The Second Lunch header image 1

The Second Lunch Week 2/1 – 2/7

February 8th, 2015 · Boston, Races, Restaurants

Fleck Coffee Newton Highlands

Hello from the impending blizzard zone! Yes, more snow. More Snow. Snowwwww. Why do I live here? This week I’ve been braving the weather to try out some new places, head to some food events, and even squish in a few races! Last we left off, I was making a game plan for January: lots of braising, healthy salads, meal planning, and gym going. Lofty goals. I knew it was going to be bad on January 5th, a coworker mentioned that I had been posting a lot on my blog. “That’s not going to last, is it….” ah, votes of confidence. Thanks. Of course he was right – it’s been a long, cold, month, and I didn’t think that anyone would want to hear my complaints about the MBTA. There was a lot of bitterness and salty language. California, I miss you. (You too, California friends.)

This month I’ve done little to drag myself out of the house. It’s been a lot of pathetic pantry meals. A few too many take out meals. And a whole lot of sitting on the couch. So last week after getting some energy back on my trip to Portland, Maine, I decided to get myself out, visit the new super shiny Whole Foods South End (it’s great), run a race, and meet up with some bloggers. Some of my favorite activities!

Of course, life is better caffeinated. With my dwindling coffee supply – both fresh beans from Portland, and my shameful comfort coffee (Trader Joe’s Gingerbread) being done for the season, I decided that I’d try out the new Fleck Coffee right at the Newton Highlands T-stop, because they were giving away free coffee this weekend…. and… free coffee! They brew Counter Culture, and I’m all for local coffee shops! They officially open on Monday, and keep hours of 6am – 4pm daily.

On the fitness front, I decided that I needed to “train” for my upcoming Hyannis Half marathon, so on a whim I signed up for the Super Sunday 5k and 5 miler, and ran it with my friend Matt. How do you dress for a race that has a real feel of around 5? Like a ninja. My super secret trick is to treat myself to hand warmers in my gloves for a cold winter run. I hoard hot hands like I’ll be living in the polar vortex for all time. This race was fun, cold, and flat!

Super Sunday 5k and 5 Miler

The other reason that I signed up on a whim for a freezing cold race is that I was heading to a Boston Brunchers blogger brunch at Beat Hôtel (Beat Brasserie), and needed to work off some of those calories before eating ALL OF THE FOODS. The fine print: Boston Brunchers events come with free brunch (although generous tip is always provided), and provide me a comfortable space to take as many photos of my food as I want, without any of my dining partners judging me.

Beat Hôtel is in the old Tannery space in Harvard Square, and despite it’s convenient location, I really don’t get out all that much, and hadn’t been there yet. It’s the same team behind the South End’s Beehive, and they have jazz brunch on the weekends. The space is big and airy, and they have large tables for groups of friends. Another thing to note, I was a little out of it after running my race, and after rushing in to say hi to folks, I didn’t actually notice that the music was live until I turned around to look at the glowing purple stage (I mention this because, one, the live band was very good – and two, the acoustics are very well set up for the room – somehow I was sitting directly next to a drum kit and could still hear my dining partners conversation.)

Beat Hotel Brasserie Bar Live Jazz Brunch

We managed to get a good sampling of their brunch fare – starting off with the Bohemian Platter (hummus, dips, salads, cheese, pickled vegetables, and olives) – the photo in the top right. It was a plentiful platter, but the star for me was this really brilliant pickled radish. Yep, a superlative radish. The absolute winner of brunch was the Buffalo Cauliflower with blue cheese dipping sauce. This being Super Bowl Sunday, one of my dining partners actually took home an extra order, and I regretted not doing the same.

For our meals, we tried quiche, a few Benedicts, and I ordered the Shakshuka with merguez. Now, I do have high standards for Shakshuka, and while this didn’t make my top two of all time (my own, and the Shakshuka from Sofra), it was good! The merguez was neither here nor there, but it came with wobbly eggs served over this wonderfully creamy polenta. Plus, extra points for a beautiful presentation. (Bottom left.)

