Monday, August 6, 2012

Green BEAN Delivery: When Life Gives You Lemons. And Zucchini. And Bibb Lettuce.

I love grocery stores, but I have terrible grocery shopping habits. I wait until the situation is dire, when my coffee maker is coasting on fumes, after I've scraped the last bits of almond butter from the jar, to make the trip.

Some people are disciplined grocery shoppers. They make a "budget," I guess, before they enter. They only go grocery shopping once or twice a week. They buy ingredients with more than tonight's meal in mind. They find a good deal on free-range chicken and put it on the menu, or they see some perky looking kale and whip up a salad. Me, I head for the freezer case. Or I buy a bouquet of cilantro and only make one batch of guacamole before the rest of it turns into brown slime in my refrigerator. I try, I really do, but lately I've been leaving TJ's with more frozen pizzas and coconut-mango popsicles than actual fresh food.

For those of us who don't buy as many fresh vegetables as we should, who in moments of weakness allow the ketchup on the side of a grilled cheese sandwich to pass as the night's serving of vegetables, for us there is Green BEAN Delivery (Biodynamic, Education, Agriculture and Nutrition. Clever, right?). You've probably heard of it, this is the service that loads up a bin full of organic produce every week (or every other week) and delivers it to your door on a day of your choosing. You can customize your order or leave it to chance.

I tried out a bin recently. Green BEAN sends you a list ahead of time of what you can expect to see when it arrives. When mine arrived, I became the proud owner of a well-rounded assortment of vegetables including squash, zucchini, some mushrooms, a head of local bibb lettuce and some on-the-vine tomatoes, among other things. Panic washed over me. What to do with it all?

I went to the place I go to when I feel lost - Google. Plotting out a week's worth of recipes, I started with the zucchini.

It's been an awfully long time since I met a real zucchini face-to-face. I found a recipe on the Kitchn quickly enough for a Mediterranean yogurt spread using zucchini, greek yogurt and the lemon that was also included with my bin. If you find yourself in possession of these ingredients, I highly recommend trying this out.

There, one ingredient down, one delicious dip whipped up and ready for a few day's worth of snacking. As my week went on, I made thick sandwiches loaded with vegetables. I made salads and soup. I ate sliced peaches with my breakfast. When fresh produce is close at hand, it turns out to be quite easy to find things to do with it. 

Green BEAN isn't terribly cheap - a small produce bin costs $35 every week. I didn't do any precise math here, but I'm willing to bet you could get more produce for your dollar at Daisy Mae's, and there you'd be able to pick out and inspect everything ahead of time. I doubt you could make it out of Whole Foods with everything I got in my bin for $35 though.

However, Green BEAN really can't be beat on convenience. All of the produce I received was in great shape and stayed fresh through the week. Spending a little money on the service might pay off if it replaces a lot of repeat trips to the store to find something - anything - for dinner. You can invest a little more and make Green Bean your primary source for groceries - they stock tons of pantry items, proteins, dairy products and local items like Carriage House Farm honey.

Disclosure, my produce bin was provided at no cost. It was pretty darn nice of them to do it. They've also generously provided a discount code for all of you to use if you'd like to try out the service - use the code "15CPml" and they'll knock $15 off your first bin. The code is good for a week so don't slack off.

Many thanks to Green BEAN for the opportunity to try the service!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Silence of the Lamb Meatballs

My sister and I agreed to host a birthday dinner at my place for Dad this year in lieu of fancy presents (we still got him a robotic walking crab, just in case). Should we grill? Should I make some of Ina’s buttermilk ranch dressing and serve it over big wedges of lettuce? Will I need to scrub my bathroom floor? We settled on lamb meatballs.

I made a version of these for a dinner party a few years ago. Someday I promise I’ll make a real meal for a party, but until then I’m going to keep making picnic foods and calling it dinner. The lamb meatballs are good on their own, but they really cry out for a thick, tangy yogurt sauce on the side. Put the whole thing on a “slider bun” and you’re ready to party.

Don’t go crazy on the cinnamon, it tends to take over and you’ll lose the other flavors. Form the meatballs a bit bigger than the suggested 2 tsp if you want something more substantial, just keep them in the oven for about 17 minutes.

