Thursday, January 28, 2016

Each Spoonful Contains the Universe

Chef Carl Dooley poses with us at the Table at Season to Taste
“Each Spoonful Contains the Universe”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book How to Eat, explains that practicing mindful eating involves paying attention to each spoonful of food that you place into your mouth.  We pay attention, with the awareness that each bite is a gift.  This is how I would describe the four course meal I enjoyed at the Table at Season to Taste, a new restaurant from Robert Harris with Chef Carl Dooley in Cambridge, MA. 

Each time I’m in Cambridge or Boston, usually three or four times per year, I’m always on a quest to find “my place,” meaning a restaurant that will be on my list to visit every single time.  Ramen noodles at a hole-in-the-wall place at Lesley University is an automatic yes to visit every time, of course.  The Table is also now on the list.  I have to admit that I found out about it while I was watching the current season of Top Chef.  There are two chefs from the Boston area on Season 13.  Chef Carl Dooley has been doing quite well so far.  His new restaurant was scheduled to open on January 12, 2016 which was the day after I was heading back to Tucson, but fortunately I was able to get on the list for the soft opening.

Chef Dooley prepares an extremely well thought out Prix Fixe Menu each night, including three courses and a dessert.  I was able to order from both the regular menu and the vegetarian menu, which worked well together.  I used the Thich Nhat Hanh quote because each dish was clean and balanced, yet complex.  The portion size was just right for the amount of courses served.  There was enough to enjoy, without that uncomfortable feeling of being too full to enjoy the next course. 
House made bread with cultured butter.
I particularly enjoyed the house-made bread served with cultured butter.  Cultured butter brings out both sweetness and tanginess, which balanced well with the fresh mushrooms that were infused into the butter.  Given the chance, I could have enjoyed a snack or small meal of the crusty fresh bread and butter with coffee or green tea.

TOP: Salad of Roasted Sunchokes (Smoked Trout, Watercress, Whole Grain Mustard)
BOTTOM: Grilled Oyster Mushrooms (Hazelnuts, Currents, Lemon)
I chose the Salad of Roasted Sunchokes as my first course.  The thinly sliced apples balanced extremely well with the tanginess of the whole grain mustard.  The trout was fresh and delicate.  The textures were spot-on.  My daughter Logan is a great dining partner, as she instinctively knows to order a complementary dish, so I can try more than one thing.  The Grilled Oyster Mushroom salad with hazelnuts, currents and lemon was rich and earthy.  I enjoyed the delicate lemony vinaigrette. 
Whole Wheat Garganelli (Roast Broccoli, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Parmesan)

Stew of Pumpkin and Quinoa (Black Garlic, Cilantro, Ginger)

I switched to the vegetarian menu for the second course.  Who can resist homemade pasta on a cold Boston night?  The Whole Wheat Garganelli did not disappoint!  Roasting the broccoli not only brought out earthy flavor to complement the mushrooms, but also ensured that the texture worked well with the rest of the dish.  Heavenly!  Logan chose the Stew of Pumpkin and Quinoa, which was also a great choice for a winter night.  I am picky about the texture of quinoa, and this did not disappoint.  I had not tried combining black garlic with pumpkin before.  This is a great flavor combination!
Glazed Local Hake (Celery Root, Meyer Lemon, Capers)

Roasted Celery Root Hake (Garbanzo Beans, Carrot Pickle, Green Apple)

Returning to the non-vegetarian menu, I selected the Glazed Local Hake for my third course.  I always recommend local fish in Boston.  You can’t compare the choice, freshness and availability.  This dish highlighted Chef Dooley’s classic French training.  The dish was rich, yet delicate.  The dish was buttery yet not heavy, and I am guessing there was white wine in the glaze, which was a nice touch as well.  Every flavor was intentional and belonged there.  Celery root is a great choice instead of a starch.  It really holds its own, so no need for something heavier, plus it had great flavor to complement the Meyer lemon and capers.  This was a clean-your-plate kind of dish.

In my opinion the winning dish of the night was Logan’s third course, from the vegetarian menu.  As much as I enjoyed the hake, the Roasted Celery Root Pave stole the show.  A pave is similar to a gratin, and is generally served in a square or rectangular shape.  This was an outstanding dish.  The flavors were layered perfectly.  Celery root adds such a nice richness to a vegetarian dish.  As I described in other dishes, each component was intentional and belonged in the dish.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Spice Cashews, Rum Ice Cream, Caramel)

Citrus Pavlova (Grapefruit Campari Sorbet, Graham Crumble, Lemon Curd)

We ordered both dessert choices at our table.  The Pineapple Upside Down Cake was served with spiced cashews, rum ice cream and caramel sauce.  The cake was served warm and was absolutely marvelous, the perfect comfort food.  The Citrus Pavlova was served with a grapefruit campari sorbet, graham crumble and lemon curd.  The sorbet was refreshing after a nice adventure for the palette.  I had to rely on my tablemates to try the Pavlova, as I am allergic to eggs, but it looked perfect… crisp on the outside, and creamy on the inside.

