A Little Word on TerraVITA Food & Wine Festival [The Traveling Bite]

A Little Double Dipping, The New Bite, The Traveling Bite
"Eat. Drink. Live. Grow." The motto behind this inspirational, sustainable, local-love North Carolina Food & Wine Festival.

“Eat. Drink. Live. Grow.” The motto behind this inspirational, sustainable, local-love North Carolina Food & Wine Festival.

“The biggest part of TerraVITA,” founder and director Colleen Minton tells me, “is that we focus on being mindful.”

The extensive Food & Wine Festival, built on the foundation of the words for “earth” and “life,”  has been named one of the premier Southern food festivals, both for showcasing high-quality foods and beverages, as well as the event’s overall commitment to supporting local producers, organic and sustainable ingredients, and functioning as a zero-waste festival.

When you first walk onto the green for the TerraVITA Food & Wine Festival Grand Tasting, you are immediately handed a compostable fork and spoon. From the very beginning, Minton’s inspiration is clear.

“I want to give people a podium…to put them on a pedestal,” Minton said of chefs and producers represented at the event, many of which she personally invited to showcase their local and sustainable goods and cuisine.

Perhaps the most popular event, The Grand Tasting, featured more than 30 stations this year. While not exclusively advertised as a vegetarian tasting, or an allergen-free festival, the vast array of options for vegetarians, vegans, and people with nut and gluten allergies was extensive.

Minton personally requested that, whenever possible, chefs prepare allergen and meat-free versions of their offerings.  The importance of being able to eat delicious, healthful food despite dietary restrictions is close to her heart: her son suffers from anaphylaxis to all dairy and eggs, and only recently was cleared for nuts.

“About half of [the chefs] usually have a really strong offering that can accommodate [those] subgroups,” Minton said.

With my compostable spoon and fork in hand, I gladly dug into my first vegetarian bite at TerraVITA, after only three stations of meat-based meals where the pork could not be held, picked out, or eaten around.

A hearty farro risotto with local vegetables from Gravy Kitchen in Raleigh exemplified the connection local North Carolina chefs have with their producers.

A hearty farro risotto with local vegetables from Gravy Kitchen in Raleigh exemplified the connection local North Carolina chefs have with their producers.

Gravy, an American-Italian kitchen, was serving vegetarian farro risotto. I followed this with a taste of butternut squash and pumpkin bisque, and then a potato salad from Foster’s Market.

“We were just there this morning!” I exclaimed, recalling the carrot ginger soup I had sampled only hours before. Foster’s was serving a bacon, apple, and sweet potato salad with a cashew-butter vinaigrette and peppers from their private garden. The vegetarian version was right beside it.

Heather joined me for the tasting, and we compared notes on nuances between each station’s vegetarian and vegan option. She will always advocate for the necessity of bacon. Naturally, I reminded her how delicious the bread was whenever possible. Especially the house-baked Cheddar Poppyseed Bread from Local 22.

We were equally impressed, however, with the improvement Foster’s made to traditional Southern-style mayo-coated potato salad. The light cashew vinaigrette still provided the creaminess this acidic dish needs, without nullifying the seasonal flavors.

The Foster's Market Table: Side-by-side versions of their seasonal potato-salad. Cashew vinaigrette is a fantastic, vegan alternative to mayo.

The Foster’s Market Table: Side-by-side versions of their seasonal potato-salad. Cashew vinaigrette is a fantastic, vegan alternative to mayo.

Next came banh mi lettuce wraps with hydroponic lettuce, which were the last thing I expected to see at the Southern tasting exposition. Chef Timothy Grandinetti, of Spring House, used a Japanese spice mixture to flavor the thinly sliced tofu.

Lettuce wraps instead of rice wraps, tofu instead of pork, and fresh vegetables from the Spring House garden made this one of the lightest bites of the day.

Lettuce wraps instead of rice wraps, tofu instead of pork, and fresh vegetables from the Spring House garden made this one of the lightest bites of the day.

As Heather and I worked our way around the green, we noted how modern and inspired the small plates were. There were no chicken and waffles, only one biscuit (used as a slider with beet jelly and slaw), and the grits were made with aged Parmesan and pickled summer squash, or pumpkin, hickory nuts and sage pesto. The barbecue was pulled pork confit and osso bucco. TerraVITA clearly showcased the best of the best – the chefs working to stake a claim for North Carolina in the foodie’s canon.

With so much attention on nearby Durham, the “Tastiest Town,” and its surrounding neighbors, I couldn’t help but wonder what was changing – and so quickly!

“We have a lot of farmers that are dedicated to sustainable practices…we have clean, local food that is available so that our chefs have the opportunity to rely on a consistent source…[that’s] where Southern food is going,” Minton observed. “[Southern food] is made of ingredients that are native to a universal culture, and it’s comforting. The historic roots go far beyond our own Southern roots – and translates to a broader population.”

This couldn’t have been more strongly represented at TerraVITA, where many of the dishes had squash, apples, winter greens, and other seasonal ingredients. It was as much a tasting of early fall as it was a sample of the South.

Later, Heather and I tasted four levels of spicy relish – an award winning recipe from Green Planet Catering, that paired perfectly with sweet potato bisque (a modified vegetarian version of the soup topped with Crispy Pork Belly).

Pre-plated samples from Green Planet Catering came with crispy pork - but a separate batch of sweet potato bisque was reserved for vegetarian requests!

Pre-plated samples from Green Planet Catering came with crispy pork – but a separate batch of sweet potato bisque was reserved for vegetarian requests!

The vegetable and goat cheese terrine, from The Chef’s Academy, was one of my favorites of the day: a beautiful layering of mustard-marinated eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, bell pepper, and portobello mushroom, all wrapped delicately around a center of herbed goat cheese and grilled asparagus. I was so enamored with this dish that I asked the chefs for the recipe – and am looking forward to sharing it with you in the very near future!

I couldn't wait to chat with Paul Sottile and Mitch Samples of The Chef's Academy - and I can promise a very satisfying vegetarian recipe (with vegan modifications!) in the near future. Hats off to the fantastic students at The Chef's Academy for turning out such an elegant, sophisticated dish.

I couldn’t wait to chat with Paul Sottile and Mitch Samples of The Chef’s Academy – and I can promise a very satisfying vegetarian recipe (with vegan modifications!) in the near future. Hats off to the fantastic students at The Chef’s Academy for turning out such an elegant, sophisticated dish. 

Chef Josh Coburn, of the recently opened Local 22, served two vegetarian dishes – a Greek heirloom vegetable salad and a hearty spanikopita. Most of his produce is pulled from the restaurant owner’s personal garden, which supplies all of his restaurants.

While most people introduced their dishes with the warm twang of a Southern accent, I recognized the distinct inflection of a New Yorker at the North Carolina event – Founder of Uncouth Vermouth, Bianca Miraglia, who is brewing remarkable blends of vermouth RIGHT HERE in Brooklyn. I sampled her Pear Ginger blend, but am eager to get my hands on a bottle of Serrano Chile Lavender and Beet Eucalyptus. She might not be a Southerner, but her commitment to sustainability and transparent business practices made her fit right in with the local crowd.

Locally brewed coffee and curry roasted peanuts, bourbon caramel truffles from French Broad Chocolates, North Carolina-based hard cider and, at the very end of our grand tasting tour, samples of the unforgettable La Farm bread that had been one of North Carolina’s many lures.

Just as Heather and I were finishing our final bites, the rain – which had been pushing the thick clouds low over the green all day – finally fell. Volunteers hustled to collect all the wine glasses, and to fold up the burlap tablecloths Minton and her husband made out of coffee bags that are reused every year.

Pumpkin grits with smoked brown butter, hickory nuts, pickled apples, and sage pesto was a lovely little bite, well-served by the backdrop of Minton's own coffee-bean-bag tablecloths.

Pumpkin grits with smoked brown butter, hickory nuts, pickled apples, and sage pesto was a lovely little bite, well-served by the backdrop of Minton’s own coffee-bean-bag tablecloths.

While I only made it to the Grand Tasting, a huge part of TerraVITA – and Minton’s personal favorite – is the Sustainable Classroom. On Friday, a series of seminars, workshops, and discussions brought together some of North Carolina’s most renowned culinary and agricultural minds. One class explored the fusion of classic Southern cooking – known for its lard and made infamous by such names as Paula Dean – with sustainable practices and healthful living.

Educating guests on GMO’s, the history of Southern grains, and methods for initiating community food movements were among the weekend’s other topics.

“I believe a lot of food allergies are tied back to GMO’s…” Minton mentioned, reiterating her passion for honest food labeling, organic food, and her hope that more chefs continue to build relationships with the producers of their ingredients. “The classes are the major drivers for me – I think it’s the most interesting piece of the event.”

When TerraVITA returns in 2014 for its fifth consecutive year on the Chapel Hill Green, Minton hopes that classes will be available on both Friday and Saturday, so more people are able to attend.

She had initially asked chefs and speakers if they would be interested in leading seminars on Sunday, but she was met with resistance.

“No, that’s our family day [they told me]. And I don’t want to take that away from them.”

And, as all things usually do, our conversation returned to the very foundation of TerraVITA – the inspiration for it all.

“When you make [choices] for yourself and your family, you have to ask yourself what you want to promote.” For Minton, her energy was fueled into developing one of the South’s most renowned, forward-thinking food events – because it was the food she wanted to be able to feed her family. “You have to ask yourself…what is going to make sense for not only your family, but your neighbor’s family? Your friend’s family?”

And so, even with its modern innovations and vegetarian inspirations, the Southern table is still very much a place where the everyday family can sit around – where good food can be had by all.

The great thing about having Heather with me at the Grand Tasting was having my best friend there to share delicious, comforting food with. The worst thing? Letting her snag cheesy foodie shots of me attacking my vegan banh mi.

The great thing about having Heather with me at the Grand Tasting was having my best friend there to share delicious, comforting food with. The worst thing? Letting her snag cheesy foodie shots of me attacking my vegan banh mi.

While I returned home to the North to digest, Minton continued working on TerraVITA. In the week following, she finalized the proceeds from the live and silent auctions benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

I can’t express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to meet Minton, to experience TerraVITA, and to have had such a thorough immersion in the food and beverage of the South.

Thank you again to everyone who helped me learn a little about Southern culinary culture – because as Minton said, it’s a historical cuisine with roots that stretch deep into American soil.

As more producers and chefs embrace sustainable, organic goods, and create vegetarian, “light-on-the-lard,” allergen-free interpretations of comforting Southern classics, I have no doubt that the South’s food legacy will continue to gain popularity, and overcome its reputation as a friend-chicken-and-waffles, chicken-friend-chicken region.

Because it is so much more than that. Although, yes, you can still find that too.

Until next time,

-Melanie

A Little Word on Tasting the Tastiest Town [The Traveling Bite]

A Little Double Dipping, The New Bite, The Traveling Bite
Local Seven-Pepper Jelly, Aged Goat Cheese, and a biscuit from Rise, the famous Durham shop serving only biscuits and donuts. In some ways, everything I thought I knew about the South was right. And in some ways, the Carolinian culinary-scene is about to take the local, sustainable, restrictive-diet world by storm. (And no, I didn't eat that biscuit all by myself.)

Local Seven-Pepper Jelly, Aged Goat Cheese, and a biscuit from Rise, the famous Durham shop serving only biscuits and donuts. In some ways, everything I thought I knew about the South was right. And in some ways, the Carolinian culinary-scene is about to take the local, sustainable, restrictive-diet world by storm. (And no, I didn’t eat that biscuit all by myself.)

The South has a reputation for the best vinegar-based barbeque sauces in the country. It’s also known for grits, biscuits, hush puppies, and a variety of other foods that typically come deep-fried and butter-basted.

Last weekend, I dropped below the Mason Dixon line for the first time to visit my best friend, Heather, who recently moved to Durham, North Carolina. Fortunately, I arrived just in time for the third annual TerraVITA Food & Wine Festival. I didn’t know it when I booked my ticket, but the quick weekend jaunt to the South became an inspiring and eye-opening culinary experience that may very well have  shattered my perception of the Southern kitchen.

Maybe.

Heather’s birthday was the day I flew in, and we had scheduled a wine tasting at a local wine shop. My first taste of the South came as a generous sip of wine from Wine Authorities in Durham. The owner, Craig Heffley, has made his mark on the Research Triangle by traveling the globe to find the best undiscovered wineries. Every bottle in his modest shop was hand-selected, and represents a family-owned vineyard, many of which have never before been distributed in the US. Heffley is committed to circumventing the primary problems associated with the corporate wine industry – mainly, the domination of liquor store shelves by a few major companies, and the hundreds of additives present in the wines produced by these leading wine tycoons.

At the same time, Heffley was frustrated by the way many boutique wine shops isolated the average customer with astronomical prices and complicated jargon. From a desire to remedy these serious problems with the wine world, Heffley’s accessible, casual store and lounge was born.

We sampled five exquisite wines, all of which were hand-selected by Heffley. They represent family-run vineyards around the world who are making their US debuts.

We sampled five exquisite wines, all of which were hand-selected by Heffley. They represent family-run vineyards around the world, many of which are making their US debuts. Shoppers can try a wide selection of wines at any given time with the Wine Authorities’ Enomatic “Cellar Door” tasting bar. 

Heffley started us (me, Heather, and her boyfriend, also a Craig), with a Brut Cava he discovered on the final day of a recent trip to Spain. It’s a clean, luxe-tasting bubbly produced on Mas Codina, the estate owned by the Garriga family, and they’ve been making it like this since the 1600’s. We moved on to a pale rosé, and then a nearly-fuschia French red, when Craig encouraged us to cut into the aged local Prodigal Farms goat cheese on the bar so the fat could cut the tannin. We concluded with a dessert Moscato d’Asti Vignot that was so remarkable, I took a bottle back to Heather’s.

The commitment to local goods and producers quickly became the theme of the weekend, and the saving grace to the meat-focused meals and hearty fare I repeatedly encountered.

For dinner, we enjoyed Spanish-style tapas with Southern flair at a favorite local haunt, Mateo. Both cuisines are extremely meat-oriented, and the menu at Mateo reflected the joint passion for pork.

The first round of pinchos was entirely vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free. It was a light start to an indulgent meal.

The first round of pinchos was entirely vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free. It was a light start to an indulgent meal, and the Crispy Moorish Chickpeas are one of my top recommendations.

This, of course, was a perfect place to celebrate Heather’s birthday: she practices a grain-free lifestyle, and primarily eats proteins and vegetables. We were started with a selection of smoked barbeque marcona almonds, Spanish olives, and Moorish-spiced crispy garbanzo beans. Each pincho was perfectly flavored to enhance the natural qualities of the focal ingredient. After that, however, the selection of vegetarian dishes was limited.

