Saturday, November 23, 2013

Last Thanksgiving | Sage Candied Walnuts

Here's the apple crisp recipe, a healthy alternative to apple pie.

Yes! Thanksgiving is finally around the corner! I always look forward to this holiday because all my friends are back home in New York, there's plentiful amounts of food, and it marks the final stretch before the end of the semester. There are always many things to be thankful for this time of year. 

The week of Thanksgiving is always teeming over with prep work such as dicing vegetables, mentally assigning oven priorities, and constant reorganization of the refrigerator. Not only that, my family started a tradition a few years ago where we all get in the car Thanksgiving morning and drive to Chinatown to pick up a 30lb roast pig (...we have 10 people to feed). Because let's be real, Chinese people do not like to eat turkey. There's just an overabundance of white meat, and it really is more for the look than anything, so why waste an entire bird when we can just devour an entire pig? 

But don't fret. We enjoy all the other traditionally American Thanksgiving goodies such as stuffing, green bean casserole, and candied yams as well. Being us, we have also altered the staples such as macaroni and cheese made with crab meat and drizzled with truffle oil or stuffing made with chicken gizzard. We also love eating for endless hours at a time, so we have a great hor d'oeuvres spread such as cocktail shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce or a refreshing apples and beets salad. Then after dessert, there are always those who go for a second serving of roast pig with a familiar bowl of steaming hot white rice. Really, anything goes. 

Here are some photos from my last Thanksgiving for you to enjoy, and at the bottom I have a recipe for sage candied walnuts. You now, just in case there isn't already enough food and you want your guests to have something to nibble on before they start on the hor d'oeuvres. Even better, pack some in little festive baggies for guests to take home! 

Stuffing prep!

Here's the recipe for a mushroom pastry wrap.

Truffle macaroni and cheese in the making

The now traditional Thanksgiving roast pig getting ready for the big night.


The dessert/pie spread: pecan pie, chai spiced pumpkin pie, and apple crisp


Sage Candied Walnuts
2 tbs coconut oil
2 tbs sage, finely chopped
5 cups walnuts
1 egg white, beaten until slightly stiff
4 tbs maple syrup
4 tbs honey
1/2 tsp sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
2. In a pan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add the sage and cook until fragrant.
3. In a large bowl, beat the egg white. Toss in the walnuts, maple syrup, and sage coconut oil until evenly coated.
4. Spread the walnuts evenly on a pan. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
5. Bake for 30 minutes, mixing about every 10 minutes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Green Street, Central Square

I think the decor was from its Caribbean restaurant days.

Everyone should note that the high rating this place gets is for the drinks, not the food. 

I've had a few of their signature cocktails here and I've enjoyed them all thoroughly. Their cocktail list is never ending, so if I were you I would just look at the short list instead of the full menu. This place has a loud atmosphere, so it's great for a drinking get together (though the bar space is very tight), but it's a bit unbearable for a sit down dinner. 

As for the food, it's a completely different story. Everything was extremely hit or miss. The entrees were overpriced, and though some of the ingredients were used in interesting ways, the execution was not as strong as I expected it to be. 

- gruyere fritters- these are the modern classier cousin of the jalapeno popper. It was served over this creamy heavy white sauce, which was delicious, but definitely made me a bit too full at the end. I would have preferred the sauce on the side. 
- grilled calamari- beautifully presented, but unfortunately undercooked. To make it more fragrant, the chef should have sliced and grilled them. Serving them whole left them over chewy. 

- duck confit- though this was an appetizer, I ordered it as an entree because I found all their main courses overpriced. The chef should take a few lessons from both French and Chinese chefs on how to prepare a duck leg because this one was overcooked and even on the burnt side. I would have complained, but it was so dark that I could not tell if it was perfectly seared or perfectly burnt. Either way, the meat came out way too tough for a confit. 
- Wellfleet clams fettucini - solid pasta option, albeit not too memorable. 

- broccoli rabe- were these steamed? Beside the occasional bits of salt, they were completely flavorless. Furthermore, whoever did the prep should learn how to cut the vegetables into more bite size pieces and to toss the overgrown thick stems. These were seriously the most unnecessarily tough vegetables I have eaten in awhile. 
- yuca fries- these were good, but I could not eat more than 2. Let me warn you, they are extremely starchy. 

