Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Down Time

I must say, this is one of my favorite times of the whole calendar. The week between Christmas and New Years is a treat; a gift, if you will. It’s a week where there typically isn’t a great deal of new work to be addressed in the architecture and interiors world, so I can play catch up. For the few folks who are still slaving away, we can have much more relaxed, productive discussions.

Because I have the entire week with no travel, I’m doing all kinds of wonderful nesting projects, and enjoying a little time with friends, and preparing for the new year. I’m also craving warm, comforting food. But, that’s a slippery slope as, if you’re like me, since about November 15th I’ve done nothing but eat rich food, sipped yummy libations, and ended every meal and filled every break with sugary delights. So, comfort food sans fatty, sugary goodness. Hmmm….

My answer is usually soup, roasted vegetable concoctions, and bites of creative creations, instead of full meals. We may have gotten our bellies a little stretched out, so eating smaller or lighter meals more often can be a way to ease out of this habit. I’d love to hear if you have any wintery favorites to get you back on the wagon!

Quick Kale Soup
Serves 4

I may have already shared this in my Kale post (title makes me laugh at myself every time I think of it), but it’s worth repeating. It’s a no-brainer and gives your body lots of good things.

½ white or yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 bunch of kale, washed well and de-ribbed and chopped
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 cup rice
Red pepper flakes, optional

In a stock pot or your favorite pot to make soup in, heat over medium flame. Add olive oil, then garlic and onion. Don’t brown, but let it turn opaque. This should take about 2 minutes. Turn your flame down a hair and add the kale leaves and cover the pot. There should be water left from washing the kale leaves, so let this kind of steam and wilt down. This takes me about 10-15 minutes. After the greens are wilted I add 6 cups of water, the bouillon cubes and rice, then cover again and let cook for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

I actually add both pepper flakes and a healthy dash of Tabasco sauce. Obviously, this is super fast and easy and just makes my tummy smile.

Curried Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
Serves 4

I lifted this one right off the Vegetarian Times website and fell in love with it for two reasons; the protein is 17 g. per serving, plus the lentils will give you good fiber and anything warm with lemon is a good thing in my book!

4 c. red lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 qts. vegetable broth
2 lg yellow onion, chopped
8 celery stalks, de-stringed and chopped
4 carrots, chopped (I have to say, if you can get organic carrots as they taste so much better)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
4 Tbsp. lemon juice

Over medium high flame, bring lentils, broth and 8 cups of water to a simmer. If any of that icky foam forms, scrape it off. Turn flame or heat down, cover pot and let cook for about 10 minutes. Add celery, carrots and garlic and simmer another 20 minutes. Last, add the spices, taste for salt and pepper, and when you get all that right, add your lemon juice. This freezes really well, and is better the next day.

Winter Bruschetta
Serves 6

This is another favorite I’ve adapted from Vegetarian Times. The original was good, but I think mine is better and a bit more filling. I hope you like it. The good news is, it’s super easy and fast!

12 slices of a baguette or Italian loaf
4 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes (you’re going to divide this up)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5-oz. can petite diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil
1 cup chopped, fresh spinach
1 container prepared hummus, and I prefer artichoke or spinach flavored

Turn broiler on oven, and put rack on center level. Place slices of bread on a cookie sheet and set aside. In a sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil from sun-dried tomatoes and sauté garlic. Add canned tomatoes, with juice, and then the chopped dried ones and spinach leaves. Cook until dried tomatoes soften up and everything cooks down a bit. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Pour mixture in a colander to drain.

I drizzle the rest of the sun-dried tomato oil over the bread, so you may need a bit more than 1 tablespoon. Place under the broiler and toast, turning when first side is golden. Top each piece of bread with a bit of hummus, then top with tomato mixture. You can actually make a sandwich out of this combo, and include spinach leaves and capers, if you want to get crazy. It is actually really healthy and has lots of fun flavors partying it up together.

Moroccan Roasted Vegetables over Couscous
Serves 6

I wish I could tell you I loved North African food. I want to. I love everything else North African. Same goes with Ethiopian. I try to love it, but the flavors just don’t get along with my tongue. This dish is an exception. I took a few different recipes and combined them.