At one moment in the evening, our table was covered with plates of barbeque pulled pork sliders with piquillo cheese, pepper-jelly spare ribs, paper-thin jamon, and more. I sampled the cheese-stuffed date, but stuck primarily to my personal order: roasted beets and watermelon asada and the chared local vegetables – a plate with enormous wedges of squash, roasted peppers, and an earthy eggplant puree.

The Escalavida is my top recommended plate for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone looking to dine lightly at Mateo. It was one of the few meat and dairy-free dishes, and the vegetables had a wonderful charred flavor.

The Escalavida is my top recommended plate for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone looking to dine lightly at Mateo. It was one of the few meat and dairy-free dishes, and the vegetables had a wonderful charred flavor.

Mateo’s chef/owner Matt Kelly clearly has a vision for the future of Southern cuisine. The menu is smart – the local North Carolinian ingredients are acknowledged throughout the dishes in a refined and modest style. From the evening’s local crispy okra special to the Ensalada Verde with North Carolina peaches, or the Brinkley Farm Snap Pea, and even the Smithfield mangalista ham, there’s no doubt that the fare is fresh and truly of the Carolinas – even with all the mojo verdes and chorizo butter you can slather onto a slice of local baked bread.

Digesting could have taken the entire weekend, but we still concluded the night with so that we could celebrate with a glass of the Wine Authorities exclusive when we returned home.

First thing in the morning, our stomachs still full, Heather and I braved our pre-determined tasting trail. We grabbed coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon, a highly-recommended coffee shop that hand-grinds all of their beans, and creates unforgettable natural flavors from inside a converted garage.

My Iced Middle Eastern Coffee was slow-brewed with rose, cardamom, and vanilla bean. The incredibly aromatic coffee was a shock to my taste buds. There was no added sugar, no artificial flavorings, and no dairy. Yet the beverage was naturally sweet and highly floral – a true treat, and a far cry from Southern sweet tea.

With our brews in hand, we made haste to Foster’s Market. This shop serves Durham as a distributor of specialty goods, a coffee shop, a partial-service restaurant, and is home to award-winning private-label Seven Pepper Jelly.

Despite the TerraVITA Grand Tasting on the Green being only hours away, Heather insisted this was one of her personal favorite eateries, and not-to-be-missed.

I estimate this small cup of dairy-free soup was no more than 100 calories. The coconut flavor was mild, but added sweetness to the bright heat of the ginger.

I estimate this small cup of dairy-free soup was no more than 100 calories. The coconut flavor was mild, but added sweetness to the bright heat of the ginger.

I ordered a vegan Carrot Ginger Soup (made with a splash of coconut milk and a generous helping of green onion) and Heather took their signature breakfast. On the way out, I snagged a sample of Rain Holloway’s “BrittleBits” hand-baked peanut brittle.

Neither Heather nor I worried about making room for the almost 40 chefs and producers presenting at TerraVITA. By the time we arrived in Chapel Hill, our stomachs were empty and ready to go.

Because this was, after all, a grand tasting, I’m saving TerraVITA for a post of its own. How else can I do justice to the extensive range of fall-inspired bisques, the innovative takes on classic grits, the vegetarian terrines and banh mi, and of course, the local Carolina spirits and cider?

After TerraVITA, Heather and I retired for the evening, to dig through our bounty (a few pocketed truffles and a gift bag full of magazines, coffee beans, and local North Carolina Burt’s Bees.)

It wasn’t until the following morning that we resumed our three-day feast. At La Farm Bakery in Cary, Heather, Craig and myself met famed baker and first-time author Lionel Vatinet. I first had the pleasure of meeting Lionel back in New York, in the Food & Wine / Travel + Leisure magazine lobby. There, surrounded by bags and bags of fresh-baked bread, flown in that morning from Cary, was Lionel. That afternoon, the entire office took tears of White Chocolate Baguettes to their desk, tossed sad packaged lunches for slices of North Carolina whole wheat, hand-rolled baguettes, and bite of the enormous wheel of sourdough that was a carb-pocalypse in it of itself.

Naturally, the first thing I did when I booked my flight to Durham was tell Heather we were having brunch at La Farm.

Heather, I’m sorry to say, picked a very bad time to stop eating wheat.

As always, share your breakfast potatoes, hold the hollandaise, and eat only half of whatever bread you're served to make sure you don't overdo it at brunch. Asking for extra fruit is an easy way to take the edge off the tempting mini scone.

As always, share your breakfast potatoes, hold the hollandaise, and eat only half of whatever bread you’re served to make sure you don’t overdo it at brunch. Asking for extra fruit is an easy way to take the edge off the tempting mini scone.

For myself, I enjoyed a healthy, vegetarian breakfast of poached eggs on English muffin-style bread, with asparagus, spinach, and fresh-cut chives. I kept the hollandaise on the side as a final gesture of calorie and health-conscious eating. But the breakfast potatoes were too good no to try, as was the miniature cinnamon and white chocolate scone.

Fortunately, Craig was a happy recipient of our cherished leftovers. Because even on vacation – even in the South – sometimes the scone is just too much.

Nevertheless, I still found myself with an entire White Chocolate Baguette in my carry-on, which I have frozen in my freezer for a day when a slice of light, whole wheat, 35-calorie toast just won’t cut it. It may not be vegan, and it’s most certainly not gluten-free, but it was baked with Vatinet’s intense respect for ingredient-driven breads.

During my stay, I was amazed to see how accommodating all the chefs and bakers, sommeliers and baristas were. My impression of Southern-style food has always been that of a heavy, comfort-food cuisine rooted in traditions which are not meant to be modified, broken, or ignored.

But at every place I ate, while there was no shortage of meat, I was never for want of delicious, local vegetables, hand-prepared goods, and a little more soul than I’m used to seeing in my food. Southern Living recently named Durham the Tastiest Town in the South – and I can see why. What’s more, the Research Triangle is a modern, quickly developing region on everyone’s radar. It’s modern, multi-cultural, and all of that is clearly reflected in the presence of thoughtful events such as TerraVITA, the rapidly increasing vegetarian and vegan options, and the proud commitment to whole, good foods.

Until tomorrow, when I take a giant bite out of the Third Annual TerraVITA Grand Tasting.

Melanie

Where To Bite Mushrooms [New York, New York]

A Little Double Dipping, Where to Bite
A bowl of Sauteed Portobello Mushrooms from Tapeo in Boston demonstrates how even the most simple mushroom dishes can be earthy, savory sensations.

A bowl of Sauteed Portobello Mushrooms from Tapeo in Boston demonstrates how even the most simple mushroom dishes can be earthy, savory sensations.

For me, there is almost nothing more sensational than a well-prepared mushroom. Pureed into a creamy soup or pate, grilled like a burger, roasted until crispy, or straight up raw and dipped in hummus – I have yet to meet a mushroom I didn’t like. These earthy, hearty growths have a long, rich culinary history. From the prized morel to the humble button mushroom, no other fungus (that I can think of, anyway) has been so celebrated.

From a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are a knockout. They’re dense and filling, yet extremely low in calories. They are low in sodium, cholesterol free, fat free, and packed with potassium, niacin, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B. Best of all, the profoundly rich umami flavor makes them intensely more satisfying than other competing vegetables (although mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables). Sure, eating an entire bowl of lettuce will fill you up, and sure, you won’t be packing in any extra calories or fat, but does a head of romaine really satisfy the palate, and the stomach, the way a bowl of grilled mushrooms does?

No. The answer is no.

Since moving to New York, three restaurants in particular have impressed me with their mushroom masterpieces. So much so, I couldn’t pick just one to write about, or just one dish to recommend. Here’s my round-up of the best spots in New York to order up this mouth-watering morsel.

Saxon + Parole 

316 Bowery, New York, NY [NoHo]

Truffle Oil Burrata with Shaved Truffles - $$$

Truffle Oil Burrata with Shaved Truffles – $$$

Truth be told, my first bite from this restaurant was actually on the rooftop of the JetBlue headquarters in Long Island City. They were serving up Mushroom Pate with pickled mushrooms and whiskey jelly on their housemade sourdough bread. It was unseasonably warm, beautiful, and I was enjoying an early taste of what the JetBlue Mint Experience would be offering on their tapas-style menu. Chef Brad Farmerie, of Saxon + Parole, has been largely responsible for designing this upscale, in-flight menu. And so, after dipping into the pot for seconds, I immediately made a reservation to try his restaurant.

Truffled Portobello Mushroom Mousse with PAROLE Whiskey Jelly and Pickled Mushrooms - $12 (Pictured Above is the Sample from JetBlue - Not nearly the size of the "pot" meant for sharing on the menu)

Truffled Portobello Mushroom Mousse with PAROLE Whiskey Jelly and Pickled Mushrooms – $12 (Above is the JetBlue Sample – Not nearly the size of the “Pot” meant for sharing)

On Friday night, Saxon + Parole was offering a special appetizer: a housemade burrata with truffles and truffle oil. The dish came with the added treat of tableside presentation. Our waiter came with a truffle, one of the most-prized of all fungi, and a truffle shaver. For audience participation, we simply told him when to stop.

A Little Note: Under no other circumstance could I have included this dish as as LWB-recommendation. It wasn’t vegan, it wasn’t gluten-free, and it certainly wasn’t low-fat, low-cal, or light. But honestly, when you’re sharing an appetizer with four of your most voracious family members, and there is a ball of cheese covered in coveted truffle shavings and truffle oil, how can you say no? You can’t. And you should not.

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms, Corn, and Parmesan - $8

Polenta with Wild Mushrooms, Corn, and Parmesan – $8

In addition to the pot of mushroom pate I had first sampled at the JetBlue Mint event, my family and I also ordered a side of the creamy polenta, which came in a rustic, cast-iron pot and was filled through with wild mushrooms and corn.

Petrarca Cucina E Vino

34 White St., New York, NY [TriBeCa]

Scrambled Egg Whites with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Zucchini - $14.50

Scrambled Egg Whites with Portobello Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Zucchini – $14.50

The following day, my parents and I met in TriBeCa for lunch, and the mushroom-madness continued.

It should come as no surprise that I’m a pretty tremendous fan of mushroom soup. And yet I can’t recall having ever in my life ordered a bowl or purchased a can. Instead, I’ve reserved myself to stealing bites from my unfortunate dining-companions.

Cream of mushroom soup has more or less taken one of nature’s most unique, earthy flavors – one of the most naturally healthy, low-calorie substances – and covered it with cream and butter until it is almost unrecognizable.

That’s why when my father ordered Petrarca‘s Zuppa Del Giorno, a mushroom soup, I was skeptical. But when the large, shallow bowl arrived at the table, it was all I could do to keep from eating the entire dish. Unlike any mushroom soup I have ever seen before, this one was made with a clear broth, and was thick with large slices of mushrooms – porcini, cremini, and white (to name a few). After chatting with our waiter, coincidentally the son of Petrarca‘s chef-owner, we confirmed that the soup was entirely cream-free. Mushroom soup the way it should be.

Zuppa Del Giorno - $9.00

Zuppa Del Giorno – $9.00

For myself, I ordered an egg-white scramble with zucchini, onion, and mushroom. The dish was perfectly prepared, and the sweetness of the onion and zucchini was just the right balance to the earthy mushrooms. Already full on my father’s soup, I was thrilled to take half of the large entree home for breakfast the following morning.

31 Cornelia St., New York, NY [West Village]

 

Grilled Portobello with Arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano - $13

Grilled Portobello Insalata with Arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano – $13

In general, I avoid returning to the same restaurant more than once, because it’s not as if New York City has any shortage of places to dine.

And yet after only living here for just over three months, I have already returned to Pó twice. On both occasions, I ordered the Grilled Portobello Insalata. This dish gives you two thick, grilled portobello mushroom caps on a bed of arugula with shaved parmesan.  And because one mushroom cap has approximately 30 calories, there’s no reason not to eat both if your appetite is large enough (even grilled with butter or oil, this dish is still incredibly light for a main course.)

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a number of mushroom-centric dishes in New York. At The Coffee Shop, a Brazilian diner in Union Square, the kitchen transformed their portobello sandwich special, with bell pepper and onions, into a salad not unlike the one I love from Pó. 

Coffee Shop Taco of the Day - $$

Coffee Shop Taco of the Day – $$

My friend and I also split their taco special, with portobello and enoki mushrooms, caramelized onions, and zucchini. Yet because neither of these are consistently available, and because both had much less-healthy preparations than the previously mentioned dishes (think, a little-too-greasy and a little-too-much-queso-blanca) The Coffee Shop just didn’t make the mushroom-mark.

Finally, I’d like to note three Boston mushroom dishes that have not yet met a NY match. The Crispy Wild Mushroom side dish from Deuxave was worth every dollar (all thirteen) and has lingered with me since I first wrote about Deuxave a little over a year ago.

Crispy Wild Mushrooms - $13

Crispy Wild Mushrooms – $13

The Seasonal Mushroom Timbale with fontina and baby spinach, from my old neighborhood favorite, Bricco Ristorante, is still the most beautifully-plated mushroom meal I have seen to date.

Seasonal Funghi Timbale with Organic Baby Spinach and Imported Fontina - $14

Seasonal Funghi Timbale with Organic Baby Spinach and Imported Fontina – $14

And finally, the Setas Al Ajillo, (pictured at top) or Sauteed Portobello Mushroom tapas from Tapeo, also a past LWB feature, is everything a mushroom should be. A straight up, giant bowl of honest-to-mushroom-goodness.

Because I clearly can’t contain my mushroom madness, this week, LWB gets a bonus post. It’s been a little too long since a double dip, don’t you think? Check back soon for my healthy interpretation of one of these spectacular “champignons” of the mushroom.

Until then,

Melanie

Vegan Eggplant Fake-Un [CYOB]

Create Your Own Bite
Crispy, smoky, a little salty and a little sweet, thinly sliced and dried eggplant is the vegan answer to America's bacon addiction.

Crispy, smoky, a little salty and a little sweet, thinly sliced and dried eggplant is the vegan answer to America’s bacon addiction.

Create Your Own Bite #28

1 Large Eggplant

2 Tablespoons Maple Grove Farms Sugar-Free Maple Syrup

2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Low-Sodium Soy Sauce

2 Teaspoons Olive or Canola Oil

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Water

1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika

1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Estimated Calories: 50 Per Serving (Makes 4 Servings)

Since I first launched Little Word Bites, I have been slowly building the “test kitchen,” which my roommate jokingly calls my palace, with the generous help of friends and family. For Christmas, my cousin got me a screen-printed Little Word Bites apron, and my mother got me a new white plate set (that photographs much better than red and yellow plates).  My best friend donated a lovely set of mason jars and decorative serving dishes, and my father has treated me to a series of wonderful, extremely dangerous kitchen tools.

