Vegan-ish

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.

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Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in South Beach

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.

Cauliflower Masala

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.

Ingredients

Cauliflower Masala

Cauliflower Masala

  • 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
    pinch fenugreek
    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?

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