ain’t love grand

tree

I moved to New York for love. And then I fell in love with New York, and more specifically, with Grand Central Terminal. The guy I moved here to be with didn’t seem to mind (he loves it, too).

wildedibles

We fell into an easy rhythm our first go-round in the city. On Fridays, after work and before hopping on a train home, I’d stop off at the Market Hall at Grand Central Terminal, grab cheeses and charcuterie from Murray’s, perfect produce from Zabar’s stand, bread from Eli’s, maybe a steak or chops from Ceriello’s, or some oysters or sea bass or sardines from Wild Edibles, and a bottle or two from Grande Harvest Wines, then schlep it all home to Brooklyn. The Market became part of our routine, a way to treat ourselves after a long work week, and to kick off our weekend with some indulgent treats.

tomato mania

cheeses

Grand Central and its Market were so much a part of our lives, in fact, that when that guy and I decided to get married, we couldn’t imagine not swinging by for a few photos as part of our celebration.

Elis bread

When we moved back to the city after our years in Providence, Grand Central was one of the first places we visited. Julian has come to love the terminal’s soaring ceilings and bustling halls as much as we do.

so much fruit

As time and money have allowed, I have resumed our tradition of a Friday market stop, for cheese and charcuterie, tiny tomatoes and jammy figs, burrata and bread and sweet treats for the kids.

indoorpicnic

And now, once again, we are leaving.

one last visit

I know, of course, that New York is not the only great food city around, and I look forward to exploring all that the greater DC area has to offer us, but I don’t know if any place will ever give me the same thrill as the one I get when I walk up from the 6 train and into the main concourse, or when I pass through the doors on Lexington Avenue into the cool, fragrant air of the Market.

feeling saucy

As I write this, the temperature in Central Park is inching toward 50 degrees. But just days ago, we were still deeply mired in this nonsense:

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Not exactly prime conditions for lightening up the old diet, but as the results of some of my recent medical tests begin to trickle in, I realize that the time for me to make these changes could not be better.

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As it turns out, I was able to strike a pretty nice balance of plant-based goodness and familiar, comforting flavor on a cold and snowy winter’s night with this tempeh and mushroom ragú.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been very interested in exploring tempeh as both a plant-based source of protein, and as a gut-healthy fermented food. My initial foray into cooking with tempeh yielded some killer black bean and tempeh tacos, but for round two, I wanted to see if I could achieve the richness and depth of a long-simmered meat sauce, in a meat-free version.

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My secret weapon: mushrooms.

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In both fresh and dried form, they provided the savoriness that I want in a ragú of this type, without any animal protein. A bit of low-sodium tamari and double-concentrated tomato paste provided even more backbone.

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While the texture wasn’t quite where I had hoped it would be, the flavor was right on the money, and as with any good meat sauce, it only improved overnight. I most certainly will tweak this recipe as I make it again, but this was a pretty fine place to start.

tempeh mushroom ragu 2

Tempeh and Mushroom Ragú

extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)
1 small rib celery, with leaves, fine dice (about 1/4 cup)
1 small carrot, peeled and grated or finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
Kosher or sea salt
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and finely chopped
½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms + 1 cup boiling water
8 oz. tempeh
2 oz. low-sodium tamari
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced or grated
2 tbsp double-concentrated tomato paste
One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes with juice
½ to 1 cup water or wine

For serving:

1 pound hot cooked pasta (I used rigatoni, but an spaghetti or pappardelle would work as well)
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmagiano, or a similar cheese substitute

* * * * *

Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan. Add the onion, celery, and carrot with a big pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat until softened. Make space in the pan and add the crimini mushrooms, cooking until they are well-browned.

While the vegetables cook, soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water until soft. Remove the softened mushrooms from their soaking liquid and chop them fine before adding to the pan. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Crumble the tempeh into a bowl, and add the tamari, oregano, and garlic. Toss well to combine, then add to the pan. Add a bit more olive oil, then continue cooking, allowing the tempeh to brown. Add the tomato paste and toss everything well to coat, then slowly add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any grit behind.