2 lbs shallots, chopped coarsely
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
4 large red bell peppers, cut into strips
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Tbsp. sea salt
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ c. Earth Balance Spread
1 box couscous (I love Near East brand, and you could even try different flavors)
2 cups vegetable broth (or, for a lesser amount you can follow liquid measurements on box)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss shallots with 1 tablespoon oil and roast in a shallow baking pan in lower third of oven 25 minutes. Toss together squash, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Add roasted shallots and divide between 2 large shallow baking pans. Dot vegetables in each pan with half of Earth Balance and roast in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through roasting, until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes total. Prepare couscous according to package directions, using vegetable broth as liquid.

When veggies are done you just serve them over the couscous. If you want to get crazy, serve sides of chutney, or harissa. This dish will warm your heart, but is also actually good for your heart!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No Place Like Home for the Holidays - Back in Cowtown!

I've lived in Chicago, on and off, for about 12 years now. I love everything about living right in the center of a large city, and imagine I'll stay there until I'm old and gray. Still, my family is sprinkled in a fairly concentrated area around the South and Texas (Texas is it's own region).

My Mom moved to Fort Worth when I was just starting college, and has been there ever since. Although most of my elementary and high-school years were spent in Louisiana, I do consider Ft. Worth home, and relish coming back for holidays and family gatherings. And I maintain that DFW's better half has some of the most original and amazing chefs anywhere around.

One of the great chefs is my mom. Yes, I'm biased, but she really is an accomplished cook, and looks at a recipe more as science than sustenance. As someone who truly fears a measuring cup, I'm always amazed at the precision and dedication with which my mom constructs cakes, pies and other concoctions. And now she's become more interested in creating vegetable based creations that are more evolved than the tofu salad and sprout sandwiches from the 70's. To her, it's just a new and interesting science experiment.

A close second to my mom, in the culinary arts, is chef Lanny Lancarte. I won't go into his famous Ft. Worth family and their influence on Texas can Google him. What I will say is that his restaurant, Lanny's Alta Cosina, is a gem that I truly miss when I'm away.

The menu is a mélange of Mexican ingredients and techniques, and a really fine collection of global wines. And the atmosphere isn't bad either. In fact, I will admit that on more than one occasion I've met a client at Lanny's for lunch, and stayed through to dinner. We had a lot of business to discuss. It's true! (they also make a killer martini!)

Today I met one of my favorite people, Jill, for a celebratory lunch. Although we didn't stay through to dinner, or have to phone-a-friend (usually her sweet husband) to come fetch us, my belly is still full, and I've been relaxed all afternoon.

I started with a really wonderful salad of mixed greens, grapes and toasted pecans. This was fresh, but simple enough. My lunch date had a creamy bean soup, flecked with chunks of tasso ham. She had a really lovely white burgundy, and I opted for several different rioja, which were amazing.

When I go to a restaurant that doesn't specialize in vegetable based cuisine, I typically call ahead and ask if there is anything on the menu I can eat, or if the chef minds modifying his recipes. I'm always very gracious and make certain I have wine or a cocktail. Utilizing this method has yet to leave me disappointed or discouraged.

Today, due to lack of organization, I did not call ahead, but when I asked our server if it would be a problem to modify one of the menu dishes, she asked if I'd just like Lanny to prepare something. I told her to do whatever was easiest. This is a scenario where I’d have been willing to eat fish, if things had been too busy, but luckily there were options. Oh my heavens, was I in for a wonderful surprise.

A very long plate was set before me. What you see above, from left to right, braised brussel sprouts, lightly sautéed and seasoned wild mushrooms, a pasta dish, with some kind of wonderful chile thing going on, braised heirloom carrots and broccoli rabe that was so perfectly seared and seasoned I could have eaten it alone. After clearing almost the entire rainbow of yummy items, as much as I longed for some of Lanny’s amazing hot chocolate, it wasn’t going to happen. I wanted more wine, and then a nap. Unfortunately, I had to go home to babysit my niece and nephew, so no nap was to be.

If you are trying to maintain a vegetable based diet, I cannot encourage you enough to ask the chef to surprise you. Obviously, doing this during noon rush hour, or on a busy Saturday night is not the time. And don't do what I did today; give them a heads up. But, I promise, most chefs really like the challenge, and I have to believe this will show them just how many veggie patrons they have, thus encouraging them to add options to their menu.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tinsel and Tapas!

More and more people are not looking at me wide-eyed when I asked them if they want to eat tapas. It used to be they’d beg my pardon and say, “topless?” No, TOPAS. As in, little bits of different foods…Spanish style. To me, this is the most wonderful way to eat.

