If you haven’t been reading this blog very long, you may be noticing by now that I basically only cook vegetarian and seafood dishes, with the occasional hint of bacon or chicken stock. This is because we radically changed our eating habits about a year ago, after seeing the film “Food Inc.” and reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This involved a shift toward eating more locally grown, and, when not local, organic produce, and giving up most meat at home because we cannot afford to buy, nor can we find as readily, the type of pastured, sustainably grown meat we have committed to eating. So, we mostly eat vegetarian and seafood dishes when we cook at home, flavoring our foods with certified humane all natural bacon, which is readily available at our usual grocery store, and organic free range chicken stock, which we find at Costco. We also eat a lot of pastured eggs. Anyway, I just thought some folks might be starting to wonder why they almost never see chicken or beef dishes around here, and that’s why. For the record, while we try to mostly frequent restaurants that serve food that fits in with our values, we don’t hold hard and fast to our “rules” when dining outside our home. Onto what we ate this week:
We mostly ate at home this week, so I did a lot more cooking. This week we ate:
Rachael Ray’s Tuna Orzo Salad. This is a really colorful and tasty dish, full of veggies and sprinkled with feta cheese, one of my favorite things. It made good leftovers for me to take for lunch at work this week, because they don’t have to be reheated. I recommend using less red onion than called for unless you are just really a big red onion fan. Sometimes I don’t have the suggested red wine vinegar, so I use balsamic instead. I also don’t bother to buy tuna packed in oil, so I just make my own vinaigrette using regular olive oil, rather than the oil from the tuna.
Real Simple’s Skillet-Poached Huevos Rancheros. Though this recipe says it serves four, it served the two of us for exactly one meal. Maybe we’re just hungry hungry hippos. We love Mexican flavors, and we love eggs, so this recipe hit a real sweet spot for us. I’ll definitely be making it again. I’ll note that I forgot to buy scallions, so I sauteed some onion in the pan before putting the salsa and beans in. This would also be yummy with the addition of pepper jack or cotija cheese on top.
Hummus! I started making hummus a while ago, because we eat so much of it, and it’s much cheaper to just make it myself. I follow this recipe from The Kitchn, for the most part, though I always add more lemon juice than called for, as well as lemon zest, because I like my hummus to have a real lemony kick. This week I followed that recipe but made two different types. With one batch, I threw in a can of artichoke hearts, which makes for very creamy hummus with a subtle artichoke flavor. With another batch, I threw in some sundried tomatoes and a little bit of smoked paprika– this batch was AMAZING. I’m going to be making more sundried tomato hummus in the future for sure. It was an especially yummy treat when scooped up with red bell pepper slices.
Fried Rice. At the end of the week, when I have some leftover veggies in my fridge, I often make a big thing of fried rice (a lot like the frittata method I used the other week). This week’s batch featured brown rice, bacon, egg, squash, celery, carrot, red onion, and green peas.
Only ate out once this week. Friday night, I met up with some friends and ate at WOK (World Oriental Kitchen) on King St. for the first time. I described WOK to Jon as “the Chipotle of stir fry.” You basically get to choose noodles or rice, a protein (tofu, shrimp, beef, or chicken), a few veggies, and a sauce, and they fry it up in a wok and bring it to your table. The service was a little slower than I expected, but the food was tasty. The entire place is very eco-friendly, with reclaimed wood tables and other “green” touches, and all local, organic ingredients, all of which I LOVE. My only suggestion would be to ditch the paper straws. They turn soggy and useless halfway through a drink. Why have straws at all if they’re useless?
food for thought
So, the other day, when pondering my stove-top popcorn obsession, I mused to Jon that maybe popping popcorn in a pan I’d just fried bacon in would make for lovely, bacon-flavored popcorn. He thought that sounded insane. But then, what to my wondering eye should appear on The Kitchn but “How to Make Bacon Fat Popcorn.” I’ve yet to try it, but I think I might have to, since I invented it.
