Cooking At The Kitchen

Last night we had our annual bash with The Mentees (old and new) and their spouses. This year we changed things up and went to The Kitchen, where you help to prepare your meal under the guidance of the friendly and expert staff.

The evening began with noshing on the offerings on a charcuterie board and each of us making our own champagne cocktail. (I used some tasty plum bitters for mine.). Then Kish picked names out of a hat and we teamed up to prepare the different courses, donned our aprons, and got to work. The Red Sox Fan drew the short straw and had to chop, sauté, and stir with me in preparing the sauce for the beef loin, and we also enjoyed a fine winter salad with nuts and apple slices and blue cheese, wild rice, broccolini with pecans, and a terrific gingerbread soufflé for dessert. For the first time in my life, I actually ate some broccolini!

It was a lot of fun from beginning to end, and the food was great. There’s just something about people cooking together in a kitchen that leads to everyone having a good time. I’d recommend The Kitchen to anyone who’s got a group that wants to do something a little bit different.

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Guest Batch

We have family coming in for the holidays, so I’m whipping up some cookies for people to nibble while we sit around and catch up on what everyone has been up to during 2017. I’m therefore making my favorite cookie — Dutch spice cookies. I like the brown sugar/cinnamon/nutmeg/clove flavor, which says Christmas to me, but they’re also fun to decorate. You can put anything from M&Ms to decorators’ sugar to nuts on these cookies, and they all seem to go perfectly.

Merry Christmas (Ale)!

Every year, beer lovers in the Midwest wait impatiently for the delivery of the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale, in the same way that credulous seven-year-olds wait for Santa Claus — with a mixture of fervent belief and outright greed. Every year, Great Lakes delivers a delicious, spicy concoction that is designed to make the holidays more merry.

This year’s version, which I happily quaffed at the Olde Mohawk this afternoon, does not disappoint. Even Ebenezer Scrooge would savor this brew!

The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.

At The Holiday Pinch Point

It’s 10 days before Christmas, and it’s time to make some important decisions.

Not about shopping.  If you haven’t done your shopping by now, you may as well wait until the very last minute and become one of those pathetic, lost wretches who makes a mad dash to the stores on December 24 and hopes to find something decent for the people on your shopping list (which I can attest from personal experience can be done, mind you).  No, I’m talking about decisions about eating.

holiday2Already I can feel the clothing growing a bit, er, snug, and the holiday parties and open houses and receptions are only now beginning to appear on the calendar in earnest.  We’ve tried — really, really tried! — to be sensible and good about our consumption, but already we’ve been tempted by, and succumbed to, chocolate-covered nuts from the Pacific Northwest, and some of the very best brittle you can imagine.  Delectable home-baked cookies, and delicious trifle, and pies, and pound cake, and candied almonds, and bowls of irresistible red and green M&Ms, and God knows what else have appeared before us and vanished down the gullet.  About the only thing we’ve been able to successfully resist is fruitcake.

And now the clothing is sending us a message, and we’ve got a decision to make:  (1) get all of the Christmas goodies out of the house, immediately, defer any further confectionary consumption until the Christmas meal itself, and thereby try to stay in reasonable fighting trim until the holidays are behind us, or (2) give up the ghost entirely, have a roaring good time at the remaining parties, go all in on stuffing ourselves with the foods and drinks that make the festive times festive, and vow to really address that waistline after New Year’s Day.

You know, I’ve heard that January is really a good time for losing weight, because you end up burning calories just to stay warm.

Done, And Done

Last night I iced and decorated the sugar cookies, and then I got up early this morning to finish putting the cookies into festive tins and writing notes for the recipients of this year’s holiday baking — who I hope will enjoy the new recipes and the new twists on old favorites.

And, because no job is truly completed until the clean-up work is done, this morning I also stashed the baking implements and remaining supplies and wiped down the countertops, so there’s nary a sign of a marathon baking effort. Now, I can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee . . . and, admittedly, a warm feeling of accomplishment, too.

The Ghosts Of Johnny Marzetti

It’s amazing what you can learn just by looking at signs in downtown Columbus.  Yesterday, as I was walking past a building that is being rehabbed and rebranded near the intersection of Broad and High Streets, I learned that its first floor space once housed Marzetti’s Restaurant — and its signature creation, Johnny Marzetti.

Really?  Who knew that, for more than 30 years now, I’ve worked less than a block away from the birthplace of one of the most hated school cafeteria offerings of my childhood?

johnny-marzetti-2It’s hard to imagine that Johnny Marzetti was actually created by any human being, much less somebody in middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio.  I never ate the Johnny Marzetti created by the former Marzetti’s Restaurant, but the dish served under that name by the hair-netted cafeteria staff of the Akron-area schools seemed like it must have been concocted by the devil — or perhaps was the residue of nuclear detonation tests on the island of Bimini.

Inevitably tepid, baked to a concrete brick-like consistency with a sharp-edged crust, flavored with tooth-curling, industrial strength tomato sauce purchased in garbage can-sized drums, shot through with suspiciously chewy ersatz meat by-products, and plopped on to your tray with a resounding thwack, Johnny Marzetti was always greeted with a groan by the kids at Rankin Elementary and Eastview Junior High.  And when, as was inevitably the case, the rigid pile of Johnny Marzetti went largely unconsumed and was returned at the tray drop-off at the end of lunch period, it was carefully scraped into a container — presumably to be recycled for another lunch next week, or perhaps used as mortar on the foundation of the school addition being constructed next door.

Johnny Marzetti — along with the other dish that my sister Cath and I loathed and called “hairy fatty chicken” — was largely responsible for converting me into a dedicated bring your own sack lunch student.  Why expose yourself to the possibility of picking at that inert pink mound of glop when you could have a PB and J made by Mom, with an apple and a Twinkie, too?  In its own demonic way, the Johnny Marzetti served by school cafeterias made us all appreciate the loving cooking efforts of our mothers.

That location being rehabbed at 16 East Broad Street now carries a lot of baggage for me.  I wonder if a restaurant will ultimately start up in that space — and if so, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to overcome the ghosts of Johnny Marzetti and try it.