My Review of “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin

In no way I have been compensated for my review of this cookbook. I was given a galley copy of the book to review. All opinions are my own.

Kashrus Note: This is a vegetarian cookbook. There are recipes that on occasion call for different types of cheese. Some of the cheeses listed are considered “aged” or “hard” and usually require a 6 hr waiting period between their consumption and eating meat.

 In many of cases, the cheese can be omitted in what is called a “vegan option.” It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure, as with any recipe I list here, that the ingredients they use conforms with their level of kashrus. This is not a “carte-blanche” for people to change their level of kashrus, nor to use product that they may have not used until now.  In any and all cases regarding questions regarding the use of unfamiliar ingredients one should consult their local Orthodox authority.

I am not a vegetarian. Not even close. My coffee is not complete without a healthy pour of milk, I eat fish as many as 3 meals a day during the week, and snacks include cheese sticks.  (For health reasons, I am on a very high protein diet.) For the Sabbath, there is nothing like a freshly roasted chicken for Friday night, and cholent with beef neck meat for Sabbath day.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, where vegetarians were “crunchy-granola”, wore Birkenstocks, smelled funny, were far too intense about the planet for my liking, and were similar to hippies. I tried tofu once (probably in the late 90’s) and it was like eating a sponge. I even tried the vegetarian-protein-faux-meat. Apparently, it didn’t like me, and the feeling was mutual.

In cooking school, we acknowledged that vegetarianism was a trend, and as such we had to at least “try to understand” the philosophy behind it-all the while quietly rolling our eyes and then getting on to what we considered “normal cooking.” In the restaurants I worked in at the time, vegetarian options were usually salads. Rabbit food, if you will.

In 2012, I understand a little more about vegetarianism, but always saw it as for people who perhaps were a little more liberal, more “into nature”, more “green” than myself. Perhaps they needed eat this way for health reasons.  Just like people who eat non-kosher, or halal – all fine and well- but not for me, thank you.

Michael Natkin saw my theory taken and turned ever so gently upside down. A computer engineer from a young age, Michael began cooking healthy, vegetarian food for his mother, (of blessed memory) who was suffering from cancer. His mother had wanted to try to eat a macrobiotic diet, but was unable at that point to cook for herself. So he and a good friend of his decided to cook for her. The love of the writer for his mother, and for his cooking is palpable. His passion for the land, respect of food, of traditional ways of eating, of all good, green growing things resonates long after you put the book down. He states in his introduction that he “ate his way” through many countries, such as Japan, Holland, Spain, India, and the Czech Republic.

I believe him. I may have been a skeptic when I picked up the book, and while I am not convinced that a completely vegetarian lifestyle is for me, I can sincerely say this book has given me a lot to consider. I will definitely be considering alternate sources of protein for my diet, to start.  I thought the book would try to “convert” or try to push upon me why I should become vegetarian, to give up meat and fish. I was never more wrong. From first page to last, Michael simply presents the dishes, with many helpful hints, backgrounds of where the dishes came from, and even little tidbits about his friends and family. What ultimately won my respect: he plates his dishes very simply, he never preaches, he does his own photography. The defining point: nearly every recipe leaves room for changes. For someone who can follow a recipe, but hates being confined  (I always want to go my own way, with some basic foundations to keep me somewhat grounded)  this aspect is what finally won me over. Page 96 even has a whole half-page devoted to the topic “Don’t Stick to the Recipe”!

The recipes come from across the globe: Ethiopia, Spain, Mexico, Italy, the Middle East, Japan, Korea. The recipes range from classics redone with a modern riff, to completely traditional dishes from the various regions.

Being taught how to cook in the classical (French) style, my eyes were drawn to the more European recipes initially, as these contain more ingredients I felt I understood. Grilled treviso radiccho, white bean and kale soup, potato and green bean salad with arugula pesto- all things I could understand.  Another aspect of this book that I love- there is something in here for everyone! No matter what cooking style, no matter where you fall cooking wise (traditional, modern, a trained chef, a home cook) it doesn’t matter- there are recipes (yes, I deliberately use the plural, and gleefully!) for you.

For me, I spent the most time studying the pastas, and the lentil dishes. Spanish lentil and mushroom stew, linguine with mushrooms, mujadara, and Sicilian spaghetti with pan roasted cauiflower will definently find their way onto my menu, as well as many other recipes as well. From small plates to dessert, whether you considery yourself a cook or baker, more into savory or sweet-there is something here for you.