Though I’ve never been to Spain (But I’ve been to California. Isn’t that a song?) my understanding is that in real tapas bars you get a glass with some wine and a crostini laid across the top of the glass. Then there are dishes of a variety of “hearty hors d’oeuvres” or tapas, from which you take bits of and put on a little plate.

As someone who avoids pork, chicken, sausages made with critters, and the like, I can still eat very well and satisfy all my cheering taste buds at the tapas bar. There are typically roasted red peppers, mushrooms, olives and my favorite, roasted potatoes with garlicky aioli!

Some amazing chefs have modified the traditional tapas menu, and created dishes I’d gladly take a big plate of. However, especially during the holidays, it’s still so much more fun to share several little dishes so that your mouth and tummy can have a little party too!

Last weekend my cousin and I ate at the wonderful Jaleo in Washington, D.C. Like most of my family members, my cousin is not a picky eater, and loves his veggies, so did not give the slightest resistance to keeping all but one of our selections free of feet. We did order some dish with squid, which, after the giant squid attack last summer, I’d thought was perfectly rational from a moral perspective. When they arrived and I actually took a nibble it wasn’t as good as I’d remembered (see last post w/ mushroom calamari!).

So, here are the things we had, and some ideas of things you might look for on your next adventure to the tapas bar!

*Roasted fingerling potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli
*Fried fingers of eggplant, drizzled with honey
*Amazing salad of braised brussel sprouts, mixed with a sherry vinaigrette, peppers, and I don’t know what all else, but it was amazing

If you’re vegan you might opt for:

*Chick pea salad with red and green peppers, fresh tomato, and black olive paste
*Traditional white gazpacho of Malaga with grapes
*Sliced apples and fennel salad with Manchego cheese, walnuts and Sherry dressing (sans the cheese)

Another bonus to eating in this style is, you can usually fill yourself to the gills (or whatever breathing apparatus you use) and not spend a lot of cash. Spanish wine has increased in price over the years, but still pales in comparison to the price of French or American and is really well suited for this spicy food.

And if you’re in D.C., I cannot recommend Jaleo highly enough. Of course, part of the fun was being with my sweet cousin. I don’t see my family nearly often enough, and we are a very tight-knit group (and quite fun, I might add!), but we all know good food, and this was good!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Coming In From the Cold Dragonfly

I've always appreciated that Bob Marley song,Coming in from the Cold, and on this day I'd adpoted is as my anthem. After a busy day, running around a city I wasn't familiar with, and then being caught in freezing rain, snuggling in yoga togs, in front of the fireplace in my hotel lobby sounded like a great plan. Even the hotel's "bad" merlot turned my saliva glands to a low simmer. Alas, I will never be considered the go-to girl for vegetarian inspiration if I let a little seasonal weather break me down. Lipstick, fluff hair, get back out there!

I first heard of Dragonfly from the program coordinator at one of my favorite architectural firms in Columbus, OH. After a little investigation, and reading numerous accolades, I decided this was definitely worth a visit. The restaurant is closed on Monday, so I called to make a reservation for Tuesday evening, around 8pm. By the time 8pm rolled around, my 1/2 Jimmy John's veggie was long gone!

I'd seen the Dragonfly menu on their website and was intrigued by many things, but for some reason, on this particular evening, I had their pizza-of-the-day on my mind, with the apple galette salad for a starter. This was my "plan," which are so typically ignored in reality.

As I said, the weather was cold and rainy. I pulled in front of Dragonfly, with its large front windows, aproned by a winterized front patio. From the amber glow that was emitting from the windows, I just knew good things were going on in there. After parking my golf cart on the street, I ran to the front doors, bursting in with chilly cheeks and dripping coat. Still, with the friendly smiles, delightful smells, and warm ambiance, I never felt particularly cold. It was if a really lovely cashmere blanket had been wrapped around me. But, after a glance around I realized I was the only patron. How could this be? This can't be a good sign. I was reminded, "This is finals week."

You see, Dragonfly is located just blocks from Ohio State University (I believe their mascot is some sort of seed? Go Buckeyes!)and is likely a favorite spot for dates, parent weekends, and professors seeking peace and refuge. I settled into a wonderful banket that looked out onto the room and bar.

The menu I was presented with was not the same version I'd seen earlier, on-line. This through me for only seconds, as I quickly found amazing replacements for my pizza. Items like portabella sauerbraten, pumpkin soup in sea vegetable broth and mac & cheese. Images sent my salivary glands into major production mode!

