Tuna Noodle Casserole With Mushrooms

Growing up, I absolutely hated tuna noodle casserole – it was guaranteed PB&J night!  Of course, that was back in the day of the terrible boxed stuff full of dried veggies and salty sauce.  Now that my tastes have changed and I have come to embrace all things tuna and noodles!  This recipe is a riff on the classic with the addition of mushrooms and it’s super-creamy.  What a perfect quick dinner that won’t gross out your kids!

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TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE WITH MUSHROOMS

Ingredients

  • 12 Ounces Uncooked Egg Noodles
  • 12 Ounces Canned Tuna, Drained
  • 2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms
  • 1 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 Cup Frozen Green Peas, Thawed
  • 16 Ounces Low-Fat Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tsp. Parsley
  • 2 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Shredded Swiss Cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Saute mushrooms in butter until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Set aside.
  • Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Fold tuna, peas and cooked mushrooms into noodles.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayo, mustard, parsley, garlic salt and pepper.
  • Fold sour cream mixture into noodle mixture.
  • Spray a 4-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour mixture into baking dish and top with swiss cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, uncovered, until top is golden and casserole is bubbly.
  • Serve immediately.

I’m overdue in posting this recipe for my friend Missy, but I hope she and you all love it.  Want to save some fat and calories?  Use fat-free sour cream and mayo and substitute breadcrumbs for the swiss cheese.  The consistency is still great with low-fat or fat-free dairy and the texture of the breadcrumbs makes up for the cheese.  Either way, I think you’ll find it better than that old box.  Dig in!

My Favorite 7-Layer Salad

After some extraordinarily busy months, I’ve found time to get back to cooking and entertaining.  And as summer weather has landed in Cincinnati, I’m looking forward to plenty of picnics, pool parties and family gatherings!  One of my go-to dishes for any of these occasions is my Favorite 7-Layer Salad.  There are lots of variations I’ve eaten in the past, but this particular combination of ingredients and dressing put this at the top of my list.  Crisp, green and fresh, it makes the perfect side for any of your upcoming summer gatherings.

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MY FAVORITE 7-LAYER SALAD

Ingredients

  • 1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
  • 1 Cup Diced Celery
  • 1 Bunch Green Onions, Chopped
  • 8 Ounces Frozen Peas
  • 1 1/4 Cups Light Mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbs. Sugar
  • 1 Cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 1/2 Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 6-8 Strips Cooked Bacon, Crumbled

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Instructions

  • Chop or tear entire head of lettuce into bite-size pieces.  Spread into an even layer in a 13×9 pan.
  • Sprinkle diced celery over lettuce.  Then spread green onions on top of celery.
  • Pour frozen peas over salad in a single layer.  Press down on first four layers to compact salad.  HINT:  I leave the peas frozen to keep the salad colder longer and it makes it easier to spread the dressing in the next step!
  • In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar and parmesan.  Spread evenly over frozen peas.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese over salad and finally top with bacon.

You can serve this immediate if it will be out where the peas will thaw quickly.  You can also chill in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours prior to serving.  Also, you can use regular mayo, more cheese and/or bacon to make it a little more over-the-top.  Either way, I know you’ll love using this recipe throughout the summer.  Looking for variations?  Try using white onion instead of green for a little extra bite.  Also consider swapping or adding a layer of radishes or green pepper for additional texture and flavor.  Dig in!

Cherry Date Dainties

I love making old family recipes, especially around the holidays.  This cookie/candy treat comes from my wife’s side of the family and has quickly become one of my favorites this time of year.  Dainties have everything you want in a Christmas treat – sweet, chewy crunchy and festive-looking!  The combination of cherries, dates and nuts isn’t unique, but the crunch given by the addition of crispy rice cereal is.  And who can resist the snowy indulgence of coconut??

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CHERRY DATE DAINTIES

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Dates
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal
  • 3/4 Cup Maraschino Cherries, Chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 Tsp. Vanilla
  • Dash Salt
  • 1 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut

Instructions

  • In a large saucepan, combine dates, sugar and eggs.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  • Cook/boil for 10 minutes until dates break down and mixture becomes almost smooth.  Continue to stir constantly or the mixture will stick and burn.
  • Remove from heat and stir in salt and vanilla.
  • Add cereal, cherries and walnuts.  Stir until mixture is evenly coated.
  • Turn mixture out onto a plate or pan and allow to cool until you can handle.
  • Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and then roll into coconut to lightly coat.
  • Cookies will keep up to 2 weeks.