Beat Hotel Boston Brunchers Brunch

If you go to Beat Brasserie, please order the Buffalo Cauliflower. I will be returning specifically for this dish.

Before I leave you, here’s my meal plan for the week:

Sunday: lamb shanks with Ranch Gordo beans
Monday: chicken with cauliflower potato curry
Tuesday: deconstructed shepherds pie (Cook Smarts)
Wednesday: Shakshuka
Thursday: chicken soba noodles
Friday: Out

New Englanders, best of luck tonight in the storm.

→ No CommentsTags: ·····

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

January 5th, 2015 · Salads

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

For the past several years I’ve done a Whole30 at the beginning of the new year, using the momentum of everyone else’s New Year’s enthusiasm to carry me through a month of unprocessed foods and smart eating habits. It’s really much easier to be virtuous when you don’t have the added stress of having to explain yourself to others when you are abstaining from office snacks and extra meals on the town. And in January, everyone is being virtuous. The Whole30 isn’t a crash diet – I personally don’t do it to lose weight, but rather to re-calibrate – reminding myself how much I love home cooking, adding a substantial amount of vegetables to my diet, eating mindfully, and to curb my snack habit. It’s a lot easier for me to make smart choices when the decision has already been made to abstain from the bad ones, and each time that I’ve taken on a Whole30, I’ve finished with new habits that I’ve carried through the year with me. This January, I’m not starting with a Whole30 – truthfully, because I didn’t plan – but I’ve committed myself to eating wholesome, home cooked food, bringing my lunches to work every day, and generally eating to support my health and wellness.

Fennel salad was one of the first recipes that I posted on this blog, and I’ve made it dozens of times in the years since. The base salad is one I go back to again and again when I’m feeling the need to be virtuous (or not so virtuous – this particular one has a healthy dose of cheese), so it’s a perfect dish to herald in the new year on good footing. It’s a versatile side dish to serve with grilled fish or chicken, and it lasts for a few days in the fridge, and in my opinion improves as it sits, so I can pack my lunches with it if I have leftovers.

Fennel Bulbs

This is my usual base recipe – sliced fennel, assorted other crunchy green vegetables, nuts, and cheese, tossed with a lemony vinaigrette, but I rarely make the same version twice.

What else could you do with this salad?

There’s a lot you can play with. Sometimes I’ll substitute pistachios or hazelnuts for the walnuts. You can change up the herbs – parsley, mint or dill are also nice. If you’d like, you can add citrus – orange or grapefruit segments work well. As do sliced grapes. Mixed greens, and avocado make special additions, but if you are making the salad in advance (as you should!), these should be tossed in at the very end, right before serving.

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan 
serves 4 as a side

juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup good olive oil

1/3 cup walnuts, gently toasted, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 bulb of fennel, finely sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 sticks of celery, thinly chopped

Start by making the dressing: in a small bowl, put the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. If using garlic, put in the lemon juice, and let sit for five minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients so that the garlic will not be too harsh. Add olive oil, and whisk briskly until well mixed. Add the walnuts and the cheese to the dressing, and mix well.

Toss the fennel and celery with the dressing, and taste to see if you need more salt or pepper. You can make serve this salad right away, but it benefits from a few hours in the fridge. To serve, sprinkle with parmesan and the fennel fronds.

A Crunchy Fennel Salad with Celery, Walnuts, and Parmesan

→ 1 CommentTags: ·

This Week, in Books

January 5th, 2015 · Books in 2015

Every year I resolve to take a few minutes after each read to make quick notes about how I felt about the book. More often than not life happens, I forget to do it, and I move onto my next book, and promptly forget half of the things that I’ve read! For 2015, I set a personally challenging goal of 75 books on Goodreads, and I’m hoping that I take a few minutes between each for a breath and to reflect on what I’ve just read. Here’s the first book!