Glancing up from my menu I took in how beautifully the room was decorated, and adorned for the holiday season. Garland framed the mirror and hurricane globes were filled with glass ornaments. Beside the hurricanes was a covered, footed cake stand, presenting festive holiday cookies. Hanging above was a sort of triptych lighting piece, that to me favored the interior of a fiberglass canoe hull. The surface was all veined and iridescent. Wait, it looks a bit like dragonfly wings!

I was starting to feel so festive, I ordered a Susie Wong cocktail. Out of a list of divine looking signature drinks, the Susie looked like something that would really get me in the spirit. This ruby colored concoction is a sort of modified cosmopolitan, but includes things like Absolute mandarin and rose essence. The taste was tart and fresh, with just the slightest whisper of flowery perfume.

Not long after my cocktail arrived came a small glass plate offering a spoonful of black bean and chick pea salad with a perfect sliver of squash pate. I'd barely wrapped my head around all the flavors bursting from that salad before another plate was brought that had a vertically positions baguette, with a side of homemade hummus, and a drizzle of sweet chili sauce. This sauce took hummus to a whole new level. I will be experimenting in an attempt to replicate this elixir! It tasted a bit like Asian-style sweet-hot mustard, but may have had some cumin involved. I don't know for sure, but can promise you that it was amazing!.

By the time my salad arrived a real fear set in that I had once again let my desire to be the girl with the most cake over-rule my stomach with finite real estate. But there it was: perfect mixed greens tossed with light vinaigrette. This was piled slightly askew the most perfect apple-potato latke. A dollop of apple sauce sat neatly on the edge of the plate. Imagine bits of browned potato and onion, with a hint of apple, paired with crisp vinegary greens. All ingredients, partying hard together on my tongue. Excellent.

As I'd feared, by the time my main course arrived my tummy was reaching capacity, but as one committed to spreading the good news about vegetable based eating, I forged on! Who could resist hon shemeji mushrooms prepared calamari-style, served over tomato stew and topped with vegan aioli? Not me, clearly. The tomato pool included bits of olive, and the perfect amount of spice. Sitting on tippy-top was a nest of fresh watercress.

Do you know what a hon shemeji mushroom is? I didn't. But imagine a delicate, firm mushroom, battered just as squid would be, and lightly fried. The taste and texture was familiar, but so far beyond the often rubbery squid version. And the sauce was complex. I would have liked the aioli to be a wee bit more flavorful, but my taste buds may have been so consumed by the other things going on that they couldn't be bothered.

I ate 1/3 of my dish, and was very proud to have made it that far. Knowing when to throw in the towel is so bitter-sweet. When something is that delicious, you really don't want the sensation to end. But I knew we had to go our separate ways, because the end was near, and with the end of any good meal comes chocolate or a cupcake, or both. In stepped the chocolate-stout cupcake, surrounded by a drizzle of Concorde grape sauce.

Because I didn't know that I'd had Concorde grapes in any form but Smucker’s, my mind was trying to figure out what the sauce was. There seemed to be a cinnamon note? Finally I was informed they made their own fruit concoctions in the summer and kept them for off-season treats. They even have their own little garden behind the restaurant. Back to the cupcake; I was amazed what good partners the chocolate and grape made. Who knew?

Let me back up and say, mid-way through my dining journey my wait staff changed. My new "wait person," was co-owner, Cristin Austin. Her husband/chef Magdiale Wolmark opened Dragonfly almost 10 years ago, and are clearly committed to bringing healthy, responsible food-inspiration to the world.

In a shocking development, I was quite chatty, and had such a fun time talking to Cristin throughout my munching. She originally came from D.C., and her husband is from Philadelphia. I forgot to ask what brought them to Columbus, but that will just give me more to talk about on my next visit...and there WILL be a next visit.

What I did understand about the couple is their commitment to this creative food that goes so far outside of any box "veganism" creates. When she learned I would be going to Philly the next day, Cristin provided me with a long list of her favorite dining spots, with only one or two being labeled "vegetarian." She seemed to agree with me that any well-designed and forward thinking establishment will have options that are compliant with a plant based eater. No need to limit yourself to only eating at vegan spots, unless that's your choice.