- marscapone log- this was an interesting dessert. The log cake was not as spongy as you would expect. It was more sticky and the honey in the ice cream or the cake made it almost sickeningly sweet. 
- decaffeinated coffee- talk about stale coffee. It was clearly sitting on the burner for way too long. 

Please excuse the photo quality; it was extremely dark in there and I only had my iPhone. 

This review was first seen on Yelp.

Green Street
280 Green Street
Cambridge, MA

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Balance Your Life's Crispy Cornflake Crusted Chicken Parmigiana

This semester, I have been interning at Tufts' Department of Health Education. One of my main responsibilities is to oversee Balance Your Life (BYL) programming, which includes fitness classes, speaker events, dining hall kitchen tours, nutrition workshops, and cooking classes all for college students. About once a month, BYL hosts a cooking class that is held in one of the Tufts dormitory common kitchens. A pair of e-board members would volunteer their time to teach healthy recipes and basic nutrition information to fellow undergraduate peers. 

This class' theme was using whole foods. We focused on using simple basic whole ingredients to produce healthy familiar recipes. On the menu:
  • Baked whole wheat olive oil drizzled pita chips
  • Guacamole
  • Cornflake Crusted Chicken Parmigiana
  • Whole wheat pasta with crushed tomato sauce
  • Apple and pear honey lime yogurt salad 
Yes, all those recipes tasted just as wonderful as they sound, but today I will only focus on the chicken. Because we were using raw meat in class, there was also a short lesson on food safety.. so of course best practices to avoid cross contamination were observed. Students had the opportunity to help prepare each of the recipes, ask questions about nutrition, and finally get to sample their own creations. There's no better way to spend a study break on a week night. 

If you are interested in any of the other nutritious recipes, feel free to email or leave me a message. 

Crispy Cornflake Crusted Chicken Parmigiana (serves 8-10)
2 lb skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 cup cornflakes, grinded into crumbs
½ cup parmesan 
1 cup low fat milk
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried Italian spices (oregano, basil, etc.)
4 oz  (½ bag) shredded mozzarella
1 large can (28oz) crushed tomatoes, no salt 
6 tbs olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a shallow bowl, combine the cornflakes, parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon each salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano.
3. Place the milk in another shallow bowl. Coat each chicken breast with the cornflake mixture, then the milk, then again with the cornflake mixture.
4. Transfer the coated chicken to an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.
5. Bake the chicken until cooked through, about 25-30 minutes. 
6. In the meantime, prepare the sauce by heating the olive oil with the can of crushed tomatoes.
7. Once the tomato sauce is bubbling, add salt, pepper, and spices to taste. Turn heat to low and set aside.
8. At the twenty minute mark, remove chicken from the oven and ladle on a spoonful of tomato sauce and sprinkle on mozzarella cheese. Bake for another 5-10 minutes.
9. While waiting for the cheese to melt and the chicken to finish, scoop the pasta into the remaining tomato sauce and mix well.

✓ lean protein
✓ vegetable
✓ calcium
✓ low sodium
✓ monounsaturated fats

- Serve with whole wheat penne pasta and/or a vegetable such as olive oil sauteed broccoli or a romaine lettuce salad. 
- For a vegetarian option, replace chicken with firm tofu, and coat with egg instead of milk. 
- Skip the tomato sauce and mozzarella, and you have delicious crispy chicken fingers. 
When making the sauce, feel free to incorporate vegetables such as fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, or onions. These will add more flavor and nutrients to your meal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Eating Curry in Murray Hill

When I first moved to Murray Hill, I was a bit unnerved to find out that it was also sneeringly coined "Curry Hill." Living in Chelsea, my family and I would often walk over to get our sushi and Indian food fixes ( was a very different neighborhood even a decade ago). But now that I have been here for more than 2 years, I have come to crave naan and different colored curries on a very regular basis. I honestly can't believe it's taken me this long to write a post about Indian food! I am still actively exploring my neighborhood, but here are some favorite picks for now. 

Curry in a Hurry should be a landmark. During the 2010 blizzard when Bloomberg was on a tropical island and no one shoveled the streets of New York, Curry in a Hurry was the only restaurant in the area opened bright and early for business. Now that is dedication to your work. It occupies the corner of 28th and Lex, and has a flashing red neon sign protruding from an electric blue exterior. At its front window, you can always watch an old man skillfully toss fresh naan into the oven, and one step into the door you are greeted with an ample cafeteria style hot holding curry display. Upstairs, there is a seating area with vested servers and pitchers of water. You simply order your food downstairs, someone will bring it up for you, and you pay after you eat. 

