March 24, 2011 § 3 Comments
Guys, I’d love for today’s post to be more of a discussion. I don’t know much about Clover and I’d love for you to chime in.
I met friends at the Clover Food Lab in Harvard Square for lunch yesterday. Like I said, I don’t know much about it—except these two things:
- This particular brick-and-mortar location developed from a wheels-and-engine business. Am I right about that? Clover was originally a food truck, I take it, and there are a herd of them now in the Cambridge/Boston area.
- They serve all (or mainly?) vegetarian food.
Food trucks are on fire right now. And to see that a nomadic business can settle in and put down roots seems pretty cool. I mean, that’s how “civilization” started. (Hey, I used air quotes, and I’m not saying that today’s nomadic societies aren’t civilized.) I would have loved to try the Clover food truck experience first.
My friend Deb, on the other hand, had tried the food truck first. Raved about it. Loved the food. And when she saw that I’m eating “veganish” she suggested we meet up with friend Sonya to try out the steady digs.
What did we think? Here are my quick impressions as a first-timer, and an observation from Deb as a food truck customer:
The electronic “sandwich boards” as you walk in: Interesting technology there. It’s a vertical flat screen. Rather than erasing and re-writing a sign, they erase and rewrite something on their computer in the back (?) and reload or whatever. What’s the point? Not sure, except when you don’t need two “menus,” you can switch one of the screens to whatever it is you want. When we walked in both boards were menus. When we walked out, one was a menu, one was Clover’s website/blog.
I ordered the Chickpea Fritter – aka, falafel – in a pita. It came highly recommended by Deb. It was awesome. The slaw was tasty, as was whatever Mediterranean-esque sauce that was in it. The falafel was nicely done, still moist inside. There were a lot of things inside my pita I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but that was okay because I loved it all. Especially the pickle slices. BUT, folks, DO NOT put a falafel ball right on top of the stuffed pita. Mine did an “On Top of Old Smokey” thing and rolled onto the floor. Sad face.
Deb ordered the Egg & Eggplant pita. She loved that, too. Looked good. Can you get that without the egg? Next time.
We all ordered the Brothy Barley and Spinach Soup. Do you know what the word “brothy” brings to mind? Broth. A clear, flavorful liquid. No broth in this soup. If you want to be alliterative, try Burly Barley. Because it was a burly soup—any soup in which a spoon can stand straight up in (without assistance) is burly. As for taste … I’m a barley lover, and I did enjoy it. Add a touch of salt. My companions weren’t very fond of it. Oh, and where was that spinach? (Add more.)
Rosemary fries for the three of us. Yum. Dude, they were awesome.
I love that “city water” was on the menu and listed as $0.
Deb was a bit disappointed that the restaurant menu was the same as the food truck. I think she was expecting a few other choices.
If you’re going to serve pitas that are hefty and stuffed, maybe provide “holding docks” at each table—things like the U-shaped diner napkin holders. So, when you’re settling down into your seat, taking off your coat, etc., this thing can hold your pita without the food falling out (and rolling onto the floor). Just a thought.
The space needs a living wall either in the front windows above, or on that back wall. I know there’s those supports on the back wall and it looks like there’s grape ivy being training on them. Long, slow process. Clover may be looking into this—but, I do know a little something about living walls and know people in the biz. It doesn’t have to be complicated. AND, how cool would it be if they grew their own herbs and salad greens right there on location? It’s possible. Plus, as you may not know, plants “clean” the air, provide oxygen, and also help regulate temperature. Like I said, I know a little somethin’ somethin’ ’bout the topic.
Dainty Rates: 3 out of 5 Dots.
March 22, 2011 § 4 Comments
Bulgar? Bulgur? Bulghur? However you spell it, society at large has been hiding this absolutely spectacular whole-grain from me. If you are to believe movies such as The Adjustment Bureau, the men behind the curtains controlling my life have seen to it that bulgur shall never be placed in front of me. Ever. Never had it. Never saw it. Was never even tempted.