So, I’ve been slacking on the blog a little this past week. I expect posting to be lighter than usual for the next few weeks, as I work at a college and the end of the term gets a little crazy, and on top of that, I’m trying to get things ready for a new person to take my job, trying to sell a house, and working on coordinating our move to Little Rock, AR. That said, we’re still eating and cooking and working extra hard to try as many restaurants in Charleston as we can before we leave, so Kitchen Catch-Alls will definitely continue!
Didn’t do a ton of cooking this week, but one thing I did make was a spring fish and veggies dish loosely based on Rachael Ray’s Spring Fish in Parchment. Loosely because I used salmon, asparagus instead of green beans, and didn’t have enough parchment, so I cooked them in foil packets instead of paper. Still, a yummy dish! I had to make a quick run to the liquor store to get white wine for this recipe, which brings me to my next point…
We tried Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon this week. Firefly is a local vodka company, best known for their Sweet Tea Vodka, flavored with tea grown here in Charleston. We’ve been to their distillery and tried every single one of their products! I’m not a huge vodka drinker, but I am a whiskey girl, so I’m PUMPED that they’re now making a sweet tea flavored bourbon. I find the warmth of the bourbon is a nice compliment to the flavor of the sweet tea, and my favorite way to drink it is watered down with a big of homemade iced tea. I haven’t tried it mixed with lemonade yet, but I’m sure that would also be tasty.
Also this week, I got obsessed with popping popcorn on my stovetop. Apparently there are ingredients in microwave popcorn which can cause lung disease. This, on top of my concern at producing so much waste (a plastic wrapper and a paper bag) every time I pop a bag of microwave popcorn, was enough to make me give up microwave popcorn. My first two attempts at stovetop popcorn turned out a bit burned and once, very much oversalted. By the third attempt, I’d figured out that lower heat works better, and sesame oil is a better oil to use than olive oil. It’s a little more time consuming, but I figure shaking the pan burns off some of the calories from the OMGREALBUTTER I like to put on top, right?
Sunday we were hungry and the fridge was slim pickin’s as we had reached the end of the week and I’d yet to shop for this week’s groceries. Glancing in the fridge, I saw a few random veggies (half a red onion, half a green bell pepper, half a pint of cherry tomatoes), some eggs, and some bacon, which I threw together into a brunch of veggie-bacon frittata served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. If you have eggs and a veggie or two, you always have the makings of a meal.
If you look in the “eating out” section, you’ll see that we tried Baked this weekend, and I was so impressed I plunked down $30 (which, don’t be dumb like me, buy it for $18 off Buy.com) for their cook book. Sunday afternoon, I made their Root Beer Bundt Cake, and, given that the blurb before the recipe says to expect an “avalanche of root beer flavor,” I was expecting some serious root beer taste. But this was not the case. While the cake was rich and chocolatey, and the “fudgy” frosting was so thick it was literally like smashing fudge on top of a cake, there wasn’t even a hint of root beer flavor under all the chocolateyness. All in all a great chocolate cake, and worth trying, but certainly not the “avalanche” of flavor it’s billed to have. Perhaps if I try again, I’ll use root beer schnapps as suggested for more intense flavor.
On Tuesday we checked out Aluette’s, which bills itself as “holistic soul food.” Though I’m sure some would argue with a pork-free restaurant that calls itself “soul food,” I found the place plenty soulful. Aluette herself, along with Chef Absalom, prepared our meals, and chatted with us while things were cooking. We enjoyed fried shrimp in a light, almost tempura batter, along with fries and coleslaw, and a delicious lamb dish served with rice and collards. Everything was plenty tasty, but a bit pricier than I’d be willing to pay for what we got without a restaurant.com certificate.
Crossing another restaurant off my list, we tried Bambu in Mount Pleasant this week. I had a Thai Basil dish with tofu, Jon tried General Chang’s Chicken, and our friend had Green Coconut Curry. We also sampled the potstickers, which were pan fried for a really satisfying crunch on one side. All of the food was excellent, the patio we sat on was lovely, and if I weren’t trying to try so many restaurants before leaving town, I’d say we’d definitely go back.