My dinner, including drinks, was around $50 which is a little over my allowance, but is definitely worth foregoing breakfast and lunch. I should mention, next door is a scaled-down version called On the Fly. Although I didn't venture in for a visit, I understand they offer various beers and "street food," such as falafal, soups, and empanadas.

I also noticed on the website, and on event cards, that Dragonfly has verious activites planned, weekly. These included something deliriously wonderful sounding, Chocolate Bar. And on Wednesdays they have some kind of movie night activity?

This is an exception restaurant in concept, food, drink and ambiance. It makes me tingly to know that vegetable-based dining is thriving and evolving in places like Columbus. And I've been inspired to take a few of their menu items and try my luck recreating them at home, though I could never really nail so many of the flavors. "Good," isn't really something I can pick up at Whole Foods! Dragonfly is soulful and sophisticated, and that's the best combination I know!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ironic Inspiration....Savoring Sorrel

Sorrel is a funny vegetable (ok, I’m imagining a stand-up routine, delivered by a bunch of leafy greens.. I'm a bit unbalanced?). It’s really more aligned with the herb family than something like spinach or kale. Though sorrel is very often pared with either of these to add a bit of a citrusy kick. Alone, it will give you a tart-berry flavor, but in the shape of a small-scale leafy green.

Since my last posting about guys and cooking, I’ve received 3 e-mails and 2 phone calls asking, “what the hell is sorrel and what do you do with it,” which is what prompted a little research. So, prior to composing this little post, I’d only used sorrel in soup and one kick-ass main course, even though I often grown it in my garden (back when I had a garden).

Nutritionally, sorrel will give you a dose of vitamin A, C, and a twinge of calcium. Actually, more than a "twinge." It’s really high in oxalates, so if you’ve had kidney stones or arthritis, might opt out. If you don’t know what the hell an oxalate is, please just Google it. Basically, it is a process that binds calcium with other nutrients, such as metals, and leads to a funky mouth-feel. Trust me, just look it up if you care.

So, here are some quick and easy recipes to try, if you’re feeling particularly “Sorrely.” Tell me what you think, and if you have any divine sorrel concoctions, do share!

Sorrel Pesto and Pasta

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh sorrel, remove the vains
1/3 cup parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, squooshed through press or minced
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan (cow or vegan)
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fruity olive oil

I use my hand mixer, but you can absolutely use a blender or food processor. Puree the sorrel, the parsley, the garlic, the parmesan, the nuts and the oil, transfer the pesto to a container, preferably glass. This keeps for a couple of weeks, or you can freeze it.

For every pound of pasta mix in ¾ cup of the pesto and 2/3 cup of the cooking water from the past. I like to chop some great mushrooms in this, but it would also be fun to add some grilled tempeh, chikn or even some of that sexy Italian style Field Roast sausage????

I actually first cooked sorrel while working my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child (in case you’ve been asleep). I did it before even having a clue there was a blog, for the record. And yes, this vegetarian CAN make her own gelatin from boiling bones, and I do know how to prepare eggs in a ridiculous number of ways (I make a perfect omelet, even though I no longer eat eggs), as well as the ins and outs of cooking rabbit. I choose NOT, but if you get 3 wishes, on a dessert island, I’m not a bad pick. I digress…

Here is what I learned about sorrel, vegized:

French Sorrel Soup
Serves 4

1/4 cup Earth Balance
2 bunches sorrel, finely chopped
1 tsp. flour
2 cups hot vegetable stock
2 medium russet potatoes, cubed into 1” squares (really important they are consistent in size)
1 cup soy creamer
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat Earth Balance over medium heat. Add sorrel and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until well wilted. Sprinkle flour over sorrel and stir. Add hot stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Puree in batches, if you’re using a blender, and return to pot.. Slowly whisk creamer into hot soup. Heat, stirring constantly, until steaming. Really good to garnish with chive oil (oil blended with a few chives to make green) and some toasted hazelnuts. Really easy, right? And so good!

Ok, I rarely do this, but put this recipe in your vegetarian “bag of tricks,” and break in case of a need-to-impress emergency. DO NOT STRESS! Take it one step at a time. It’s just freakin’ food…we’re not curing cancer here…well, maybe preventing it.