That is, until one Sunday morning a few months ago. I was tidying up the house with Food Network on in the background and Ba-Da-Boom Nigella Lawson made a bulgur dish to accompany a Moroccan meal. And if Nigella likes it, well … I gotta give this stuff a try.
Forget for a moment it’s a whole grain and nutritious and etc. It tastes good! It’s got a great consistency! And it plays well with others. In today’s recipe—and yesterday’s, too, actually—bulgur plays really well with lentils. So well, it’s like they are playing doctor, if you know what I mean.
This recipe is from the Moosewood Cookbook. I’ve eaten at the Moosewood, by the way, back in the mid 90s. And it’s true what they say—terrific food, the service coulda been better (they didn’t place my order. At. All. And that was just one of many examples). But, seriously good food. And if you can chop, you can make this stuff.
I made this for the first time Sunday. And my first reaction after tasting was, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? I just made this from that stuff??” I’m not kidding you, this stuff is taste on a plate.
A coupla notes: 1) Omit the feta and it’ll be vegan. 2) Serve at room temp – it has better flavor. 3) Stuff it in pita … yum. 4) I didn’t add the olives. I don’t think I had any and I forgot in general. 5) It’s a perfect protein. Oh yeah.
- 1 cup dry lentils (use green!)
- 2 cups water
Put lentils in small saucepan. Add water (and a pinch of salt). Bring to just boiling. Turn heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes until tender but not mushy. Drain well and place in a large bowl.
- 1 cup dry bulgur wheat
- 1 cup boiling water
Place bulgur in a small bowl. Boil a cup of water (microwave is fine) then add it to the bulgur. Give it a swirl. Cover the bowl with a plate. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes. That’s it.
Now comes choppin’ time. Add all of this to the lentils:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (I used juice of one lemon)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 2 tbsp freshly minced (or 2 tsp dried) mint (do not skip this!)
- 2-3 tbsp freshly minced (or 2-3 tsp dried) dill
- fresh black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup freshly minced parsley (I broke off a hunk of my frozen parsley)
- 1/3 cup minced red onion
- 1 small bell pepper
- 1/2 stalk celery, minced
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta
- 1/2 cup nicoise olives (oops, forgot those)
Stir those around and add the bulgur, too. Now add:
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Fold that around. Give it a taste.
Right? I TOLD you. That’s flavor that’ll make your Greek grandmother weep.
March 21, 2011 § 6 Comments
So, about that two-thirds vegan diet … Oh, no worries, we’re still on it and still successful. Yay us! There is one small side effect, however, that I need to address. I get a vacant-minded, mad-hungry feeling around lunch time, and no matter how much I eat, I’m still kinda not all there. I’m thinking I may need more protein around then.
I’m no nutritionist, but I do know that a not-so-magical combination of certain beans and grains form a perfect (or close to it) protein. Do red beans and rice stave off the protein cravings enough so you don’t go chasing the nearest cow? I’m pretty sure they do.
In search of a protein-packed lunch option, two recipes found their way to me. The first just happened to be one of many Turkish recipes found in last Wednesday’s Boston Globe. Middle Easterners boy, do they know how to make huge flavors in vegan meals. Below is the recipe with a few changes as noted.
Turkish Red Lentil Soup (Ezogelin in Turkish)
- 2 tbs butter (I used a couple swigs olive oil)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tbs tomato paste (what to do with the rest of the can? freeze it)
- 1/2 cup bulgar wheat
- 2/3 cup red lentils
- 7 cups chicken stock (we used veggie stock)
- 3 tbs dried mint (couldn’t find any! so we used minced fresh, about 3tbs)
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- salt & pepper to taste
-In a soup pot over medium heat, heat up butter or oil. Cook up onion until softened, about 5 min. Stir in tomato paste until blended in – 30-60 sec.
-Add bulgur, lentils and stock. Boil then simmer on low heat, pot covered. Let it simmer for about 30 min until lentils and bulgur are tender.