Last year, he gave me my first adult knife set, which I hadn’t had for more than ten minutes before I nearly took off the tip of my finger while mincing onions.

When I moved to Brooklyn, his house warming gift was a high-speed food processor, and to congratulate me on my job with Travel + Leisure, he took me to Williams & Sonoma to help me realize my dream of mandolin-sliced squash pastas and french-fry cut zucchini.

My first attempt at the mandolin was Eggplant Fake-Un – inspired by a delicious “Storybook Salad” from one of my favorite vegan bloggers, Nom Yourself. (Who has a cookbook coming out at the end of the month that I can’t wait to get my hands on). It seemed like a fun, delicious way to try out my new OXO mandolin.

My interpretation of the Nom Yourself Storybook Salad, with avocado and fresh torn romaine lettuce.

My interpretation of the Nom Yourself Storybook Salad, with avocado, eggplant “bacon” and fresh torn romaine lettuce.

Eggplant Fake-Un is the vegan answer to cured pork belly bacon, and the raw answer to Morningstar Bacon Strips.

A Little Note: My recipe is not raw. Smoked paprika isn’t raw, and my oven won’t cook lower than 175 degrees. Also not raw. However, if you have a dehydrator, you can hold the paprika and prepare this dish raw with very few recipe revisions! Check out The Vedge for her version of this recipe, and tips for using a dehydrator to achieve eggplant-bacon-perfection.

To start, prepare your marinade. Whisk together all ingredients, except the eggplant, in a large, shallow bowl.  Feel free to experiment with flavors and seasonings. Some people prefer using cumin, rather than cayenne, and some versions of this dish call for a pinch of black pepper. Tamari is a great substitute for soy, if you have that on hand.

Next, quarter your eggplant, and slide the sections through the mandolin making thin, 1/4-thick slices. (This sounds too thick, but as the moisture in the eggplant evaporates you will end up with paper thin slices, and you don’t want your “bacon” to burn!)

A Little Note: Some people prefer to cut off the eggplant’s rubbery skin, but I found it added to the “bacon” appearance of the eggplant once cooked. It contributes to the quintessential marble-effect we’ve all come to equate with America’s favorite pork product.

As I’m sure you all know, mandolins are extremely sharp. The most sharp. The sharpest. And even when they come with a hand guard, like the OXO, it can still be a tricky and dangerous device. Go slow, be careful, and do NOT rush the slicing process. In typical LWB fashion, I was futzing with the hand guard when my eggplant got stuck in the blade. While trying to remove it, I nicked my finger.

While I know you, my lovely readers, are much less clumsy than I, I still encourage you to be very alert when using a mandolin. It’s a miracle that I haven’t lost any fingers since launching LWB, but I have the burn marks and various blade-scars to prove that the pursuit of the culinary arts is truly a practice, not perfection. 

Using a mandolin to prepare uniform, thin slices of eggplant. An electric vegetable slicer will work too, or a good old-fashion chef's knife.

Using a mandolin to prepare uniform, thin slices of eggplant. An electric vegetable slicer will work too, or a good old-fashion chef’s knife.

Once you’ve safely prepared your eggplant, lay the slices on a greased or sprayed pan, and pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Brush the marinade onto each slice, and then turn, repeating on the other side. If you can prepare this dish ahead of time, I prefer to let the eggplant sit in the marinade overnight.  Simply brush the marinade on each individual slice and then store them in the fridge in a tupperware with the remaining marinade drizzled over the top, so that the flavors and color are deeply absorbed by the eggplant.

While many people prefer making "bacon" out of zucchini or squash, the eggplant makes the best aesthetic bacon around. Especially if you leave the skin on!

While many people prefer making “bacon” out of zucchini or squash, the eggplant makes the best aesthetic bacon around. Especially if you leave the skin on!

When each piece has been generously coated, you can still distribute the remaining marinade over the eggplant slices in the pan. Cook for an hour, and then turn the oven off and open the door. (This dish is ideal for cool fall nights, and not-so-good for sweltering, humid summer evenings – which is why I was thrilled to share it with you today, on the FIRST OF FALL). When the stove has cooled completely, repeat this process.

Each oven is different, and it’s here that you’ll need to figure out what works best for you and your culinary castle. After two hours in the oven and two, half-hour cooling periods, my Eggplant Fake-Un was crispy and complete!

This dish is extremely versatile. Serve the strips with a Fat Free Spinach and Kale dip as an entertaining appetizer, or chop it up for “Fake-Un Bits.”

I turned mine into a deconstructed BLT salad, with an avocado sauce drizzle. For a filling lunch-to-go, put a tablespoon or two of guacamole into a half of a Trader Joe’s Pocketfull of Fiber Wheat Pita (only 55 calories in half a pita and five fabulous grams of fiber) and add romaine, sliced cherry tomatoes, and strips of Eggplant Fake-Un. Add a kick by finishing your pita pocket with a drizzle of smoked barbecue sauce.

My vegan, healthy, high-fiber "BE-L-T." This Bacon-Eggplant Lettuce Tomato Pita Pocket is a great option for lunch or a light dinner.

My vegan, healthy, high-fiber “BE-L-T.” This Bacon-Eggplant Lettuce Tomato Pita Pocket is a great option for lunch or a light dinner.

Serve it with a soft poached egg for breakfast, or use it as a vegan alternative to a Prosciutto Caprese Salad, like the one I had for lunch.

Fresh basil leaves, thick-sliced heirloom tomato, melted cheddar and Fake-Un is a fun flavor rift on the classic Italian app.

Fresh basil leaves, thick-sliced heirloom tomato, melted cheddar and Fake-Un is a fun flavor rift on the classic Italian app. A Little Note: This is clearly the un-vegan use for bacon. Woops .

With the recipe for Eggplant Fake-Un in your recipe arsenal, you’ll always have a filling, healthy answer to that peculiar craving that can sometimes surface when you walk into a restaurant at brunch, and the undeniable smell of smoky bacon of stirs a desire for a chewy, salty, satisfying bite.

Until next time,

Melanie

Where To Bite Raw – [Manhattan, NY]

Where to Bite
Elegant plating design, raw fresh ingredients, and a seasonally-inspired menu make this upscale vegan restaurant a popular spot for veggies and carnivores alike.

Elegant plating design, raw fresh ingredients, and a seasonally-inspired menu make this upscale vegan restaurant a popular spot for veggies and carnivores alike.

What I’d heard about Pure Food and Wine is that they had a no-noodle lasagna on the menu.  You know how much I love zucchini-noodle pastas and lasagna dishes, and on that premise alone, I joined a friend for dinner there when I first moved to the city.

It’s not just a vegan restaurant, and it’s not just allergen-friendly. Pure Food and Wine goes all the way, in just about every way possible. They’re known as New York’s first upscale vegan and raw restaurant, and there’s only one dish on the menu that isn’t gluten-free. Many menu items have nut-free variations, and there is no trace of tofu, tempeh, or seitan on the menu, because every dish is unprocessed, prepared at 118 degrees or less to preserve essential enzymes, and completely high-end.

I didn’t even order the Zucchini and Tomato Heirloom Lasagna when I dined at Pure Food and Wine. No, despite the temptation of a basil pistachio pesto, I was too overwhelmed by the extensive menu of innovative, plant-based dishes with ingredients and preparations I’d never even dreamed of.

http://oneluckyduck.com/pages/pure-food-and-wine

Recommended Dishes: It wasn’t placed in front of me,  but the Zucchini Lasagna was beautiful. And delicious. It’s my friend Sirma’s entree of choice at Pure Food and Wine, and it with her company that I first tried the restaurant. I opted for the Portobello Mushroom dish. Two thick caps, marinated in barbecue sauce and filled with kale chimichurri and peach salsa. WIth a side of cauliflower horseradish aioli and green beens, my meal was a vibrant play on a Mexican-inspired burger and the crunchy green beans were a healthy substitute to the steak fry.

You won't find this summer special on the menu anymore. For a light appetizer, try their Tuscan Kale Salad with Shaved Fennel and Orange, also nut-free, or their Asian-flavored Papaya Salad with tomatoes, carrots, corn, and sesame-salted peanuts, dressed with lime and ginger.

You won’t find this summer special on the menu anymore. For a light appetizer, try their Tuscan Kale Salad with Shaved Fennel and Orange, also nut-free, or their Asian-flavored Papaya Salad with tomatoes, carrots, corn, and sesame-salted peanuts, dressed with lime and ginger.

The Not-So-Good-Bite: No mater how raw or organic your ingredients are, an oily dish does not a healthy little bite make. While my entree was delicious, I found the mushroom caps and green beans to be too oily for my preference. I much preferred the freshness maintained in my salad, which was a plate of whole romaine leaves with grapefruit and crisped onions strings, on a thin avocado puree with lavender blossoms.

The Good Bite: If you splurge on the most expensive entree, it will only cost you $26 – more than reasonable by NYC standards. While the appetizers are expensive by comparison (typically between $15 and $19, almost as much as the most inexpensive entrees) the menu, more or less, is well-priced given the quality and portion of each dish.

In comparison to the lasagna and salad, you can see the heavier preparation of this dish. But at only $23, it was a hearty and flavorful entree, that even survived in a to-go container to star as the following day's lunch.

In comparison to the lasagna and salad, it’s evident that this dish has a more oily preparation. But at only $23, it was a hearty and flavorful entree, that was split and half and survived in a to-go container to star as the following day’s lunch. So really, let’s call it $11.50, shall we?

The Best Bite: Aside from boasting their ambitious raw, vegan, gluten-free menu, Pure Food and Wine also proudly describes themselves as a fine dining establishment. I’m happy to say that here, they hit the mark perfectly. Executing such a specialized, ingredient and ecology-conscious menu is a feat in it of itself. But the contemporary, modern interior with its sleek exposed wood finishes and candlelit bar – and the famed back garden – makes the experience above and beyond. In the Big Apple, it’s not hard to find raw ingredients and juice bars, or a vegetarian meal to eat on the fly. But to find those foods elegantly plated in a high-end restaurant is a rarity, and the one most worth celebrating.

I don’t just love food – I love healthy, good-for-you-food, and I love dining out. While I have been merrily making my way through all the raw salad bar options New York has to offer, it’s always a treat to dine out with a friend and enjoy a true, upscale restaurant experience, without overspending or over-indulging. When I first said goodbye to meat nearly 8 years ago, I felt like I was waving away all chances to eat out at a classy, sophisticated restaurant (think Morton’s Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, etc). But Pure Food and WIne is resurrecting the restaurant experience for those who appreciate a different type of food on their plates. No steak knife required.

Until next time,

Melanie

Squash Blossoms Three Ways – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite
We all love summer for its delicious variety of squashes. But with these hearty vegetables comes a very delicate, very beautiful edible flower that I can't get enough of. It's time to transform these brilliant buds into something better than a plated garnish.

We all love summer for its delicious variety of squashes. But with these hearty vegetables comes a very delicate, very beautiful edible flower that I can’t get enough of. It’s time to transform these brilliant buds into something better than a plated garnish.

I haven’t gone a week since moving to New York without stumbling upon a farmer’s market. They appear on every free street corner, erect their tents on open plazas, or emerge between building walls in wide alleys. This past week, I ventured to Union Square to try a new pilates class, and happened upon one of the less obscure of these outdoor markets.

While I was tempted by housemade apricot chutney and a vine of heirloom tomatoes (as if I hadn’t had my fill from the other week) I only had three meager dollars in my purse.

Fortunately, as I perused the stands, I happened upon a beautiful display of squash blossoms, on sale for only $3 a carton.

“I don’t really know how to pick a good squash blossom,” I admitted to the owner.

He regarded the produce on display, and then grabbed two cartons, slipping both inside a plastic bag.

“Take two,” he said. “That way you’ll get more than enough good ones.”

For $3, I walked away with two heaping cartons of squash blossoms. This is the story of how my weeklong epicurean exploration of cooking with squash blossoms began.

My experience with squash blossoms, until this week, has been mixed. I’ve ordered them on a number occasions – even returned time and time again to an Italian bistro in my old neighborhood that touted them on the menu but had always run out by the time I arrived.

After three tries, I finally finagled a plate of deep fried squash blossoms. And I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed.

They appeared before me deeply fried, and filled entirely with ricotta. The thin petals had completely disintegrated within the batter, and the cheese overwhelmed the very subtle sweetness of the blossoms.

Yet the best squash blossoms I’ve ever had were at Candle 79 (remember this beautiful plate?), stuffed full with broccoli, cauliflower, corn, sprouts, and a vegan cashew cheese.

Read more about this dish, and the fantastic vegan restaurant Candle 79 that serves it, here:

Read more about this dish, and the fantastic vegan restaurant Candle 79 that serves it, here.

A Little Fact: Zucchini flowers aren’t known for being a superfood, by any means. An entire cup has only 5 calories, and little else in the way of sustenance. They are, however, very high in Vitamin C (indicated in the vibrant yellows and oranges in the petals) and contain impressive levels of calcium, iron, and Vitamin A, too.

In the hopes of achieving a healthy, light version of the deep-fried flower fritters, my first attempt with squash blossoms was a baked version, filled with a mixture of spaghetti squash, diced oven-dried plum tomatoes (seeded and roasted for 20 minutes at 450), fresh basil leaves, and light mozzarella. Two tablespoons of each, mashed together, makes about half a cup of filling. I divided the filling between 6 squash blossoms, filling each up until the point the petals split from the stamen and fan out.

A quick, small drizzle of olive oil and a few cracks of sea salt later, and the zucchini flowers were ready to bake. I let mine go for 15 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees.

Your Stuffed Squash Blossoms are ready once the mixture inside is melted, and the petals have become crispy. I plated mine with some fresh grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

This low-calorie, baked version of the popular fried squash blossom retains satisfying contrast of crisp petals with a creamy, cheesy stuffing.

This low-calorie, baked version of the popular fried squash blossom retains satisfying contrast of crisp petals with a creamy, cheesy stuffing.

A Little Tip: Squash blossoms are extremely perishable. Don’t buy them on Sunday planning to serve a platter of stuffed flowers for a dinner party at the end of the week. The flowers wilt extremely quickly, and the mild squash flavor will quickly become more reminiscent of cardboard produce carton.

I had so many squash blossoms the inside of my fridge looked like a flower garden. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat them all right away, and so I planned my next squash blossom meals in order to accommodate the wilting buds.

For the second dish, I switched over to breakfast, creating a personal-sized Squash Blossom and Feta Frittata.

To start, I sauteed a quarter of a sweet yellow onion with a clove of pressed garlic until the onion became translucent and the garlic began to brown. To the pan, I added the zucchini blossoms, about 6, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions begin to caramelize, and the squash blossoms become soft (this is particularly pertinent to the tough membrane where the flower connects to the stem).

