Category Archives: dinners with friends

Mole Negro

I love a good mole, but they are hard to find because they are so labor intensive to make. Mole Negro takes many hours to made from scratch and the list of ingredients is daunting. There are four types of chilis as well as various nuts and seeds. There is also an art to toasting and grinding each of the ingredients for exactly the right amount of time. Rick Bayless’s version of the recipe is four pages long. One day I might attempt this labor of love, but in the meantime there is a respectable short cut: Panaderia Oaxaquena / Mi Pueblo Market make their own mole pastes (rojo and negro) which you can, much more easily turn into a sauce. We were tipped off about this gem by G.A. Benton when we took him taco touring and you can read about our other finds at Panaderia Oaxaquena on alteatscolumbus.

Here’s how to turn your bag of mole paste into a delicious dinner. Cook 750g of tomatoes and then puree them. Strain off any water. You could probably get away with using a canned passata (tomato puree). Fry the tomato puree with some oil and then once it has reduced a little, add the mole and stir until it dissolves into the tomato mixture. Add half a liter of chicken or pork stock.

I decided to make chicken mole and after some consultation with Dan from Kitchen Little Oh at the North Market, I chose boneless thighs and bought about 2 lbs of them from North Market Poultry and Game.  The more authentic Mexican way to cook the meat is to poach it in water with an onion first, but in the interests of time (and because I was a little wary of the poaching), I browned the thighs and then cooked them in the sauce. After a couple of hours the chicken was falling apart into tender threads and the sauce had thickened. As suggested on the label, I added some extra grated chocolate to make it a little less fiery.

We served our mole negro with rice and beans, guacamole, salad and warmed corn tortillas, which you can find at any of the Mexican grocery stores in town. Koki’s tortillas are the local choice for as they are made on Sullivant Avenue and they are used by a lot of the taco trucks. If you haven’t been to any of the Mexican grocery stores, they are worth exploring. They are great places to buy limes, avocados, chilis, cilantro and such and you can find a lot of interesting ingredients that are hard to acquire elsewhere. I like La Plaza Tapatia on Georgesville Road (near Broad), which also has a restaurant, but the Michoacana stores are also good and some of the smaller stores are interesting too.

As with many such dishes, the mole negro was even better the second day and it freezes well so it is definitely worth making a large batch.

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Filed under dinners with friends, ethnic eats, recipes

Happy Hour at Alana’s

If you ever have the chance to go to Alana’s for a happy hour, you should go.  Alana’s has one of the best cocktail menu’s in town: creative and seasonal, just what you would expect from Alana. This one was a CD101 happy hour, part of a partnership with Dine Originals and each month they host a happy hour in a different Dine Originals restaurant.

I tried the guavarita which was an easy to drink mix of not-too-sweet, salty and fruity with tequila as the dominant flavor; but my favorite was the spring tonic. I’m a sucker for champagne cocktails and this one is wonderful. Floral elderflower with its sweetness cut by the aromatic bitters, perfect.

There were about eight different appetizers served over the course of the evening, a couple of which I have had as amuses at the restaurant before. We kept being enticed back to see what new dish had arrived and because we couldn’t resist just one more taste. They included beef wrapped around a creamy beet slaw, Asian fish balls with mango coulis, tiny rice cakes with wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe), crackers with pate, deep fried balls of daikon radish, feta and sun-dried tomato tapenade on pita, chocolate brownies with black walnuts and brie with focaccia. My favorite was probably the pate – a creamy liver pate (braunschweiger?) topped on unpretentious ritz crackers with an aromatic Indian chutney.

It was a beautiful evening and long after happy hour ended we were sitting on the patio chatting with friends and drinking wine. We had planned to relocate, but it was hard to think of anywhere better that one could be. Eventually we were unable to resist more food and we shared Moroccan spiced lamb in a zucchini crespelle; scallops with sauteed mushrooms in a decadently truffled porcini cream sauce. If only all Thursday evenings could end like this.

If you haven’t been to Alana’s sitting at the bar with an appetizer (or two) and a cocktail or a glass of wine is a great introduction. Alana’s serve all their wines at retail prices which is a rare and wonderful thing. The early bird special is another great way to try Alana’s. On Saturdays at 5pm you can have a 3 course dinner for $25. We did this last summer and had a very pleasant dinner on the patio.

Here are some more CD101 photos from the event.


Filed under Columbus, dinners with friends, Drinks, restaurants


One of the most fun meals I had while I was at home in England was a raclette dinner with my god-daughter and her family. I have had lots of fondue dinners, but this was a new experience for me. Raclette is both the name of a Swiss cheese and a table-top grill where you can melt the cheese. The kids were pros and enjoyed showing me what to do.

The raclette grill comes with individual wedge shaped pans called coupelles and you take a slice of raclette cheese (or a similar easy-to-melt cheese) and place it in your coupelle under the grill. There is also a hot-plate above the grill and you can cook on there. We experimented with sliced potatoes, ham and bacon.

Raclette is commonly served with hot boiled potatoes, gherkins and vegetables. You can cook things in the coupelle with the cheese, or just melt your cheese and pour it on top of your food. The raclette set also comes with small wooden spatulas to help get scrape the cheese out of the coupelle.