Sorrel and Wild Mushroom Risotto with White Truffle Emulsion
Serves 4

For the risotto
¼ c. Earth Balance
2 tbsp cheap olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
½ c. Arborio rice
¼ c. White wine
1 box of vegetable many cups is that?
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance (yes, I know I’ve already given you Earth Balance...patience Grasshopper)
5 oz. mixed wild mushrooms (don’t be boring. Get as wild as you can afford. It’s worth it)
1¾oz dried mixed wild mushrooms, soaked in warm water until they look like mushrooms again
3 c. Chopped sorrel
½ c. Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
½ cup chives, chopped
drizzle white truffle oil (this is totally worth having around. I get it’s expensive, but trust me, you will look upon your popcorn with new eyes!)

For the leek cream
yet another ¼ c. Earth Balance (no, I don’t work for them)
2 leeks ( I normally hate leeks, but this is really good)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. Soy creamer
½ lemon juice, or to taste

For the white truffle emulsion
½ Tbsp. Corn starch
1 tsp cheap balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1/8 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 c. grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp. truffle oil

Ok, take a deep breath, trust me, and preheat the oven to 350. For the risotto, heat the Earth Balance and olive oil in a frying pan and add the shallots and garlic. Cook until softened, but not coloured. Add the rice and cook until glossy, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Add the wine and cook until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Add a ladle at a time of veggie stock and the soaking liquor from those dried mushrooms. Stir the rice from time to time. Cook until the rice is not toohard to the bite, but still has some form. Use as much stock as you need, but you may not use the entire box.

Fry the fresh and soaked dried mushrooms in a frying pan with ¼ c. Of Earth Balance. Fold the fried mushrooms into the risotto along with the sorrel. Let the sorrel wilt a bit (after about 10 minutes) then add the Parmigiano Reggiano, chives and a drizzle of truffle oil to taste. Keep warm.

For the leek cream, clean the leeks really well, then chop them. Sweat over a low heat in a little Earth Balance for 20-30 minutes. Season the leeks to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the creamer and simmer down for a few minutes longer. Purée the leeks in a food processor, blender or hand mixer, adding a touch of lemon juice to taste. Keep warm.

For the white truffle emulsion, in a clean bowl, whisk together corn starch and vinegars. Gradually add the oils, a little at a time, to make a thick emulsion. Add white truffle oil to taste.

To serve, place risotto on a plate (you could actually steam some spinach and put the risotto on a bed of steamed spinach) Make a little well, and add a spoonful of the leek cream. Drizzle with white truffle emulsion.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What’s Better Than a Hot Guy Who Cooks?

No, I’m really asking you, what’s better? Anything? Especially a hot guy who is considering stepping WAY out of his comfort zone, to create a delectable veggie meal? I know of nothing. And I am over-the-moon that one of my favorite guys in the world offered to make me dinner. To my knowlege, he hadn't nailed down a menu, but the word “sorrel,” was mentioned, and that's hot.

Food is huge. I’ve mentioned, I come from a long line of women who truly treat cooking as craft. Attention is paid to flavor combinations, textures, aromas and aesthetic. I often saw myself as an apprentice to my Grandmother, my Annie Mae and my Mother. Making a mess was never a big deal. If something turned out less-than-great one time, I would always be encouraged to try again. Food was comfort and art and community and grace.

I’m proud to say the men who share my DNA are also remarkable cooks. I see Facebook posts of the comfort food my baby brother is whipping up. I know my cousin is a bit of a gourmet, and his father, my uncle, makes the best buttermilk fudge and hollandaise sauce you can imagine. My father prides himself on everything from a killer chopped salad to fried squirrel and gravy (OK, calm down…I’ve never actually tasted this dish, and never will, but he’s quite proud of it). When I was eating animals, Daddy definitely made my favorite version of venison.

For any guys who might be interested in seducing your veggie-loving crush, here's a sure-bet. Fire up the grill, and get busy!

Smoky Grilled Tofu

1 block extra firm tofu (slice, then freeze, then squeeze for best consistancy)
1/2 c. hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp garlic powder

I can't tell you how much better tofu is after it has been frozen and thawed. Slice squeezed tofu into thick cubes or strips. If you're using skewers, cubes are best, but if you'll be placing your tofu directly on your grill, larger strips are better.
Whisk together all the ingredients, except tofu, and place in a shallow dish. Place the tofu in the dish and spoon some of the mix on top. Allow the tofu to marinade for about an hour, occasionally spooning marinade over the top.

Lightly grease your gill and cook tofu over medium heat for about 5 minutes on one side, then flipping and 5-7 on the other. You can definitely spoon on more marinade. This is great on kabobs, mixed with pineapple, onion and red pepper chunks. Side of rice, and you're good to go!