In a separate bowl, I beat three tablespoons of egg beaters together with a tablespoon of fresh thyme and parsley. Using a heat-proof ring mold (the type designed for this brand of egg adventure), I poured half the egg mixture into the pan, allowing it to firm up around the edges of the mold. I added in half the onions and squash blossoms, a tablespoon of fat-free feta cheese, and topped off with the remaining egg mixture, squash blossoms, onion, and an additional tablespoon of crumbled feta cheese.  I topped mine with two raw squash blossoms.

Cover the pan, and let cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the egg mixture is firm. It should begin to rise out of the mold.  Using a knife, release the frittata from the mold and flip, cooking until the top side has brown and the frittata is cooked through.

Serve with a fresh arugula salad, dressed with lemon juice and fresh cracked pepper. If you, too, find yourself with an over-abundance of squash blossoms, tear up a few flowers and mix into your arugula salad. Their mild, vegetable-flavor is a great complement to the peppery arugula.

Start your morning with a more elegant egg dish than you'd typically find at your corner diner. It's a refreshing balance of flavors, and a hearty way to kick off the week.

Start your morning with a more elegant egg dish than you’d typically find at your corner diner. It’s a refreshing balance of flavors, and a hearty way to kick off the week.

A Little Warning: No matter how you decide to prepare your squash blossoms, this delicate flower requires a few special preparatory steps. To get your squash blossoms ready for baking, frying, sautéing, edible garnishing – you name it – after quickly rinsing the flowers, pat them dry and check for bugs. This is important, because chances are, you will find bugs in your freshly harvested squash blossoms.

If I survived this step, you too can move on to removing the stamen. Brush off any loose pollen, and your blossoms are ready to eat.

For my final squash blossom feast, I returned to a more traditional method of preparation. Squash blossoms are not uncommon in Mexican cuisine, and I recently tried one at Agave, a fantastic Mexican restaurant in the West Village that is serving up a single golden floret, lightly fried in a miniature flour taco taco with cabbage, roasted tomato, tres queso, and piquillo peppers, as a happy hour bar snack.

Inspired, I decided to create a vegan version of the dish.

Using about a half cup of cauliflower, I pureed the florets with a clove of garlic, a pinch of cumin, and a dash of chili powder. I cooked the mixture for about 5 minutes, or until the mix was smooth and spreadable. This was a recipe made on the fly; to make the “queso” more creamy and flavorful, try adding a few drops of olive oil, a few white beans, and a splash of hot sauce.

While toasting a Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Reduced-Carb tortilla in one pan, I sauteed a quarter cup of diced yellow onion in another, adding in the squash blossoms and a handful of arugula. Using this as your base, kick up the heat with half a diced, jalapeno pepper, or sweeten things up with two tablespoons of fresh corn kernels and two tablespoons of diced sun-dried tomato.

To prepare your Agave-inspired taco, simply spread your vegan queso onto the toasted tortilla, and pile in your filling. I like to top mine with another handful of fresh, uncooked arugula and a few tablespoons of my favorite salsa.

So maybe mine looked a little more like a burrito than a taco. But this base of onions, zucchini flower, and garlicky cauliflower queso is the perfect start to any Mexican dish. Simply enhance with your favorite festive ingredients and enjoy.

So maybe mine looked a little more like a burrito than a taco. But this base of onions, zucchini flower, and garlicky cauliflower queso is the perfect start to any Mexican dish. Simply enhance with your favorite festive ingredients and enjoy.

All of these recipes are easy to make, tally in at at 150 calories or less, and highlight the delicate, summery flavor of our vegetable gardens’ favorite flower.

Until next time,

Melanie

 

 

Cauliflower Crust Pizzette with Heirloom Tomatoes [CYOB]

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite
With thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and a light Greek yogurt topping, this cauliflower crust pizza is healthy, flavorful, and the perfect bite for a summer night.

With thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and a light Greek yogurt topping, this cauliflower crust pizza is healthy, flavorful, and the perfect bite for a summer night.

Create Your Own Bite #27

 For Crust (Serves 2)

1 Cup Cauliflower Rice

1 Cup Light Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded

1 Large Egg, Beaten

1 Teaspoons Dried Oregano

2 Cloves Garlic, Minced

1/2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder

Salt and Cracked Black Pepper, To Taste

For Toppings (Serves 2)

1-2 Tablespoons Non-Fat Greek Yogurt, Plain

Assortment of Heirloom Tomatoes, Approximately 1 Pound

Fresh Picked Basil, Torn

1/2 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Estimated Calories: 150 For Crust, 200 With Toppings, Per Serving. (Serves 2)

Is there anything cauliflower can’t do?

That’s the first thing I asked myself when I saw the recipe for thin-crust pizza dough made out of riced-cauliflower.

No, I’ve decided. There’s nothing cauliflower can’t do.

The inspiration for this dish came from a number of unexpected places: my first taste of flammekeuche with my friends from France at La Tarte Flambée.  This Alsatian restaurant in the Upper East Side specializes in flammekeuche, and my friends were not going to let me live another day without trying this traditional flatbread.

A vegetarian "flammy,"  the Provencale, topped with creme fraiche, basil, and tomato - the inspiration behind my Cauliflower Crust Pizzette.

A vegetarian “flammy,” the Provencale, topped with creme fraiche, basil, and tomato – the inspiration behind my Cauliflower Crust Pizzette.

Paper-thin like a crepe and exceptionally crispy, the traditional flammekeuche is topped with crème fraiche, thinly sliced white onion, and lardoons – a French-style Bacon.  Of course, the varieties are endless, and I flexed my high-school French by ordering a Biquette Flammekeuche, “sans jambon, s’il vous plait.” Even without the bacon, the crumbled goat cheese and drizzle of flower honey was one of my favorite samples of the night.

While I spent the next few weeks digesting, I started investigating how I could achieve that delicious balance of flavor from the creamy-tart crème fraiche and the wood-fired tarte, without delving into the dangerous realm of pizza.

Meanwhile, I was on my way to the gym (naturally), and passed by the farmer’s market at Borough Hall in Brooklyn, where I was lured in to a tasting of heirloom tomatoes. Never had I seen such a large assortment of brilliant, colorful, peculiarly shaped tomatoes.

I tried thick wedges of a variety that looked like a single flame, known as an Orange Russian, fuchsia Brandywine tomatoes, Black Pineapple tomatoes, and something so pale yellow and sweet I nearly thought the juice dripping down my chin was that of a white peach.

I grabbed an assortment and spent my entire hill program on the elliptical contemplating how best to use my bounty.

This weekend, I had the luxury – truly – of watching my cousin’s two poodles while he was out of town. With a private backyard oasis and a grill at my fingertips, everything slid firmly into place.

A little peek at the George Foreman I grilled my tomatoes on. Who knew you could find Birds of Paradise in Bed-Stuy?

A little peek at the George Foreman I grilled my tomatoes on. Who knew you could find Birds of Paradise in Bed-Stuy?

I had to make an heirloom tomato flammekeuche. A pizza without pizza sauce. A canvas for gorgeous, fresh ingredients.  All the flammekeuche needed was the Little Word Bites healthy-touch, of course.

A little more digging led me to this simple, amazing recipe from Eat. Drink. Smile. They’re using cauliflower to make pizza dough that’s healthy, low-calorie, low-carb, gluten-free, and grain-free. All the things we love here at LWB. 

To start, preheat the oven to 450, and begin preparing your crust by breaking down half a head of cauliflower, cutting off leaves and core and creating small florets. Pulse florets in a food processor until they are the texture of grain – be careful not to over-process, or else you will end up with a mash.

For more detailed instructions, check back here to my post on cauliflower couscous.

Take your cauliflower rice and microwave for eight minutes, or until the cauliflower is cooked.  You’ll know the cauliflower is finished when the sweet, mild smell begins to fill your kitchen.

Beat one egg well, incorporating air until small bubbles rise to the top. Mix this in with the cauliflower rice, and add the shredded mozzarella. Add the oregano, garlic, and garlic powder or salt. A few cracks of fresh black pepper and sea salt are a perfect finish to your dough.

On a nonstick baking sheet, put down half the olive oil, and begin working your dough into a round, about 10 inches in diameter. Dough should be thin, only about 1/4 of an inch. Brush the remaining olive oil on top to brown.

Because cauliflower contains so much water, there's no need to add more to your crust as you would with traditional pizza dough.

Because cauliflower contains so much water, there’s no need to add more to your crust as you would with traditional pizza dough.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your toppings. I think flatbreads  – whether they’re made from flour or ‘flower – are the perfect opportunity to exhibit beautiful ingredients.

These heirloom varieties have unique flavor profiles, and are too beautiful to bury in a salad or ratatouille.

These heirloom varieties have unique flavor profiles, and are too beautiful to bury in a salad or ratatouille.

That’s why I sliced my selection of heirloom tomatoes – two plum-sized green zebras, one orange Russian, and a black prince – into quarter-inch thick slices and placed them on the outdoor grill. The smoky flavor from the grill enhances the natural sweetness of a tomato. The grill also helps dry out the tomatoes, which is necessary for this application. On a flatbread, wet tomatoes create a soggy crust, and this cauliflower pizzette is no different.

Whatever toppings you select, make sure they’re cooked beforehand – they’ll only be in the oven for about 2-4 minutes once on the crust.

Instead of sauce or another layer of cheese, I took a leaf out of an Alsatian cookbook and used a cream topping. While you can certainly go ahead with crème fraiche, I upped the nutrition and health bar with non-fat Greek yogurt.

After allowing the crust to cool off, spread on an even layer of Greek yogurt, staying about one inch away from the edge. Arrange your tomato slices, and – if you’re feeling extra indulgent – sprinkle on one or two additional tablespoons of shredded mozzarella.

Would you ever guess that thin, crispy crust is made out of cauliflower? And a few other delicious, light ingredients, of course.

Would you ever guess that thin, crispy crust is made out of cauliflower? And a few other delicious, light ingredients, of course.

Go ahead. It’s fat free. Get wild.

I plucked a few basil leaves from my window box garden for garnish, and then slid the pizzette back into the oven. After only 2 minutes the basil became dry and fragrant, but depending on your toppings, you can leave the pizza in for up to 4 or 5 minutes.

Share with a friend, or eat half and save the other for a desk lunch that will have all of your co-workers leering greedily.

SLice

This version pairs wonderfully with a fresh arugula salad. The spiciness of the green adds a fresh zest to the sweet heirloom tomatoes and tart yogurt.

Either way, this cheesy, crispy crust is sure to satisfy any pizza craving. And you know what? It’s faster than delivery, and it’s about as light and healthy as a pizza can get.

Until next time,

Melanie

Where To Bite Watermelon – [New York, New York]

The New Bite, Where to Bite
This special at Petrarca e Vino Cucino was a playful combination of thick watermelon wedges, reminiscent of childhood summers at the beach, with aged balsamic, red onion, feta, and mint.

This special at Petrarca e Vino Cucino was a playful combination of thick watermelon wedges, reminiscent of childhood summers at the beach, with aged balsamic, red onion, feta, and mint.

Last week, we celebrated National Watermelon Day.  It probably didn’t stand out, because the summer months are full of watermelon, and this sweet, vibrant fruit is a major player on lots of restaurant menus.

All month long, actually, I’ve been finding this superfruit as a star player in innovative salads and dishes across New York. Aside from it being basically the most refreshing answer to a hot August afternoon, it’s sweet enough to serve as dessert and packed with nutrients. It was even listed by US News & World Report as one of the top eight foods to aid with weight loss:

No, this isn’t a gimmick.

Watermelon is more than 90 percent water – a whole cup contains less than 50 calories. It’s a satisfying way to fill up, without filling out. What’s more, it has the highest levels of lycopene of any fruit or vegetable. This chemical is what gives tomatoes grapefruit and, of course, watermelon, their bright pink color.  But lycopene is also connected to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and vision loss with age. Watermelon is also packed with Vitamin A and C.

So there are a lot of reasons to enjoy this fruit. And while there’s almost no experience as satisfying as biting into a thick slice of watermelon while sitting outside in the park, letting the pink juice drip down your chin and swallowing an accidental seed, so smooth and small you almost don’t notice it – the use of this fruit in savory dishes is amazing.

This week, instead of focusing on one restaurant, I’m giving you guys a guide to the best watermelon bites around. Because summer isn’t over yet, and there’s still time to order this fantastic fruit off of my favorite menus.

Recommended Dishes: The spicy chili vinaigrette on the watermelon and cucumber salad at No. 7 is the perfect way to liven up the sweet, delicate flavors of the cucumber and watermelon. At Petrarca Vino e Cucina in TriBeCa, the watermelon salad special used feta and balsamic to cut the watermelon’s natural sugar. My favorite neighborhood restaurant, Basil Pizza & Wine Bar, has a vegetarian-friendly, all-kosher menu featuring only organic vegetables – and you can get one of the most beautiful watermelon salads ever, complete with pea shoots,  pickled onions, beautiful fans of radish, feta, a modest serving of quinoa, and golden watermelon. That’s right. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I ate at Basil. 

It isn't pineapple under those pea shoots and pickled red onions, boys and girls. Those are huge slices of golden watermelon. Like a golden apple or beet, the flavor is just slightly sweeter and more mild than the typical (already sweet and mild) watermelon.

It isn’t pineapple under those pea shoots and pickled red onions, boys and girls. Those are huge slices of golden watermelon. Like a golden apple or beet, the flavor is just slightly sweeter and more mild than the typical (already sweet and mild) watermelon.

The Not-So-Good-Bite: Because it’s seasonal, dishes featuring this fruit won’t be around much longer! It’s also quite often the victim of under-seasoning. A poorly composed watermelon dish doesn’t read as savory, and thus, doesn’t read as satisfying. It’s a great teaser, or else it needs to be smartly paired with spice and tangy notes in order to come across as a full meal.

Plus, watermelon is often paired with cheese in salads – I know that sounds a little weird, but stay with me here. Just because it’s a watermelon inspired salad, doesn’t mean its accompaniments are healthy – so be piles of feta – cubed and crumbled – that are often heaped on your watermelon.

The Good Bite: There are certain pairings you come to expect on a restaurant menu. Mozzarella and basil, beets and chevre, avocado and heirloom tomato…the mild, sweet flavors of one balance out the tart, tangy, or herbal notes of another. Candle 79 offers a pickled watermelon salad with beets – two of my favorite red foods. When paired with the rosemary-shallot vinaigrette, green beans, and almond cheese, you get an unexpected play on the sweet and tart combination. This entree is entirely vegan, and is hearty enough to serve as an entree. At No. 7 Restaurant in Brooklyn, watermelon is paired with cucumber in a spicy, asian-inspired dish. What could be overtly sweet is given an edge with a housemade chili vinaigrette, cilantro, and crumbled feta.