-Add mint, thyme, red pepper, salt and black pepper and simmer a few more minutes to meld the flavors.
Use RED lentils, not green. Red lentils tend to break down further than green, creating more of a mush or, when in a soup, it’s more of a thickener. You can use green but, well … I wouldn’t, not for this soup.
We actually had this last night for dinner, served with hunks of fresh bread (I’m still baking!) and a side of lentil-bulgur salad—another high-protein dish. I’ll give you that recipe tomorrow. That is a seriously tasty salad.
March 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
Slow food – either in the home or in a restaurant – is something I believe in. It’s flavorful, aromatic, enjoyable and really hits all the senses. I get that – and I absolutely love it.
I am, however, a big big believer in the really sloooow food movement. In fact, I’m working on a spinach salad right now. Should be ready in about 40 days, if we get some good weather.
You guessed it – I’m growing the spinach myself.
Spinach is one of those cool-season crops that you can start as early as March. It’s a tough character and can take chilly weather. Think of it as a Patriots linesman at Gillette in January with short sleeves and lovin’ it. Yes, it’s mild outside today – what plant doesn’t love 65F? – but temps will drop, believe me. And spinach will be able to handle the temp fluctuations.
I have a garden plot in the Washington-Rutland Community Garden – aka the Gazebo Garden – right across the street from Flour Bakery in the South End. Our plot is one of about 40 in the fenced-in lot, former site of I believe three rowhouses from back in the day. At roughly 15 ft x 30 ft, it’s one of the largest plots in the garden. And, after more than three decades as a community garden, I’m still finding bits of broken glass and the occasional spark plug while digging around.
I know I said spinach can handle coldish weather, but it certainly does respond when given a bit of warmth. I’m helping my spinach seeds along by creating some warmth with a coldframe. This is the concept: It’s an enclosed space topped with a clear material like glass or plastic. When I was a kid my parents made a coldframe by creating a rectangle with hay bales and then putting old glass windows on top. Sunlight comes in, heats up the space, and the plants grow while the air outside is still chilly.
Hay bales? Old window frames? I’m not down on the farm anymore – I needed to find another solution.
Last year I made a 2ft x 3ft x 2ft wooden box, filled it with organic soil and grew my carrots in it. Why I did that is a story for another time. But, there it was, sitting there in my garden, unused and topless. And I had one of those light-bulb-going-on-over-my-head moments: Put a piece of plexiglass on top and make a coldframe!
So, the plexiglass top has been in place since Sunday, covering newly sown rows of carrots and spinach. I checked on it today and the soil was nice and warm – something that seeds trying to germinate would really appreciate. I propped the lid open just a tad, too. More for the photo than to cool down the interior. And, because the top was on during Wednesday’s rain, I had to water it, too.
So, here it is propped open. In a perfect world, the plexiglass would be attached to the frame and there would be a device that would allow the top to be opened in varying increments. Actually, in a perfect world the top would open automatically in response to a solar and temperature sensor. But, this’ll do.
About those spinach seeds: I sowed just one row last Sunday. This weekend I’ll sow another, and so on until the end of April. That way I’m not stampeded by a crop of spinach all at once. I may let the first two batches mature in the box but eventually the box will fill up. At that time I’ll just transplant the seedlings out into the ground. If this year’s crop is anything like last year’s, I may have some to share with you.
March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Last summer I discovered the joys of bread baking. I guess you’d call it my hobby now. And I say hobby because … well, unlike putting a Pop Tart in the toaster and waiting for the ding, there are levels of complexity at every step. There’s practice and skill and problem-solving and continual learning from mistakes. Described that way, it seems more like a sport. And, considering I currently have three different sourdough ferments tucked snuggly in the warm and draft-free microwave, perhaps I’m also a collector.
Yesterday, I had one of those “Aha!” learning experiences. I made a batch of Country Sourdough from the Amy’s Bread cookbook. It was my first time making this recipe and considering my firm levain wasn’t so firm and I substituted in my sourdough starter, I wasn’t so sure the recipe would work properly.