I was able to source almost everything for this dinner from Findlay Market. Once you know where to look, you can find almost anything there. EXCEPT SLIDER BUNS, as a maddening search revealed. Those I got at Kroger, the kind that come in the orange plastic bag.

Deviled eggs were served as an appetizer. Pro Tip: Want to create the smell of a room-clearing fart right inside your refrigerator? Hard boil and peel a dozen eggs, put them all in a glass bowl in the fridge and don’t cover them with any plastic wrap.

The lamb meatball recipe comes from CHOW. I have lovingly copied and pasted the ingredients below.

Combine all of these things in a large bowl, form meatballs and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes:
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Serve with Fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Game On

I didn’t go to Disney as a kid. No mouse ears or photos with princesses for me, at least not until I was in high school. Instead, my sister and I would get to go to Mr. Gatti’s every once in a while. It’s a chain pizza place with an arcade attached. There, your family can gorge itself on a pizza buffet and play games for one reasonable price.

We moved away from our local Mr. Gatti’s, and it left a little pizza-slice-shaped hole in my heart. A couple years later, we were en route from Mississippi to Ohio on one of our famous cross-country trips when Mom and Dad said they had a surprise for us.

We took a short trip from the Days Inn where we were staying for the night and pulled up in the parking lot of nothing less than a Mr. Gatti’s. Kaitlin won big on that trip – we were playing an arcade version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos and suddenly tickets started spewing from the machine. We gathered them up, in long ribbons, and I think she was required to share part of her winnings with me. Our tickets didn’t even added up to a clock radio when we turned them in for prizes, but that sort of didn’t matter. I remember, indelibly, that we were winners.

I’ve done my time covering trade shows in Las Vegas and I’ve navigated the maze of many-a dimly lit casino. I like the food and drink aspect of Vegas, but I’m not a gambler so none of that has ever looked too appealing to me. Replace all of those slot machines with air hockey tables and arcade games? Now I’m interested. Turns out, there’s a place for that.

This week I was invited to take a look inside a newly remodeled Dave and Buster’s. Flashbacks to Mr. Gatti’s ensued. I was told I would be able to play skeeball if I wanted. I said yes, obviously.

I’ll admit, before yesterday I’d never set foot in any Dave and Buster’s. The lure of game play alongside the availability of alcohol was intriguing, sure, but never enough to sway me. The new look is pretty striking. Big screens, modern d├ęcor, and lots and lots of flashy games.

I sampled some of the menu items. On a scale of food court to upscale restaurant fare, it ranks somewhere around a TGI Friday’s. And sometimes, that’s all you really want. There are piles of nachos, buffalo wings, hot dogs wrapped up in soft pretzel dough, and a monstrous salad known as “The Lawnmower.” I’ll admit I have a soft spot for this kind of stuff. I blame my Midwestern upbringing, salty over-processed chicken wings and anything served with ranch sauce signals “fun” in my brain. Every once in a while I have to indulge – be it a Chik-fil-A sandwich, nuggets, an order of buffalo wings, or a road trip McDonald’s Filet o Fish. I’m not too proud to admit that I occasionally dabble in these “foods.”

Walking through the midway, I was surprised at how strong my own urge was to jump in and play. There have been some significant technological developments in arcade gaming since my Mr. Gatti’s days. Star Wars, Fruit Ninja, four-way air hockey, they’re all here, wrapped around a brightly lit bar.

The bottom line is that if you find yourself at Dave and Buster's, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the renovations and the expanded menu. The food itself isn’t worth the drive up to the outer limits of I-275, but D&B has clearly taken some care to keep its food offerings current and give the place a more modern look. It’s a Las Vegas casino experience for someone who would rather play skeeball than black jack. And if that’s you, well, you’re an arcade gamer after my own heart.

Disclosure, my meal was free. I had to leave before I could actually play skeeball.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review of a Food You Can Buy at Trader Joe's: Falafel chips

How many times have you thought, "Man I could really go for some falafel right now, but the prospect of finding some and/or cooking it is so unpleasant that I'll just forget it and finish this bag of Taco Doritos" ?

