Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I used to hate avocados.  Maybe I never really tried them.  But then one day in college, I had to make some.  I realize we're reaching pretty far back here, but I remember the day clear as yesterday, probably because it was so influential to my future loves of both guacamole and entertaining.  It was probably junior year.  I did my work study at the Humanities Center and we used to sponsor these Friday afternoon events called "Wine-Down."  Wine-Downs weren't very well attended, but they were probably one of the coolest events on campus.  They were basically free wine and cheese parties.  Philosophy and English Profs would show up and mingle with students.  There would be free food and free wine and nobody seemed to care if you were old enough to drink it.  There'd be random music... some kid would show up with a guitar or pony up to the piano.  And there would be great intellectual conversation on topics as random as you could get.  I'd spend the better part of Friday afternoon preparing a spread that would include lots of gourmet cheeses, fruit, homemade breads, etc.  One day, the center's coordinator asked me to whip up some guacamole, which I had never even eaten before, let alone prepared!  So Sue taught me how.  We made a great guacamole and I ate some.  It was good.  I wasn't in love yet, though... that would take a few years and a lot more "trying."  But I got an introduction to guacamole and I was open minded about experimenting more!  
Since then, the burrito entered the mainstream American diet, and I, like many, took part in the craze.  
Note about burritos: Did you know that a vegetarian burrito bowl from Chipotle with guac, cheese, rice, black beans, and sour cream weighs in at like 700 calories?  Imagine what happens when you add meat to that!  Are you a Chipotle Fan?
OK, I had to share that, but back to my love affair with guacamole (which Chipotle did contribute to!).  So as I'm sure you've experienced, the more I ate guacamole, the more I loved it and now it's a staple.  I almost always have a couple avocados on the counter ripening to perfection.  I make guacamole an average of once a week and often eat it for dinner with some multi-grain tortilla chips (which I'm always on the hunt for new varieties of!).  Sometimes (OK, I admit, more than sometimes), I even melt some freshly shredded Vermont cheddar cheese over the tortilla chips. 
Note about cheese: I stopped buying the bags of shredded cheese when I noticed mold inhibitors and potato ingredients to prevent caking listed on the ingredients.  It only takes a minute to shred some cheese and it's worth it to eat REAL cheese that tastes better and that's not going to kill all the bacteria in my tummy!  Oh, and buying the blocks is usually cheaper and the packaging typically tells you where it's from!  
Back to Guac.  Over the past few years, I think I've perfected the recipe, but I always change it up depending on what I have on hand.  I had guacamole again for dinner last night and it came out delicious.  The avocados were perfect (they're pretty cheap at most grocery stores right now).  I checked the stickers by the way, and the avocados were from Chile. I hate to buy produce from so far away and really wish we could cultivate avocados in New England, but it's not going to happen... at least let's hope not!  Gotta keep my eyes peeled for more California and Florida avocados in the future... 
Note about avocados: Full nutrition facts for your standard avocado are here.  Point is, they're good for you!  Please don't let the GOOD monounsaturated fat scare you away from a good avocado!

Here's how I made the guacamole I ate for dinner last night and then some variations that I like and recommend:

Andrea's Guacamole Recipe 
2 ripe avocados, peeled and seeded of course
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped (1 plum and 1 on-the-vine, but it doesn't matter!)
jalapeño, finely chopped
juice of half a lime (tip - microwave it for 10 sec to get the juices flowing)
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 scallions, finely chopped
About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped red onion
kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
A dash of Tabasco
About 2 tablespoons of chopped FRESH cilantro
Directions: Combine all ingredients and mash with a potato masher!  Eat it with tortilla chips!

Variations (experiment by adding a few things here and there):
Chopped Black Olives (this tends to conjure up some disagreement, but my theory is that if it goes well on nachos, why not?)
More red onion or other varieties of onion (or you might not add any onion at all, which is fine, too!)
More cilantro!
Omit Tomato 
Spices: Garlic Powder, Cayenne and/or Chili Powder
Don't Add:
Mayo/Mustard (Some friends have suggested adding mayo and/or mustard - I tried it once and find this addition to be GROSS and an unnatural way to Americanize an otherwise simple and delicious central american dish!)
A packet of guacamole seasoning (read the ingredients... you probably have most of them in your spice cabinet and the ones you don't have you probably don't want to eat anyway!)
Too much salt (your chips will probably have more than enough!)