I made the dough, let it autolyze, formed it into a ball, let it rise, punched it down, let it rise again, separated into two doughs, formed boules and let them rise again – seam side down – in floured baskets. The dough looked and felt great. So far, so good.
Now, in Amy’s instructions, typically once you get to this point in the recipe it’s almost as if they copied and pasted the remainder of the instructions for each and every recipe. At least for the handful of recipes I’ve tackled so far. BUT, this time she had a slightly different twist in the instructions. She said to tip the boule out of the basket onto the prepared parchment paper so the seam was now on top. Hmmm … I had not encountered that in previous recipes. All others were seam side down. Why would you put the seam up?
I had two boules – I thought, “Let’s try one seam side up, one seam side down, and see what happens. I scored both loaves on top, put them in the oven, and let them go.
Here’s what came out of the oven. Can you guess which one was which?
The one on the right was the seam-side down. Even though I scored the top, the steam escaping the loaf escaped through the seam on the bottom, causing it to tear.
For the boule on the left, the scores through the seam on top let the steam escape. Not having a weak spot—a seam on the bottom—prevented the bottom from bursting.
I tried to seal that seam as tightly as possible, but apparently not enough. This doesn’t happen with all of the breads I’ve made, but I have had this happen before. And now I know why. Problem solved.
March 14, 2011 § 2 Comments
It turns out—now that we are paying attention—a number of our on-hand recipes are vegan. While it’s nice to cruise online looking for appropriate recipes for our new two-thirds vegan lifestyle, we need only turn to our own recipe collection to find something without meat, fish, dairy, etc.
Jennifer’s Red Lentil Soup with Spinach, for example. She collected this recipe from a local adult-ed class on soup making she attended 10-15 years ago. She just recently found it again, after I had made a batch of the Moosewood lentil soup. Lentils are pretty friggin’ amazing, if you ask me. It’s my favorite dry bean, if only because you don’t have to soak it any more than 30 minutes, which you can easily incorporate into the cooking process (see below). The addition of the spinach is inspired, tasty and I am sure, good for you, as well.
- 1-2 TBS evoo
- 1 onion
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed (I guess green would be fine, too)
- 4-5 cups water
- 1/2 tsp EACH of thyme, oregano, basil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 lb. spinach or Swiss chard, torn into pieces
-Saute the onion in the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and celery and saute another few minutes until just soft.
-Add the herbs, lentils and 4 cups of the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom. If it’s too thick for your liking, add up to a cup of water.
-When lentils are soft, add the salt and spinach. Stir. Cook for another 2 minutes.
Jennifer likes to add a swirl of sherry vinegar on top of her bowl of soup. I add a dash of balsamic vinegar. Try it without the vinegar first, then with the vinegar. The addition really pulls out the flavor of the lentils and adds an acidic brightness. You’ll also want to keep a slice or two of fresh bread on hand for dunking.
You may want to double the batch. This soup is even better in subsequent days, and is nice as your vegan lunch dish.
March 10, 2011 § 2 Comments
So, what’s that about?
Beginning March 1, both Jennifer and I have eaten veganishly. Well, two-thirds vegan is a better way to categorize our recent eating habits. And to clarify, that means we have been eating two vegan meals out of three each day. And for those of you who need further clarification, that means – to us – no meat, fish, eggs and dairy products for two of three meals.
Torture? No. Surprisingly. And surprisingly easy, even on vacation.
Your next question: Why? For me, first off, it’s a skepticism around the freshness of the meat, eggs and dairy I purchase and eat, how those animals are raised, and what they’re eating themselves. I know, I could go to Whole Foods or some other high-end grocery and buy their luxury products. I don’t have a whole paycheck to give up for a chicken thigh that’s been gently raised, whispered to that never-ending sleep, and trucked just miles to my local high-end market. Spend your money that way if you can.