For us, Trader Joe's has cleverly presented falafel in chip form. The packaging is bright and appealing. The product is simple, un-messy, doesn't require that you subject yourself to the humiliation of picking up a to-go order from the mediterranean restaurant in your pajamas. Finally, falafel for lazy people.

Here's a revelation: Falafel chips taste just like falafel. Also, they're a little corny and salty, like a Frito. The chip is firm and doesn't yield as I scoop up globs of tzaziki. And man, I'd eat tzaziki by the spoonful if there wasn't anything within arm's length to use as a dipper. But thanks to TJ's, I've got a big sack of falafel chips by my side to sustain me. And just like Scarlett O'Hara, I'll never be without falafel again.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review of a Food You Can Buy at Trader Joe's: Chili Spiced Mangos

Initially, I set out to review the lemon heart cookies. Because it's February, and they're cute, and there's a picture of my spirit animal Alice in Wonderland on the bag.

Forget that, they're not that good. Have you had the chili spiced dried mango slices? Let me just wipe off all of the orange chili powder from my fingers so I can write about how you should go buy some right now.

They have a quick, front-of-the-mouth burn, with a hit of smokiness. For me at least, it never crosses the line into unpleasantly spicy. It stays comfortably at the top end of my happy spicy range. And what's not to love about dried mango slices? These are of the plump/juicy variety, not all leathery like lesser dried mango slices. Those are gross.

I like them as an at-my-desk snack right around the time of my daily 3pm blood sugar I-hate-everything crash. The chili provides a great kick, wakes you right up out of your afternoon slump. Soon you'll be filing TPS reports like a boss.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Who Needs Martha?

I'm trying out a new thing. If there's something I want to do, and I'm feeling a little unsure, I just sign myself up to do it and I work out the details later. That's how I ended up hosting Soup Cinema #2. It's a fun and pretty self-explanatory project my friends TJ and Julie put together. Someone hosts and makes soup, someone brings a movie. As the newly minted owner of a 32” merry-Christmas-to-myself flat panel and with no actual DVD or Blu-ray player, I volunteered to host and figured I’d get it all worked out in time.

Also, I should mention, I have a Type A tendency to want everything to go perfectly when I host a party. How Type A am I? When I was seven I typed out a set of rules for my playroom on my little typewriter and posted them on the door. I hate to say that I haven’t made a lot of progress since then, especially when it comes to hostessing. I want to be Martha. Everything should be in its place, everything should look effortless. For every stray hors d’oeuvre toothpick there is a ready and waiting trash can; for every thirsty guest there is a clean piece of stemware and a wine chilled to the appropriate temperature.

Yeah right. What actually happens is I whip myself into a frenzy before party time. There’s never enough time, never enough clean knives. I exhaust my supply of cutting boards making just one pot of soup. There is shouting - at cookware, myself, a pet, a neighbor’s pet, anything close by. This time around, Jeff came early to lend a hand and he bore the brunt of my pre-party insanity. He bravely leapt into action, arranging carrots and celery, hauling my recycling to the trash room. TJ arrived soon after and supplied chairs, pillows and blankets, and of course, the movie.

Soup-wise, I made a ridiculously simple sweet potato chili. It's straightforward until you get to the very end and add a little orange peel. A little sweet-spicy, one-two combo. I like to serve it with sour cream to prevent it from seeming too healthy.

If you can, I encourage you to have a neighbor like my neighbor Chris. He arrived with homemade cookies and then made multiple trips back upstairs to get a power strip, extra spoons, crackers and more chairs. Julie brought a loaf of bread across state lines for the occasion. TJ came through in a big way with the movie, introducing it first with a multimedia presentation and finally presenting Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil as our feature.

As movie and soup nights go, I think this one was first-rate. You should watch Tucker and Dale if you like parody comedies and the whole Evil Dead thing. My still-newish apartment was filled with friendly faces. People were fed, laughs were had, and then we all went to the bar afterwards. I didn’t pull off a Martha-esque feat here, this was a collaboration. And isn't that more fun?