No7_Watermelon

The Best Bite: I once enjoyed a watermelon gazpacho at Eastern Standard Kitchen in Boston that surpassed any gazpacho I had previously consumed. And I have yet to enjoy a gazpacho as much as their seasonal interpretation of the dish. The contrast of the acidic tomato base and sweet watermelon is near perfection.  Unfortunately, the watermelon gazpacho didn’t return this summer, and I also no longer live in Boston. So here, Little Word Bites readers, I ask for your input: where can I find this dish before summer and the season of watermelon is over?

We’re more than halfway through August, and I can hardly believe it, but the cool evenings and thin, crisp air are a reminder that fall is quickly coming. While I’m excited for my favorite season, and the hearty root vegetables and squashes that come with it, I will sorely miss the watermelon dishes that almost never survive on a menu past August.

Check out any of these dishes, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. What’s more, I suspect there will be many last minute watermelon-inspired specials all across New York, as chefs scramble to give this seasonal fruit one last hurrah.

Until next week, friends,

Melanie

A Little Word on the Mindless Margin

A Little Word With, The New Bite
Food psychologist Brian Wansink gives us a shocking look at food psychology - and how we can use that to lead healthier, lighter lifestyles.

Food psychologist Brian Wansink gives us a shocking look at food psychology – and how we can use that to lead healthier, lighter lifestyles.

If you’ve ever put away a bag of chips while watching a movie – not because you were hungry, but because you snacked until the movie was over – you are familiar with the mindless margin. If you’ve ever had an after-work-snack just because it’s what you were in the habit of doing, or served yourself seconds at the dinner table because no one else had finished eating – than you know exactly where this margin is.

This zone is where we can overeat or under-eat, just slightly, without even realizing. It’s a margin of 100 – 300 calories, where we eat mindlessly and carelessly, without ever noticing the difference.

It’s the focus of Brian Wansink’s phenomenal book, Mindless Eating, which I just finished reading this week.

With so much of my life centered around food – eating it, writing about it, reading books that keep food at their core – I’ve always considered myself a very mindful eater. I watch what I eat, consider calories and nutrients, but enjoy a good quality meal at a restaurant. I think food should be savored and enjoyed, just as much as the every day, not so special meals should be regulated and thoughtful.

And yet I am as mindless an eater as everyone else.

In Mindless Eating, everything from the impact of lighting and plate size, to more complicated, deep-rooted factors such as family history and work habits, are used to reveal why we eat what we do, how much of it we consume, and how we can make tiny, hardly noticeable changes to our lives and diet that will help us shave a few hundred calories here and there that can result in a pound of weight loss a month.

In the course of the year, that’s more than ten pounds of weight, lost without a single hardcore diet of deprivation or a workout overhaul.

Because Little Word Bites was founded with a love of small snacking, I’ve decided to feature some of the most interesting moments from Mindless Eating that address grazers like me, small plates, and how to make minute adjustments in our daily routines to cut out the crap – literally – and pay closer attention to what we put in our mouths.

1. Eating Scripts: Human beings have the tendency to address food situations according to patterns and habits, rather than hunger. One particularly strong example Wansink provided was dining pace. We tend to spend more time eating when we dine with friends or family, thus typically consuming more food than we would alone. We also tend to match our pace to those around us.

A Little Change: If you’re trying to cut back on how much you eat, match your pace to the slowest eater at the table. Be the last to start eating, so that you will be the last to finish, thus avoiding the “second helping” offer, or eating additional servings simply to remain occupied while others finish.

Vegetables are key. Use Wansink's half-plate rule to make sure your plate is always at least half vegetables. Resolve to only get seconds if you are going to go back for vegetables, and at buffets such as this one, fill up on the healthy stuff for the volume effect - make yourself feel full - before going back for snacks and sweets.

Vegetables are key. Use Wansink’s half-plate rule to make sure your plate is always at least half vegetables. Resolve to only get seconds if you are going to go back for vegetables, and at buffets such as this one, fill up on the healthy stuff for the volume effect – make yourself feel full – before going back for snacks and sweets.

2. Avoid See-Food Traps: It’s an easy one to remember – “out of sight, out of mind. In sight, in mind.” In a slightly unfair study Wansink conducted, secretaries given clear candy dishes were seen dipping their hands in the dish 71 percent more often than the secretaries given opaque candy dishes. The result? Secretaries with clear candy dishes ate 77 more calories a day, which could add up to five pounds a year.

A Little Change: Because of this, and similar studies, Wansink recommends storing tempting foods and snacks in the back of the fridge or cupboard, and wrapping them in aluminum foil rather than see-through tupperware containers or plastic wrap. Another little word of advice? Forgo the candy dish and serving bowls all together in your house or on your desk.

When grocery shopping, Wansink suggests sticking to the perimeter, because “that’s where the fresh foods hang out.” And it’s true. The next time you’re at your local Trader Joe’s, get all your groceries from the perimeter, and check your cart. I suspect the only thing you’ll be missing are bags of Trader Joes Kettle Corn and frozen dumplings.

3. Dining-Out Dangers: This seems fairly obvious. Dining out, for many, is an experience. I always eat more, and more decadently, than I would if I were fixing myself a bowl of spaghetti squash at home for dinner. But being aware of diet traps restaurants often set – breadbaskets, slow music, and oversized portions – can help you beat them before they beat you.

During a fantastic dinner with my roommate, Ethan at Allswell in Brooklyn, we picked two: appetizer and cocktail. To further minimize our mindless margin, we split the appetizer - a hearty flatbread with arugula, ricotta, and mushrooms.

During a fantastic dinner with my roommate, Ethan at Allswell in Brooklyn, we picked two: appetizer and cocktail. To further minimize our mindless margin, we split the appetizer – a hearty flatbread with arugula, ricotta, and mushrooms.

A Little Change: In a study performed a few years ago, a popular fast food joint was transformed into a fine dining spot. The caveat? The menu was identical, only guests were enjoying their soft drinks and french fries at a white tablecloth table, set to a backdrop of smooth jazz and soft lighting. The result? The average eater lingered for 11 extra minutes. Overall, they reported enjoying their food more, and they often ordered more of it.  This isn’t all bad. When we eat slower, and enjoy our food more, we give ourselves time to feel full, and make each little bite worth it. As Wansink also says, “the foods we don’t bite came come back to bite us.” That’s the real trouble with deprivation diets. If you never eat the foods you love, who’s going to stop you from eating the WHOLE BOX of double-stuffed oreos if it’s the first time they’ve come within arm’s reach in three years? Not me.

The next time you’re dining out, bear in mind the subtleties of restaurant atmosphere, and ask yourself twice if you really want dessert or a second drink. Wansink also recommends establishing a pick-two rule when it comes to appetizers, drinks, and dessert. Pick only two; never order all three. Splitting large entries, or saving half for later, are easy ways to conquer the troubles of dining-out.

Whether you’re looking to lose weight, manage your weight, or simply add healthier foods and make better diet choices, learning to eat mindfully is an important skill. And as this food psychologist proves, we could all get a little better at it.

Mindless Eating concludes with Wansink’s suggestion that readers adopt only three positive changes at a time to adjust their mindless margin. Three is doable, and won’t make you feel overwhelmed. You can personalize the margin with food trade-offs or policies that help you achieve a healthier, happier, lighter you.

This month, I’ve made three food resolutions, and literally written them into my mindless margin. For watching what I eat and making healthier overall choices, nothing says success like putting in three checkmarks every day.

My personal mindless margin includes drinking at least one glass of water a day. I need to be conscious of drinking more water, and it's a great way to curb phantom hunger pains.

My personal mindless margin includes drinking at least one glass of water a day. I need to be conscious of drinking more water, and it’s a great way to curb phantom hunger pains.

Read Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating to discover more amazing, sometimes unsettling, truths about food psychology, and to learn how to best personalize your mindless margin to work in your favor.

Until next time,

Melanie

Where To Bite Organic Vegan – [Manhattan, NY]

Where to Bite

Buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “sustainable” – they show up a lot today, on restaurant menus and food labels and on the web. They’ve become another way of saying “trendy,” “healthy,” and “hip,” even though they’re not necessarily any of those things.

But on occasion, you find a gem like Candle 79, where the food is locally sourced whenever possible, and the menu is comprised of organic, seasonal foods. Their committment to eco-friendly cooking and business practices made them the first Certified Green Restaurant in NYC, and all of these things make them trendy, hip, healthy and admirable. Since I moved to New York, they’ve been on the top of my list for veg-friendly must-eats, and I finally got there.

Behold, Candle 79.

http://candle79.com

In a city full of organic, vegan food, its Candle 79's sophisticated approach to ingredients, like this zucchini-flower entree, that make them unique.

In a city full of organic, vegan food, it’s Candle 79’s sophisticated approach to ingredients, like this stuffed zucchini-flower entree, that make them unique. Split this with your mother, like I did, or order as a starter for the table, and enjoy the hearty blossoms filled with broccoli, cauliflower, corn, and sprouts, topped with avocado sauce, a nut-based cheese and pico de gallo.

I’ll be the first to admit, I almost always approach strict vegan restaurants with trepidation. I prefer a plant-based menu, not one that flaunts an extensive knowledge of nut-based cheese alternatives and heavily sauced seitan served with rice and beans. In fact, I’ve recently been extremely impressed with the care and attention whole, raw vegetables get at traditional restaurants, because the focus of the dish is the vegetable, not the vegetarian or vegan consumer. Just a thought.

Yet Candle 79 delivers on both regards, demonstrating serious kitchen creativity when it comes to creating vegan substitutions, as well as an apprecitation for the roots and shoots that are fundamental to their menu and restaurant philosophy.

It's clear that this House Salad is far from standard. The cucumbers and tomatoes in the arugula are perfectly paired with the crunchy  hemp seeds and raddish.

It’s clear that this House Salad is far from standard. The cucumbers and tomatoes in the arugula are perfectly paired with the crunchy hemp seeds and beautifully julienned radish.

Recommended Dishes: As just stated, I will always gravitate toward the most raw, vegetable-based dishes on a menu. Which means I spend a lot of time eating salad. But at Candle 79, even their salads are well thought out, and incorporate a surprising array of ingredients. I enjoyed my Mediterranean Salad, with its peppery arugula and watercress complimented by tomatoes, grilled cippolini onions, avocado, cucumbers, and hearts of palm, topped with a few chickpeas for protein and crispy capers for crunch. My mother also ordered a salad, choosing the Candle 79 House. In addition to the traditional combination of grape tomatoes and cucumbers, this refreshing bite came topped with an attractive nest of radish batons and hemp seeds.

My final recommendation is a secondhand one, passed on from my roommate, Ethan. He said to me, as I grabbed my keys and headed out to meet my folks and our family friend, Max – “You have to order the guacamole. It’s so good, you’re going to cry.”

I didn’t cry. But I did love every bite of the neopolitan-style Guacamole Timbale. The three generous layers of guacamole, pico de gallo, and chipotle-spiced black beans with carmelized onions, served over a brilliant red pool of ranchero sauce and topped with thick, crunchy plaintain chips, was a fun starter to share. It was a perfect balance of texture and spice, and after a few bites, I stopped wondering why I was so okay with dipping fried bananas (more or less) into my guacamole and salsa.

Vibrant colors and flavors are a perfect way to start a meal at Candle 79. Plaintain chips might not be the healthiest little bite, but they go a long way and make a fun, gluten-free alternative to the standard bread basket.

Vibrant colors and flavors are a perfect way to start a meal at Candle 79. Plaintain chips might not be the healthiest little bite, but they go a long way and make a fun, gluten-free alternative to the standard bread basket.

The Not-So-Good Bite:  While my vegetarian mother and I felt stuffed at the end of our meal, my father and other non-vegetarian diner, Max, wiped their plates clean and could still have gone back for more. They both ordered the lunch special burrito, packed with my not so favorite vegan staples – seitan, rice, and beans – wrapped inside a tortilla with sauteed greens, soy versions of cheese and sour cream, and some of that fantastic guac and carmelized onions from the aforementioned guacamole starter. While I’m not particularly fond of soy proteins, I suspect that the unfamiliar plant-based diet is more likely the cause of my father and Max’s residual hunger. The burrito was not, by any means, sparse. What’s more, even though seitan, tofu, and tempeh are very present on the menu, there is a huge variety of whole vegetable dishes that balance out these artifical alternatives.

The menu at Candle 79 represents a vast array of cultures, but with vegan versions of the burrito, tamale, nachos, and guacamole, its clear that the chefs have a deep appreciation for Mexican fare.

The menu at Candle 79 represents a vast array of cultures, but with vegan versions of the burrito, tamale, nachos, and guacamole, its clear that the chefs have a deep appreciation for Mexican fare.

The Good Bite: Candle 79’s bar is home to an extensive menu of organic wines and beers, as well as cocktails made with agave, fresh fruits, and local and organic liquors. Order the Reforestation Cocktail, a refreshing blend of fresh mint with ginger-agave, lime, acai liquor and wheatgrass vodka, and Candle 79 will have a tree planted in your honor. Talk about a reason to order a second round!

The Best Bite: A meal at Candle 79 leaves your appetite satisfied and your good karma restored. Eating these environmentally conscious meals is something everyone at the table – whether they’re a carnivour attempting to satisfy a meat craving with a seitan burger or the witty signature entree, Spaghetti and Wheat Balls, or a raw food enthusiast filling up on mache and endive in the Beet and Watermelon Salad, or even someone suffering from a gluten intolerance finding reprieve in the heirloom tomato tartare or even the stunning zucchini blossoms my mother and I split as an entree – the extensive, seasonal, ever-changing menu is worth revisiting time and time again.

I’m looking forward to going back, and working my way through this fun, vegan menu.

Until next time,

Melanie

Hearty Mushroom Pasta Sauce – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite
Nothing brightens a meal more than a topping of delicious, semi-homemade pasta sauce. Affordable, healthy, and time-saving, this is a little tip you can't miss.

Nothing brightens a meal more than a topping of delicious, semi-homemade pasta sauce. Affordable, healthy, and time-saving, this is a little tip you can’t miss.

Create Your Own Bite #24

1/2 Cup Bottled Pasta Sauce

3-5 Cloves Garlic, Minced

1/2 Cup Baby Bella Mushrooms, Diced

1/4 Sweet Onion, Chopped

1/2 Cup Mini Pearl Tomatoes, Quartered

Salt and Pepper, To Taste

Optional: Grated Parmesan Reggiano

Estimated Calories: 55 Per 1/2 Cup Sauce (Makes 2 Servings)

If this post were an episode on the Food Network, it’d be Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. So today, just call me Sandra. As much as I’d love to sit down every night and make a delicious, healthy dinner completely from scratch, there isn’t always the time or the means.

