Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the lunch conundrum

I have a problem. I hate lunch. It is such an awkward meal. Most folks fill up on sandwiches or a salad and go back to work. I can handle that for a day or two then I want some variety. Normally I just eat some odds and ends and maybe leftovers if on the rare occasion we have any. I'll nibble on lots of different types of dried fruit, some yogurt, fresh fruit, cheeses, juices, nuts, maybe a bit of bread. The problem is that my breakfast also consists of the above ingredients so I'm quickly tired of them. Not to mention that by the end of my lunch break I'm hungry again!

For some reason I just can't bring myself to cook during my lunch break. I think I just want to avoid the dirty dishes. I'd much rather stir something together or just grab something out of a package then throw it away. But alas, I'm tired of being hungry after lunch and the nutritional value of the above snacking is very much sub par. I'm finally ready to take on lunch with more interesting and more nutritious fare.

One of my lunch options, that I had nearly forgotten until recently, is Molly's chickpea salad. True chickpeas aren't the best protein source, but I'll work my way up to meat for lunch eventually. Baby steps. This can be thrown together in minutes or the night before and chilled. I like to mix it up in a container by shaking (no need to dirty a spoon) then place in the freezer for 5 minutes or so before I eat it. The flavors really come together.

Chickpea Salad
courtesy of Molly aka Orangette

1 can chickpeas (get the good stuff, the ingredients should just say chickpeas)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to taste
olive oil to coat

Drain and wash the chickpeas well. Combine all the ingredients in a container and stir (or shake with a lid on it) to combine. Get creative and try adding herbs, different spices, vegetables, anything.

Any other lunch ideas?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Birthday at Luma

My birthday was 2 weeks ago and I'm just now finding the time to blog about it. Luckily, it was so awesome I have no problem remembering all the details. P and I and some friends went to Winterpark to have dinner at Luma on Park and afterwards relaxing and digesting at the Wine Room next door.

P got there first and ordered a nice Cab to sip on while he waited. He had a pretty bouquet of flowers put in a champagne bucket waiting for me as well, so everyone in the place knew it was my birthday. Thankfully there was no singing.

This was my second time at Luma. The first experience was very memorable and I'd recommend it to anyone coming to the Orlando area and looking for a really great meal outside of the kitsch Disney environment. Chef Brandon Mcglamery has a pretty impressive resume working at Chez Panisse, The French Laundry, Guy Savoy, Gordon Ramsey London, and more. The place looks amazing, right down to the futuristic bathrooms. In both of my experiences the staff is incredible, and can make some really fabulous wine recommendations. The menu changes all the time, but can have similar dishes from week to week just with different twists depending on what's available.

We started with some appetizers. Yes, I broke down and brought my camera. This food is too good and too pretty not to take a picture. Would you believe that no one in the whole restaurant even noticed? This is a similar ceviche that I had on my first visit. Imagine kona kampachi, watermelon, cilantro, avacado, jicama, and scotch sorbet all intermingling in one bite. This ceviche was just as good as the kampachi, jicama, blood orange, thai basil, avacado, and spicy citrus sorbet from my last visit. Luma knows ceviche! We also tasted a gnocci appetizer but I think I was too absorbed with my ceviche to pay attention.

P had the arctic char with a corn sauce and chard. P loved it -- a perfect balance of flavors. Corn is his favorite.

I had the maple duck with black rice and peach slaw. I'd like to know where the chef found such ripe peaches. What a slaw!

We also ordered the diver scallops with grits and pole beans. Tasting this dish reminded me of how wonderful grits can be. I'm going to try to make some at home soon.

At this point we had to get dessert. P and I shared the peach tart with giant fresh berries and thai basil ice cream. Since the peach slaw was so good, I knew this would be incredible too. I have always thought that basil ice cream would taste strange and strong but this was refreshing and mild.

Our friends shared the chocolate truffle cake with salted popcorn ice cream and caramel. I sneaked a bite and concluded that popcorn ice cream tastes NOTHING like those awful buttered popcorn jellybeans.

Comfortably full, we walked next door to the Wine Room for some dessert wines and conversation. I have to say that my 2 Luma visits have been some of the most memorable food experiences in my short foodie life. It's a pretty good drive for dinner but I'm sure we'll come back again soon. They offer a fixed price tasting menu on a couple days of the week that we might check out next. Luma is great. They even gave us one free dessert since it was my birthday.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

No need to knead

Tomorrow is my birthday and my cat's. I didn't find any birthday cards for my cat in the mail today and he hasn't really received any presents except a new favorite box to replace his old worn out one. I on the other hand, got lots of wonderful presents and it isn't even officially my birthday yet. The best gift of all is my "almost brand new" Le Creuset. Thank goodness for outlet malls!

Now that I finally have the treasured cast-iron-heavy-duty-cook-anything pot, I can't wait to see what it can do. Does it really evenly distribute heat and brown and caramelize food to perfection. So far I can say yes, and yes. I've already ordered Molly Steven's All About Braising to get me started cooking in this massive thing. Anyone else know some great and perhaps unconventional uses of the Le Creuset?

I won't be cooking up a special birthday surprise for my cat but I did use it to make no-knead bread (ok, he tasted it too). I don't know what is more surprising, baking a loaf of bread in a pot or not having to knead. I can attest that it does work and boy is it simple. If you don't have a cast-iron dutch oven you can also use a regular pot (I think). I used Mark Bittman's NY Times recipes (c/o Steamy Kitchen) and threw in some wheat flour to make it more nutritious. The results were really amazing -- light and airy interior, crisp and browned exterior. Mine came out a little too "wet" but I think I didn't bake it long enough.

This is all you have to do:

The night before you want to bake the bread mix the following in a big bowl until it comes together into a wet dough.

3 cups bread flour (I used 2.5 cups King Arthur bread flour and 0.5 cups KA wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 tablespoon kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt)
1 1/2 cups warm water

Cover your big bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for about 12 hours or more. The longer it sits, the more the flavors will develop with the yeast. One to two hours before baking, take the dough out with wet hands and put on a floured surface. Gently fold the dough until you get it into a nice round ball. Don't use a lot of flour. Let it sit at least another hour in this shape. Before baking preheat the oven to 450 with the pot inside to heat up as well. Once everything is nice and hot, carefully place the loaf in the pan and put a lid on it. Let it bake for about 25 minutes then remove the lid to let it brown for about 15 minutes more.

That's it! I can't wait to try experimenting with this. You can add herbs, cheeses, seeds, and nuts. You can make a sweetened loaf and add chocolate or cinnamon. Hungry yet?