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This is an easy recipe, but a little tough to execute.  The mixture is VERY sticky and makes it hard to handle.  I like to take a small spoonful of the dough and place it on the coconut and then use the coconut as a barrier to press and roll the cookies.  It doesn’t have to be exactly round as the cherries and flaked coating make them look wintry and festive.  Give them a try and keep this one in your go-to cookie recipes for the holidays.  Dig in!

Dilled Potato & Zucchini Cakes

Going to one of our local deli’s or to any of our abundance of festivals in Cincinnati, you come to expect a good potato cake.  The love child of hash browns and a pancake, it makes a great savory side dish that’s a little different.  We were blackening some halibut tonight and I wanted to try a rift on the traditional potato pancake with the addition of zucchini as well.  A little dill makes them even better.

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DILLED POTATO & ZUCCHINI CAKES

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Shredded Zucchini
  • 2 Medium Potatoes, Peeled & Shredded
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Diced Onion
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1 Tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 2 Tsp. Parsley
  • 1 Tsp. Dill
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper

Instructions

  • Place zucchini and potato in a strainer and squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.  Place in a medium bowl.
  • Add diced onion, eggs and garlic salt, dill, parsley & black pepper.  Stir until evenly combined.
  • Sprinkle mixture with baking soda and flour.  Stir until just combined.
  • Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add two tablespoons vegetable oil.
  • Drop mixture into hot skillet by the spoonful.  Be sure to spread them out enough to make them as thin as possible.  Fry 2-3 minutes until golden brown, flipping once.
  • Continue frying cakes until you’ve used all of the mixture.
  • Serve immediately with sour cream to lightly top.

Crispy edges, savory flavor and a touch of cold sour cream will have your family asking you to make these often.  It’s not difficult to adjust the recipe with other ingredients if you want to change the flavors.  Try substituting shredded apple for the zucchini for a sweet touch – perfect to serve with breaded pork or smoked sausage.  Try some other combos and let me know what you come up with.  Dig in!

Salazar – Cincinnati, OH

Do you ever walk or drive by somewhere often and always say “we really should go there”?  Salazar New American Restaurant has been THAT place for over a year now for me.  Fortunately, I finally made it to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood specifically to have dinner there.  And I am happy to share that they did NOT fall short of the rave reviews and high expectations.

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A farmhouse-like setting in a historical building in downtown Cincinnati, there is a comfortable feeling when you walk through the door.  It’s cozy, and I mean small, but not loud or overcrowded.  As we looked at the menu, our server approached us with specials and recommendations.  What I love is that she told the story behind the restaurant, the local vendors they procure their food from and why they do what they do.  I love when you get an experience vs. an in-and-out meal.  She made a recommendation of a delicious wine and we made some selections from the farm-to-table menu.

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We began with simple warm marinated olives and manchego cheese, which were a perfect compliment to our wine.  Next, the duck leg rillette with pickled onion and jalapeño jam on Blue Oven toast.  The richness of the duck was expertly balanced by the acidic condiments.  Finally, the starter du jour was Blue Oven toast spread with spring pea puree and topped with cured meats, pickled vegetables and edible flowers.  It was almost too pretty to eat!

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I had the roasted sea bass with spring peas, potato puree and hazelnut butter.  My artistic plate was rich, tasted of summer and somehow tasted like everything was separate and perfectly combined at the same time.  My fellow guests all had the steak special which was a hearty portion of local beef.  We finished dinner and could barely utter the words fast enough that we wanted dessert.  The warm chocolate cake with coffee cremeux was a decadent treat!  And how could you not love the berry fry pie with chocolate ganache and lemon buttermilk ice cream?  Every day, I want to eat it every day…

Chef Jose Salazar makes this experience one that you’ll want to relive over and over again.  Local ingredients, beautifully prepared and served by passionate experts.  This is everything I had hoped it would be.  Find out more and make a reservations at salazarcincinnati.com.  Dig in!

The Tousey House Tavern – Burlington, KY

We were looking for someplace unique for Mother’s Day dinner a few weeks ago and made a reservation at the highly-recommended Tousey House.  When we pulled up in front of the historic federalist-style home, I had a feeling we were in for a treat.  Beautiful decor throughout this period home provides a comfortable atmosphere with ample seating inside and out.  Whether inside, outside or in the tiny bar area, you’re swept away to era gone by.

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Our friendly server shared with us the menu and a few stories to introduce us to the location.  As expected, there’s a beautiful selection of southern fare along with some local and updated dishes.  While we didn’t have an appetizer, I was longing for the fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits.  The goetta egg rolls really had me intrigued as well, but we were sticking to dinner and dessert.  Salads were fresh, crisp and a good portion size – the Ceasar looked especially good.  We went about ordering and enjoyed warm homemade biscuits with our drinks.