Since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve realized that things take a lot longer in New York than they did in Boston. Finding a job, for example, and a trip on the subway. Lines at the grocery store are longer, and the wallet needs to stretch a lot wider.  While I try to save money and make the most of my time, I’ve been looking for innovative ways to keep my kitchen running at a comfortable speed.

Bottled pasta sauce is precisely the type of supermarket product that can be a cheap, helpful time-saver. Even though there’s nothing more delicious than a housemade sauce full of thick, simmered hothouse tomatoes, and even though housemade sauces tend to be far more healthy than the off-the-shelf variety; every once in a while, that plate of leftover spaghetti squash is truly begging for a quick fix.

That’s why I always keep a jar of spaghetti sauce in my pantry. Always. The second I use one, I go right out and buy another. Like dried herbs, or vegetable bouillon, there are some things you just need to be able to fall back on.

But if you have a few extra minutes, and a handful of ingredients, it’s best to give these thin, soupy sauces a boost up from supermarket shab. Start with a bottle of basic marinara sauce. Stick with a cheap, basic option; but watch the calories and sodium. Clear Value’s wallet-friendly Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms has only 45 calories in a half cup, whereas many simple sauces have as many as 80 or 90 per serving. Trader Joe’s simple marinara is also a low-cal, affordable option. It has only 50 calories in every half cup, and is slightly thicker and more flavorful than the Clear Value option.

Either way, the point of this project is to transform even the blandest, thinnest sauce into something savory. So don’t shy away from Clear Value’s sauce, or other comprable store-name types.

I was inspired by the mushrooms Clear Value claimed to flavor their sauce with. While I couldn’t taste them, or find them in the sauce, I ran with the theme and used mushrooms as the base for my dish.

My sauce base included mushrooms, but this is a great opportunity to experiment with ingredients. For a Pasta Bolognese, one finely chopped Morningstar sausage patty will do nicely. Other options include large quantities of fresh herbs, bell peppers, and fat-free cheese.

My sauce base included mushrooms, but this is a great opportunity to experiment with ingredients. For a Pasta Bolognese, one finely chopped Morningstar sausage patty will do nicely. Other options include large quantities of fresh herbs, bell peppers, and fat-free cheese.

With any sauce you upgrade, incorporate a solid base of fresh garlic and onions, simmered until transluscent. These are fundamental flavors for pasta sauce, and can be more than enough if you are seriously low on time and ingredients.

Because I had mushrooms and tomatoes on hand, and the time to cook them, I moved on to the tomatoes, macerating them with a wooden spoon and cooking them down until they were extremely tender.  Mushrooms don’t require a lot of time on the heat in order to cook, so put these in the pan last, adding at the same time as a serving of pasta sauce.

Now, add your herbs of choice, as well as salt and pepper. Basil is the most common, but fresh thyme or rosemary would work perfectly here, too.

Once all the ingredients are fully incorporated, and your mushrooms have cooked down (they should be soft and considerably smaller than they started) you’re ready to top off whatever vegetable pasta of your choosing. If you’re not adhering to a vegan diet, a tablespoon or two of fresh-grated Parmesan, added into the sauce and cooked down for only a minute, adds an extra level of richness and salt that will completely disguise any residual notes of Supermarket-quality Italian.

In the Little Word Bites kitchen, the most important rules to live by are happy, healthy eating. We all need to turn to the microwave and shake out a haphazard serving of bottled spaghetti sauce on busy nights when we’re running between our (theoretical) jobs and yoga classes, or between the gym and drinks with a long-awaited friend.

That’s where I’m off to now. A quick bite, before celebrating Bastille Day with my friend Laura – who I have known since childhood and could only see in the offhand chance I was passing through France, or on the rare occasion she was dropping by New York.

Which today, she is.

Cheers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of healthy, affordable, semi-homemade dishes.

Melanie

 

A Little Word on Yogurt Substitutes

A Sweet Little Treat, The New Bite

So, it’s been really hot. Like, melt off your face, hot. It’s the kind of hot where you have to sleep on top of your covers, and hang out in the kitchen with the freezer door thrown wide open in the hopes of decreasing the apartment’s overall temperature by even one sweaty degree.

Everything looks beautiful, which makes this obligatory indoor behavior all the more depressing. I’d love to sit outside and enjoy lunch at a sidewalk cafe, or go for a run through Central Park, or even take that (free) outdoor yoga class – but it’s just really much too hot for all of that nonsense.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time in that aforementioned kitchen, thinking about what lovely little bites I can share with you all. Especially what doesn’t require turning on the oven, because I can’t afford to make it any hotter in Brooklyn right now.

At the moment, I’m staring at a giant tub of Dannon Light & Fit yogurt. I’ve been using Light & Fit yogurt for just about everything since I first discovered the tub of fat-free, low-calorie goodness sitting in the dairy isle at my local Shaws. Especially in this outrageously hot and humid weather, there’s nothing more refreshing than a scoop of light yogurt with fresh-cut fruit, or swirled into a lassi-style cocktail with a splash of rum.

With only 100 calories in a one cup serving, I use this for breakfast parfaits boosted with fruit and oats, and as the foundation for low-calorie desserts.  It’s a versatile product that easily transforms fattening, creamy dishes into slimmed down variations.

This sweet bite doubles as breakfast or dessert. High-fiber oats with fresh-cut fruit are the perfec way to add flavor and heartiness to a helping of Greek Light 'n Fit yogurt.

This sweet bite doubles as breakfast or dessert. High-fiber oats with fresh-cut fruit are the perfec way to add flavor and heartiness to a helping of Greek Light & Fit yogurt.

The only thing better than a meal made with Light & Fit fat-free yogurt is the new Greek version of the dairy treat. While the Greek Light & Fit yogurt has 130 calories per cup, it also packs an impressive 18 grams of protein in a serving. When compared to the 7 grams of protein in the standard yogurt version, it’s almost like getting the upgraded version of this year’s best guilt-free yogurt.

A Little Warning: Danon yogurts don’t come in the good old “Plain” yogurt flavor, making it difficult to swap them into more savory dishes. Chobani, however, makes a plain nonfat yogurt with only ten calories more per serving, and 23 grams of protein. That, there, is a win-win situation.

Remember the yogurt-based guacamole I was raving about the other day? The one with half the fat, half the calories, and a completely irresistable tang that complemented the nutty avocado? I’ve been finding yogurt in a massive variety of products these days. It’s a great way to sneak a few extra grams of protein into your diet, while cutting the fat and the calories.

Snacking in the LWB kitchen - asparagus wrapped in pickled ginger, with a Greek yogurt-based kale dip. The perfect way to cut the intense ginger and amplify the sweet asparagus.

Snacking in the LWB kitchen – asparagus wrapped in pickled ginger, with a Greek yogurt-based kale dip. The perfect way to cut the intense ginger and amplify the sweet asparagus.

Take Brummel & Brown Butter made with Nonfat Yogurt. One Tablespooon has only 45 calories – almost half of what you’ll find in a traditional serving of butter – half the fat, and zero cholesterol. The texture is creamy and smooth, but the flavor is extremely mild. It lacks the natural saltiness of butter – I wouldn’t recommend it for baking, but spread on toast with a Peach Apricot Cherry Jam, and a handfull of fresh arugula, it’s a perfect way to lighten refreshing snack for a hot summer afternoon.

Here’s to staying cool while waiting for a much-needed Ice Age to roll through the Big Apple.

As always, I’m off to find more ways to eat healthy, delicious foods – and now with the added challenge of not breaking a sweat in the process.

Melanie

Where To Bite in an Urban Barn – Flatbush Farm [Brooklyn, NY]

Where to Bite

Flatbush Farm & Barn in Brooklyn’s adorable Park Slope neighborhood is open all year round. Whether you’re grabbing a glass of local Riesling in the rustic Bar(n), or sitting down for an elegant dinner featuring all organic, farm-fresh meats and mostly local produce, every meal at Flatbush Farm is LWB approved to be wholesome and delicious, and very vegetarian friendly.

But the best part of Flatbush Farm, at 76 Saint Marks Ave., is enjoying local Brooklyn bites while sitting in the backyard Garden on a lovely summer evening such as this one.

http://flatbushfarm.com

Vegetarian-fed local eggs are a major staple on the Flatbush brunch menu - but they are an indulgent addition to this delicious vegetarian starter, too.

Vegetarian-fed local eggs are a major staple on the Flatbush brunch menu – but they are an indulgent addition to this delicious vegetarian starter, too.

Recommended Dishes: After doing a whole post on the poached egg, it’s no surprised that I’m such a sucker for the Poached Duck Egg starter. Large enough to serve as my main course, this dish featured some of the most exemplary seasonal ingredients. Fiddleheads – which are tricky to make and available for a very short window of time – whole soybeans, and marinated artichoke hearts were complemented by sweeter slices of bell pepper, onion, and local mushrooms.

The Not-So-Good Bite: Flatbush Farm knows how to take local ingredients and make completely delicious dishes. But in a few cases, I wished the produce had been left in a more natural state. The baby greens salad, for example, was a delicious starter. But the mushroom confit on top was extremely oily. Paired with the large portion of goat cheese, and sugary maple cranberry vinaigrette, the naturally sweet nature of the mushrooms and greens was overpowered. Reflected in the large portions, the Flatbush fare is overall a little heavier than the preferred Little Word Bite.

Even with the dressing on the side, this salad felt a little over-dressed, with the large goat cheese crumbles and oily mushroom confit. Not to be considered a light starter.

Even with the dressing on the side, this salad felt a little over-dressed, with the large goat cheese crumbles and oily mushroom confit. Not to be considered a light starter.

The Good Bite: The menu is packed with vegetarian-friendly options, including a delicious bowl of braised heirloom beans. This heavy dish is loaded with flavor – and cheese curds, and corn bread crumble, and charred greens. Order it as a side for the table, and pass it around in true barnyard fashion.

No one stomach should tackle this entree alone. But passed among friends in a backyard feast, this Braised Bean dish is a comforting, delicious complement to a number of Flatbush dishes.

No one stomach should tackle this entree alone. But passed among friends in a backyard feast, this Braised Bean dish is a comforting, delicious complement to a number of Flatbush dishes.

The Best Bite: There’s nothing better on a hot summer day in the city than to find a little retreat in the Flatbush Garden. In the tree-lined space, under a string of globe lights, eat Tofu Scramble for brunch, or end an evening with a refreshing scoop of Brooklyn-churned Blue Marble ice cream.

There’s never a bad time to stop by the Bar(n) for a drink, or enjoy a meal at the Farm. But Flatbush in the summer is the perfect time to experience the very best in sustainable fare, and the most delicious New York local food. Check their website for the latest in events, including live jazz music or bluegrass (whatever your musical-fancy may be) which you can enjoy in the Garden for the best little urban getaway in Brooklyn.

Until next time,

Melanie

Summer Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Vinaigrette – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite
For a fresh, summery side, I prepared a Summer Berry salad, full of blueberries, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, and radish.

For a fresh, summery side, I prepared a Summer Berry salad, full of blueberries, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, and radish.

Create Your Own Bite #23

For Summer Salad (Serves 8)

1 Cup Cherub and Sunburst Cherry Tomatoes, halved

2 Cups Fresh Arugula, Rinsed

6 Cups Spring Mix, Rinsed (Baby Oak, Frisee, Baby Spinach,  Baby Romaine, Baby Kale, Chard, Radicchio, etc).

1/2 English Cucumber, Sliced

5 Baby Radishes, Rinsed and Sliced

1/2 Cup Blueberries, Fresh

Optional Ingredients: Yellow and Red Bell Pepper, Sliced; Sunflower or Pumpkin Seeds; Fat Free Crumbled Goat Cheese

Estimated Calories: 35

For Blueberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/2 Cup Fresh Blueberries

6-8 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar, To Taste

1/2 Tsp Sage

6 Garlic Cloves, Minced

2 Tsp Honey

2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Estimated Calories: 40

It’s been a very busy day in the Little Word Bites kitchen – I’ve been driving back and forth cross town all day to help my family prepare for our Father’s Day celebration. The day started at 6:30 when I got up and drove to the nearest Starbucks to get my Dad a dopio espressio and his favorite baked good, Iced Lemon Loaf, from the Starbucks pantry.

This was a funny Father’s Day – half of my family didn’t join in on the festivities – making it a much smaller, and  much more quiet day than we anticipated. Despite the petite party, we made just as much food as we planned from the beginning. My father made his famous guacamole, my mother pulled together a deliciou three-bean corn and salsa salad, and my aunt provided a platter of whole marinated and grilled vegetables. And of course, to celebrate one of the few summer-like days we’ve had all season, my mother created a Citrus Sangria with whole chunks of naval oranges, nectarines, and strawberries, complemented by a crisp Pinot Grigio and Cointreau. My aunt’s summer salutation came in the way of tart Strawberry Rhubarb Mango Crisp.

The counter was packed with healthy, fresh appetizers - my father's housemade guacamole with handmade salsa, as well as my crudite platter featuring vegetables from my summer salad. Fat free ranch dip, at only 30 calories per tablespoon, is a light alternative to the typical creamy dip.

The counter was packed with healthy, fresh appetizers – my father’s housemade guacamole with handmade salsa, as well as my crudite platter featuring vegetables from my summer salad. Fat free ranch dip, at only 30 calories per tablespoon, is a light alternative to the typical creamy dip.

The men – my uncle, my two grandfathers, and my father – feasted accordingly.

My contribution to the day was a Summer Salad with Housemade Blueberry Balsamic Vinaigrette. I’m always looking for a way to transform a bed of greens into something more memorable. While I love a plain head of lettuce just as much as I love a fancy restaurant salad, I know most people need a little more convincing to be awed by a bed of leaves.

I complemented the bright, somewhat zesty spring lettuces with a variety of sweet fruits and vegetables. The blueberries were the major flavor component of the dish, as well as the cherry tomatoes. I brightened up the greens by using Sunburst tomatoes – an heirloom variety that is very delicate, sweet, and vibrant yellow – as well as red cherry tomatoes, and red and yellow bell peppers, diced. For another flash of color, and a delicate crunch, I thinly sliced some baby radishes and English cucumber.

Reducing the fresh blueberries with the balsamic vinegar creates a sweet and acidic dressing perfect for any salad - especially one full of fresh blueberries.

Reducing the fresh blueberries with the balsamic vinegar creates a sweet and acidic dressing perfect for any salad – especially one full of fresh blueberries.

To make the dressing, I mixed the blueberries, sage, garlic, balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, for approximately ten minutes. At my parents house, they have an oft-forgotten about jar of Blueberry Honey, which paired perfectly with this rich, tangy-sweet dressing. When the mixture began to simmer, I lowered the heat, and began mashing the blueberries with a wooden spoon.

