Designing Women was…well, probably never. Sara, on the other hand, is a Southerner through and through. She grew up in Kentucky and she has family history in other places in the South too. Now, lest you protest that “Kentucky isn’t the South,” let me tell you something: you’re wrong. I know that you’re wrong because I thought the same thing. Kentucky is next door for pity’s sake, but it is more like Charleston or Atlanta or New Orleans than Cleveland a thousand times over. And on top of all that, Sara’s family has been here forever so she identifies more with the South than she does with any Old World traditions anyway. So, here we are. A Northerner and a Southerner right there in the same house.

Now, I have a terrible habit of romanticizing the American South. Thanks to Gone with the Wind and promises of pretty Southern women and gallant Southern gentlemen, I pretty much thought that charm oozed from the pores of anyone born south of the Mason-Dixon line and that they all talked with that syrupy Georgia peach drawl. I suppose if I was going to have any preconceived notions, erring on the side of almost-entirely-fictional antebellum plantation life is marginally better than assuming that everyone in the South drives a rusted out pickup truck with a Confederate flag decal painted over the back window, but I still recognize the incredibly problematic views I have. I just didn’t realize quite how damaging my thoughts were until I met my girlfriend. It turns out—shocking no one, I’m sure—that neither of these stereotypes is completely true although there are grains of reality in there if you tease out what’s right and what isn’t.

Sara can make a fantastic blackberry cobbler and drinks good, Kentucky bourbon. Those things are true. She’s also extraordinarily polite, especially to people older than she is, and addresses people she doesn’t know well as “ma’am” and “sir,” a tradition we’ve long since lost in the curt, cold North.

Something else that’s true is that Sara took great pains to hide her mild accent when she moved north because people make all kinds of assumptions about the intelligence of people who speak that way. She still has a few holdovers in vocabulary but unless you’re listening very closely, you wouldn’t notice that she’s not originally from around here. It didn’t even occur to me that she might have an accent until I heard her mother speak and was surprised when I heard her streeeeetch out all her vowels. It makes me a little bit sad to think that Sara will likely be the last one in her family line to speak with an accent and that unfounded stereotypes are what drove her to drop it. I lament that my father let go of his Hungarian traditions as well; stereotypes are what drove him to assimilate too. I realize now that the thoughts that I still harbor about Southerners—even if those thoughts are largely that Sara can be incredibly charming when she wants to be—contribute to people like her and like my dad forgetting their customs and language and I’m trying harder to appreciate honestly what makes us different.

Sara’s still teaching me to cook with cast iron—I don’t think I’ve made anything in a skillet that I haven’t burned yet—I’ve picked up a habit of saying “all y’all,” or “you all” when referring to a group of people, and we still fight about whether it’s “crawdad” or “crayfish.” Every day I encounter her Southern habits and I’m thankful that she’s patient while I adjust my preconceived notions about what that means.

*and other stereotypes
01 Aug 2013

Apartment Transformation: Part I

4 Comments Home

Sara and I moved into our rental apartment this April after she made a quick decision to return from seven months living and working in China. It was a wonderful reunion, but our timeline to find an appropriate apartment was incredibly short—just a few weeks. Our options were limited as we have pets and that alone ruled out many apartment complexes in the area where we wanted to live. We pulled together a short list of places to visit and were pretty sure, even before viewing any of the places, that we’d made a decision about which would be best. …and we were completely wrong.

The apartment we moved into was a long shot, in an area of town a bit more unfamiliar to us and comprised mostly of small, 1-story homes, not apartments. Still, we put it last on our list and decided to see it before we finished up our day. We walked through the door and immediately knew that we wanted to lease it. It was one of just a few available and backed up over a gorgeous pond and stand of trees. Compared to the complexes we’d seen with lots of close-by neighbors and overlooking busy highways, this was incredible. Plus, it was completely within our price range.

The apartment we walked into in April looked like this. It was completely white and stark but we knew it had a lot of potential.

 

This was the first time either of us were able to really decorate a living space that was ours. We’ve spent three months moving our things in, painting, and decorating, carefully working on generating our style. And you know what? I think we’ve nailed it:

IMG_4203

We drew the color palette for the living and dining area from the afghan tossed over the armchair in the first picture. My grandmother crocheted it and the rusts and charcoal colors allowed us to span both warm and cool colors in our space. Some of my favorite elements of the room are the huge clock over the bar and the coffee table you see in the foreground which was custom-built for us from floorboards from an 1870s farmhouse. The painting beside the window was brought to me after my sister lived in Cameroon and in fact, most of the artwork in our house has very significant sentimental or locational value. The paint colors, the grey of which looks much more green in this picture, are both America’s Heritage shades from Sherwin Williams. We wanted to draw from industrial and historical sources as much as we could without making the space seem too much like a stuffy antique store and not at all suited for two twenty-somethings.