My wife ordered the ribeye which is served with a smoked tomato-rosemary demi-glace and crispy onions.  A huge piece of beef, it was cooked to perfection.  The sauce was a beautiful highlight to the tender beef.  A few people at the table ordered the Tousey Hot Brown – a traditional execution of ham, turkey, tomato and bacon served over toast points and covered in Mornay sauce and melted cheese.  While not as creamy as others we’ve had, it was delicious!  Being the traditionalist, I had to order the fried chicken.  The four large pieces (half a chicken) were lightly breaded and crispy golden brown.  It was a terrific execution and served with mashed potatoes (a bit average) and southern-style green beans.  We felt the southern hospitality as we enjoyed the home cooking and tasty favorites.

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We really enjoyed our dinner as well as a few sweet treats – it’s a variable dessert menu, but the chocolate cake and berry cobbler were grandma-worthy preparations!  Executive chef Jonathan Weiss has done a beautiful job with the menu and delivers on every expectation.  Open for lunch and weekend brunch as well, you’ll want to stop in or make a reservation soon.  It’s too good to not make a special trip!  Find out more about the history, location and menu at touseyhouse.com.  Dig in!

Tano Bistro – Loveland, OH

A night “out on the town” doesn’t always mean heading to downtown.  Tano Bistro is one of the most popular spots in Loveland and does a great job of making each trip feel both special and like you’re coming home every time.  Tucked in a storefront on Loveland Avenue, this cozy upscale restaurant has a bar, dining room and patio for al fresco evenings.  While the decor and feel is a combination of modern and historic charm, you’ll find guests dressed in everything from casual to formal.  And none of it ever feels out of place.

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Stopping in on the Friday before Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d try for a table without reservations (recommended on weekends).  While it was booked for the next few hours, the bar and high top tables are first-come first-serve.  Lucky for us we grabbed the last table for two.  There’s a great selection of beer, wine and cocktails, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary.  It’s hard to pass up the happy hour specials with $5 wine pours and dirty vodka martinis!  We took advantage of those prices and ordered the charcuterie to start our evening.  We had a beautiful assortment of fresh meat, cheeses, veggies and spreads.  It was a delicious plate and definitely enough for 2-4 people to share.  Our server was friendly and attentive and made sure we were taken care of all night – even though we were taking our time chatting the evening away!

The menu has a lot of small plates/starters and just the right amount of choices of salads, entrees and sandwiches.  We’ve had the eggplant pasta and bone-in pork chop before, both of which were delicious.  Given our huge charcuterie plate though, we settled on the Alabama BBQ sandwich and the mussels.  The sandwich, a spicy not-too-sweet pork bbq served on the perfectly crispy toasted white Texas toast, was a great portion served with salty potato wedges.  The ample bowl of mussels was served in a light broth of butter, garlic, chorizo, tomatoes, white wine and herbs.  I couldn’t get these eaten fast enough to dip the toasted ciabatta in that broth.  I love that dish anywhere, but they hit the nail on the head particularly well.

Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, you have no excuses to not stop by and enjoy the service, atmosphere and locally sourced menu at one of Loveland’s best restaurants.  And you’ll be interested to know they have a Tano To-Go location in Loveland as well – awesome for delicious food you can warm at home!  You can find out all the details and menu on their website foodbytano.com.  Get there and dig in!!

Pork Burnt Ends

I love to grill, smoke and BBQ – even through the winter!  I’m always looking for new recipes, methods and cuts of meat to try some experiments.  Thankfully, I always have plenty of willing taste-testers.  The recipe below was inspired by one I read in The Smoking Bacon & Hog Cookbook by Bill Gillespie.  Burnt ends are traditionally beef, but I really like this take using pork.  They make a perfect dinner, appetizer or snack for the Super Bowl next Sunday!

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PORK BURNT ENDS

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Lbs. Boneless Pork Country Ribs
  • 1/2 Cup Yellow Mustard
  • Savory BBQ Rub or Any Dry Rub (I used Butt Rub on these)
  • 6 Tbs. Butter
  • 2 Tbs. Cayenne Hot Sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Honey
  • 1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Packed

Instructions

  • Coat country ribs evenly with yellow mustard.  Dust liberally with BBQ rub of your choice.  The mustard will help tenderize the meat and help the rub to stick.
  • Using a smoker, charcoal grill or gas grill, cook ribs directly on the grate offset from the heat at a temperature of 250 degrees for roughly three hours or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.  I used my charcoal grill, natural oak lump charcoal, this time with applewood chips for smoke.
  • Remove ribs from smoker or grill and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.
  • While the ribs cool:  In a small saucepan, melt butter and add hot sauce and honey.  Stir to combine well.
  • Cut ribs into 1-inch cubes.  Using an injector fill each pork cube.  The butter mixture will run out some, but that’s OK.  Place cubes into a shallow foil pan.  You will have some butter pool in the pan as it runs out of the pork.
  • Sprinkle the cubed meat with brown sugar and another light coating of rub.
  • Return foil pan to the smoker or grill and continue to cook on offset heat at 275-300 degrees for 1-2 more hours.  Stir every 15 minutes to evenly coat pork with rub and sauce.
  • Your burnt ends are ready when they reach your desired darkness.  Given the fat content and butter in the meat, you can create a great bark without drying out the meat.