I’m all for supporting local ag. And that’s why I do frequent farmers markets when I can. You can find local and small-ag meats in many of them now, and that’s a great way to become exposed to the sources of your meats and dairy. Do it!
But, and this is my second point, I’m already familiar with small farms. I grew up on one. We raised our own beef, pork and chickens. We had milk cows, too. Mom made butter and sometimes cheese. We could call our burgers by name. It wasn’t until college that I ate meat on a regular basis for which I didn’t know its source. And you know? It’s just different. I never really enjoyed it – especially the beef. I had maby five beef dishes within the first couple of years after college, but essentially no beef in 20 years.
Pork. I love pork. LOVE bacon. Oh, man, do I love bacon. Haven’t had it since December 2009. Again, why? Well, it’s my dream – and Jennifer’s too – to find a little farm somewhere and raise our own stuff. We’ve talked about it for years. A huge garden, a sheep and goat for cheese, a little pig (that would be for me), chickens for the both of us. Omitting from my diet something I love so much was a commitment on my part to making that farm happen. No farm, no pork. It’s quite an incentive.
Chicken. Chicken had always been the fallback meat. I just can’t do it anymore. I remember watching that expose on some chicken farm or processing plant down in the South, about 10 years ago or more. Did you see that? Ugh and yuck! Americans deserve to be treated better than that by their corporate food providers. Seriously.
This two-thirds vegan thing isn’t an original idea. Jennifer had read Mark Bittman did it to lower some medical numbers and to drop a few pounds. It worked. So, why not give it a try?
I’m playing loose with the rules, too. Such as cookies. Am I not going to eat cookies because they have eggs? Are you kidding? Justine, I know you’re reading this and had concerns over how “veganish” is going to affect my baked goods that find their way into your office. Eggs and dairy will be used aplenty in my baking.
If for some reason we miss a vegan meal, we’ll make up for it the next day with a completely vegan day.
Business trips will be difficult, especially the kind I take. I am traveling up the California coast with my boss for 7 days at the end of the month. He’s a big BBQ meat lover. That should give Dainty plenty of fodder for interesting posts.
March 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
Where’s Dainty been these last few days? Not blogging, obviously. It think it’s a misdemeanor to blog while in the big warm world of South Beach. We jetted away last week to find some relief from this lagging winter.
While down there, I had to make good on a bet. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I owed Jennifer a meal at the Fountainebleau Hotel – a fabulous haven for the young and rich who want to be seen. We just wanted to check out the glitz.
After a little research, we found that Scott Conant had a restaurant in the compound call Scarpetta. Scott Conant – he’s one of the judges on Chopped, the one who practically had someone cuffed and thrown into jail for including cheese with a fish dish, apparently a big Italian food no-no. You don’t know me if you don’t know how I feel about such restrictions. Wanting to learn more about the man’s culinary viewpoint—and secretly wanting to put cheese on fish while on the guy’s turf—we decided that Scarpetta would be it.
The restaurant – dimly lit, private, modernly comfortable. The front-of-house girls – Jennifer even called them vacuous to their faces and they giggled. The waitstaff – well-trained. Although our guy looked vaguely like a thin Charlie Sheen. We were seated on the veranda, which typically has ocean and pool views but was enclosed due to high winds. Maybe our seating had something to do with 50 Cent and his entourage dining inside. Who knows.
Anyway … I’m not going to tell you about our entire meal – I’m sure there are enough reviews out there for your reading pleasure. You can assume it was great. If it wasn’t, I’d write all about it. What I’m going to tell you about is my appetizer, which – and I’m not kidding – may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Burrata atop heirloom tomatoes. I will forever remember this dish, and here’s why.
