One Christmas back when my kids were little, I decided to buy all my presents within three miles of my house. Since that included most of downtown Covington, Newport and Cincinnati, even though I had loads of gifts to buy, buying local was a piece of cake. Basically by a happy geographical accident, I was green before green was groovy.
Nowadays, I’m more likely to make a gift than buy a gift, and I’m twice as likely to dine with my friends than to give them presents. Of course, when I do give gifts, they tend to be food related. So when I sat down to think about a local foodie holiday, I decided to consult with Julie Francis.
She’s not Santa, but in Cincinnati food circles when you think “local” you think of Julie. As chef/owner of Nectar Restaurant (1000 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout Square, 513-929-0525) she really is a pioneer in the locavore movement here, and Nectar has become synonymous with locally sourced, exquisitely prepared food.
So what’s Julie cooking for the holidays?
“At the restaurant, we’re planning lots of hearty dishes like Green Acres beef short ribs with braised winter greens and sunchokes from Turner farm,” she explains as I start to experience intense hunger pangs. “I’d like to make creamy risottos with Sheltowee Farm mushrooms, smoked trout and truffle oil.
“I’m going to use local pears, apples, chestnuts and black walnuts for tarts and cobblers with Madisono’s burnt sugar or honey lavender gelato,” she goes on, as visions of sugar pears danced in my head.
But what if you really want something to wrap and put under the tree? Julie suggests that a great gift basket for the foodies in your family might include a bottle of Kinkead Ridge wine from Ripley, Ohio.
Their 2008 Cabernet Franc, which you can pick up at City Cellars (908 Race St., Downtown, 513-621-9463), would go well with aged cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy (1434 County Road 11, 937-292-7327) in Bellefontaine, like their Houtz’ goats milk cheese with its earthy, mildly sharp bite, and a fresh loaf of wood fired bread from Blue Oven Bakery (www.blueovenbakery.com).
Finish that off with some chocolate from Chocolats Latour, especially the juniper chocolate bars, and you’d have a cold-weather picnic feast. Check Findlay Market for the bread and cheese. Chocolats Latour are also available at Findlay at Market Wines, or at other locations around town. See their web site at www.chocolatslatour.com.
How about something to bring along to a party, either a contribution to the eats, or a gift for the party giver? For that, Julie suggests a couple jars of Kentucky’s own Chipotle Chicks salsa — the Roasted Tomatillo or Roasted Tomato. They’re made by two great ladies who have a way with Kentucky-grown jalapenos that are smoked over hickory wood, and you can pick them up at D.E.P.S Fine Wine and Spirits (670 W. Third St, Covington, 859-291-2550; 90 Alexandria Pike, Fort Thomas, 859-781-8105) or Remke Market in Biggs.
Just in time for T-bird day, I asked Chef Julie what she’d suggest as a locally sourced menu for the home cook for a big, casual holiday meal, and her ideas sound delicious. First, start off with Chipotle sweet potato soup, using a few spoonfuls of the Chipotle Chicks’ salsa to give it some zing. Then, a chile-spiced roast local pastured turkey from Green Acres or Tewes Farm — you know, the kind that had a free range, happy life where he had a chance to develop naturally.
Side dishes could be as simple as sauteed Turner Farm spinach with garlic, or as savory as Three Sisters Stew, a Native American traditional dish of corn, squash and beans. Julie adds pumpkin or winter squash from Turner Farm and uses hominy instead of corn.The cranberry relish she suggests sounds like Mama Stamberg’s recipe, for all you NPR listeners. But Julie just calls it cranberry horseradish relish, and she uses Organic Cornicopia’s hot horseradish.
And her dessert suggestion sounds luscious and local: Maple Creme Brulee with Shady Grove Farm Maple Syrup. If that doesn’t leave visions of local sugarplums dancing in your Batsakes’ capped head, nothing will.
So enjoy your locally sourced holiday feasting, and make it your New Year’s resolution to get to Nectar for a meal soon. You’ll be glad you did!