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So this was my first run at making these and I couldn’t be more pleased with how they turned out!  You could easily finish these with your favorite BBQ sauce instead of the rub and brown sugar, but be careful of the sugar content.  It could cause them to burn quickly.  Served as a main, in a sandwich or as an appetizer, you’ll look like a BBQ pro for your family and friends.  Give them a try and let me know what you think.  Dig in!!

Krueger’s Tavern – Cincinnati

The OTR (Over-The-Rhine) area of Cincinnati continues to draw great restaurant and retail development and has firmly secured itself as “the place to see and be seen” downtown.  Last weekend we tried a new (to us) spot in Krueger’s and it will definitely be one to come back to again and again.  Situated right on Vine Street it’s on the south end of the strip.  And like some of it’s sister establishments it has just enough seating and an open garage-door-front that gives you a great place for lunch, dinner and/or drinks while watching the eclectic mix of people stroll by.  However, what Kruger’s has that the others do not is an awesome rooftop deck that’s perfect for afternoon sunshine or evening dining al fresco.

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With a fairly nondescript modern american interior, there is seating at the bar, a few tables and then a wall of tables with banquette seating.  It’s warm, comfortable and a little dark – which I like!  There’s a diverse drink menu with craft cocktails and two beers on tap.  That’s right, just two.  You also have your choice of an amazing array of 70 canned beers as well – from local faves to classic PBR tall boys.  We grabbed a few cans and started our lunch with the warm pretzels and beer cheese.  Made with Rhinegeist Cougar and sharp cheddar, it was delicious.  I’m kicking myself that we didn’t add sausage to it!  The cheese is kept warm in a cast-iron skillet over a small flame – bonus points for the fresh presentation and beer cheese that stays steamy to the last bite!

Krueger’s is known for their house-ground burgers and sausages so we naturally had to sample both.  The burgers are fresh with full beefy flavor and perfectly crispy edges.  They’re all doubles and the classic was excellent.  There are A LOT of great burger places in Cincy and this one is right up there with the best.  We also tried the Lincolnshire english sausage with colcannon (a scrumptious mixture of whipped potatoes and wilted kale).  It was perfectly spiced and a really hearty dish.

Overall, we were definitely impressed with the menu and the fact that they do just a few things and do them really well.  The team at TRG, founders of The Eagle and Bakersfield, hit another home run with this one.  You can find out more on their website at kruegerstavern.com.

Bakersfield – Cincinnati

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The Over-The-Rhine area of Cincinnati has been wonderfully developed over the last 5 years with a myriad of interesting shopping and food choices.  Chances are, if you’re looking for something in particular, it’s probably there!  Bakersfield was one of the early entrants in the OTR area and they have been wowing people with their Tacos, Tequila & Whiskey since they opened their doors.

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This location has a small patio out front with a large garage door that opens to the street.  The long narrow space provides plenty of seating, but I think we’d all be happier if there was more space in the bar.  The place is dark, loud and surprisingly comfortable.  This is not a spot for a quiet date, but perfect for lunch or dinner with a group of friends.  We started off with a cold beer from their moderate selection as well as a Spicy Margarita.  The latter will light you on fire, but I’d recommend a coupe of these mason jars of lightning to anyone stopping by!  The queso with chorizo was hot, spicy and gooey – the perfect accompaniment to the salty fresh chips.

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The menu has a great selection of appetizers, salads, tortas and tostadas, but they’re know for their tacos.  Order by the taco and sample several from their selection of 9 different varieties.  The food is simple, fresh and beautiful.  Our short rib, fish, steak and corn/blackbean tacos were all delicious!  I meant to try the pork belly, but couldn’t get past the first three I ordered.  I guess that’s a good excuse to stop back soon!

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While we’re proud of our Cincinnati gem, the owners have now opened five more locations in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Indianapolis and Charlotte.  You can read all about them and view the menu at bakersfieldtacos.com.  You can also check out their feature from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives here.  Take a look, stop on by and be sure to bring your big-boy pants to have a Spicy Margarita!