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Saturday was Adam and my 4th wedding anniversary, which turned out to be the best Saturday we’ve had in a long time! I didn’t get any flowers (apparently that’s the “traditional” 4th anniversary gift), or linens (the “modern” gift), but I did get to go canoing for the first time, and went to a great new restaurant called Local 127 in downtown Cincinnati! One of my favorite things to do on special occassions is to go to a really fancy restaurant and have a wonderfully decadent dinner. Since this only happens once or twice per year (we usually go somewhere nice on my birthday, but not always for our anniversary) I never feel bad about spending a little bit more than usual.

The reason I chose Local 127 is because it is a fairly new restaurant that is part of a group of restaurants in Cincinnati focusing on local, seasonal, organic produce and meat for all of their menu items. They buy from local farmers that use organic methods (whether or not they’re “certified organic,” since many of our local farms are family owned small operations), and every piece of meat on the menu is locally produced and grass-finished. All of their cured and pickled meats and vegetables are made in house, and the chef, Steven Geddes, is also a Master Sommelier, so the wine list is very carefully crafted. The only exception to the local rule applies to seafood, which is very limited in Ohio. Though to be fair, the only seafood on the menu on Saturday were scallops, which were sourced locally even if they weren’t raised locally. And I don’t think I want to eat a scallop that lived in the Ohio river anyway…

The restaurant was pretty and modern looking all at the same time, with warm lighting that made for quite a romantic ambiance. We had a small appetizer of cappocola and pickled cucumbers (which were slightly sweet and very good, and as I mentioned, made in house), then shared a normal sized appetizer of the most delicious potato skins I’ve ever had…TGIFriday’s could learn a thing or twelve from Chef Geddes…Between appetizers and dinner we were given a complementary small cup of cold potato soup, which was very good! It tasted like potato salad, but in smooth chilled soup form, and had a slice of crisped spring garlic on top. For dinner I had a simple Waldorf Salad with toasted walnuts and reisling soaked raisins, and a few bites of Adam’s Pork Belly and Sausage over White Grits dinner plate. The sausage was mild and tender, the pork belly was smokey and perfectly cooked, and the greens (spinach I think) that they were plated on were a perfect complement. The plates looked beautiful and tasted even better, and went very well with the red wine we paired with everything!

We didn’t have dessert there, but everything on the dessert menu looked delicious as well. I was completely satisfied and happy after dinner, which is exactly what you want for a special occassion, right? I don’t usually enjoy restaurants very much, because I do not like to pay for food that I could make better at home, but Local 127 was a very happy exception. Although now I’m scheming up ways to recreate those potato skins!

Now, at my mother’s request, I’m including a quick dessert recipe that I like to whip up when I’m craving ice cream, but don’t want to pay for Graeter’s or deal with the subsequent sugar crash. You’ll find plenty of recipes for Banana-Avocado “pudding” on line, but I hadn’t seen many using frozen bananas to make a more ice cream like dessert! The avocado sounds scary when you think about adding it with banana, but I promise that you won’t even taste it. It simply acts as a thickening and creaming agent, giving the dessert a very nice consitency. It also adds a bit of mono-unsaturated fat to the snack, making it more filling than just eating a banana by itself.

Whenever I buy bananas, we tend to leave at least one or two of them sitting on the counter until neither of us will eat them…at that point, I peel whatever bananas are left and put them in my frozen banana bag in the freezer! If you’re a smoothie drinker, they work great for almost any smoothie, but I like to make ice cream instead. So grab your frozen banana and your food processor, and give it a try:

Chocolate Banana-Avocado Ice Cream

Ingredients:
1 frozen banana
1/4 of a medium avocado
1 tablespoon of *Good* quality cocoa powder (it makes all the difference!)
Dash of cinnamon
Splash of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water

1. Break your banana into a few pieces in the food processor, and add the avocado, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and vanilla.
2. Start the processor, and pour the 1 tablespoon of water in while it is running.
3. Scrape down the sides as necessary, and process until smooth. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds or so.
4. Enjoy!

I’ve never tried making a larger batch and keeping it in the freezer, but I’ve heard rumors that it may work. I tend to make this as a small treat, however, just to keep it to a “one serving and it’s gone” type of snack. My friend who hates avocados was wary about trying this with me, but even she loved it! You can add whatever other additives you’d like as well, with shredded coconut or pistachios being two that I’ve tried. With summer just around the corner, I hope this hits the spot!

Strawberries are in season just about everywhere right now, and thanks to the collision of the California and Florida crops this year, they have been on sale everywhere!  I decided to take advantage of this unusual happenstance, and made a grain free (and consequently gluten-free) strawberry shortcake for a dinner party (well, book club, but it’s mostly about the dinner really) not long ago.  I started with a basic honey-almond cake recipe (I cut the honey for the recipe in half) and made my own whipped cream to go with it. You’ll also need 1 pound of sliced strawberries for this recipe.

To make the whipped cream, you only need the following ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream (get the best you can find, it makes a huge difference)
1/4 cup powdered sugar, or to taste (none if you like your cream unsweetened, more if you’re a humming bird)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (only the real stuff!)

**I like to use powdered sugar because it doesn’t take any time to dissolve in the cream, so you get a perfectly fluffy whipped cream. If you’d like to cut down the sugar, you could try subbing in a few sprinkles of cinnamon with the vanilla, since cinnamon registers as a sweet taste along with the vanilla. If you find it still needs a little bit of sugar, you can always add just a tablespoon or two.

1. Put your LARGE mixing bowl into the freezer, glass and metal will both work well. Get out your hand mixer while the bowl is chilling, and use a whisk attachment if you’ve got it (regular beaters will work as well, the whisk is just better in my opinion).
2. Pour your cream and vanilla into your frosty bowl.
3. Begin whipping your cream on medium, increasing to high, and adding in the sugar a tablespoon at a time.
4. Whip until the cream holds soft peaks, but not too long! This shouldn’t take more than four minutes. If you over-whip your cream it will curdle, and if you whip it even longer you’ll get sweet vanilla butter. Sounds good, but it’s not what we’re going for here.

Once you’ve got the cake ready to go, slice it in half with a long bread knife (I haven’t eaten bread in almost a year, but I’d never throw out a good knife!) and set the top half aside for a moment. Spread about half of the whipped cream on the bottom layer of the cake, then spread about 2/3 of your sliced strawberries over the cream. Carefully lay the top half back over the cream and strawberries. Spread the remaining whipped cream on top, and the remaining strawberries as well. If you’d like, you can toss some toasted almonds on top as garnish, and drizzle a little bit of honey as well to give your guests a little clue as to what’s in your cake.

This cake was a huge hit at my dinner party, and I felt pretty good about serving a beautiful dessert with much less sugar in it than a traditional shortcake. Bon appetite!