Clover Food Lab

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Clover's Chickpea Fritter with a side of Brothy Barley & Spinach Soup. (See the indentation where my falafel ball once sat?)

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.

Lentil-Bulgur Salad ala Moosewood

March 22, 2011 § 2 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.

Lentil-Bulgur Salad

Lentil-Bulgur Salad

Lentil-Bulgur Salad

  • 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.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

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

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.

The Really Slow Food Movement

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.

 

My garden plot is within the two railroad ties on the left and right, and ends right beyond that white bag.

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!

My awesome 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.

Mini Mint Oreos ala Flour Bakery

March 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

From now on—for the rest of my life—whenever I say the word “oreo,” I am exclusively referring to the oreo as envisioned and interpreted into chocolate cookie and filling by Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery. Have one bite of the Flour Oreo and you will agree. That other … cookie … it’s a dime-a-dozen cookie. Flour’s oreo is a treat.

If there is one negative I have to nail onto Flour’s oreo, it’s that the chunk of dark chocolately heaven is too big. Is it possible? Slightly. That’s why I had the idea to make them smaller.

Last December I promised I would bring homemade oreos to a holiday party. The recipe – which is a slice-cookies-from-a-dough-log type of cookie – makes about 18 cookies. Definitely not enough for a holiday party. “Minis!” I thought. And why not add some peppermint flavoring for that added holiday pizzazz.

They were the hit of the party.

Well, Erin Go Bragh, it’s now St. Patrick’s Day. For St. Patty’s Day, you’ve got to do something green. Well, let’s add green food coloring to the oreo filling. And if the filling is going to be green, the eater of the cookie is expecting mint. Right?

Green Mint Oreos for St. Patrick’s Day. And minis, too.

Mini Mint Oreo Cookies ala Flour Bakery

Adjustments to Oreo cookie recipe ala Flour cookbook:

Dough log: After leaving dough to firm up for 1 hour, divide dough into 4 equal batches. Roll it into a 1-in. log on parchment paper, as opposed to the instructed 2.5-in log.

Mint: Add 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract. That’s enough! Seriously. All you need.

Green: Add 3-5 drops green food coloring. You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s a nice medium green.

The one thing that I would adjust next time … because the mixer really needs to beat in the food coloring, it makes the filling a bit softer than I’d like. I may decrease the addition of milk from 1 tbs to 1/2 tbs next time.

Bread Cracking in the Oven—Solved!

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?

sourdough boule

Seam side up on the left, seam side down on the right.

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.

Lentil Soup with Spinach

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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

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