For a sweeter dressing, add an additional teaspoon of honey, or finish with a splash of fresh lemon juice to brighten the mix. For a smoother version, strain the blueberry skins and any large pieces of garlic out before bottling the dressing, and putting it in the fridge to cool.

This salad is all about contrast - vibrant, complementary colors, and interesting, unexpeted textural pairings.

This salad is all about contrast – vibrant, complementary colors, and interesting, unexpeted textural pairings.

I served this salad with a side of crumbled, creamy goat cheese – although fat free feta or gorgonzola crumbles would be a pleasing contrast to the sweet salad. For more crunch, and a heartier twist on the dish, top your salad with a handful of sunflower or pumpkin seeds. This vegan alternative can be given an extra boost with a serving of avocado for an entree-version of the salad.

I couldn’t have possibly chosen a better way to spend Father’s Day – for the first time in years, we were both together. And despite the weather reports, the rain held off, and my family and I enjoyed each other’s seasonal offerings on the front porch. Cutting into a thick portobello mushroom cap while sipping a glass of housemade sangria, my grandfathers hollering to hear each other while my father and uncle took turns coaxing grill marks onto ever steak-cut onion, or bell pepper, I was reminded of why I love food writing so much. Food – especially whole, healthy, nutritious foods – are the foundation on which center some of the most important moments of our life. And every component of a meal you can prepare yourself is an opportunity to share with a friend or family member, to take control over what you serve yourself, and your loved ones, and remember how satisfying that first bite of a hard-earned meal can be.

Happy Father’s Day. To all the dads who inspire us, motivate us, and love us even when we’re being smart-asses or stealing the bell pepper that was supposed to go in the guacamole for personal projects: Thank you.

Until next time,

Melanie

A Little Word on Cruise Control [Royal Caribbean]

The New Bite, The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite

As some of you heard announced on the Little Word Bites FB Page, last weeek I was on a cruise.  Unfortunately, floating around in the middle of the Caribbean means little to no cell service, and thus, little or no way to show you all the amazing things I was devouring.

When I graduated from college, my parents asked me what I wanted.  I said the only thing I could think to ask for was a final family vacation – it had been years since we’d been away together and, who couldn’t use a little Caribbean sun after the spring we had? Overall, it’s been a tough year for my family, and I thought we all deserved hakuna matata and relaxation.

So last week, we boarded a boat, and set off on our Caribbean adventure.

I could tell you all about doing yoga on the helipad of the ship watching the sun rise over the Caribbean –

Day 2 of a three part yoga series that took place on the helipad of the cruise ship. Perhaps the most unique (and, in this photo, a little awkward) vinyasa I've ever done.

Day 2 of a three part yoga series that took place on the helipad of the cruise ship. Perhaps the most unique (and, in this photo, a little awkward) vinyasa I’ve ever done.

And I could tell you about taking dinghies out into the ocean at St. Martin, or Barry the baracuda we saw snorkeling in St. Thomas, or how fantastic the full production of Chicago we saw on our first night aboard the ship was.

But in traditional Little Word Bites fashion, I want to turn to the food. Because eating is a huge part of cruising, and vacations in general, and as a health-nut, vegetarian, part-time vegan, I had a few very interesting experiences trying to maintain my veggie, nutritious lifestyle.

For those of you who have cruised before, you may be familiar with the concept of the floating 24-hour buffet, or midnight chocolate bar, or formal dining room, or endless french fries and ice cream. On many ships, the food on your water-bound hotel is complimentary, save for a few specialty restaurants for the true food afficianado.

On our ship, however, Allure of the Seas, we ran into a few unexpected problems.

To accomodate the more than 6,000 guests and employees, the ship had a vast array of specialty restaurants. But unless you wanted to pay for a plate of grilled asparagus with corn salsa at Rita’s Cantina, or tapas from Vintages Wine Bar like grilled mushrooms or herbed feta-stuffed peppers, there were many times throughout the ship when our options seemed limited to burgers and nachos or battered fish fry.

Despite the extra cost, one early dinner was spent at Rita's, where we enjoyed house-made quacamole, salsa, and unique vegetarian plates including this spiced asparagus.

Despite the extra cost, one early dinner was spent at Rita’s, where we enjoyed house-made quacamole, salsa, and unique vegetarian plates including this spiced asparagus.

While the concept of the buffet seems contrary to a controlled, healthy lifestyle, my parents and I found solace in the Solarium Bistro. Before this spot turned into an all-meat Brazilian Barbeque specialty restaurant for dinner, it was the place for fresh cut grapefruit, guava, mango and melon breakfasts, and elaborate, vegetarian and gluten-free salad and soup bar lunches (think CYOB gazpacho and miso soups  – YUM).

Sure, there’s no reason to eat two full plate-fulls of anything if you’re already beyond stuffed. But if you’re going back for seconds, it’s best to double up on fresh fruits and vegetables. At the Solarium, we enjoyed spiced rutabega with arugula and a salad of shaved carrot with golden raisins and walnuts.

A unique selection of fresh vegetarian salads was available every day for lunch at the Solarium, making it easy to fill our plates with healthy, good choices.

A unique selection of fresh vegetarian salads was available every day for lunch at the Solarium, making it easy to fill our plates with healthy, good choices.

In addition to choosing green, fresh dishes over the deep-fried brown options, my parents and I took the stairs. Everywhere. We climbed fifteen flights for hard-boiled eggs and roasted tomatoes for breakfast every morning at the Windjammer, before descending six to the gym. We had cocktails at the Viking Crown Lounge on the seventeenth floor, and fourteenth, fifth, and fourth.

Like our active stair-climing experience, which helped us balance out the frequent beverage breaks and extra helpings at meals, our Caribbean cruise was a reminder about the importance of balance.

My friend Ethan recently told me, in a conversation about healthy lifestyles, how important it is to find a place of acceptance. If you make good, healthy choices 99 percent of the time, then on those celebratory occasions when you order a fancy cocktail, or those vacations where the buffet is endless and the bars are open all night long, it’s okay and healthy to indulge in the less-healthy choice. If you are a healthy, happy person, you deserve to treat yourself. Go back for seconds, order the flatbread, or enjoy a second round of drinks. Otherwise, what’s the point of working so hard all the time?

Cooking whole mushrooms and broccolini on a salted hot rock made for a delicious, interactive meal on the ship. Paired with the tempura-fried vegetable appetizer, this meal was a spot-on example of balance. Healthy, satisfying, well-earned, and delicious. Cruise control at its best.

Cooking whole mushrooms and broccolini on a salted hot rock made for a delicious, interactive meal on the ship. Paired with the tempura-fried vegetable appetizer, this meal was a spot-on example of balance. Healthy, satisfying, well-earned, and delicious. Cruise control at its best.

Just because you can eat endless french fries and ice cream, doesn’t mean you should. But that doesnt’ mean you should only eat endless plates of undressed romaine lettuce for every meal of the day, either. When my parents and I ate light, healthy breakfasts and vegetable-based meals for lunch, we appreciated our dessert, our second-servings, and our elaborate, multi-course dinners all the more. Because when you work hard and make mostly healthy choices, it’s easier – and more enjoyable – to say yes to the indulgence.

Cruising is all about the practice of control. But it’s also about saying Hey! I’m on vacation! And I’m going to go back for another serving, try something new, and eat a deep-fried vegetable. Because it’s not something I do every day, and hell, I walked up fifteen flights to get it.

My friends, it’s late, and time to go. But this post marks the full-fledged return of Little Word Bites. And, what’s more, the first official bite from my new home in Brooklyn. I’ve had an amazing four years eating my way through Boston and now, I’ll start devouring the Big Apple.

It’s good to be back, everyone. And until next time, remember that every little bite you take to get where you are, and to what you bite next, is worth it.

Melanie

Where To Bite Before a Show [Boston, MA]

Where to Bite
Fresh asparagus, halved turnips, whole grape tomatoes, carrot, and brussel sprouts were accompanied by a variety of other dishes on a bed of wild rice in this special request warm-salad.

Fresh asparagus, halved turnips, whole grape tomatoes, carrot, and brussel sprouts were accompanied by a variety of other dishes on a bed of wild rice in this special request warm-salad.

After seeing the ballet at the Boston Opera House, or before a late night showing of Oz at AMC Loewes, theater-goers have a massive number of restaurants in Boston’s Theater District to choose from.

Dinner and a show is perhaps one of my favorite things to do in the city. Unfortunately, many restaurants accustomed to a pre-dinner crowd have formed the bad habit of rushed, chaotic service.  Fortunately, at the Artisan Bistro at The Ritz Carlton, service is one of their most exceptional qualities. This, in conjuntion with their extensive pantry of produce and full gluten-free menu, makes the Artisan Bistro my premier choice for pre or post-show dining in Boston.

Whether you’re with friends, family, or on a romantic date, the upscale variations on classic European and American dishes guarentee there’s something everyone will enjoy on the menu. And with an “anything you want, we can make” motto, no patron will leave unsatisfied.

ritzcarlton.com

Instead of pasta, Artisan's canneloni is a wrap of thinly sliced golden beets - a perfect crisp contrast to the nutty wheatberries and creamy chevre on top.

Instead of pasta, Artisan’s canneloni is a wrap of thinly sliced golden beets – a perfect crisp contrast to the nutty wheatberries and creamy chevre on top.

Recommended Dishes: The Beet Canneloni was a surprising and delicious dish. Typically, canneloni is a  cylindrical stuffed pasta.  What I expected, based on the menu description, was exactly this – stuffed with beets, Vermont chevre, and the other mentioned ingredients, topped with a pomegranate balsamic. This was a dish I anticipated sharing with my mother and father, and writing off as my “indulgent” dish of the evening. Yet this imaginative dish was a “canneloni” of thinly sliced golden beats, filled with toasted wheat berry, broccolini, and topped with a modest crumble of cheese and a side of red beets. Crisp, refreshing, and extremely healthy, I was beyond thrilled, and considered ordering a second for dinner. The garden salad contains unique ingredients, such as pickled kohlrabi and hearts of palm – I substituted the chestnuts and Manchego cheese for tomatoes and cucumbers to lighten it up, but was grateful for the citrusy orange slices and acidity for the kohlrabi on my mixed greens.

Thinly sliced pickled kohlrabi, heart of palm, and sweet orange slices make the Artisan garden salad a unique twist on the traditional mixed greens.

Thinly sliced pickled kohlrabi, heart of palm, and sweet orange slices make the Artisan garden salad a unique twist on the traditional mixed greens.

The Not-So-Good Bite: Unless you dine at the Artisan Bistro on a Monday, and have the opportunity to try their Cauliflower Gratin special, there are no vegetarian dishes explicitly listed on the menu. Fortunately, the Chef at Artisan is more than happy to take any side or accompaniement available on the menu and transform it into the dream vegetarian dish of your liking. Brussel sprouts, turnips, tomatoes, and carrots were the focal point of my dinner, served over a warm wild rice and cabbage salad with a few other vegetables mixed in. This medley was lightly roasted, and sauce-free, making it extremely light and naturally sweet.

The Good Bite: Indulging in a night out is always better when the food is worth its weight in cost and calories.  A large basket of crusty, house-baked bread is served at the onset of the course with salted Vermont butter – the perfect vehicle for soaking up leftover pomegranate vinaigrette or the sweet carmelization from a cippollini onion. Furthermore, dishes are large (appropriate for the cost)  but not over-the-top. You can eat everything on your plate without overdoing it and stretching your stomach beyond reason. If a dish comes with cheese, it’s a reasonable portion, and sauces are served in a moderate amount. Only the soups appear to be plated contrary to this – my father ordered a cup of clam chowder, and received a massive, deep bowl that could easily have served all three of us. If you’re interested in the hearty vegetable minestrone or creamy clam chowder, reserve these for the main course, and try to take some home.

The Best Bite: At the Artisan Bistro, service is the key to a perfect night out. With everything cooked to order and a wait and kitchen staff eager to please, it’s possible to truly relax and enjoy the evening. There’s never a rush to turn over tables, and with one of Boston’s most renowned bars, the Avery Bar, right across the hall, it’s best to make Artisan the after-show stop. Take your time, and slowly sip one of their fantastic, expertly crafted cocktails. Just be wary of the bar nuts, which – while delicious – are an easy way to undo an evening of healthy, fresh bites.

The next time you’re out for an evening of entertainment in downtown Boston, make sure to stop in to the Ritz. Check your coat, try the bread, and don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what it is you want – even if it’s not on the menu.

Until next time,

Melanie

Kelp and Enoki Soy Salad – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite, Where to Bite
Earthy enoki mushrooms are a perfect balance to the naturally briny seaweed and crisp cabbage. Authentic Asian flavors - soy, ginger, garlic, sesame - take this warm salad to restaurant level.

Earthy enoki mushrooms are a perfect balance to the naturally briny seaweed and crisp cabbage. Authentic Asian flavors – soy, ginger, garlic, sesame – take this warm salad to restaurant level.

Create Your Own Bite #21

1 Cup Dried Kombu Kelp or Seaweed, Rehydrated

1 Cup Napa Cabbage, Chopped

1 Ounce Enoki Mushrooms, Cleaned

1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

1/4 Teaspoon Sesame Oil

1/8 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

1 Clove Garlic, Minced

1 Sheet Roasted Seaweed, Chopped (Optional)

Makes one serving. Estimated Calories: 90

After going to Emerson College for four years, I’m sorry to say I only ventured into a Chinatown supermarket once before today. Even though the campus is conveniently located at the edge of Boston’s Chinatown, I remembered being overwhelmed by the foreign products, none of which were labeled with English explanations.

But I’ve been on a Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snack kick, and was inspired to pick some up fresh seaweed at the grocery store – which required a little field trip to Chinatown.

I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for; but I did happen upon an isle full of traditional dried Chinese products. Whole shelves of dried mushrooms, seaweed, kelp, moss, pork, shrimp – you name it. There was also a wide variety of unique and unfamiliar vegetables and greens. I left with a tiny haul – dried kombu seaweed and enoki mushrooms, because the C Mart Supermarket on Washington St., has a $5 card minimum. And I was regretfully unprepared.

One of my favorite things to order at a Japanese restaurant is seaweed salad. But it’s always drenched in sesame oil.  My vision for tonight’s seaweed-based dinner was to lighten the dish, and incorporate some additional layers of texture and flavor.

Seaweed (and kelp), of course, is the star of tonight’s dinner. Like kale or spinach, sea vegetables can be equated to the iron-rich, nutrient-packed dark leafy greens you may be more familiar with. Yet they also have more unique properties that can not go unmentioned. Seaweed contains significant levels of iodine, which is rarely found in food, more calcium than broccoli, and vitamins B-12 and A.  But best of all, these underwater greens contain all essential amino acids, making them an adequate source of protein, and they’re extremely high in soluble fiber, the kind that slows down your body’s carbohydrate and sugar absorption.