Friday night, after a dinner of leftovers at home, we met friends at McCrady’s for another 25 cent cocktail night. After giving our waitress the password, “beep beep,” we received our 25 cent sidecars. A sidecar is a drink made with brandy, and I’m not a huge brandy drinker. The sidecar was probably a little sweeter than I’d order regularly, and would definitely not top my list of favorites on McCrady’s cocktail menu (I think my favorite is still the Blood and Sand, or maybe the Ward 8), but it was still a tasty drink. We also enjoyed fried green tomatoes with green goddess dressing, and Jon and I shared an apple tart with bourbon ice cream (I wasn’t kidding about my love of bourbon).
After McCrady’s, we decided to head across the street to Baked for still more sweet treats. Baked originated in Brooklyn, and when they expanded, chose to add a location in good old Charleston, SC (apparently one of the owners has family here). Baked is not a frilly, frothy, pink and white sort of place. The entire shop is themed in orange, brown, and white, with some seriously trendy elements like antlers and lots of knotty pine. Their desserts are not typical. Each person in our group got a different dessert, and they were all passed around the table for everyone to try. Among the things we sampled: salted brownie (OMG, I will have to fight the urge to put salt on all my brownies from now on), strawberry whoopie pie (I confess I’d never had a whoopie pie before, and it was darn tasty), key lime bar (I’m always a fan of key lime), cherry cream cheese bar (this was my choice– a bar with a crushed pretzel crust, a thick layer of caramel, and a fluffy layer of cream cheese and cherry goodness on top), and a cashew bar (I’m not a cashew fan, so I didn’t try this one.) I loved everything so much that I bought their cookbook, so you can expect to see some Baked goods on this blog, probably sometime soon! (You can score their Red Hot Red Velvet Cake recipe right here.)
Saturday morning we met friends for brunch at Virginia’s on King. Virginia’s is one of the best brunch spots in a town that is seriously all about brunch (other great options include Hominy Grill, the Glass Onion, Fleet Landing, Lost Dog Cafe). One perk of Virginia’s? $9 bottomless mimosas. And our waitress’s stated mission was “to get you sloshed.” Man, I love this town. We downed so many mimosas we lost count, shared fried green tomatoes, and some of the braver among us tried fried chicken livers (our waitress brought us a complimentary plate of them)– I admit I did not try them after witnessing 3 people recoil and describe the aftertaste as “like dog food.” I had a plate of biscuits and gravy with a side of hash browns. I have to tell you, I didn’t like biscuits and gravy until I moved here, and I’ve realized it’s because they make actual sausage gravy, not that gloopy white stuff of unknown origin. Jon tried the fried chicken with collards and mashed potatoes, and though he got some funny looks for tearing into it like a caveman (but seriously, who eats fried chicken with a fork? Only stuffy people, that’s who!), but it was darn good. After all those mimosas, we wandered around on King Street until the buzz wore off. A great way to spend a Saturday.
I’ve mentioned before that we try to go vegetarian a few nights per week, because we’re concerned about the way conventional meat is raised and slaughtered, because we’re concerned about the impact of meat consumption on the environment, and because we’re concerned about the impact of meat consumption on global hunger. One of the easiest veggie meals is some form of beans and rice. This week I made Cuban style black beans and served them with coconut rice. Coconut rice is seriously one of my favorite things, so if you’ve never had it, try it! This meal is especially delicious with a Cuba Libre (aka a rum and coke).
Saturday night I made one of our favorite meals. It’s the almond tilapia from this recipe and this minty chickpea salad, which I made with bulgur instead of cous cous and added some lemon juice to make it even more like tabouli. If you try it, the method to use bulgur is to add 3 cups boiling water to one cup bulgur in a large bowl, cover, and leave for 45 minutes. When the time was up, I still had some water that hadn’t been absorbed by the bulgur, so I strained it and proceeded as usual for the rest of the recipe. We actually eat a LOT of cous cous, so using the bulgur wheat was a nice change up.
