Monday, March 30, 2009

Mmm...fresh artichoke

I read this post over at the Nashville Scene's Bites blog with quite a bit of interest. Back when the SO and I visited Seattle, we ordered an artichoke appetizer for dinner one night. It was my first ever whole artichoke and I didn't have the faintest idea of what to do with it. I know I ate as much of the leaves as I could, but I don't recall ever making it to the heart. What a tragedy.

So when I saw some fresh artichokes at Trader Joe's (like another reader did), I picked them up and brought them home. After a little research, I settled on this method of cooking and popped two of them in for a simmered bath in water, lemon juice, sea salt and a touch of olive oil. They stayed in for about 40 minutes--to the point where a leaf came off easily with tongs.

The link describes how to eat the artichoke as well as how to cook one, which is extremely helpful. Though my bottom teeth look like a busted piano due to an aversion to wearing my retainers as a teenager, so I had to tear each leaf in half to get all the "meat" off it.

The flavor of lemon and salt (and olive oil) was really good on its own, but I made a couple of dips to accompany the artichoke. The first was a little mayonnaise (note to self: get some Vegenaise) mixed with a bit of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt. The second--which I really, really liked--was a bit of mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice and pesto. I've got some concentrated pesto in a tube and it was perfect for this dip.

The raves for the fresh artichoke are certainly deserved. Delicious! Though next time, I'll just prepare one artichoke for the two of us. One per person is a bit much; not in that too much of a good thing way, but in that up at 3am with intestinal distress way. Though I think I may have consumed a little too much of the woody bits, which would have exaggerated this effect. So if you see some fresh artichokes for sale, don't be intimidated. They're extremely easy to prepare and a lot of fun to eat.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A tale of two fake meats

Last night, the SO and I were catching up on Tuesday night's Colbert Report that included a segment on lab-created meat ("shmeat"--a combination of two unappetizing words created to describe this...substance). The SO asked me if I'd eat shmeat. Er, no. There's still a fair dose of animal cruelty involved and, frankly, it sounds more disgusting than Quorn (which I do eat). Shmeat? Do they really think people will eat this? People do eat some rather objectionable shtuff.

That said, I'm generally not a fan of fake meat. I do eat the occasional Quorn item (since I live with an omnivore and I try to keep him happy), but I generally get by on vegetables and grains and such. But the other day, I picked up some Gardenburger Riblets. Last night, it was time to try them out (this was before we watched the bit on "shmeat"). The package recommends 3:45-4:00 for cooking in the microwave, but 3:45 proved to be a bit too long. Even with slightly dried out ends, the Riblets were really good. The sauce is tasty with just a bit of tang and the ribs themselves had a nice taste. I served them with some tater tots (really, what goes with Riblets?) and some steamed broccoli and it turned out to be a quick, easy and yummy meal. It was also cheap (about $4 worth of food), low calorie (less than 700 calories for a very filling meal) and vegan!

Friday, March 13, 2009


For the Significant Omnivore's birthday, I decided to surprise him by going to a new restaurant. Chachah hadn't been open very long, but was already getting a lot of good comments. And since I'm a fan of its sister restaurant, PM, I knew it would be good.

The menu is tapas style, which isn't new around here, but the eclectic collection of options is very different from what other restaurants are serving. Certainly, some of the dishes have an Asian influence, but there's Moroccan, South American and many other influences as well.

We started out with a combination of three dips--the white bean and fennel (good but not great), artichoke and parmesan tapenade (very good), and Spanish olive pimiento and cheese (my favorite). The dips come with a selection of breads (you'll run out, but they will graciously bring more).

The tapas and raciones menu is huge, though there's only one vegetarian option in the "raciones." But one could make a meal off the dips and tapas only (or a salad, which was tempting). But I knew the SO would order a large plate and I'd be on my own with the tapas, so I tried out the Perserved Lemon-Artichoke Barigoule. It's a mixture of vegetables and wild mushrooms over a black- lentil rice cake. It's similar to a tagine (and is served in a dish reminiscent of a tagine) and the addition of the cake makes it very hearty. I'd forgotten the exact name of the dish and was pleasantly surprised by the lemon flavor that seemed to punctuate every second or third bite. Surprised in a good way--the flavor of this barigoule is delicious. And though the portion looks small, it's very filling.

Forgoing tapas and just having dips and raciones meant we had room for dessert. It was his birthday, so we ordered three desserts! Unfortunately, desserts aren't listed on the website, so I will try my best to remember what they were.

First up was a poached pear dish. I believe it was poached in a red wine or sherry. It had a great flavor, but I think the crumble crust was unnecessary. Kind of Cracker-Barelly. Not that I don't love Cracker Barrell (I do), but I expected something a little more demure, I think.

Next up was an orange cardamom cake, I think? I liked it a lot, but the SO did not care for the candied orange bits. They do get stuck in your teeth and sort of create a not-so-great last impression. The flavor was excellent, though.

The third dessert was a coconut flan...and some other flavor that I'm kicking myself for not remembering because this dessert was far and away our favorite. Our favorite taste of the night, really. It's an excellent way to end a meal at Chachah, so I definitely recommend saving room for it if you go.

There have been some criticisms of Chachah for its expense. For some of us, it's not going to be an everyday place. But for those of us who don't go out very often and enjoy fine food when we do, it's nice to know it's an option. Frankly, I don't have an "everyday" place. Unless you count my kitchen. It's always a special occasion when we go out to eat.

Chachah's proximity to Music Row and trendy neighborhoods means that, well, there are going to be Music Row and trendy types eating there. Even though it was a Thursday night when we visited, the place was packed by the time we left around 8pm and it was full of people who were dressed by and/or inspired by stylists (did they notice my Gap pants? I hope not). And there were lots of people who knew each other well enough to great one another with double cheek kisses. We sat on the patio but it was too cold to have the doors open, so with all that metal, glass and concrete (and trendy Music Row types well lubricated with specialty libations), it can get pretty loud. This is not the place for a romantic or intimate meal.

The other thing to say is that the service was really good. The server knew the menu very well, though I'm not sure he was the best person to recommend a seafood dish. He didn't seem to be a fan and I think the SO would have been happier with the salmon instead of the scallops. But he was very knowledgeable and attentive and we never waited long for anything we needed. I'll definitely be back this spring and summer when they open up the doors on the patio. I love dining al fresco.

2013 Belmont Blvd
Closed Tuesdays!