Michael Natkin’s book is available on amazon.com  His blog is http://herbivoracious.com/ and he is on Twitter @michaelnatkin

A special Thank You to Jackie Gordon @divathatateny for connecting me with Michael and his team at Harvard Common Press, and making it possible for me to get my hands on this fantastic cookbook!

 

 

KFWE2012 Menu of Desserts Sampled -Finale

What’s the best way to complete a meal than with delicious desserts? KFWE2012 was no exception. I truly enjoyed each sample I tried. Hungry yet?

First stop was Pardes. In fact, someone stopped me and told me to go here “because they have good desserts”.  I tried a berry tartlet, with a meringue-style topping. There was also a spot of sauce on the plate, and I added that to the top of the tart. It was  incredibly delicious! My only complaint: I wanted more! It was light and satisfying, sweet without being overwhelming.

I feel that to enjoy a dessert, you must have a coffee or tea to go with it. Noi Due was next on my travels. The coffee they had on offer was strong and smooth. It reminded me of the strength of Starbucks, but none of the bitterness or after taste. I actually stopped by twice: one to try, one to take home. The one I took home I enjoyed cold the next morning. I will be making a trip to Manhattan to enjoy this again, soon I hope.

My Most Favorite Food is aptly named: their display was both food for the eyes as well as the stomach. In honor of Valentine’s day, they had on offer cookies in the shapes of hearts, X and Os, and lips. I got there too late to enjoy these, sadly. I did enjoy, however, a delicious variation of a linzer tart. Filled with apricot, drizzled with chocolate, it was nutty, cinnamony, and I could have easily eaten a half-dozen.  They also had the most adorable stand with little cakes on sticks shaped in hearts. Just looking at their display made me very happy.

I will say that Guilty Pleasures got my dessert vote of the night. I am a chocoholic, and these did not disappoint in the least. I took a few to sample: one with pink on top filled with dates, a rectangle with an almond on top filled with an amazing nut filling, and one shaped as a strawberry with a rich chocolate-strawberry center. While all of the chocolates were indescribable, the strawberry was the stand-out. The fruit flavor didn’t taste fake! I have to say: I was impressed.  Guilty Pleasures, fellow chocolate lovers, is one to watch out for and tasted.

Silverleaf Caterers had a secret dessert: a tiramisu cake-up! I wasn’t totally surprised that after asking people where they got them, it was from Silverleaf Caterers. They seemed to be going luxe on all their offerings-why would dessert be any different? There were layers of delicious cream alternating with cake inside a ice-pop holder, but it was the cake that got my attention the most. I felt there was too much cream, and found myself a bit impatient: I just wanted to get to the cake already! It was worth it, because the cake was everything one would want: rich, moist, and simply delicious.

Finally, I stopped by Mixology. I’m not a big drinker, but I was intrigued by these mixed drinks. The menu showed what was on offer, and I settled for the passion fruit cocktail. Not sickening sweet, it was the perfect ending to an amazing evening.

KFWE2012 Menu of Apps and Mains I sampled part 2

Because I  sampled so many things, I want to share it all with you!  I will start with this disclaimer: these are strictly my opinions. Just because I was pleased or not pleased with a particular offering, it in no way means an offense to the establishment providing the sample, and should not be taken as such. I merely liked or didn’t like an item of offer.

 

I started at Sushein, where they had a beef slider w/french fries on offer. The beef was a perfect medium, and the fries were delicious; crisp on the outside and soft and hot inside. They also had a California roll on offer as well.

I then headed to Joburg Kosher, which had several interesting things, including a dried beef. My favorite: the penne with sausage. The marinara was flavorful, the sausage was spicy but not over powering-a pleasing dish all the way around.

Next stop was ETC Steakhouse. I was given a very pretty plate with a type of pulled beef in sauce, with mashed potatoes. The potatoes were very good (homemade, with little chunks of potato even!) but the meat was not bad and not good. It was just there.