Two words: Margarita. Cookies. You know you wanna try. Here’s the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen. I made mine mostly following the recipe, though I didn’t have an orange, so I just added in some triple sec (half a teaspoon). I’m sure it says something about me that I had triple sec but not an orange, but there you go. A friend who had tried the recipe before recommended adding a little extra lime, so I doubled the amount of lime zest and added the juice of one lime. I STILL think that wasn’t enough lime. I’m now wondering if you can get lime extract, as I really like the idea of these cookies, especially the hint of salt.
I also made my own hummus this week. I followed this recipe from The Kitchn, but added in a whole can of drained artichoke hearts in water for a bit of a flavor boost. The artichoke made for especially creamy hummus, and I’m very pleased with the results. The hardest thing about making hummus is getting my hands on tahini, but Harris Teeter stocks it in the international food aisle. Even though tahini is a little pricey, it makes several batches worth of hummus and is still a lot more cost effective than paying $5 per tub of pre-made hummus. If you’ve got a food processor, you should check it out.
I was true to my word and went back to McCrady’s with Jon this week so he too could experience the wonder of a pre-prohibition cocktail for 25 cents. We got a booth in the bar area, and when the waitress asked us what she could get us, we said “donkey.” She smiled and said she’d have those drinks right out for us. This week’s cocktail was a Ward 8, and featured whiskey, orange bitters, and grenadine. We sipped our cocktails while snacking on crispy duck rillettes with cranberry ketchup and fried housemade bread and butter pickles with ramp buttermilk dressing. Even without the super cheap drink special, McCrady’s is fast becoming one of my favorite places to have a drink in Charleston. It’s exactly dark and cozy enough that you could almost pretend you really are in a Speakeasy.
I’d been itching to check out Ted’s Butcherblock ever since I started searching for sustainable meat sources after seeing Food Inc. In addition to being a great butcher/wine/cheese shop, Ted’s has lots of sandwiches and salads and other food items. On Friday nights, they serve a $12 supper, so we decided to see what kind of food we could get for such a great price. This Friday’s supper was lemon pepper shrimp skewers with grilled eggplant and Israeli couscous with radishes and cucumbers, with an almond custard for dessert. The food was fabulous and filling. I’m going to be searching for an almond custard recipe so I can try to recreate it soon– such a rich flavor and served with this amazing honey-nut crispy thing that I can’t even describe. In addition to the super cheap dinner, Ted’s also has $5 wine tastings on Friday night. $5 got us four samples (about one glass in total) of two whites and two reds. I especially liked an Oregon Pinot Gris. We also had some fun people watching as there were two very elderly couples in the shop, cutting each others’ eggplant, snagging each others’ dessert, and holding hands, and there was another couple with a particularly adorable and chubby baby who was wearing a very cute hat and drooling all over the place. You should definitely check out Ted’s on a Friday night. I’m convinced there isn’t a better deal in town.
The Farmer’s Market is back! While we’re blessed with a crazy-long growing season, the time without the Farmer’s Market in Marion Square always seems like an eternity. Saturday was opening day, and we headed down town excitedly, with plenty of room for crepes from our favorite food stand. I went for smoked sausage, egg, and swiss with peppers and onions, and Jon got the egg veggie which features mozzarella, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms. The crepe stand’s line was three times as long as any other vendor, but they’re always worth the wait. Bring a blanket and sit under a shade tree and enjoy the people and puppy watching while you devour your crepes.
Clafouti. It sounds like an instrument you’d play in a band that also features a flugelhorn. It turns out, however, that a clafouti is a tasty dessert, one that Julia Child had a recipe for (Bon Appetit!), which I found, by way of Honest Fare (you can go there and read for yourself what Gabi’s husband thought clafouti sounds like, and also snag the recipe). When I read that it was like a cross between a custard, a cake, and a pancake, I knew I had to try it. I love custard AND cake. I made mine with fresh raspberries and blackberries and some frozen cherries. After we finished eating our first slices, Jon said, “I like clafouti.” Me too, man, me too. To paraphrase Schlotzsky’s Deli: funny name, seriously tasty dessert. You should try making one– way easy, way good. Tip: to make the homemade whipped cream extra yummy, add a little vanilla to it.