I always order the chicken tikka masala (England's national dish), spinach paneer (cottage cheese), lamb curry, Basmati rice, and lots of garlic naan. Sometimes if I'm extra hungry, I also go for the vegetable pakora or the gobi paratha (cauliflower stuffed bread). And finally, I always love ending the meal with a small bowl of kheer (sweet rice pudding). 

(Sorry, everything looked too delicious to spare any time
to take pre-meal photos.)

Curry in  a Hurry
119 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY

This place is my new favorite discovery in my neighborhood. It's a really small place, and it looks rather dingy, but it always has a bunch of brown people standing around the entrance. That's how you know it must be good. I went there last Thursday with my grandmother, and we ordered from the display case before taking a seat. There aren't descriptions, and the people behind the case weren't trying to be too helpful, but I figured out enough to know what I was getting. 

I pointed at this flat round ground chicken patty that I would definitely get again. It was heavily spiced and surprisingly delicious. I also got a spinach dish that instead of the usual paneer had the most succulent lamb meat. There was also a great pea curry and the most heavenly aromatic chicken biryani, basmati rice steamed with saffron and other spices and herbs. It was so good I considered taking an order to go with me back to Boston. And finally, we got the necessary garlic naan, which was packed with garlic and not excessively oily. This, like most Indian places, is a vegetarian's paradise. 

Though this place has top notch Indian food and is not as oily or creamy packed as most, they reheat all their dishes with a microwave before serving. Therefore I would recommend ordering to-go and reheating at home at your own pace (My mother refuses to have a microwave at home). Also, sitting there will make all your clothes smell thoroughly like garlic, onion, and spices.

Lahori Kabab
124 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY

And finally, I must introduce to you this neighborhood gem. Kalustyan's is a camouflaged spice market embedded amongst its fellow competitors. But really, it is perhaps the most expansive and carries the most varied and bountiful selections of spices from around the world. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of spices that the store held as well as all the sauces, grains, and other dried goods. 

I must go back because their second floor has an Indian deli section (harhar) with hot and cold foods by the pound. Can't wait to check it out and come back here for my impending Indian feast! 

Photo from

123 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Halal Guys / 53rd and 6th / Chicken and Rice

How do I even begin explaining the magic that happens at this midtown street corner? It has come to a point that when I tell people I grew up on the Avenue of the Americas, they would reply, "OH! Chicken and rice!" ... I mean, yeah, sure. We're on the same avenue, albeit twenty blocks apart. ...I digress. The point is that the popularity of these carts has reached unbridled bounds that Boston students will drive to New York for dozens of orders to re-sell them for charity fundraisers. I know. Crazy.

Anyways, what goes in the $6 mouthwatering circular tin that these guys produce over hundreds of every night? It's simple: yellow basmati rice*, Halal** chicken/lamb, lettuce shreds, grilled pita, and sauce. The infamous white sauce and the fiery hot one is what sets these guys apart from all the other countless Halal carts around New York City. It's hard to put down in words, but it's sweet, tangy, and addictive. Do not skimp out on the white sauce. On the other hand, you should use the hot sauce with extreme caution. Also, get your water at the corner on 6th (also owned by these guys).

Honestly, I'm just an overall huge fan of Halal food. They have food carts and trucks down because you get your food the moment you order it and not ten miserable minutes of waiting on the street later. I usually opt for the lamb or mixed meat over the chicken because it tends to be more tender, and I always ask for extra pita. That with white sauce I could potentially eat all day.

Note of warning: This place gets packed (20+ minutes of waiting in line) when the sun goes down and before the sun rises. But its various locations are opened seven days a week and during the day times as well. I may have visited one or two times too often during regular dinner hours, and tonight may just be another one of those times.

* Basmati with tumeric is key. Do not take Spanish or American yellow rice for an answer. Ehheem, looking at you Boston imposters.
** Halal technically means an action permissible by Islamic law, but we will just focus on its associations with food here. The preparation of Halal food has many specific requirements for slaughter to ensure a respectful, quick, and painless death for the animal. 

The Halal Guys
53rd Street and 6th Avenue
New York, NY

Monday, November 4, 2013

Boston Food Systems Tour —APHA 2013

Notice anything new? Why, yes! I did happen to change my blog name. Welcome to Lettuce Spoon, a casual food-interest based blog covering restaurant reviews, healthy recipes, and food events. To kick start the new name, I am going to cover a food systems tour I joined over the weekend. 