At the close of our fabulous meal, we were treated to a lovely surprise.  The pastry chef prepared granola bars, individually wrapped, for each of us to take with us.  I actually saved mine, and waited until I was back in Tucson to enjoy it, probably four or five days after this meal, and it was still delicious and tasted fresh!  The granola bar was made with sesame seeds and oats.  I would love to get the recipe!  (Hint, hint!)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Few Bites Missing

Eggs Benedict special with a few bites missing.

It's been a few months (sorry, more than a few) since my last blog post.  Working on my PhD and political campaign (running for TUSD Governing Board) meant that something had to move to the back burner.  Since this is a food blog, I guess the pun is intended?  When I've been out at events many people who I did not know were regular readers have asked for more regular blog posts, which is great feedback.  Thank you for letting me know you are reading, and watching for new posts!

Every time I have to drive two hours north, to the Phoenix area, I ALWAYS stop at Pomegranate Cafe, which is a vegan restaurant where *everything*, and I do mean everything, from breads and sauces to scrumptious desserts are made from scratch.  I always try the lemonade of the day, and am never disappointed.  Yesterday's candy cane lemonade, a blend of fresh raspberries and mint, did not disappoint.

How can you tell that you have found a spectacular vegetarian restaurant?  When your carnivore-boyfriend: A. doesn't complain about going there an B. goes there by himself when he is in Phoenix, even when he could have gone someplace to eat meat.  Our favorite dish is the Autumn Pesto Mac & Cheese Bowl, which is big enough to eat a hearty serving, and take a complete serving home for another meal.

I fly to Boston from Phoenix at least three times per year.  My usual routine is to stop at Pomegranate Cafe for a meal, and take my leftovers with me to eat on the plane, which makes the two hour drive to catch a flight worthwhile, not just to save money on a flight.

I stopped by for lunch yesterday, on my way back to Tucson after working at an event for Arizona's Children Association.  This was my first time enjoying a meal there during the day, so I was able to choose from either the breakfast or lunch menu, as breakfast is served until 2:00 pm.  Around 10 years ago I found out that I have an egg allergy, so I have not been able to Hollandaise sauce, let alone Eggs Benedict, in many years.  One of the daily specials was Eggs Benedict, with a Sriracha Hollandaise sauce, served with a side of potato hash.  Yum, yum, yum!!!  Every element of the dish was phenomenal.  The hash was surprisingly light, not greasy or heavy, with both Yukon gold and sweet potatoes, assorted greens and mushrooms.  The Hollandaise sauce was creamy with just the right amount of spice.  The portion was generous enough for a two-serving meal, so I will enjoy my leftovers for lunch today.

The next time you have to make a trek up to Phoenix don't miss out on a fabulous meal at Pomegranate Cafe.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dr. Gnocchi (aka Lazy Lasagne)

Side view of baked you can see that it's gnocchi instead of lasagna noodles.

This recipe happened by accident.  If you follow Kosher Chic, you have probably noticed that in the last 6 months my posting frequency has gone done significantly.  I began working on a PhD in July (hence the title of this recipe), and my life has adjusted to a new rhythm: drive Logan to school, go to work, come home, do homework, go to sleep.  Sometimes there is time to squeeze in making dinner between homework and sleep, sometimes not. 

Logan has been helpful in sharing the burden when she can, making amazing Asian cold noodle dishes that she invents.  For the most part, though, I have had to figure out how to satisfy my craving for comfort foods, which are so good when you are feeling overly busy, and lack of time to make them properly.  This recipe came from the old adage "necessity is the mother of all invention." 

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I decided it would be nice to make a hearty lasagna for a nice evening of being at home and watching movies.  It did not occur to me, the Kosher Chic, that shopping on Christmas Eve might result in lack of choices at the store.  I was shocked that Trader Joe's was sold out of lasagna noodles... every possible variety.  I already had all of the other ingredients in my basket, and had my mind set on lasagna.  What to do?  Use gnocchi* instead of noodles!

The beauty of this dish, at this busy stage in my life, is that it does not require the usual layering and re-layering of each ingredient, as does the traditional counterpart.  Each layer is used just one time, as the gnocchi are hearty (and bulky) enough for just one layer on the bottom.  The dish also works extremely well for making ahead of time, refrigerating, and then putting in the oven the following day.

* Gnocchi, pronounced "nyo-kee") is a small dumpling, typically made from semolina and potato.