The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

#1. Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
Paperback, 297 pages
Published in 2009 by Penguin Books
Read the paperback (owned)

I picked up this copy of Bicycle Diaries at Phoenix Books in San Francisco in 2009 – it still has the Phoenix bookmark in it – and I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to read it through! When I started focusing on cycling this year, it seemed like a good a time as any to actually pick it up again. I’ve been slowly working through the book over the past few months, as it’s served as my trusty nightstand book. (I like to read different books at different times of day, and the nightstand books are ones that are easily broken up into 10-15 page sections, such as books with very short chapters, or compilations of essays.)

The book is a compilation of travel essays, following Byrne’s trips with his bicycle around the world, exploring the history, politics, design, and culture of cities across the globe. At times rambling, always insightful, and I found myself particularly interested in Byrne’s thoughts on how city design can shape our culture, habits, and energy. It took quite a while to finish, but I generally enjoyed it.


Two other books of note tonight!

The last book I read in 2014 was Tovar Cerulli’s The Mindful Carnivore (Pegasus, 2012), which I was re-reading for the second time since the book came out three years ago. The book follows Tovar’s experiences as a vegan, to ultimately choosing to pursue hunting as an environmental and ethical path to meat eating. I’m not a vegetarian, but I believe strongly in ethical treatment of animals, a greater awareness of where our food comes from, and respect for the life lost when we eat meat. This year I tried to address the issue in our diet, and joined a meat CSA, which provides the majority of the meat we eat at home – but for years I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should take up hunting as a way to further connect myself to the food we eat. This is definitely not something I’d consider lightly, so I’ve been trying to educate myself further, and I truly value the critical thought on the subject in Tovar’s book.

The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli

And coming out on January 6th, is my internet friend Andie Mitchell’s new memoir It Was Me All Along (Random House, 2015) which I managed to read a few months ago when I got my hands on a review copy, but will be purchasing in an independent bookstore this week to further support the book!

Andie’s brilliant blog, Can You Stay For Dinner, features excellent recipes, gorgeous photography, and candid and deeply personal reflections on her struggles with weight loss, and maintaining. (As an aside, her months long series on helping her mom with weight loss and dieting are also some of the most compassionate and loving posts I’ve read on the topic.) Her book is just as honest, and it was a total pleasure to read. Get a copy!

It was me all along by Andie Mitchell

What are you reading next?

→ 1 CommentTags: ···

Nigella’s Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Purée

January 3rd, 2015 · Meal Planning, Seafood

Nigellas Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Puree

Happy weekend! Welcome to another installment of the weekly meal plan! Maybe it’s the new year, but I’m feeling particularly productive in all aspects of my life, and I hope the inspiration lasts for a good long while. There’s a recipe at the bottom of the post for these scallops with Thai scented pea purée, which were a smash hit tonight for dinner.

It’s been a low key weekend so far – we went to see the final Hobbit this afternoon, which was beautiful, but honestly a bit of a let down. I grew up obsessed with Tolkien, and I think I’m still just bitter about the creation of Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel for the movies – a lackluster female character who definitely is not in the book, and devised for romantic tension with an all too good looking Kili. The whole thing irked me. But I was certainly glad to have seen a movie in the theaters – it’s been all too long!

This weekend I’ve also been playing around with a new app that my culinary crush Jamie Oliver is collaborating on. (Other teenagers had their favorite pop stars hanging over their beds, I had a picture of a smarmy Jamie Oliver sitting in a bathtub that I had clipped out of the TV Guide. I was completely devastated when he married Jules, but I digress.) The new app is called the YOU-app, and every day it gives you daily photo prompts to encourage simple micro-actions to make a better life. Yesterday’s action was to address your fridge – empty it, clean up, and take stock. I managed to toss a good number of things that were past their prime. Here’s the slightly more tidy version right now.