This week Boston is hosting the annual American Public Health Association (APHA) conference. Part of the festivities was an excursion tour to several food system sites in the south Boston area hosted by the Food and Environment Working Group. It was an eye opening day that reinforced my keen interests in where my food comes from and how food is used to better a society, and it was a refreshing reminder of how nutrition could play an integral role in a community. Our group of food activists was able to visit a series of sites and hear from a variety of organizations including, but not limited to, the following:
  • Community Servings
  • The Food Project
  • Serving Ourselves
  • Boston Public Health Commission
  • Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness
  • City Fresh Foods
  • Red's Best

Here's some more information on the site visits we attended: 

Community Servings is a non-profit food and nutrition program that provides families living with chronic illnesses nutritious frozen meals. These meals are free, home-delivered, and constructed in large part by volunteer forces. The meals are tailored to meet the nutritional needs of their clients as well as to trigger food memories. This is done by providing the clients with culturally appropriate meals prepared by the diverse staff at Community Servings. 

What intrigued me the most about Community Servings was their logistical set up. Really this is all a huge food safety nightmare because it's a food delivery system for a high risk population. However, the CEO David Waters broke it all down for us and everything from the floor plan to the assembly line had been carefully considered to create an efficient and safe food service site. 

If you're interested in volunteering individually or as a group, do not hesitate to visit their website. Also, if you are in the Boston area, order your Thanksgiving pies from here to support their cause and to provide their client families with pies as well! 

Community Servings
18 Marbury Terrace
Boston, MA

Our next stop was The Food Project at the Dudley Square Greenhouses. First of all, I had no idea there was such a spacious greenhouse in the middle of the city. Second of all, I really wish they had these kinds of food system related youth leadership opportunities available when I was in high school. Most of our tour of the grounds was led by a group of their high school interns, and I was impressed by their knowledge of farming, the food system, and the organization. 

The produce grown by The Food Project is then sold in local farmers markets, distributed in reduced price CSAs, or donated to local hunger relief organizations. They also host many opportunities to learn about growing their own food or starting their own gardens. The Food Project holds regular community events, fundraisers, and volunteer opportunities, so do not hesitate to check out their events and workshops listing

The Food Project - Dudley Greenhouse
11 Brook Avenue
Roxbury, MA

Our group did not get to visit Serving Ourselves, but they still generously donated boxed lunches for us to enjoy. Our deliverer also happened to be one of the chefs, and he explained his work at the Serving Ourselves Farm at Boston's Long Island Shelter. 

The farm produces over 25,000 pounds of produce, eggs, and honey a year, which is used to prepare meals for more than 800 homeless people a day. Serving Ourselves also provides hands on training for its clients in planting, tending, harvesting, marketing, and more. 

If you're interested in supporting the organization, you can give your time in volunteering or you can symbolically adopt a hen, a hive, or a fruit tree for a very reasonable price! 

Friends of Boston Homeless
12 Wise Street
Boston, MA

I thought Community Servings was a food safety nightmare until I heard about City Fresh Foods. They are a local business with high social consciousness that delivers more than 10,000 daily hot meals to schools, hospitals, and others. They also provide nutrition education opportunities and offer culturally appropriate choices. 

The CEO, Glen, talked about how he believes that, "the system is not doing the right job in feeding our people." He is invested in making positive changes in his community because his own kids and parents are receiving these meals as well. He focuses on replacing animal proteins with plant-based ones and reducing sodium and saturated fat intake. In the long term, he hopes for this to be a cost effective way of preventative healthcare and to change the eating behaviors of his clients. 

You should visit their site if you are interested in learning more or working with City Fresh Foods.  

City Fresh Foods
69 Shirley Street
Boston, MA

Our final stop was at Red's Best, where I learned for the first time the importance of purchasing local seafood. I really try not to think too hard about where my fish comes from because chances are the ones I am buying in Boston Chinatown were born and corn fed at fishery farms. Red's not only purchases wild fish from local fisherman for distribution in the northeast, but they are committed to teaching the general public the importance of supporting your local fishermen. 

To the team at Red's, supporting the cause of sustainable fishing and local fishermen is just as important as all the work that is being done on sustainable farming. You have the right to know who caught your fish and where it was caught, and Red's provides that for information for you. 

Learn more about traceability here.

Red's Best
13 Fish Pier Street West
Boston, MA