We still have a lot to do in the office and bedroom—not pictured here to save you from the fact that they still look a lot like the “before” images—but I’m sure I’ll give you a tour and show you around there when we’ve got those finished too.

 

So, what do you think? How does this compare to your style?

11 Jul 2013

Review: Bistro83

No Comments Food, Review

It’s no secret to people who know me that I’m an unabashed foodie. I love that entire scene of local ingredients, trendy restaurants, and endless flavor combinations beyond what you can find at your neighborhood chain. I also love talking about food and critiquing what I’m eating. Luckily for me, Cleveland has a burgeoning food scene with many excellent restaurants and up-and-coming chefs. One of these is Bistro83, a wine bar in North Ridgeville just south of Avon Commons, which opened just a few months ago. I was thrilled that a restaurant that does wine well was opening near my home and on the west side of Cleveland; so many awesome places require a special trip into the city for me so this was a refreshing change. Unfortunately, my hopes were a little too high for this fledgling new establishment.

Bistro83 is nice, clean, and has a vague Tuscan feel to it with a warm palette in the main dining room as well as on the uniforms of the wait staff. Because it was a nice evening, my girlfriend and I decided to sit on the patio which features a covered section, shielding us from the setting sun, plus a fire pit for late-night dining. It’s really quite charming and a nice space for summer nights out. Yuppie new wine bars downtown traditionally have crowds primarily in their 20s and 30s but it was clear that this very suburban restaurant drew an older clientele. Middle-aged patrons seated near us were attended to much more quickly and spoken to several times by upper management while our table was approached far less. While this may have been explained on a busy evening, there were few other customers in the restaurant. It’s hard to imagine that new restaurant owners would want to alienate the few younger diners who stop by, but ours was not a great first impression.

Wine glasses at Bistro83 come in only one size and shape—indicative that this wine bar doesn't know its wine.

Wine glasses at Bistro83 come in only one size and shape—indicative that this wine bar doesn’t know its wine.

This Bistro83 menu features a large number of small plates, salads, and flatbreads and a reasonable, but not terribly inventive list of entrées. Our waitress informed us that the pretzel burger (“signature prime beef, Red Dragon cheddar, bourbon mushrooms and onions, LTO; $9) was one of her favorite dishes Bistro83 offers.

We decided to start with drinks and a few appetizers given the extensive small plates section of the menu and given that Bistro83 brands itself a wine bar, I was excited to try a wide variety of wines. As soon as the wait staff brought out the first glass, I knew something wasn’t quite right. My red wine was served in a white wine glass. Turns out that no matter what sort of wine you order, white, red, rosé, it gets served in the same glass. While I’m sure this makes things easy for replacing broken glasses and keeping enough of each type clean, it communicates a lack of wine knowledge. The wine menu is quite extensive but very few of the wines are served by the glass and further, only one wine of each type (e.g., pinot noir, chardonnay), are served as such. This makes it difficult to taste and compare wines you’re new to if you don’t have a companion with whom to split entire bottles. Demerit number two for a place calling itself a wine bar.

The most inventive cocktail on the menu, a lavender martini.

The most inventive cocktail on the menu, a lavender martini.

We also ordered a mojito which had good flavor but like the best chain establishments, was light on the alcohol. We’ve found that restaurants will often serve the first drink fairly weak and then increase the strength if a table is ordering more than one drink. That wasn’t the case here; subsequent drinks were just as weak as the first. The most inventive cocktail on the menu was a lavender martini, essentially just vodka with a very slight herbal hint, and was rather disappointing as well.

Over drinks, we decided to choose a meat and cheese board, described on the menu thusly: “A selection of cured and smoked meats served with mustards, horseradish aioli, olives and warm bread, preserves, nuts, olives, honey and crackers.” When I inquired what meats and cheeses were included, our waitress consulted another to get the answer. This may be simply because the restaurant is new and they’re getting their feet under them, but with a small menu, keeping tabs on ingredients is  important. The board itself featured fairly common meats and cheeses, many of which stood up poorly in the heat on the patio. Harder cheeses would have been a better choice than soft gouda and goat which get melty.

A fairly common slate of meats and cheeses, not more inventive than what you can find in a grocery store.

A fairly common slate of meats and cheeses found in any grocery store.

To get a full picture of the menu, we chose the salmon (“a 6-ounce salmon steak, red quinoa, dried cranberries, roasted garlic, honey-pomegranate sauce, micro coriander & roasted cauliflower; $19) and a flatbread (Ohio chicken, pesto, fresh buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, pancetta, basil; $15), one item each from the entrées section and their pizzas.

bistro83_5

The incredible list of ingredients in this dish would indicate huge taste—not so much.