A sneak peak into the Second Lunch Refrigerator

The Meal Plan: Week of December 28th

Now that you’ve seen me bare all – it’s not looking as bad as I’d worried it would, here are the things to use up in my kitchen: a little bit of cheese, some potatoes in chicken broth, a little bit of leftover tomato coconut sauce from the Moqueca (perfect for simmering an egg or two), the leftover vegetable tops from my spiralizer, some beets which I plan on pickling, some coconut milk.

Saturday: scallops and thai scented pea puree. The recipe for this one is below! I was originally planning this for last week, but life happened. Served with a Trader Joe’s potato pancakes, and a fried sardine for the cook.

Sunday: grilled chicken and winter fennel salad. I made this salad a month ago for a dinner party, and I’ve been craving it ever since. Recipe to be posted shortly!

Monday: ground beef and tomato-rice soupMy version of a stuffed pepper soup, with a Turkish twist. It’ll likely get a dollop of yogurt on top, and I’ll use up the leftover dill.

Tuesday: chicken sausage and egg shakshuka. These are all leftovers in my fridge that need to be used. I might sprinkle with some of the extra feta that needs using up as well.

Wednesday: black beans and rice. I haven’t been eating too many beans lately, but Samin got me thinking about beans with her push for ‘bean month’ this January. And I still happen to have about a dozen varieties in my house from my Rancho Gordo year of beans subscription.

Thursday: pork chops with brussels spouts. Just something simple to use up some of my CSA pork chops. I’m not sure I’ll have anything interesting to do with them – this pork is so good just on it’s own.

Friday: Out!

Nigellas Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Puree

Scallops with Thai Scented Pea Puree
serves 2

I’ve adapted this recipe from Nigella Lawson’s original one – replacing her creme fraîche with coconut milk, and adding some extra fresh herb (mint) to the peas. Thai basil would also be good here. I use Thai Kitchen Green Thai Curry Paste, which you can find in most supermarkets now. If we’re feeling hungry, or the price of scallops is exorbitantly high, I’ll reduce the number of scallops to two, and serve the meal with some Trader Joe’s frozen potato pancakes. To cook this dish, start by putting out all of your ingredients, because you’ll want to put together this dish quickly, and eat it while hot!

16 ounces frozen peas (I get the 1 lb. petit pois from Trader Joes)
1 to 2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
flaky sea salt

1 pound wild sea scallops, about 3-4 large scallops per person
flaky salt
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lime

Start by prepping your scallops – dry them well, and season with a pinch of flaky salt on both sides. Then, start the mash. In a large bowl in the microwave, heat the peas until hot, stirring every minute or so until warmed through, about three minutes. (You could also do this on the stovetop.) Stir in the green curry paste, coconut milk, and chopped mint leaves, and season with a good pinch of salt, and set aside.

For the scallops, heat the butter and olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium high heat. When hot, add scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan, and let scallops cook for 3 minutes without touching them. Check to see if they’re golden on the bottom, and if they aren’t let them go another minute. Flip. Cook three minutes on the other side.

While the scallops are finishing their last three minutes, puree the pea mixture with an immersion blender (A regular blender will also work, but will take a little bit more effort – if you use a regular blender, you may want to do this before cooking the scallops.) Taste, and add any extra salt and pepper you’d like. Plate the purée, and take the cooked scallops out of the pan, and nestle them on the purée.

To finish, make a quick pan sauce: squeeze the lime in the hot pan juices, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any golden brown bits that have all the flavor! Stir for about a minute, and you are done. Pour pan sauce over scallops and mash, and eat while hot!

→ 2 CommentsTags: ···

Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings

January 1st, 2015 · Meat, Photography

Lamb chops and pesto with spiralized sweet potato shoestring fries

Hello, friends! Here’s my first dinner of 2015, and it’s a good one! I made lamb chops with pesto and spiralized sweet potato shoestrings, and there’s a recipe at the bottom of the post. But first I want to talk about a few of my resolutions this year. The two that I’m trying to focus on are: working to improve my photography, and eating more real food, both life pursuits that make me truly happy.