·      1 5-oz. package Trader Joe's "Power to the Greens" (mixture of fresh kale, chard and spinach) or a 5 oz. bag of fresh spinach
·      2 17-oz. packages gnocchi of your choice (you will have a lot of leftovers)
·      1 wedge, approximately .6 lbs, Asiago cheese (or parmesan, if you prefer) grated
·      1 16-oz. container whole milk ricotta cheese
·      3 Tbsp. olive oil
·      1 16-oz. package fresh mozzarella
·      1 25-oz. jar Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara (or jarred marinara sauce of your choice)
·      Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and preheat oven to 375. 

2. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in sauté pan.  Sauté greens in oil, over medium-high heat, just until slightly cooked or softened (do not cook to the point of being soggy or completely limp).

3. Cook gnocchi in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, or until gnocchi rise to the top of the water.  Drain gnocchi, return to pot, and toss with 1 Tbsp. olive oil to prevent sticking.

4. Layer and spread evenly in 9" x 12" glass baking dish: Gnocchi, ricotta cheese, sautéed greens, entire jar of marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese (in small chunks, dotted over surface) and grated Asiago cheese.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is entirely melted and sauce is bubbly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Mom's Chicken Soup (Cures Everything!)

Ready to serve!

This fall, around the time of Yom Kippur, I came down with bronchitis that turned into pneumonia.  Not fun!!!  I have been a vegetarian for many years, but have experienced with some meat-eating these last few months.  When nothing else was helping me get better, I decided the only possible cure would be my mom's Kosher chicken soup.  Mind you, I have no idea how to cook meat, other than the occasional ground beef I make for my greyhounds.  I thought chicken soup would be extremely complicated... what do you do with the bones?  How do you fit the chicken in the pot? 

My mom's recipe is actually extremely easy.  It takes me around 10 minutes to get everything prepped and onto the stove.  Then I can sit back, for around 2 hours while it cooks, knowing that I will have lunch and dinner for the next week or so, plus plenty to share!  My mom, Freddi Pakier, teaches this recipe at one of her cooking classes.  The chicken soup recipe is taught in her Diets Don't Work class.  By the way, although she is in the San Diego area, she does come to Tucson from time to time, and can teach private classes in your own kitchen.

Note on quantity: If I want enough soup to have some to freeze, take to work for lunch all week and give a few jars away, I use 3-4 packages of Empire Kosher Organic Chicken Leg Quarters, which can be found at Trader Joe's.  For this quantity, cook in a giant stock pot, as in restaurant-sized.  For a more normal amount of soup, as in not feeding the whole world, you can use two packages of chicken leg quarters.  My mom actually uses an entire whole kosher chicken... not cut up or anything; she just removes the skin and puts the whole thing in a pot.
Everything in the pot, ready to cook.

2 packages (or more) of Kosher Chicken Leg Quarters (or even better, Kosher organic)
1 medium-sized yellow or sweet yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 package (16 oz.) carrots, peeled and sliced
1 bunch celery, chopped
1 .75 oz. fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Optional: Additional vegetables (e.g. sliced mushrooms, chopped kale, sliced okra or even organic frozen mixed vegetables)

1. Place all sliced vegetables and dill in large pot.  
2. If desired, remove skin from chicken by rubbing a paper towel against it to loosen skin, then pulling it off.  Place chicken in pot.
3. Cover generously with water, cover pot and bring to a boil.
4. Cook over low heat for 2 hours, or longer.  The longer you cook the soup, the more marrow is extracted from the chicken bones, hence the greater the health value.  If desired, add additional vegetable around the 1:45 mark.  You can also add salt and pepper at this point.  Taste the broth, and season to your taste... I am usually pretty generous with the pepper grinder.
5. Turn off heat.  Using tongs, remove chicken pieces from pot.  Let chicken cool enough to handle, then slide the bones out.  The chicken should fall right off the bone.  Return all of the chicken, sans bones, to the pot and serve.
This version has sliced mushrooms, chopped kale and diced roasted green chiles. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

What's so kosher about Hawaiian shave ice?

Kosher shave ice?  (Not shaved ice, as the grammar-geek in me is wanting to type, it's actually called shave ice.)  This season, at Rincon-UHS football home games, the Kona Ice of Tucson truck has been selling Hawaiian shave ice, with 30% of the proceeds going to the Rincon-University Marching Band.  

During football games, I am generally running up and down the stands, pouring water for the band.  I haven't counted how many trips up and down, but it's got to be at least 20-25 times, up and down the stands.  Last week, it was still pretty warm out, so when I saw people going by with giant, overflowing cups of shave ice, my curiosity was peaked.  It looked so refreshing!