The kids loved the process of choosing and creating, we ate, laughed and told stories. Potatoes and cheese are a classic combination but the DIY element of the meal added a fun dimension.

You can buy a raclette grill for around $100. Amazon has an extensive selection.

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Filed under bacon, dinners with friends, Travel

Bone Marrow

(A guest post by the mysterious AD)

Unctuous.  Almost everything you need to know about the method of preparing bone marrow we touch on below can be found at Michael Ruhlman’s blog (here)… except for the definition of unctuous (though the word is used).  Here goes:

1 a : fatty, oily b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance

And that’s the rap marrow typically has.  Just in case we’re unclear:  this is a good thing.  But it can be a bit much… contrasting textures and flavors are ideal for rounding out the experience.  The marrow appetizer at Lola does this in spades, and Ruhlman, knowing a good thing when he sees it, posted Lola’s recipe on his blog.

Since Ruhlman’s recipe description is solid, think of the below as more of a companion to it – elaborating primarily whenever we encountered something that threw us a bit as amateur home cooks.

Buying marrow bones: for this preparation, we found that the biggest hurdle was getting the marrow out of the bone in one piece. The key here is to source ‘pipe cut’ marrow bones.  These are the sections of bone that are cut from areas away from the joint. Bluescreek in the North Market was our supplier.

Soak the bones in warm-ish tap water for 15 minutes, take ’em out, look for the end with the smaller diameter of exposed marrow. Apply pressure to that end with a finger, and they should push right through.  This will leave you with pieces that look like the first photo in this post.

Next, the marrow needs to be soaked in brine for a couple of days to draw the blood out.  Per Ruhlman, we used 3tbsp of salt for every liter of water, and changed it twice – when you see the solution turn pink, it’s probably time to replace it.

Once they’ve soaked, you’re in the home stretch.  Dry the marrow.

Coat each piece in flour.

Pan fry in canola oil, turning to brown on all sides.  When they were almost done, we finished them in a separate pan with butter.

Drain on a paper towel.  Add accoutrement…

Enjoy!  We placed the marrow atop toasted baguette slices, added cabbage sprout microgreens, parsley, some salt, and a squirt of lemon to brighten things up.  The first bite gives you the crunch of the baguette, the snap of the flour crust, hits of lemon and greens, and then… mmm, pure unctuousness.

This is a beautiful dish, big thanks to Michael Ruhlman for bringing it to our attention.


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Possibly the best salad in the world

“I could eat this salad every day” said one of our dinner guests last night, “It’s creamy, sweet, salty, spicy, cool and crunchy all at the same time”. The salad from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook is called fuji apple salad, kimchi, smoked jowl and maple labne.We discovered this salad back in November and have been raving about it ever since. When I scored a jowl from the makin’ bacon class, I could hardly hide my excitement. I knew exactly what it was destined for. Designed to be a winter salad, it sounds weird but it is a sensational combination. Even if you aren’t a fan of kimchi, you could enjoy this salad.

This recipe is a lot more approachable than pig’s head torchon and some of the other recipes in the Momofuku book. The hardest part of making the salad is assembling the ingredients. One trip to the North Market could supply you with maple syrup, bacon, apples and arugula, leaving just the labne and kimchi.

1 Fuji apple per person
1/8 cup of napa cabbage kimchi per person (pureed)
2:1 ratio of labne / maple syrup ( 1/2 cup of labne should be enough for 4 people)
1/4 lb of bacon per person
1/4 cup of loosely packed arugula per person
A little olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The apples are peeled and sliced and then marinated in the pureed kimchi. It sounds weird but as Chang says “the heat and funk of the kimchi really bring out the sweetness of the fruit’. You can marinate the apples up to 6 hours ahead, but any longer and the kimchi over powers the apples. We bought the kim chi at Arirang Market on Bethel Road and you can find it at other Asian grocery stores.

The green part of the salad is arugula, lightly tossed in olive oil and seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. We have substituted other greens and it has not been detrimental.

The dressing is a roughly 2:1 ratio of labne and maple syrup (you can adjust it to taste). Labne is a Middle-Eastern strained yoghurt. It is made from cow’s milk and because it is strained it has a consistency somewhere between soft cheese and yoghurt. You can find it at Middle Eastern grocery stores such as Mediterranean Imports on High Street and Mecca Market on Hamilton. Maple syrup is easier to find. Ohio is one of the top 5 maple syrup producing states and The Greener Grocer just got some of this season’s Ohio maple syrup.

The salad is topped with smoked jowl bacon baked in the oven (18 minutes at 350°) and served warm. If you aren’t up for making your own, or can’t find jowl bacon you could substitute thick cut smoky bacon. In Columbus I recommend the bacon from Thurn’s or Bluescreek Farm Meats at the North Market. You can cook the bacon ahead of time and reheat and recrisp it before serving.

Place a dollop of the dressing on each plate (1-2 tablespoons). Top with the apples, arugula, bacon and a couple of turns of black pepper. Serve immediately. This is a good dinner party salad because you can prepare everything in advance and then plate it at the last minute.