We’re still trying to eat all the food I froze during the last CSA season, so I didn’t do a whole lot of cooking this week. One recipe I did try was a hit, though. It was Real Simple’s roast salmon and peppers with caper vinaigrette. We really liked this, and I pretty much followed the recipe– the only change I made was adding some lemon juice to the vinaigrette, because I thought it needed a little bite of citrus. I’ll definitely be adding this recipe to my binder full of keepers.
eating (or should I say drinking?) out
McCrady’s is probably the most talked about restaurant in this town full of excellent restaurants. The chef, Sean Brock, was nominated for a James Beard Best Chef Southeast Award this year, and in a recent Oxford American Food Poll, many of the chefs and food writers surveyed listed Brock as a favorite and an inspiration. McCrady’s is also rather expensive– we ate dinner there because of one of my husband’s work events, but would otherwise only go there for a special occasion. But the expense of the dinners isn’t a reason to miss out on the McCrady’s experience– just head to the bar!
McCrady’s is known for its pre-Prohibition Era cocktails, which are priced reasonably, on par with most other cocktails in town. And to add even further incentives to check out their spirited offerings, they’ve been running a Prohibition style promotion on Facebook and Twitter, releasing a password to their followers and fans each week that will get them a pre-Prohibition Era cocktail for just 25-cents! Friday night, a friend and I settled ourselves at the bar, and whispered “Burma” to Ben the bartender. He smiled and whipped us up two Pegu Cocktails, a combination of Gordon’s London Dry Gin, Cointreau, Stirring’s Orange Bitters, and lime. They were delicious, and I’m not usually a gin drinker! We also checked out the menu of bar snacks. I ordered the Crispy Pork Rillettes with Cranberry Ketchup, and my friend chose Fried Green Tomatoes with Green Goddess Dressing. We loved both!
Since our first cocktails were only 25 cents, we had plenty of money left over to try another of the cocktails. My friend, who had studied abroad in England, went for a classic Pimm’s cup, and I, being a whiskey fan and a sucker for a cool name, went for one called the Blood and Sand. I mean, doesn’t that drink just sound badass?? It featured Dewar’s Scotch Whisky, Sweet Vermouth, Brandied Cherry Juice, and Blood Orange, and I enjoyed it very much. While McCrady’s might be out of my price range for regular dinner dining, the cocktails and bar snacks are very much my speed and friendly to my budget. I’ll have to take Jon back to try other things very soon!
food for thought
I originally was going to put info about a new study on the connection between consumption of high fructose corn syrup and obesity in this section, but it got so long, I made it its own post.
While we’re not currently involved in a CSA season, which fueled most of my cooking-related blogging recently, I’m still doing a lot of playing around in the kitchen. I spend a lot of time reading about food, thinking about food, making food, and eating food, and thought it might be fun to do weekly roundups of what I’ve done in the area of food each week. I think I’ll do each post on Sundays, and post them at the beginning of each new week. This week is a short one, as we were out of town for half of it.
Eating In (things I cooked):
Zucchini Bread. Immediately upon returning home from vacation, I felt the urge to get in my kitchen and make “real food.” Back during the height of the CSA season, I froze shredded zucchini in 3 cup increments to use in this recipe. If you would like to make some zucchini bread for yourself, here’s my mama’s recipe (copied straight off a handwritten piece of notebook paper, just for you):
Mix in large bowl:
2 c brown sugar
3 tsp vanilla
1 c veg. oil
To these add:
3 c shredded zucchini
3 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 T cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c chopped nuts (I tend to go with walnuts)
Pour batter into two greased and floured loaf pans and bake for 1 hour at 325.