Shave ice is different from a snow cone, in that the ice is shaved, not crushed.  The texture is closer to snow, as opposed to chunky, hard pieces.  While it's been a long time since I've had a snow cone, I remember having to wait for some melting before I could taste the added flavors, which then pooled toward the bottom, in a sugary, syrupy concentration.

Hawaiian shave ice, since it is light and fluffy, doesn't have that issue with the flavoring.  The flavors are consistent throughout the cone or cup of ice, as they distribute more evenly.  The texture really does feel light and fluffy, like snow.  You don't end up with pockets of ice with no flavor, as in a snow cone.  

Kona Ice of Tucson offers around 10 self-serve flavors, with dispensers mounted on the outside of the truck, so you can make your own custom creation.  They also have 30+ more flavors on the truck, which you can order, either as one of their menu creations, or your own custom creation.  Some of the flavors are sugar-free, and yes, some of the flavors are kosher!  While none of the ingredients in the flavors would be inherently nonkosher, they do offer some flavors that actually have a kosher certification, which is ideal for an event at a synagogue or the Tucson Jewish Community Center (think Bar / Bat Mitzvah or birthday party).

The truck is owned by the Shapiro family, who you might know from when they owned a Baskin Robbins shop.  I tried the sugar free Tiger's Blood flavor, with a splash of peach and lime.  It was tasty and refreshing, and I will definitely try more flavors at the next home game.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Vegetarian-Friendly (Not Exactly Chicken) Soup

Logan and I are both sick with bronchitis... she is going on 10 days, I am going on 8.  I have given in to the Jewish remedy... homemade chicken soup.  I was extremely disappointed when I purchased chicken soup to go, from a restaurant I will not name, as I was expecting actual soup, in which the chicken had been cooked in a pot, making a rich broth, etc.  The to-go soup I purchased was basically chicken broth with cut up pieces of chicken breast added to it... not the same thing!  I begged my mom for her chicken soup recipe, which has been in my family for many generations.  It's quite easy to make.

The inspiration for this post's entry, however, was the Jewish-mother-guilt I felt for making homemade chicken soup for myself, which my daughter would not eat.  I decided to make two pots of steaming, healing soup... kosher chicken soup for me, and a brothy miso soup for Logan.  I added many vegetables with rich nutrients, as well as dried roasted seaweed.  While I can't prove the medicinal values of miso soup, as compared to my mom's chicken soup, of course, I think it holds its own, as far as soup that is soothing for someone who is sick.

3 scallions, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bunch broccolini, or greens of your choice (I used an Asian variety of broccolini, with large leafy greens on the ends)
3/4 C. sliced shitake mushrooms
1 package enoki mushrooms (NOTE: You can substitute with any mixture of thinly sliced mushrooms)
1/2 C. roasted seaweed (mine is already in small pieces... if you buy the whole sheets, slice thinly)
10 oz. yellow miso paste
1 16-oz. package firm tofu, cubed

This is an extremely easy recipe to prepare.  Dump everything in a large pot.  Pour hot water (I pre-boiled my water in a tea kettle) over the vegetables and miso.  8-12 Cups of water, depending on the size of your pot.  Add enough water to give sliced vegetables room to move around as the soup boils.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer, covered, over medium-low heat, for 20 minutes.  Serve.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ultimate Vegetarian Stuffed Potato

It's no secret... I have eaten at BrushFire Barbecue A LOT... I have a great excuse, since Logan works on the ice cream side.  Most of their dishes can be ordered either vegetarian or pescatarian friendly.  One of my favorite dishes is the "Messy Baked Potato," which is overflowing with barbecue sauce, melted cheese and, for most diners, brisket, smoked turkey, or some other meat.  I order the messy baked potato with salmon, which is quite tasty.  For Logan, who does not eat fish, we just order the potato without meat or fish.  Either way, it's quite yummy, but probably not the healthiest thing we eat.

I wanted to make a healthier version of this dish, with a bit of greens and other vegetables, to balance out the richness.  The recipe was enough for five gigantic potatoes, so plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

5 baked potatoes (I recommend baking in the oven, for a nice crisp skin)
2 C. shredded cheese (I used cheddar and asiago)
Barbecue sauce of your choice
1 1/2 C. Trader Joe's frozen kale
2 C. Trader Joe's Power Greens blend (can substitute spinach, chard or any other greens)
2 cloves garlic
1 C. sliced mushrooms
1/2 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, chopped
Olive oil for sautéing vegetables
Salt and Pepper
Greek Yogurt (I use this instead of sour cream)
Fresh vegetables for garnish (e.g. chopped tomatoes, avocado, green onions)

1. Saute greens in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper.  Saute mushrooms and chopped pepper with salt and pepper until soft. 
2. Slice baked potatoes open.  Top with vegetables, barbecue sauce and shredded cheese.  Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  
3. Before serving, top with garnish and a dollop of Greek yogurt.