Filed under bacon, dinners with friends, ethnic eats, recipes, salads

The Raw and The Cooked: Ghetto Sous-Vide

A guest post from Bear – because it was cool, and delicious and he was the one that did it.

Cheryl at Bluescreek Farm Meats in the North Market was looking at me as though I’d finally lost my mind.  And I could kind of understand why.  I wasn’t quite sure, myself.

I’d asked her to vacuum seal the steaks I’d just ordered.  She seemed a little surprised and asked whether I was going to freeze them.  “No,” I replied, “I’m going to sous-vide them.”  That’s when she started to look curious… and I knew right away that that curiosity would deepen to concern for my sanity.

Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) is a cooking technique that sounds truly strange at first.  It involves, not throwing food in a pan or an oven, but vacuum-sealing it and submerging it in lukewarm water for extended periods of time.  The water is kept at a temperature barely warm enough to cook the food, and the food eventually warms to the temperature of the surrounding water, which cooks it.  In theory, the food comes out perfectly cooked every time.  As strange as it sounds to let warm water cook your food, it’s not that different from boiling—the temperature is just lower.  (That does mean you have to be more careful, though, because anaerobic environments below about 110º are a playground for Clostridium botulinum, which consistently tops Bon Appétit Magazine’s list of 10 least desirable garnishes.)  It’s a technique most often associated with a new cooking trend called molecular gastronomy, but it was actually invented at the end of the 18th century.

The process described here, outlined as “ghetto sous-vide” in David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook, is not particularly complicated.  It involves vacuum sealing steaks, with or without marinade, and then filling a large stockpot with hot tap water.  My water turned out to be about 130º out of the tap (Chang’s target range is 120-125º).  The steaks will cool it down a bit.  Keep an instant-read thermometer in the water and keep an eye on it; a trickle of water should keep the temperature up.  For hanger steaks, he recommends 45 minutes’ immersion; no harm in keeping them in a bit longer, especially if they’re thicker, since they can’t overcook.  I kept these sirloin steaks in for about 1:15.

When finished, pull them out and throw them in an ice bath (Clostridium botulinum never sleeps).  Chill them for about 20 minutes, then throw them in the fridge.  When they’re about ready to be finished, pull them out of the fridge, remove from the bags, pat dry, and let them warm up a bit.  (At this point I couldn’t help but notice that an uncharred, rare to medium-rare steak looks disturbingly… fleshy.)  Coat with some salt and pepper (or whatever), and sear them for 1-2 minutes to a side in a searing hot skillet to get a bit of char on them—the caramelization adds flavor.

What’s the main difference between this and a regular steak?  When you bite into one of these steaks you realize that steaks done in the traditional manner have a distribution of doneness—charred on the outside, well done just under the crust, all the way down to medium rare in the middle (if that).  These are medium rare all the way through.  Our mouths weren’t expecting that uniform consistency.  It was both odd and very good.

I plan to get used to it.

Delicious served with hedgehog mushrooms, and garlicky local high-tunnel grown spinach.


Filed under dinners with friends, North Market, recipes

Scotch Quail Eggs

One of the other dishes that we made for Burn’s Night was Scotch eggs. I’m not sure how they got the name Scotch eggs because everything I found online says that they were invented at Fortnum & Mason, a very up market grocery/department store in London in 1738. Scotch eggs are a popular picnic or snack food in England, served cold and are commonly found in supermarkets. The consist of an egg, wrapped in seasoned sausage meat, which is then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

Because we were planning to serve them as an appetizer we decided to make miniature Scotch eggs using quails eggs. You can find quails eggs at North Market Poultry and Game (currently $3 for 10). Quail eggs are about an inch tall and I love the fact that their markings vary so much. They make adorable fried eggs and are perfect to use for hors d’oeuvres as they are bite size. They are however fiddly to peel so it’s better to buy more than you need. AD did most of the work for the Scotch eggs and I definitely heard some swearing during the peeling phase.

We followed Heston Blumenthall’s recipe, which had a lot of useful tips. The only thing it didn’t tell us was the cooking temperature. We found that the eggs took longer to hard boil than he said and also longer to fully cook at the end. The eggs are boiled and peeled and cooled, then encased in sausage meat. The sausage meat could/should have been thinner but it was hard to work with. Then they are dipped in flour, egg and bread crumbs. I made bread crumbs from a white sandwich loaf and then dried them in the oven.

We started with 30 quails eggs and 2 lbs of sausage meat and ended up with 22 scotch eggs. Here they are pre-frying.

And here they are having been deep fried and then baked in the oven to make sure that the sausage meat was cooked all the way through.

Other food at the Burns Night Supper was Cock-a-leekie soup, eel pie, Scottish salmon served with oat cakes, haggis, neeps and tatties (mashed potato and mashed rutabaga) and for dessert shortbread and whisky and honey ice cream.

The soup was topped with prunes, which are apparently traditional to cock-a-leekie soup. I was a little skeptical but they were a wonderful addition.


Filed under British foods, dinners with friends, North Market