Don't be intimidated by the unattractive exterior. Once rehydrated, seaweed is as easy to work with as any of our more traditional leafy greens.

Don’t be intimidated by the unattractive exterior. Once rehydrated, seaweed is as easy to work with as any of our more traditional leafy greens.

To prepare this dish, start by pulling loose one sheet of kombu, and rehydrating it in a bowl of cold water.  I left mine for about thirty minutes – the briny sediment will come free and the seaweed will rehydrate. I wiped the sheet clean, and then cut it into long, thin, linguine-like strips.

Voila! This thick, hearty seaweed makes for a more filling, entree salad.

Voila! Kelp is thicker and heartier than most varieties of seaweed, making it the perfect base for a more filling entree salad.

I wanted to enjoy my salad warm, so I put the kelp in a pan on low heat while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. I thinly sliced cabbage into long strips, and then cleaned the enoki mushrooms. Also known as straw mushrooms, this mild, delicate variety should be kept away from the heat until the last second.

Finding fresh enoki mushrooms was a real treat - typically, this variety is stuffed into a jar and left on a shelf in the "ethnic food isle" of a supermarket.

Finding fresh enoki mushrooms was a real treat – typically, this variety is stuffed into a jar and left on a shelf in the “foreign food isle” of a supermarket.

Toss your cabbage and minced garlic in with the seaweed, and then begin combining the rest of the ingredients for the salad’s dressing. Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil, and add this into the pan at the same time as the enoki mushrooms. Mix together, and turn off the heat. The mushrooms shouldn’t be in the hot pan for more than a few minutes. If your sauce needs a little something sweet to balance the briny kelp, add a quarter teaspoon of honey or another sweetener. Or, take this dish in the opposite direction with a sprinkle of red chili flakes.

I topped my salad with some chopped roasted seaweed snack, for a little extra nuttiness. Sesame seeds or pickled ginger would also be a fantastic garnish.

Experimenting with new ingredients is always a challenge. But today’s dinner was a nutritious, rewarding experience. Best of all, I discovered a new corner of Boston with a whole plethora of products to try and a whole culinary tradition to learn.

Until next time,

Melanie

A Little Word on Beef-Less Ground Beef

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Everyone!

When it comes to celebrating the luck of the Irish, no city does it better than Boston.  For the past 72 hours, everything has been very green, and very boozy.

Here at the LittleWordBites kitchen, I’m celebrating with food, per usual – putting together my version of the famous St. Patrick’s Day dish, Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Only my beef is ground, and beef-less.

Beef-Less Ground Beef is a great addition in vegetarian meals because its neutral flavor quickly absorbs seasonings, and it's packed with protein.

Beef-Less Ground Beef is a great addition in vegetarian meals because its neutral flavor quickly absorbs seasonings, and it’s packed with protein.

For years, I’ve been using this fantastic Trader Joes product to “beef-up” my vegan chili recipes, and throw together easy, meat-free burgers. One little package holds six, 1/3 cup servings – each one with only 60 calories, and 10 grams of protein. With less than one gram of fat, it’s the perfect base for a variety of  healthy, vegetarian and vegan dishes.

This St. Patty’s day, I whipped up a quick batch of Beef-less Beef Cabbage Wraps.

The flavor of Trader Joes Beef-Less Ground Beef is mild – almost nutty- and I like to kick it up with a little salt, fresh cracked pepper, and recipe-appropriate spices.  Tonight, I cooked my Beef-less Ground Beef in a pan with a tiny sprinkle of olive oil, salt, pepper, dill, and garlic.

While the Beef-Less Ground Beef does not need to be cooked, per say, the texture requires a little assistance. As is the case with many soy protein alternatives, the “beef” is a bit chewy without the heat from a pan and a touch of butter or olive oil.

Once the “beef” began to brown, I added in a handful of diced yellow onion.

For the wraps, I simply peeled back the first few leaves of cabbage. I like my wraps with a little crunch, but to make them softer, you could easily steam them in a pan for a quick minute, to break down the harder arteries of the leaves.

Once the “beef” developed a nice, toasty crunch on the edges, I loaded up my wraps, and added a modest drizzle of mustard on top. The rich beef-flavor is perfectly contrasted by the bright, crisp cabbage.

The onion adds crunch, and the honey mustard binds everything together inside the cabbage-leaf wrap.

The onion adds crunch, and the honey mustard binds everything together inside the cabbage-leaf wrap.

St. Patrick’s Day is known for being heavy on the beer – so enjoy your Guiness when you eat this low-calorie, nutritious dinner instead of heavy alternatives. Skip the roasted red potatoes, and pair with a light cauliflower mash to roundout the Irish feast.

Now that I’m fed, and I have my green shirt on, I’m going to brave the Boston streets and try to get a my first St. Patrick’s day drink of the weekend.

A very-veggie spin on a hearty Irish classic, this updated dish, inspired by Corned Beef and Cabbage, is a healthy, low-calorie alternative for beef-eaters and vegetarians alike.

A very-veggie spin on a hearty Irish classic, this updated dish, inspired by Corned Beef and Cabbage, is a healthy, low-calorie alternative for beef-eaters and vegetarians alike.

Whether or not you want to keep the Irish festivities going well into the week, and plan on whipping up your own Corned Beef variation, or simply want to keep a well-stocked vegetarian refridgerator, I always keep a box of this in the freezer. You never know when you need to fill out a dish with a little texture, or a lot of protein.

Until next year, Sláinte! Cheers to your health.

Melanie

Where to Bite Spring Vegetables [Los Angeles, CA] – The Traveling Bite

The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite

I’m back in the Bean, after an absolute whirlwind of a Spring Break. I ate my way through Mexican, Mediterranean, spicy Thai, and dozens of other cuisines. Along with friends Jordan, Emily, James, and Jordan’s wonderful and generous family, I devoured parmesan fries and blue cheese fries, bread pudding and rice pudding, and concluded the trip with a Melting Pot adventure that allowed me to dip all of my favorite things in melted chocolate and melted cheese.

While allowing myself one or two extra indulgences, I always tried to balance my less healthy meals with lighter ones.  If I had a Coconut Mocha Cappuccino from Coffee Rush in Chandler (sugar free and non-fat, of course) I stuck with water at dinner and resisted the sugary cocktails.

Some of my favorite California however, were those that featured spring’s best vegetables – inherently healthy and unbelievably fresh.

On our first night, we celebrated Jordan’s 21st birthday with a healthy Thai meal at Gindi Thai in Burbank. “All pleasure, no guilt” is the motto of this Thai restaurant and sushi bar. A wide variety of vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options made it a perfect start for the long night of bar snacks and cocktails.

Jordan enjoyed Pad Thai for the first time, while Emily and I turned up the heat with our wok dishes, the Prig King and Gra Pow.

Cabbage leaves, cilantro, and onion were perfect accompaniments to the spicy green beans and bell peppers in the Wok Prig King.

Cabbage leaves, cilantro, and onion were perfect accompaniments to the spicy green beans and bell peppers in the Wok Prig King.

The Not-So-Good Bite: While Gindi Thai warns patrons that certain dishes are prepared medium-spicy, their interpretation of heat is extremely liberal. My face was on fire while I worked my way through the green beans featured in my Prig King. This spring vegetable was prepared with bell peppers and a house chili paste, but I was unprepared for the intense spice. Emily’s thai basil entree was also far more spicy than anticipated.

The Good Bite: Artichokes also come into season in March, and I enjoyed these at the Melting Pot on our final night – boiled tabletop-style in a tangy Caribbean broth with hand-squeezed lime and orange. Sweet asparagus spears were also featured in the Good Earth Vegetarian dish, along with edamame pods and spinach and artichoke ravioli. Spinach and artichoke dip was a great liquid appetizer for the multi-course meal, but be wary of the distorted serving sizes at the Melting Pot.  Share with as many friends as possible, and always choose a slice of apple or cauliflower rather than bread to keep things from going calorie-crazy at the Melting Pot.

The Best Bite:  When Asparagus is at its peak, it is a hearty, abundant vegetable satisfying enough to serve as the focal point of any entree. Best-harvested when the weather is still cool, asparagus is a wonderful early-spring vegetable. Low in calories, high in dietary fiber, and containing more than the daily recommended level of Vitamin K, this delicately flavored vegetable was a star in many of the trips most memorable dishes.

Hold the parmesan and indulge in the fresh-sliced brie.  The salty rind and creamy egg yolk are a perfect dressing to the spring vegetables.

Hold the parmesan and indulge in the fresh-sliced brie. The salty rind and creamy egg yolk are a perfect dressing to the spring vegetables.

At Aroma Coffee & Tea Company in Studio City, California, brunch is way more than eggs and toast with deep fried hash browns. The fresh California produce is at the forefront of many dishes, including the Eggs, Veggies, and Melted Brie breakfast special I enjoyed on our first morning in the city.  You can grab food at Aroma any time of day, but their breakfast menu shouldn’t be missed.

Order at the register and grab a seat on their heated patio or in a velvet fireside armchair for a cool morning meal. While I was tempted by their Roasted Beet Salad and Wild Veggie Burrito with steamed rice, egg whites, spinach, bell peppers, guacamole, and pico de gallo, I was too tempted by the spinach, broccoli, carrots, and seasonal asparagus.  I swapped the swiss cheese for mushrooms and split the thick slice of potato dill toast with my friends to keep things lighter. Every breakfast dish came with two or three eggs; I asked for mine poached, rather than fried, and split these, too.

Melted parmesan and runny egg yolk served as the perfect dressing for this fresh arugula salad with carmelized onions, asparagus, and pine nuts.

Melted parmesan and runny egg yolk served as the perfect dressing for this fresh arugula salad with carmelized onions, asparagus, and pine nuts.

Jordan ordered the Arugula Salad with Poached Eggs for breakfast. Arugula, or “rocket,” is loaded with potassium and Vitamin C, and is at its best in spring. With a huge portion of asparagus, this hearty salad was softened with parmesan cheese and carmelized onions. Protein from the eggs and pine nuts made it the perfect late-morning start. Without the bacon, it was a vegetarian delight.

Now that I’m home, and spring break is over, I’m ready to get back on track. My fridge is full of raw fruits and vegetables – including seasonal sweet baby and purple carrots, string beans, asparagus and Tuscan kale. Because no matter how much fun you have on vacation – no matter how many twists and turns and 360’s your trip might take – when you get home, nothing feels better than sleeping on a light stomach in your comfy gray sweats.

Until next time,

Melanie

Where to Bite Healthy Mediterranean – Chandler, AZ [The Traveling Bite]

The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite
Garlicky, peppery vegetables such as eggplant, squash, cauliflower, and broccoli were a filling main course.b

Garlicky, peppery vegetables such as eggplant, squash, cauliflower, and broccoli were a filling main course.b

Hello, all,

I wanted to start this off by saying – I know this is a little late, and I sincerely wish it weren’t.  But if there is one thing I’ve learned this week, it’s that you can never expect things to go the way you planned them.  There are a tremendous number of unexpected twists life might throw at you. And I’m just glad I can still be sitting here right now sharing this with you.

This week, I’m writing from sunny Arizona and California.  It’s my senior spring break, and one of my best friends, Jordan, has taken me home with her for the holiday. We spent the first few days enjoying the warm valley weather in Arizona,and arrived yesterday in Los Angeles.

I’ve had a blast eating authentic Mexican fare and discovering the joys of Jamba Juice – a smoothie chain that offers you the ability to make your drinks with 1/3 the calories and sugar, to make your beverages dairy free and soy free. I enjoyed the Caribbean Passion for breakfast one day; only 160 calories in a small beverage packed with fresh blended fruits, including strawberries and peaches, and all-natural passionfruit and mango juices.

On Monday, we dined at the Pita Jungle; a Mediterranean spot featuring healthy cuisine from the Middle East, Greece, and Lebanon. This trendy spot features an outdoor patio and a fresh, young vibe. A variety of hummus flavors and an extensive vegetarian menu made it a must-do while Jordan and I explored her hometown. And with the motto: The art of eating healthy, I knew I would enjoy my Pita Jungle experience.

With a vast online nutrition database, it’s possible to scope out the menu options, determine the appropriate serving size, and calorie content before you even get to the restaurant.

Creamy original hummus is a perfect complement to the tangy cilantro jalapeno hummus featured on the left.

Creamy original hummus is a perfect complement to the tangy cilantro jalapeno hummus featured on the left.

Recommended Dishes: The Greek Salad and the Grilled Vegetable Salad are two of the healthier entree options, as well as the Black Bean Burger and the Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burger.  Substitute the heavy grilled potatoes with a side salad, and skip the bun – instead, enjoy pita with hummus or delicious babah ganoush as an appetizer. When I ordered the vegan Grilled Vegetable Salad, I requested that my vegetables be steamed. Cutting the oil out of the preparation saved hundreds of calories, and without the dressing, which racks in about 180 calories per salad, the dish was significantly lighter than the standard preparation.

The Not-So-Good Bite: Unfortunately, we found many of the dishes to be overseasoned. Jordan’s spanikopita was heavy with garlic, and the lemon vinaigrette was particularly tangy.  As a general recommendation, I’d ask for any sauces or dressings on the side; not only will this decrease calories, but you’ll also avoid the excessive salt and pepper and citrus that affected quite a few of our dishes.

The Good Bite: At the Pita Jungle, you get what you pay for.  Reasonable prices are met by perfectly appropriate portions.  My nine-dollar salad was definitely nine-dollars of food.  One thing that’s important to remember is that dinner-sized salads are often too big. The Pita Jungle recommends eating half the salad as a serving.  Of course, this means leftovers for lunch the next day, and the price of a meal cut virtually in half.

The Best Bite:  In addition to a detailed calorie and nutrition breakdown of every menu item, the Pita Jungle also has an online Vegan Chart and Allergen Chart. Find out which dishes are completely vegan, or which ones contain wheat, dairy, nuts, and a number of other common allergens. I felt confident before I even entered the restaurant that I would be getting a healthy, nutritious meal.

In addition to the Pita Jungle, Jordan and I also enjoyed a delicious family-dinner, featuring a make-your-own salad with fat free crumbled feta, carrots, grape tomatoes, slices of English cucumber, and romaine lettuce. Her mother made a delicious vegetarian lasagna stuffed with spinach, squash, and mushrooms, and an extensive fruit and cheese platter.

Topped with crisp champagne vinegar, this salad bar was the perfect side to the cheesy vegetarian lasagna we all enjoyed for supper.

Topped with crisp champagne vinegar, this salad bar was the perfect side to the cheesy vegetarian lasagna we all enjoyed for supper.

Now, Jordan and I are commencing Part II of Spring Break in sunny California. More Little Bites to come as I eat my way across the West Coast, then back to Arizona and to Beantown on Sunday.

Thank you for joining me on my culinary travels,

Melanie