Stir in the canned tomatoes, and continue to cook uncovered over medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a bit of water or wine to loosen any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Toss with hot cooked pasta, and finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and your favorite grating cheese or cheese substitute.

bundle up

march

March! In like a lion, indeed. There’s been work stuff and health stuff and life stuff going on, and travel planned (San Francisco! Baltimore!) in relation to SHRUBS – it’s been a bit of a whirlwind in the Hess-Dietsch household of late.

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I’ve made this Crispy Thai Pork With Cucumber Salad twice now in recent weeks, and it is incredibly delicious. It is also incredibly easy, which I desperately need these days. Just crisp up some pork and a handful of garlic in a skillet, douse it with fish sauce and soy sauce and chilies and stock, a spritz of lime and a little brown sugar, and let it all cook down to sweet-spicy-sticky goodness.

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If you don’t eat pork, I suspect this would be equally delicious with ground chicken or turkey or even my new love, tempeh. And if you, like me, are absolutely over this cold, snowy weather, the fresh, bright flavors in this dish should be just what you need to pull you out of your winter funk.

The recipe is here, at Bon Appétit.

veggie tales

sherriedmushroomseggs

For those of you who are wondering, our meat-lite(r) regimen is going pretty well so far.

homemade ricotta

This week was a little challenging, what with Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and a two-day loss of heat in our apartment building, but we still managed to find a good balance of foods that were hearty and comforting, while heavy on plant matter.

veg pizzas

stracciatella and jersey tomatoes

I made pizzas for the first time in ages using dough that Mike prepared in advance. One pie featured roasted broccoli, red onions, and fresh ricotta that Julian helped me make; the other a simple tomato sauce, stracchiatella (from Brucie, via Good Eggs), and piles of peppery arugula.

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Lunches have mostly been bean & grain bowls, brightened up with pickled vegetables and hot sauce, and crowned with an egg or avocado or both.

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Mike was inspired to warm our cold apartment by baking bread, these 4-hour baguettes, to be exact.

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They were perfect with a smear of butter, as well as alongside this zippy Lemony Gumbo Z’Herbes – a light and lovely dish to celebrate Fat Tuesday (and to warm my belly at lunchtime on Wednesday).

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I tried my hand at a Beet, Greens & Cheddar Crumble, which while tasty, could use some tweaking. We liked the dish enough to want to repeat it, though, and soon.

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The highlight of this past week, however, was making Marcella’s lasagne for our Valentine’s Day dinner, and preparing it with my little kitchen helper.

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I love that Julian is showing more and more interest in cooking with us, and I was delighted that he was so into helping me put together this meal in particular. Making a classic lasagne bolognese – from mixing and rolling out the fresh spinach pasta, to building the bolognese and bechamel sauces – is truly a labor of love, and I was so happy to share the experience with him.

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He couldn’t wait for the finished dish, so I cut up a couple of our pasta sheets for him and tossed them with a little butter and cheese. He ate two bowls (!), giving me hope that this age 3 finickiness may be temporary after all. Here’s to the green stuff!

toward the light

apples

January is the month when most people who are inclined to, try to jump-start lifestyle changes by way of New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships, “dry January,” or any number of other regimens. But for us, January is a month still jam-packed with celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, and the accompanying (over)indulgence. By the time February rolls around, we are definitely ready to lighten things up a bit, to take stock of the past 12 (or 13!) months and to think about things we’d like to change or improve in the months ahead.