I should have brought the leftovers for lunch!  Oh well, looks like I'll have some more guac for dinner tonight!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Flatbread Company Restaurant Review

All I can say is WOW.  Went to Flatbread Company for dinner tonight and I don't have a single regret!  Got to dinner around 6:30.  Fell in love with the restaurant as soon as I walked in.  The host was really nice and the environment was casual yet cute.  There was a guy playing a guitar and singing stuff from The Beatles to Jimmy Buffett and the huge wood fired stone oven was the focal point of the restaurant without being intrusive.  
I ordered myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and scanned the menu.  Our waitress walked us through the specials (they have one meat pizza and one veggie pizza special each day), and gave us time to think about our selection.  It was clear this place was special.  Just about everything on the menu was organic.  The meat was free-range and you know what else?  LOCAL ingredients were spotlighted!  
I ordered an amazing salad with  organic mesclun and organic sweet leaf lettuces tossed with organic celery and carrots, toasted sesame seeds, organic arame, homemade berry vinaigrette and Vermont artisan goat cheese!  I was particularly excited about the arame after reading about all the health benefits of sea vegetables in Clean Food last night.  If you've never heard of arame... don't worry... I hadn't either!  The links will bring you to Wikipedia (which I'll link to a lot until I find some cooler sites to reference... suggestions welcome).  Because I've accounted for the fact that you might not feel like clicking on the links, here are some highlights about arame from Wikipedia: "Arame 荒布 is a species of kelp best known for its use in Japanese cuisine. It is one of many species of seaweed used in Japanese dishes.

Arame is high in calciumiodineironmagnesium, and vitamin A as well as being a good dietary source for many other minerals. ... Usually purchased in a dried state, it is reconstituted quickly, taking about five minutes. Arame comes in dark brown strands, has a mild, semi-sweet flavor, and a firm texture. Once reconstituted, it may be served alone or as a garnish. It also may be served among other seaweeds as a mixture or a salad, including marinated dishes.  This seaweed also may be added to appetizers, casseroles, muffins, pilafs, soups, toasted dishes, and many other types of food. Its mild flavor makes it adaptable to many uses."
Now I don't usually like seaweed (it took me like a decade to even appreciate sushi), so I was pleasantly surprised when I loved the nutty flavor and crunchy texture the arame added to my amazing organic salad!  I can't wait to discover more sea vegetables and plan to check out an Asian market soon to start experimenting (again, suggestions welcome!)
After savoring every bite of the salad (OK, I admit, I had half of it packed to go... I wanted to save room!), it was time for the special veggie pizza which had fresh sliced plum tomatoes, whole cloves of roasted garlic, mozzarella, and basil.  OH, and it was topped with a balsamic reduction.  It was SO yummy!  But I wasn't stopping there.  All the reviews on yelp advised saving room for dessert, and I listen to my fellow yelpers!  Not only that, but I was watching desserts come out of the stone oven all through the salad and the pizza.  I'm glad I sat in plain view of the oven and the prep counter, as it was a great reminder that dessert was not to be missed.  The soft gingerbread (prepared by a local baker who makes all the baked desserts at Flatbread) topped with two heaping scoops of pumpkin ice cream and a generous dollop of fresh maple infused whipped cream was insanely good.  I highly recommend you try some... and soon!
The staff at Flatbread Company were great, too.  Our server, Michelle, was very attentive and the manager, Evan, came over throughout our meal to check in.  I asked where the ice cream came from and it was from southern New Hampshire, which is probably a good thing because if it were any closer, I might have discovered a new addiction tonight!  Evan also asked our opinion of the live music, which I found to be absolutely perfect.  Before I left, I signed up for the list serve so that I could get the weekly emails with the updated specials.  This conversation with Evan gave me a nice opportunity to comment on their lack of a decent website, which I just might offer to help out with (hey, why not?)
By the way... I did bring home about half the salad and a little bit of pizza... which I polished off as soon as I walked in the door.  I'm glad I ate light today (greek yogurt with berries and some trek mix can really hold a girl over!) saved my appetite for dinner!
From Seed to Stomach would like to officially grant it's first 5 Seed Rating...
... to the one and only Flatbread Company!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Falling hard for another book about foooooood! From Skinny Bitch to Michael Pollan to Clean Food

Believe it or not, it all started with Skinny Bitch.  I marched into my local Borders and picked up my copy after seeing Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin on a couple of my favorite talk shows.  I got home and read the whole thing that afternoon.  Now granted, this isn't a difficult task to accomplish, for Rory and Kim keep things pretty educational and entertaining (my favorite combination, other than chocolate and raspberry that is!).  But you must understand... I'm not a big reader.  Well, I wasn't at the time.  I mean I had been back in the day, but I don't even know what the last book I finished before Skinny Bitch was.  Sure, I had my brief love spell with audiobooks (Including Andrew Weil's Eating Well for Optimum Health) while I was communing from Baltimore to Laurel while I was living in MD, but that doesn't count.  So back to Skinny Bitch.  After finishing it in a day (and getting pretty grossed out), I decided that I'd try the whole no meat thing.  I also cut down on dairy and eggs, but didn't want to go too far into the unknown.  It's been about a year and a half since I ate something with legs.  I still eat fish sometimes, like when I eat out.  And I've probably ingested some chicken broth or something along those lines... but I would have never thought I would have gone this long.  

When I made the decision to go without meat, I didn't look at it as a sacrifice; I wasn't giving anything up.  I just didn't want to eat anything that came from a factory farm and I didn't feel like taking the time and devoting all the energy that goes into finding meat that didn't come from a factory farm... it just wasn't worth it when I could fill my diet with more nutrients by switching to a mostly plant-based diet.  (I did tell myself then that if I was at my grandparent's house for dinner and they happened to be serving something that they raised that I might indulge... especially if it was lamb.  I'll let you know when/if that happens!)  