I take thousands of photos, and I cook at home most nights of the week. But every year I like to re-commit to my passions out loud, to help keep me accountable. And by out loud, I mean, on this blog. This year I’m trying to cook more meals at home – particularly using my Walden Meat CSA and as much local produce as I can get my hands on, shoot more photos, and share them on my Instagram feed, blog more about the food we eat at home – that one’s to encourage me to actually eat at home! And learn more about my camera, take more risks with my shots, and keep reading and learning about photography.

Walden Local Meat Lamb Chops

So here’s what I’ve been playing with tonight – let’s chat a bit about this photography work. Some behind the scenes talk? I hope I don’t bore you here. It’s like my very own photo crit. That’s short for critique, and it’s where your peers and professors share feedback in art class. It always terrified me. But one of the best ways to improve your work is to think critically about what worked well, and what didn’t work so well, so here we go!

I’ve been spending a little bit more time on Pinterest lately to help improve my composition. Before I write a post or cook dinner, I like to look at photographs of the same type of food, and analyze the styling. The goal of course, as with most art, is to be inspired by many, directly copy none, and seek to develop your own style and point of view. That’s hard though, isn’t it? I’m not sure that I can pinpoint my P.O.V. – it’s mostly real food, cooked in a real kitchen. I’m still playing with how best to achieve that on a regular basis, and make my work recognizable as my own. I love the play of light and dark. And I’ve been trying to vary my backgrounds – nobody likes hundreds of photos of the same plates on the same white background. Even though I love my Ikea white DOCKSTA table. And I do wish that it was a real Saarinen Tulip table though… alas, I’m currently priced out of my own taste, the perils of majoring in Architecture with significant advanced coursework on the Modernist Home.

This week I took my copy of Helene Dujardin‘s Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling off the shelf, to re-read it now that I’ve improved (and/or taken hundreds of thousands of shots) since purchasing it, and reading it originally in 2011. I thought I could use a fresh perspective. I also purchased a second Lowel Ego lamp, because, although I’d much prefer to be shooting in natural light, I’d have to be eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon for that to happen around here.

So let’s get started with this dinner! I started with the lamb rack, which I decided to cut into chops, because they cook quickly. Whole racks look really gorgeous in food photography, but I was being practical here – individual chops take just a few minutes to cook, and you can cook each one to the doneness that you’d like. We’re a family of mixed doneness requirements, so individual chops are the best choice.

I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired with the raw meat, so I shot a few chop shots quickly before finding the one I wanted – and, I managed to screw up the exposure on my camera while I was fiddling. There were several underexposed shots, and a few overexposed shots, but I figured that I’d be able to process one of them in Lightroom to my liking. This is not ideal, as you might notice, the final shot looks a little blue. So I fixed it, and moved on. And then I went onto the pesto. Store bought. I don’t bother with making my own pesto in the middle of the winter – the basil costs too much, we don’t eat a lot of it, and I usually only go home with a half cup from the Whole Foods salad bar, which is fairly affordable. I’ve also really been digging this local vegan pesto from Sauces n’ Love, based in Lynn, Mass. They also make this great scarpetta sauce. So this pesto. I wanted to try working with my black velvet background. Getting some light and dark in play to really make the green pop. But then I thought I should try a few shots on the table top – light on light. I like them both, so I put them together! Here’s the diptych I ended up with.

Basil Pesto

Of course, I want to show you what that lamb really looks like – not the six perfect pieces that I seasoned with Maldon salt and pepper, and artfully arranged in the photo. Nope, real life is rougher. My knives aren’t always as sharp as I’d like them to be. Here, you notice a few hacked pieces. They got the same seasoning, but this is what you’d more typically see in my kitchen. I’ve always really loved countertop shots, but they are definitely more of a challenge, because the lighting on my countertop… sucks.

