Crunchy Celery Salad

Looking for something fresh for your Labor Day picnic??  Want an alternative to traditional salads that can wilt in heat?  Need a cool, crispy side dish that’s low on calories and high on taste?  Give your that celery the reboot with a salad that celebrates it in all its crispy, crunchy saltiness!!  You can use this as a perfect accompaniment to bbq, fried chicken and all the other picnic indulgences you love to eat.  It can also be elegant and perfect for a dinner party – I served this recently with steaks and shrimp with great feedback!

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CRUNCHY CELERY SALAD

Ingredients

  • 2 Bunches Celery
  • 1 Cup Walnut Pieces
  • Shaved Parmesan or Fontina Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper

Instructions

  • In a dry pan, warm walnuts over low heat until fragrant and lightly toasted.  Set aside to cool.
  • Wash celery and hearts thoroughly.  Don’t throw away the leafy hearts, they’re delicious!!
  • Trim ends off of celery and then cut on a bias into 1/2-inch pieces.  Chop leaves and hearts in a small chop.  Place the celery and hearts in a medium bowl.
  • In a small bowl, combine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.  Slowly whisk in olive oil until vinaigrette comes together.
  • Add walnuts to celery and then pour dressing over both.  Toss thoroughly to coat salad entirely.
  • Chill for at least 2 hours.  When ready to serve, place in serving bowl and top with cheese shavings to taste.

Pretty simple, right?  The flavor is outstanding though and most people haven’t eaten this salad before.  I think the addition of crispy bacon pieces would also be delicious in this salad.  Want to make it festive for the holidays?  Add thinly sliced radishes or dried cranberries/cherries for color and a touch of sweetness.  I’d love to hear how you make this your own!!  Try it this Labor Day Weekend and enjoy!

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Sweet Roasted Carrots

The carrot is an often uncelebrated vegetable that’s a staple of crudite platters and cream cheese frosting-covered cakes, but I don’t see them enough as sides at home or in restaurants.  With countless varieties there are flavors you can develop lending them to taste like parsnips or sweet potatoes.  I like to let them speak for themselves though and add just a few ingredients to bring out their natural flavor.  A hint of sugar helps to enhance their sweetness and depth of flavor.

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SWEET ROASTED CARROTS

Ingredients

  • 1 Large Bunch Organic Carrots (About 2 Lbs.)
  • 2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Sugar

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Peel carrots, trim ends and cut them on a bias into 2-inch chunks.
  • Place carrots on a large baking sheet with plenty of room – they should not be touching each other.
  • Drizzle carrots with olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar.
  • Toss in pan until thoroughly coated with all ingredients.
  • Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes until the carrots are slightly browned and fork-tender.

I think you’ll like how this recipe turns out because it’s simple, but has rich flavor.  I have substituted sugar in this recipe, roasted them with the other ingredients and then tossed the finished product with honey and grated fresh ginger.  There are tons of great fall flavors that you can also work into this recipe.  And don’t forget to try this roasting method with your other favorite veggies!  Dig in!

Ricotta & Honey Crostini

If you’re looking for a fresh light alternative to heavy appetizers or accompaniments for wine and cocktails, give this crostini recipe a try.  Just a few ingredients simply prepared make for a perfect combination of creamy, crunchy, salty and sweet.  We had a similar dish at a restaurant in Over The Rhine and have since made it a regular snack for friends, family at home and at the campground.  Find a glass of sauvignon blanc or a mediterranean mojito and try some yourself!

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RICOTTA & HONEY CROSTINI

Ingredients

  • 1 Fresh Baguette, Sliced in 1/2″ Slices
  • 8 Oz. Whole Milk Ricotta
  • 2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Peeled
  • 3 Tbs. Wildflower Honey
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Instructions

  • Brush both sides of the sliced baguette with olive oil.  Grill for 30-45 seconds per side until slightly toasted and crisp.
  • Remove bread from the grill and immediately rub one side of each slice with the garlic clove.  The goal here is to lightly flavor the slices with the oil from the garlic rather than overwhelm the flavor with it.
  • Smear a tablespoon of ricotta cheese on each slice and arrange on your serving platter of choice.
  • Drizzle entire platter with honey and then sprinkle with black pepper.  Serve immediately.

Like a lot of my recipes, this is a great base from which to make any variations you like.  Want a little spice?  Try using red pepper flakes.  Want to go a little more Greek?  Use some lemon zest and dill.  I’d love to hear any ideas you come up with that you’re really proud of.  Dig in and enjoy!

Double Haul IPA – KettleHouse Brewing

The last of my “tour of beers” out west was an outstanding IPA from another Missoula brewer, KettleHouse Brewing.  How can you not love a big full-bodied IPA that’s available in tall boys?!  Available in several restaurants and in stores, people recommended this beer to me multiple times throughout our trip.  It did NOT disappoint!