So that's where/when it all started.  But then I started caring more and more about my food.  And I started reading more and more.  Next was The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Then In Defense of Food.  Then a subscription to Vegetarian Times.  And now... Clean Food.  And that doesn't even count the countless hours I've spent with my nose in cookbooks, on websites, and paging through more books about food at Porter Square Books (love that place!).  

But I think Clean Food might end up being my favorite of them all.  First of all, I love the feel of it.  It's a nice, heavy hardcover.  And it's green.  Terry Walters has done a magnificient job with the Table of Contents.  There's an introduction that really illustrates her point of view and she makes it pretty clear that there's no judgement.  Do what you can to eat clean.  Small steps, you know?  I love that!  And then a great breakdown of what you need to eat clean, followed by a ton of simple recipes organized by season.  Genius, right?  

Disclaimer:  I rarely follow recipes (except when baking, which I don't do very often!), so I usually just read cookbooks for inspiration when I'm cooking something I've never cooked before... like roasted butternut squash soup, for example.  I read like 10 recipes for butternut squash soup.  And then I decide which parts of which recipes I like and which things to change up and I go from there.  I always season as I go, so I never really know exactly how I cooked something (though I am going to try to do a better job with this going forward).
Well, I'm sure I'll have much more to say about Clean Food down the road, but that's all for now... I'm technically only on page 11 and I can't wait to read more!  

Monday, November 30, 2009

Why wait when there's a dinner party to write about?

I love to cook.  It's one of my favorite pastimes (others include gardening, yoga, debating politics, talking about food).  I really like it when other people eat what I cook (if I can be brutally honest, I think this is because I know I'm a great cook and I like to share the gift).  So I throw dinner parties as often as I can with a goal of once a month.  Let's just say it had been more than a month, so this past Saturday's "All the Fixings" dinner party was long overdue.  I think it was my biggest crowd yet; the 11 of us certainly made full use of the dining room!
Preparation started early Saturday morning.  I woke up, straightened up, and peeled, seeded and chopped three large, local butternut squash.
Then I ran (literally) to the chiropractor, which was probably a good use of time considering that I'd spend the rest of the day on my feet cooking!  I stopped at Dave's Fresh Pasta on my way home to pick up a few ingredients I didn't have on hand, including three tomatoes, one leek, a baguette, two apples, three shallots, and a few other things I simply couldn't do without.  I also sampled some buffalo butter, an amazing olive (or two), and some delicious cheese.  If you live in the Boston area, and haven't been to Dave's Fresh Pasta recently, you've got to check it out!  I love that they have a ton of local produce and that they have a great selection local and imported cheese!  And the folks who work there are great; they don't mind answering my million-and-one questions, and that makes me happy.  On my way home from Dave's, I was strategizing the preparation timeline.  It was almost noon and guests would be arriving in about five hours.  There was SO much to do!

As soon as I got home, I peeled and chopped the apples and threw them in two roasting pans with the butternut squash I had chopped earlier.  A drizzle of EVOO and some kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper and they were ready for a 400 degree oven!  While they roasted, I fried up some fresh purple sage leaves from the garden in some extra virgin coconut oil (I'd never fried sage leaves before, so that was fun!).
I removed them from the oil and threw in 1 large chopped yellow onion and 2 chopped leeks.  I sautéed them for a while to get as much sweetness out of them as possible, then added a few cloves of minced garlic.  I deglazed the pot with some extra dry sherry, added a can of TJ's light coconut milk, about 4 cups of water, and some TJ's veggie broth concentrate (great alternative to heavy cans of broth).  Brought all that up to a boil and threw in the roasted squash and apples from the oven (which were already delicious on their own!).  Stuck a lid on and let the flavors simmer together for a couple hours while I prepared carrots and parsnips with thyme, rosemary yams with a chianti reduction, and mini pumpkin arancini, which I topped with the fried sage leaves!  I used an immersion blender to blend the soup, which was amazing, especially after a little more doctoring with some minced ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon!  For apps, I threw together a few dips (I love dip), which I served with Crudités and pita chips : White Bean Herb Dip, Eggplant Caviar, Pumpkin Marscapone, and a Cottage Cheese Yogurt dip with fresh parsley, and My amazing roommate made two varieties of delicious homemade cupcakes for dessert and guests started arriving with the wine as preparation was winding down.

Dinner was fantastic.  I made the soup again on Thanksgiving!  I'll try to post some pictures soon!

Links to a few recipes (though I modify just about everything at least a little!):
Eggplant Caviar and Pumpkin Dip:
Rosemary Yams with a Chianti Reduction:
Mini Pumpkin Sage Balls:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let's start cooking!

I was planning on waiting until spring to start this whole blog thing.  I had this idea to take you through the journey from planting the first seeds through the harvest and preparation of a delicious, homegrown meal.  But the truth is, the garden only feeds me for a few months out of the year (for now, anyway), so it seems pretty silly to wait.  So this is it... my inaugural From Seed to Stomach blog post.  I really hope you like what's to come.

Note: Instead of providing you with some grand overview of the blog itself, I'm just going to dive right in.  I think you'll appreciate it (and catch on to the theme pretty quickly regardless).