The next place I visited was Le Marais. I was extremely excited to come here. Living in Boro Park, you hear how fancy and delicious Le Marais is. I wanted to see if they lived up to the hype. They had on offer a slice of hangar steak, cooked medium, that had been cooked in or marinated in chimichurri and lime juice, decorated with microgreen garnish. This was atop a bed of dark lentils.  I loved the lentils! They had a lot of flavor, cooked perfectly. I easily (if it hadn’t seemed like I was being greedy) could have asked for a second helping of those.  I was really disappointed in the steak, however. It was chewy, the seared crust seemed to separate from the meat, and despite being told that the meat was cooked/marinated in chimchurri and lime, I tasted little to none of these flavors.

Carlos and Gabby’s was my next stop. Chips, salsa and dips! The chips were delicious-crispy, light and best of all not greasy. I completely fell in love with the salsa. It was hot, but not enough to burn your mouth. Delicious all the way around.

Next stop: Silverleaf Caterers. They had, far and away, the best on offer this evening. I tasted a meatball, made out of duck confit, with crimini chips, a wild mushroom ragout, and the most amazing thing..a pipette that allowed me to add as little or as much of garlic demi I wanted! Served in the style of an amuse-bouche (though slightly large for the presentation) in a silver spoon. Unbelievable. The meatball was tender, soft, with delicate flavor, the ragout gave a rustic Italian flair, and the chips added a delightful texture. I added a tiny bit of the garlic from the pipette, and that was the icing on the cake, so to speak.

They also offered a deconstructed Shepard’s pie. The meat was veal, not beef. Truffled mashed potatoes and caramelized onion sauce completed the sample. It is literally comfort food, made modern and luxe. This (and the meatball) were the only samples of the night I finished entirely.

Jack’s Gourmet’s offering was not for the faint of heart. A spicy sausage atop rice and beans. The sausage (for me) was so spicy that I literally took one bite, and desperately needed water. I tried the rice and beans to see if I could use that to calm the fire in my mouth, but that was also spicy. Between the two, I literally couldn’t taste anything other than heat and spice.

After a long drink of water, and ten minutes outside admiring the lights and the water off the pier, I came back inside and headed to Shalom Bombay. Shalom to you too, Shalom Bombay! They had the prettiest plate presentation (that I saw) as well as the second-best offerings of the evening. Biryani rice, chicken korma, and tawa beef were all on offer, and despite the chicken being a little dry, the flavors between all the options on the plate were incredibly complimentary, and the colors very beautiful.

Final stop for apps and mains: Gemstone Caterers. They had on offer a poke tuna with lemongrass foam-style dressing, which was delicious and refreshing. They also had a beet, apple and jicama kebab, which was simply incredible (and I can’t stand beets!) and of which sadly I didn’t get a picture of.

Please stay tuned for the final part of my KFWE2012 experience..the desserts!

A Night to Remember..KFWE2012 part 1

The night of February 13, 2012 is a night I will remember. Located at Pier 60 in Chelsea Piers, it was all I could have asked for in terms of food and wine to sample. I arrived about 7.00pm ( the event started at 6.30) and immediately took a quick walk-round to see what was on offer. I also wanted to meet some Twitter-pals (@bethanyshondark and @hsabomilner) before I went to taste everything.

I met @bethanyshondark, and she was among the nicest people I ever met. Even though I never met her before that night, it didn’t stop her from giving me a hug and the biggest smile. @hsabomilner was incredibly gracious as well, in the few moments I had to chat with her. I was very happy to finally meet people who I tweet to on a frequent basis.

I decided that I was going to start in places where they weren’t so many people: I decided I wanted to focus in on some names that were so familiar, at least to me. There was so much to try, I wasn’t even sure where to begin. So I literally found a place that had the least amount of people, and there I began.

It was an evening filled with good food, mixing and mingling, and a stunning February night on the pier. Please see my next post for a full menu-style format (pictures and commentary included) of what I sampled and enjoyed.

I would like to thank @AJMadison for the opportunity. They graciously gave me a free ticket to go and enjoy the event, and for that they deserve special mention.

Chocolate in Various Forms

From left: Chocolate covered cherries, chocolate-almond truffles, chocolate peanutbutter squares

Eat your heart out! Top: Chocolate covered cherry Bottom: Chocolate peanutbutter square

Chocolate covered cherries and peanutbutter squares – pick as you choose!

A handful of sweetness -take 2 and call me in the AM!

The Finale: on the tray, ready to go!