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If you love a rich hoppy aroma on top of a gorgeous amber ale, then you’ll want to pour this heady brew in a tall pint to fully enjoy it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always an aristocrat – I’ll tip back tall boys any day.  For the purposes of fully appreciating a new beer though, I grabbed a glass.  Brewed with local barley and cascade hops from the northwest, the brewers take special care to bring out the best of their local ingredients.  There’s a great mouthfeel with a decent amount of hop finish.  I really appreciate that these guys don’t go for the “hop bomb” that you get from a lot of craft brewers.  6.5% ABV will catch up with you quickly when you’re downing 16-ounce cans, but these suds are heavy or boozy at all.

I can think of all kinds of traditional pairings for Double Haul, but it was perfect with some fried pickles and a huge burger.  My only regret is that I didn’t try some of their others or get to the taproom.  I heard the Brick & Mortar Imperial Belgian Porter will knock your socks off!  Their biggest hit, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, would have been awesome to try as well.  Alas, I now have an excuse to get back that way and indulge.  Check out their website kettlehouse.com for all the details.  Well done gentlemen, well done!

Summer Honey – Big Sky Brewing Co.

In a decent list of beers I had while in Montana a month ago was Summer Honey.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to have a bad beer when you’ve hiked all day and you’re sitting at the base of the mountains thumbing through the pictures you took that day.  This local brew though was a treat beyond some of the typical varieties you find at craft breweries.

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Brewed in Missoula, MT Summer Honey is just one of a dozen or so great beers from Big Sky.  It’s heavy on the grain, light on the hops and just right with the honey.  The amber lager has just enough European hops to give it some body.  There’s hints of clove, cinnamon and lemon that are complimented greatly by the honey.  It’s not heavy or sweet, but surprisingly full of flavor for a light beer.  At 5.0% ABV, you can knock a few of these back without problem either!

Like its name implies, it’s only available April through September so stock up while you have the chance!  And I highly recommend their Scape Goat Pale Ale and Moose Drool Brown Ale.  Find out more at bigskybrew.com!

Cornbread For A Crowd

Summer and southern cooking always make me crave a warm piece of cornbread slathered in butter.  And when you’re like our extended family, you need a lot of it to satisfy a big group.  So while I love the small batch cooked in cast iron for crispy edges, I came up  with this recipe that feeds a crowd and can be made in a 13 x 9 cake pan.  You can achieve a pretty close crispy texture and moist middle this way too.  Give it a try for your next big Sunday supper or for your Labor Day picnic!

CORNBREAD FOR A CROWD

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbs Salted Butter
  • 2 Cups White Cornmeal
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Baking Powder
  • 2 Tbs Sugar
  • 2 Tsp Salt
  • 2 Cups Buttermilk
  • 1/2 Cup Canola Oil
  • 2 Eggs

Instructions

  • Place a 13 x 9 dark metal cake pan into oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well.
  • Beat eggs in a small bowl and add buttermilk and oil.  Mix thoroughly.
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until combined evenly.  Do not overmix!
  • When oven reaches temp, pull out shelf with pan on and drop in butter.  Swirl pan until completed melted.  This will only take a few seconds and pan should be completely greased with frothy melted butter – this will give you a crispy exterior!
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Edges will be brown and top will be a toasty golden color.
  • Serve hot or allow to cool and cover loosely with foil for serving later.
  • Cut into squares and have plenty of butter on hand!

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You’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven on a southern plantation when you try this cornbread!  It keeps well for several days so leftovers are NOT a problem. (not that there will be any)  Care to spruce it up?  Try adding a cup of fresh corn to the batter.  Feeling southwestern?  Add a can of diced green chiles (drained) and 1 1/2 cups of freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese.  Now that’s a bowl of chili’s best friend!  Any way you like it, dig in and enjoy…

Bella’s Restaurant – Loveland, OH

New development in a small older downtown is often met with a lot of resistance.  When a new retail/residential complex came to Loveland last year, we were hopeful that there would be some great benefits to all the construction and mayhem – Bella’s was it!  Situated in the “Sweetheart of Ohio”, this new downtown Loveland Italian eatery is a block from the Bike Trail and on the first level of the new Loveland Station development.  With indoor and outdoor seating, along with an ample outside covered bar, there’s an atmosphere to please everyone.  The modern and simple interior is comfortable and fairly casual.  You could easily stop in while running errands in shorts and a t-shirt or dress it up a bit and enjoy a night out.  Either way, you’ll love the food and great selection of wine and beers.

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There was a short wait on a Tuesday night – encouraging for a new place.  We selected a glass of wine and one of the 20 beers on tap and were seated within 15 minutes.  There’s a great selection of traditional Italian appetizers – nothing out of the ordinary, but plenty of choices.  We started with Stuffed Mushrooms which were filled with sausage and provolone and served on their house-made marinara.  They were perfect bites, had just the right amount of stuffing and perfectly complimented by the sweet acidity of their house red sauce.