I was wooed by the menu’s description of this fish, including lots of flavorful ingredients but the dish on the whole was bland and uninspired. The salmon itself was overdone with a thick, oily crust on top, and incredibly salty. The quinoa was also very dry. I’d like to have seen more color in the meal too; the red quinoa and the pureed cauliflower do the already-pink salmon no favors.

A chicken pesto pizza is nothing new but this dish could have had much more flavor.

A chicken pesto pizza is nothing new but this dish could have had been improved tenfold.

This chicken pesto flatbread pizza was nothing terribly inventive, but it also wasn’t very well executed. The sun-dried tomatoes were thrown on top as an afterthought, not heated through with the rest of the toppings and there was hardly enough pesto on the bread to make the crust less dry. Fortunately, the flatbread didn’t have a greasy crust. Still, at $15, this is incredibly overpriced and not worth the investment.

While some of the flaws here, particularly wait staff knowledge, may be resolved as the restaurant gets more established, the critical flavor issues are likely to continue, especially if the restaurant gets busier on weekends. Being set aside for being a younger patron too left a bad taste in my mouth and despite wanting to like Bistro83, I just couldn’t find much to hang onto.

 

Bistro83 Wine and Martini Bar: 36033 Westminister Ave., North Ridgeville; bistro83.com, 440-353-2828. Look for $5 happy hour specials from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday–Friday.

03 Jul 2013

No Boys Allowed

No Comments Food, Women and Feminism

A few weeks ago, Sara and I went to the second meeting of the Burning River Barley’s Angels. For those who are unfamiliar, Barley’s Angels is “a network of local chapters that work with craft beer-focused breweries to advance the female consumer craft beer enthusiast.”  While it was my first time going to an actual beer tasting—an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed despite being much more of a wine devotee myself—it was also one of the first times I can remember going to an event designed exclusively for the meeting of women interested in a topic dominated largely by men. In 2013, it’s easy to make the assumption that we’re “post-sexism,” that men and women are generally equal in most things. After all, I wear pants and go to work every day at a job where I’m paid equal to what my male colleagues are. Why do I need to go to a female-only beer tasting?

In ancient Egypt, beer was drunk by all Egyptians, rich and poor, men and women, and the nation consumed great quantities of it. Linked with mythology, happiness, and living a civilized life in addition to providing valuable nutrients, the brew served as an important social glue. Evidence both in artwork and artifacts tells us that brewers had sophisticated recipes, using dregs of preview brews to start new batches and various numbered levels of alcohol content. These brewers, however, were almost exclusively women and in fact, the well-known goddess Hathor was called “the inventress of brewing,” and the “mistress of intoxication.”¹

Somewhere along the way, however, all that changed. These days it’s rare to find women who will even drink beer and far fewer who are enthusiastic about it. Rarer still are women who are active involved in creating and brewing beer. While this is somewhat of a “her loss” scenario—I think it’s a shame if women are missing out but really it isn’t my problem—it can be difficult to get men in the industry to take you seriously if you’re wandering around alone, wearing heels, on your way back from work in the beer cooler at your local supermarket. (See also: being a woman who knows her geek shit in a Best Buy looking for a specific, niche networking cable but that’s a gripe for another day.)

Barley’s Angels seeks to create a space where women can talk with one another about beer without men assuming they’re only drinking beer in the first place because their boyfriends do. At our recent meeting, we had the exceptional double-pleasure of both meeting with other women as well as being instructed by one. Jennifer Hermann, one of the three brewers at the Market Garden Brewery & Distillery, shared a wealth of knowledge about beer and the brewing process as well as her experiences as one of the few female brewers and cicerones in the country. She artfully explained the different brews we were tasting and explained why they fit so well with the various appetizers and entrees we were enjoying too. For a foodie, this was basically my dream scenario. I never once felt as if I couldn’t ask a question or that because my beer knowledge is still sort of limited, that my opinion on how disgusting a very, very bitter IPA are didn’t matter. Jennifer made a comment that she occasionally gives similar tours and tastings other groups largely composed of men and find that they’re more about talking and less about listening and that she thoroughly enjoys the teaching–learning dynamic she finds with other women.

I’m sure I could have tasted a variety of beers in another situation and probably have met plenty of guys who aren’t complete jerks, but  this “girls’ club” was perfect for my first time out. I know that the things I learned made me more confident to make educated beer-buying choices in the future and I was inspired to do more research about the history behind flavors I do like. Maybe with more get-togethers like these across the country that open up opportunities to ladies to get to know this industry better, the United States will get back to the roots of its Western heritage and reestablish women in roles as top brewmasters.

 

So, am I completely off base here? Do you think I could have had as good a time in a mixed group? Do you think there’s value in getting together with people of your gender, sexuality, race, or other subculture group?

 

1. Ian Spencer Hornsey, The Royal Society of Chemistry, A History of Beer and Brewing (Cambridge: 2003), 64.