For the last four Februaries, I have been either pregnant or nursing a baby, and my main dietary focus was on giving those little creatures what they needed to grow healthy and strong. Prior to that… well, let’s just say that at times, I enjoyed my child-free lifestyle a bit too much. Now, at 43 years old, with two small children and a demanding job outside of the home, I’m really feeling the weight of it all.

multibeets

When Mike and I first met, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. By the time we started dating a few months later, I had already begun to lose what would be a fairly substantial amount of weight, by making a few simple changes to my diet and activity level. Twelve years and two kids later, I’ve gained almost all of it back. It was a slow creep at first, but I’ve put on nearly 20 more pounds just since Mira’s birth.

I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and while I have some underlying health issues to work on too, this week, after coming up with a game plan, I kicked off a new regimen of my own. I’m only a few days in, and while the numbers on the scale haven’t budged, I’ve already noticed a marked improvement in the way I feel.

merlotbeans

Like many people, I’ve never done well on a deprivation diet. What has worked for me in the past (and what I hope will work again) is to focus on adding things – whether more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, oily fish, or fermented foods – and replacing the bad or questionable stuff in my diet with better, more nutrient-dense items.

planning

One of the best and worst things about living in New York is that you can get anything delivered to you. I’ve relied far too heavily on delivery services for breakfast and lunch at the office, and I think we can all agree that eating takeout at your desk while working is not an ideal way to work or to eat a meal.

So one of my goals when planning dinners for the week is to do so in such a way that leftovers can be incorporated into breakfast or lunches later in the week. (This is in no way revolutionary, but we aren’t great about working through leftovers, so having a plan for them is going to be key.) This week, Monday’s dinner was Martha Rose Schulman’s Polenta with Beans and Chard. The bean stew was delicious over polenta, and I used some of the leftover beans and chard to top a grain bowl for my lunch on Tuesday.

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Mornings are just plain hectic at our house, no matter how we try to plan ahead for them. (Have you ever tried to pack a lunch the night before for a 3-year old?) Our current routine is that Mike wakes first, showers and gets ready for the day, and while I shower and dress, he fixes the kids (and himself) breakfast. Then he gets them dressed and ready while I sip something warm and get our lunches together.

morningmiso

In the past, I’d drink coffee, but since caffeine doesn’t really agree with me anymore, these days it’s a mug of warm lemon water. As far as my own breakfast, I’ve been packing a travel mug of miso soup to heat and sip when I get to my desk. It sounds weird, but it’s actually quite satisfying, and the miso is good for my gut – which needs all the help it can get these days.

Once I arrive at the office, I’m setting reminders to do two things: get up and stretch/move regularly, and drink more water. I always thought I drank a lot of water during the day, but I recently realized that when I get super busy and involved in a project, hours can pass before I get out of my chair or refill my bottle.

bean bowls

As for lunch, I still won’t always be able to get away from my desk to eat, but I want to work on at least eating better – whether it’s a meal that I brought from home (preferable), or better delivery choices (in a pinch). Those choices include the ubiquitous grain bowl, with beans or another lean protein, a ton of vegetables (I like a mix of fresh + roasted + fermented/pickled), and a zesty or spicy dressing; or a big crunchy salad (again, with lean protein). If we’re flush and I’m feeling splurgy, I’ll order my favorite sushi lunch from time to time.

greenleafies

And that brings us back to dinner.

For eight years now, I’ve been blogging about our dinners here, and over those eight years, we’ve definitely seen some changes in both what we eat and how we cook. Having kids has made a huge difference; having less time and money to spend on shopping and preparing meals has certainly had an impact on our choices and menus. And while I think Mike and I have shown that we’re pretty adventurous cooks, and the kids fairly decent eaters, we have definitely fallen into a food rut of late.

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So my final food-related goal for this year is to move away from meat-focused fare, away from rich and starchy “comfort food” dishes, and to incorporate more plant-based foods into our dinners. There have been so many inspiring vegetarian and and “meat-lite” cookbooks released recently, and cuisines and ingredients I’ve been curious about – the time is ripe to explore them. After all, we love vegetables and beans and all sorts of grains – why not move them to the center of our plates?