Beer Bread. I found this recipe via Honest Fare. For any of you afraid baking bread will cost you your hopes and ambitions (sorry, I’m gonna beat that joke to death), this could really not be a simpler way to get homemade bread fast. Because it contains no yeast, there’s no waiting for it to rise. You just throw all the ingredients together, put the batter in a loaf pan, bake 35 minutes, and then you have tasty bread warm from the oven. I think my next attempt will involve less sugar and perhaps a darker beer. My first try was with a Sam Adams Winter brew, and it came out a little sweet and light for my taste, though it was still delicious. I will probably also cook it a bit longer than specified, as it was a little doughy in the middle.
Chicken Pot Pie. It was a rainy Friday, I wasn’t working, and so, rather than making like a normal person with a craving for pot pie who grabs a Marie Callenders and nukes it, I decided to really go homemade on this thing. This involved roasting an organic, free-range bird, and then following Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation of an Ina Garten recipe. After reading a few comments that were less than stellar, I jazzed mine up with the addition of some thyme, sage, and herbes de provence, and thought this was a truly flavorful, amazing dish. I wasn’t happy with the way my crust turned out, so I chucked it and decided to make it the way my mama always does: with a biscuit crust. Turns out this was rather hip of me, as Bittman wrote about biscuit-topped pot pie this week. Here’s an admission for you: I made Bisquick biscuit for the topping, not the real buttermilk kind. It’s still yummy. I’ll also note that this turned out way more filling than the 4 bowls worth SK says it makes. I filled up a large rectangular casserole and a smaller square one. (I’m not enough of a cook to be able to tell you the measurements of my dishes.)
Bushido. When Food Network’s Man vs. Food came to town, the host took on local Japanese restaurant Bushido’s Spicy Tuna Roll Challenge. You can read more about the challenge and MVF’s visit at the Charleston City Paper. Basically there are 10 levels of spicy tuna hand rolls, with level 5 being a jalapeno, and level 10 being something called the Vietnamese Ghost Pepper. If you eat all ten levels, not necessarily in one visit, you are given a special headband, you get your picture on the wall, and you get free appetizers for life. I am not one to tolerate extreme levels of spice, so I was at the restaurant to cheer on friends taking on the challenge, and to eat delicious sushi. After watching one friend consume level 8, with extreme face redness, sweating, swollen eyes, and even later, some parking lot vomiting, I can say that I am simply not up to the challenge. The sushi was delicious, though.
Sweatman’s BBQ. South Carolina is a mecca of good BBQ, and there are many choices close to my home worth checking out, including Fiery Ron’s Home Team. However, once I saw Sweatman’s featured on Anthony Bourdain’s South Carolina episode of No Reservations, I knew immediately: “I want to go to there.” (Though I have some issues with that episode, like why he hung out eating oysters and drinking champagne out of mason jars with the Twee Lee Bros. instead of going to the more authentic and local Bowen’s Island, it’s a good ep.) So we recruited friends, drove for an hour into rural SC, and sampled the wonder that is Sweatman’s. They’re only open two days a week, they don’t take cash, and they don’t cook with gas. It’s that simple. Sweatman’s does wood-fired whole hog BBQ, and they do it well. It turns out they also do banana pudding quite well too. Get there early, because otherwise, they can’t guarantee to have ribs or skins (they have several signs to this effect), and you’ll want to try both. In fact you’ll probably want to try everything. After plunking down $9.95 for the all you can eat buffet, one of my companions asked the good-ole-boy cashier what he recommends. “All’ve it,” he said. “Ya paid for all’ve it, didn’tcha?” Indeed. I’m already planning a similar trip sometime soon to Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway.
Food for Thought (worth a read):
“Ending Africa’s Hunger“, by Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez, and Annie Shattuck, in The Nation. Yeah, I just found the Nation’s food issue from last September. Still, this article hasn’t gone out of date and is worth a read if you’re concerned about global hunger. Money:
Nnimmo Bassey, director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, suggests, “If the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations wish to extend the hand of fellowship to the African continent, they should move away from strategies that favor monoculture, lead to land grabs and tie local farmers to the shop doors of biotech seed monopolies.”
So, do you like this new weekly post idea? Have any suggestions? Tried anything delicious this week? Let me know!