All this praise and encrouragement to guys who know their way around a KitchenAid is to say, I know for myself, it would be difficult to love someone who did not share my passion for food and drink. I have, on occasion, found myself on a date with a picky eater. This, to me, is a deal breaker and complete turn-off. On the rare occasion I happen to fall in love (ha! just seeing if you were paying attention..I fall in love every Tuesday!), it is always with someone who appreciates a well prepared meal, and can often create delicacies that make my heart and tummy dance.

Food is often an aphrodisiac, but it’s always insight into the soul and heart. And for this reason, I can’t help but be smitten when someone offers to prepare a meal for me. Lord knows I love pocketbooks and baubles, but nothing will make me melt like a sparkling glass of bubbly and a fine meal. Gives me shivers.

Sweet weekend, sweet friends!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Let Me Call You Sweet Art, I'm in Love With You...

It seems like, after a few trips to a town, with some dedicated searching, I always find a gem. And so it has happened in St. Louis. I am over the moon! And could there be a better name than Sweet Art? Sweet Art! Isn’t that great?

My trip was packed with appointments and presentations, so lunch on Tuesday was late. Late lunches are often a great way to test a restaurant’s stamina. And every once in a while you happily find your dining experience wouldn’t have been any different had you showed up at noon, or just before close.

Sweet Art is a neighborhood place. More specifically, it is located in the Shaw neighborhood, which I don’t know anything about, other than the fact it is full of traditional St. Louis row houses, as well as free-standing red-brick domiciles. The homes appear to have been loved, unloved, and now loved again. I see the streets bursting with families, creativity and life.

So, are you picturing this? Children came into Sweet Art, still dressed in school uniforms, to meet their moms for an afternoon snack. A few tables were occupied with laptops. It’s really the most sweet, urban setting, and here is a bakery/art gallery, complete with awning, mixed café tables and tall walls covered in art.

There is a deli case, bursting with (getting shivers, just typing) cupcakes. And they have labels like “lemon sunshine,” “come-hither carrot,” and “vanilla cream pound cake,” (in a cupcake? Are you kidding me?). Each cake is perfectly iced, with delicate, sugary icing…oh my! And, by the way, they serve wonderful vegetarian fare as well, but first things first! I ordered 2 cupcakes; the sunshine-lemon and Cbabi’s Chocolate.

I fancy myself a cupcake connoisseur, and I will tell you, these might be the best cupcakes I’ve ever had. Cupcakes are tricky….they’re easy to dry out, as they are so small. However, these were perfect. The flavor of the lemon-sunshine was bright and clean and just wonderful. And the chocolate? Forget about it.

Prior to woofing down both cupcakes, I did have a slice of amazing veggie-sausage quiche. I’d thought about a side salad, but thankfully thought better of it, as the quiche portions are very generous. There was nothing greasy about this quiche. The crust had a very buttery taste, but not that customary mouth-feel that often leaves me to regret eating 5 croissants in a row. Nope, this was perfect.

I also got a Greek salad to go. Even after 2 hours of running around the city, once back in my hotel room this salad with it’s homemade dressing, did not disappoint. It had loads of goodies, over a bed of fresh, deep green lettuces. This was a good choice after gorging myself on quiche and cupcakes!

The only thing more meaningful than the quiche and the cupcakes (yes, expect something big) was my introduction to the tea that will surely save me. I had my first cup of Tulsi Sweet Rose tea. I am convinced this tea will make me smarter, eliminate my dependency on caffeine, improve my credit score, perfect my yoga asanas, and spice up my sex life. I just know it. It tastes like a flower shop smells. Before leaving Sweet Art, I was actually given an extra tea bag. After waking up on rose tea and yoga (no coffee or fruit)I made a b-line for the Whole Foods for a whole box and have had 4 cups today. I’m a new woman, and Sweet Art is to thank!

Oh, and there’s art! There is wonderful, soulful, colorful art all over the walls. I should share that the couple who own this jewel are Reine and Cbabi Bayoc. Reine is the baker and Cbabi is the painter, and together they have created a treasure. And since I come to St. Louis about every 6 weeks, I will make this pilgrimage to the wonderful little Shaw neighborhood over and over again. And I hope that anyone reading this, who finds themselves in St. Louis, will do the same. It makes me smile to think that the Bayoc family created this space, full of so much love and so much good, real food. Yeah for them!