Lamb chops and pesto

And now let’s move on to part three of this meal: the sweet potato shoestring fries. In my trusty cast iron pan. Oh, the dramatic chiaroscuro! Those perfect spirals! I love it. Next time though, I’ll bake these on my sheet pan. They crisp up a little better. Sometimes I sacrifice for art.

Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries in the Cast Iron

If you’ve been following my saga for the past few weeks, you already know that I’m obsessed with my new spiralizer. It’s the Paderno 4-blade Spiralizer, which I purchased from Amazon.  I’ve been preaching the gospel of this spiralizer. I’ve been possibly boring the entire internet with all my talk about this spiralizer. Here are my shots – the “here’s the tool, and here’s the vegetable, in a state of undress” shot, and then the “spiralizer in action” shot. Note the lights I have rigged to the bead-board. They were hanging under the cabinet, but they kept on falling off.

Spiralized Sweet Potato with the Paderno Spiralizer Spiralized Sweet Potato

Although I love my Nikon DSLR, I love shooting with my iPhone even more – but this is likely because I get the most practice with it. Your best camera is the one you have with you – and I’ll always snap a quick shot with my phone, even when I’m shooting with the DSLR. I still have a lot of trouble with the manual focus on my camera, and I can always get a slightly crisper shot on the phone.

And I really like using vscocam to edit my pictures – upping the contrast, and boosting the exposure always works gangbusters. And you can fade the photo ever so slightly, to give it a bit of a dreaminess. You do always risk falling into the over-processing trap – I’m still mourning the entire year on my first smartphone (an Android) that I used some terrible app and destroyed all of my photos with the fake polaroid filter. I hope I’m not falling in the same trap, but I really like the photos that I’ve processed recently with VSCO. I wish I could afford their desktop software!

I was having a lot of trouble shooting the sweet potatoes with the DSLR, but I love these shots that I got with my phone:

Sweet Potato Shoestring Fries

I also managed to snap some of the finished dishes on the iPhone, which you see below. I tried the plate out first with my trusty white on marble. And then switched things up with my new darker cutting board, and a napkin – I love the contrast in this one the best.

Lamb chops with pesto and sweet potato shoestrings diptych

And there we are – here’s a final closeup of the dish! Thanks for playing along! Now it’s your turn. You’ve been so quiet: any feedback? 

Lamb Chops Pesto and Sweet Potato

Lamb Chops with Pesto and Spiralized Sweet Potato Shoestrings
for 2

A rack of lamb, between 1-1.5 lbs.
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 sweet potato, spiralized or cut into matchsticks
1 teaspoon cumin
salt + pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pesto – good store bought is okay!

First, preheat the oven to 450 F, and prep the sweet potato strings. Peel a sweet potato, and spiralize it, trimming the noodles with scissors so they aren’t too long. You could also cut the sweet potato into matchsticks if you don’t have a spiralizer. In a bowl, toss the sweet potato strings with olive oil, a generous pinch of flaky salt, a few grindings of pepper, and about a teaspoon of cumin. Toss with your hands to coat, and spread the potato out in a large cast iron pan, or a baking sheet, trying to give the potatoes room so that they crisp and don’t steam. Bake for 10-15 minutes, and flip or toss gently. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, watching carefully that they don’t burn, but you want to get them to brown just slightly. To ensure that these are crispy, and not soggy, I like to spread these out to cool on a paper towel after baking to let them crisp up further.

For the lamb – slice the rack into individual chops, and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a cast iron pan to medium-high, add a tablespoon of olive oil to coat, and sear the chops, about two minutes on each side. A minute more if you’d like a more medium chop. Take chops out of the pan, and let rest for 5 minutes on a plate before serving. Serve with a generous dollop of pesto on each chop, or with a little side of pesto to dip in.

→ 5 CommentsTags: ··