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The selection of entrees varies from a selection of homemade pastas, traditional meats, sandwiches and a a daily special.  Everything coming from the kitchen looked delicious.  Although food wasn’t coming out at a fast pace, I’m sure they’re still adjusting in their opening weeks.  We ordered the Fettucini Alfredo with Shrimp and the Chicken Saltimbocca excited to try some classics from Italy.  As expected, it took quite some time to get our food, but the service was good and the atmosphere relaxing for conversation and drinks.  My wife loved the Saltimbocca which was served on top of creamy polenta.  It was juicy, salty, caper-y and very good.  The polenta was a little stiff, but had good flavor.  Overall a very solid dish.  My fettucini was fresh with beautifully made pasta and a rich alfredo.  It was a little heavy on the butter, but overall rich and creamy.  Perfectly pink tender shrimp were abundant and delicious as well.

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If you’re in the area and looking for something beyond chain Italian restaurants, I highly recommend coming here.  They’re figuring some things out still, but I’m confident this place will get better and better.  Stop by and sit at the outside bar for a few small plates and cocktails or plan a dinner out with friends.  Currently only serving dinner, I hope they open for lunch hours soon as well.  There’s something for everyone at this new local hotspot though – so don’t delay getting here!  I’m excited and optimistic for their success – read more about them and view their menu at bellasloveland.com.

Twice-Cooked Herbed Potatoes

Looking for something different to do with your starchy friends?  There are a million ways to boil, roast, mash and fry them, but they can also get boring.  By cooking these twice you get the best of the creaminess along with a crispier outside all wrapped in the aroma of fresh herbs.  They couldn’t be easier, but you’ll impress with this twist on the plain ol’ spud.

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TWICE-COOKED HERBED POTATOES

Ingredients

  • 24 Small Yukon Gold Potatoes, Washed
  • 3-4 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Thyme, Chopped
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Parsley, Chopped
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Rosemary, Chopped

Instructions

  • Place washed potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.
  • Place on stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Cook for 20 minutes or until fork tender.
  • Remove from heat and drain potatoes in a colander.
  • Place potatoes on a large baking sheet and smash each one with a fork until about half of its original thickness.  Surface should be uneven – this helps to hold all the goodies!
  • Drizzle smashed potatoes with olive oil.  Sprinkle evenly with salt, pepper and herbs.
  • Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown and slightly crispy.  Serve immediately!

Want to amp up the flavor?  Try using truffle salt for an earthy addition you’ll love.  Again, there’s no rocket science here, but I think these are a welcome diversion from the norm.  They’re great hot out of the oven, but can also be eaten as a cold appetizer with dijon mayo (1 Tbs dijon mustard to 1/2 Cup mayo) or garlic aioli dipping sauce.  Either way, get them in your mouth and fast – they won’t last long!

Savory BBQ Rub

The secret’s out – I love to barbecue!!  Whether I’m cooking at home or eating out, I love wings, brisket, ribs and all manner of meats seasoned with dry rub.  There are tons of great varieties available in stores and online and I use lots of them. (people tend to give them to me as gifts – awesome, right?!)  I have a few favorites that I’ve talked about before, but I also like to make my own.  Try the all-purpose rub below for a perfect blend of sweet-savory-spicy.  There’s a depth of flavor with maybe a few surprises in the ingredients, but the overall flavor is reminiscent of really great BBQ potato chips.

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SAVORY BBQ RUB

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Black Pepper
  • 2 Tsp Sweet Smoked Paprika
  • 1 1/2 Tsp Granulated Garlic
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp Ground Thyme
  • 1 Tsp Ground Mustard
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Ginger

Instructions (not really necessary)

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Rub desired cut(s) of meat on all sides and allow to marinate for 30 minutes before grilling, smoking or baking.

It’s not complicated, but this recipe turns out some great BBQ.  The amount above is enough to cover a 5 lbs. brisket, but you can multiple the recipe for greater quantities of chicken, ribs, etc.  It’s also a great basic recipe that you can add or exchange ingredients to develop your own flavor profile.  Like it hot?  Use hot paprika and cayenne.  Like a little more savory?  Use rosemary or oregano.  Want some southwest flair?  Try adding chili powder and cumin.  Have fun with it and share any of your great ideas.  Mostly, just fire up the smoker and dig in!

Fireweed Whiskey – Glacier Distilling

Ten years ago, you would never have imagined that you would be able to sample craft spirits along with craft beers on your travels.  The movement has exploded though and we are all benefiting from thoughtful and creative distillers making some excellent locally-produced spirits.  On our trip to Montana, I had the chance to taste Fireweed Whiskey and was pretty impressed with it.

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Back in 2009, some local wannabe moonshiners came up with an awesome idea to take up distilling in Coram, MT.  Thank God the founder has a North Carolina soul that had a taste for shine and decided to make whiskey!  Fireweed is a blend of locally produced whiskey aged in charred oak barrels and mixed with local Montana Cherry Brandy.  The result is a glorious blend of spicy, sweet, rich and smokey.  Now, this is not the smooth undertone of a typical bourbon.  It has the bite of moonshine, but a great mouthfeel and smooth finish.

I had both an Old Fashioned and a splash of coke in two cocktails and both were excellent.  I sure would have liked to try their gin and rye, but we ran out of time!  I definitely recommend getting your hands on some of the Fireweed though – these guys are really onto something.  Check out more at glacierdistilling.com.