A burrata is a fresh cheese creation consisting of a solid mozzarella shell and mozzarella and cream interior, served at room temperature. It takes a caprese salad and makes it look like McNuggets. The burrata is like a pillow of dairy with a creamy dairy filling. This topped a thick slice or two of fresh heirloom tomatoes, perhaps lightly tossed in evoo – it was a little hard to tell after I cut into the burrata, but more about that later. When I ordered, I was skeptical of the “fresh heirloom tomato” bit, but silly Northerner that I am, Florida can grow fresh produce during the winter. I do wish they had specified which tomato variety they used. I know they’d have to change out the menu frequently if they did that. Perhaps the waitstaff could relay that info as the “heirloom tomato of the day” like the “fish of the day.”
Now, about that burrata – this was a mozzarella that must have just begun to form and was immediately served to us, it was that fresh. And delicate. So, so delicate. Cutting into the burrata released a small dose of warm cream, coating the ripe yet firm tomato. Someone’s Italian grandmother was in the back making this. I just know it. So, there was this small bite of rich and creamy cheese contrasting with the bright light tang and texture of the thick slab of tomato. The taste and texture could make me believe angels exist, it was that good.
I had wanted to save a small corner of the burrata to put on my turbot entree, but I just could not leave a drop of it for later. I must learn to make burrata.
Dainty Rates: The burrata – off the charts.
March 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s not that I don’t like Middle Eastern/East Asian spices. I love them. I just don’t know how to use them.
For me, adding a shake of tumeric or fenugreek isn’t like reaching for the thyme or oregano. There’s a feeling for proportion with these spices with which I am not yet familiar.
Cooking is about trying new things. So, I tried something new last night. Cauliflower Masala.
A few months ago when I was testing out names for blogs I thought would be appropriate for me, I typed in www.growcookeat.com into my little url space and – what do you know – someone already had that blog. A chef/urban gardener/consultant, Julia Shanks had already taken the perfect name. Turns out she’s in the Boston area, too. Julia, if you read this, we should meet up and talk about getting a jump on the gardening season.
Cruising around her site, I found a recipe I just had to put in my “to cook later” files. I love cauliflower (my mother was be aghast to hear that), and it’s about time I try my hand with Middle Eastern spices. The recipe seemed ultra-accessible, so why not?
Again, I made a few changes to the recipe due to only having a 1/2 head of cauliflower – hers calls for a whole head, no potato, one tomato and a whole onion. I kept the spice proportion the same.
- 1/2 head cauliflower, separated
2 potatoes, on the smaller side, cut into 3/4-in. chunks
1+ 1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped or diced
minced fresh ginger, about the size of your thumb to your first knuckle
1clove garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp. brown mustard seed
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
2 tomatoes, chopped – try to keep the juices if you can
1 fresh green chili, sliced
Salt to taste
-Toss cauliflower and potato with the olive oil and add a pinch of salt/twist of fresh pepper. Put on a baking sheet and roast in a 425F oven for 20 minutes.
-Meanwhile, saute onion, garlic and ginger in another 1 tbs. olive oil on med-low heat. Let it cook down until the onions are transparent – 5 minutes or so.
-While that is happening, rough chop the tomatoes. Instead of slicing, I minced the chili because I’m a wuss. But, I did mix the tomatoes and chili with a pinch of kosher salt and let them sit together until needed, letting the flavors meld together.
-When onions, garlic and ginger are nicely sauteed, add the spices, stir, and let them sit on low for a minute. Add the tomatoes and chili. Cover and let sit until cauliflower is done – no more than a couple of minutes.
-Time the cauliflower to come out just as the tomatoes go into the onions. Add the roasted veggies and mix the flavors together. Season with salt.
Oh my lord, it worked. The flavors were amazing. So simple and so QUICK. I’d serve it on top or alongside of cous cous or rice, but last night we had it on its own.
A note about proportions – I used half a cauliflower because that’s what we had and added in an extra tomato and the potatoes to make up for some of the bulk. Even with a whole head I would add in two tomatoes. The potatoes were good in it, too. The recipe is definitely a keeper. Thanks, Julia.
P.S. Yes, my food photography sucks. It’s just my camera phone. But I’m in the process of researching cameras. Any suggestions?