What a Year! (aka the “#2015BestNine on Instagram” Post)

Food & wine. NYC design. Scenic views (Rocky Mountains). Brooklyn culture. Healthy eats. One epic lunch (Guadeloupe, French West Indies). More scenic views (San Francisco). A fabulous negroni. Scenes from last night (Nashville edition). 

2015 marks the first complete calendar year that I’ve been on Instagram, and while at times I’m sure that my Instagram posts feel disjointed, there is always the through line of: good food, epic travel, inspired moments and joie de vivre — sort of like The BLD Project, which is in growth mode.

#2015BestNine on Instagram
#2015BestNine on Instagram @elindhomie

I say: Bring on 2016! I have a feeling it’s going to be a great one.

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Recipe: Quinoa, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad (aka the “Budget Lunch on the Fly” Post)

Today’s mission: Make something out of nothing. That’s good for you. And do it fast.

I’m on a shoestring budget this week, which means it’s about time to get into the bag of quinoa that’s been sitting in my cupboard. I’ve long been fascinated with the South American grain (pronounced “keen-wah”) as it tastes good (it has a light,  nutty flavor), and it’s incredibly good for you — quinoa is packed with protein and amino acids. When cooked, the small, round grains become light and fluffy. Think of quinoa as the couscous of the Andes.

A quick survey of what else fresh I had on hand — some baby heirloom tomatoes, broccoli — and a bit of hand-holding from the ever patient Mark Bittman, whose tomb “How to Cook Everything” I frequently turn to for basic techniques, and, voila.

***

Quinoa, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad

This easy, breezy, colorful dish would do as well served warm or at room temp, and would play nicely with a beautiful piece of protein.

Ingredients:

2 Tbls. E.V.O.O.
1 1/2 c. corn kernels, rinsed and drained
3/4 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c. stock or water*
1 c. small broccoli florets
12 small tomatoes, halved (I used baby heirloom tomatoes)
block of Parmesan (always best freshly grated)
sea salt, pepper to taste

Directions:

1.) Heat E.V.O.O. in a large skillet; sautee corn over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden, approx. 10 minutes. Add a dash of salt and pepper.

2.) Add quinoa; sauté mixture until grains begin to brown, approx. 5 minutes. Add a dash of salt and pepper.

3.) Add stock or water. *I didn’t have stock and so cheated a bit by adding in a chicken flavor seasoning packet left over from a packet of ramen noodles.

4.) Once water begins to boil, give the mixture a final stir. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

5.) While quinoa cooks, boil water in a saucepan. Blanche broccoli florets 2 minutes, or until they turn bright green. Immediately drain into strainer and run under cold water.

6.) Test quinoa for doneness: grains should be fluffy and soft. If the kernels are still hard, add a touch of liquid to the pan (so that the bottom stays moist) and return to heat for another 3-5 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and grains are fully cooked.

7.) In bowl, top quinoa and corn mixture with broccoli florets and tomato halves. Grate with fresh Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 2

$9.99 Chicken Feast for Two (aka the “Dallas BBQ, What!” Post)

It was the vinyl tarp banner, flapping in the afternoon wind, that stopped us:

TWO FULL MEALS FOR $9.99
2 chicken vegetable soups, 2 rotisseried half chickens
served with cornbread and a choice of potatoes or yellow rice
(Avail Mon.-Thurs. until 11:30a-6p, Fri.-Sun. 11:30a-5p
)

What. The chef and I, we stood there, incredulous. Watched the banner flap some more. It’s hard enough to get a decent meal for two at counter-service or fast food restaurants in New York City, let alone at someplace with sit-down service.

Granted, we were standing in front of a Dallas BBQ, a mini-chain perhaps better known for its boobalicious ads, tacky-cheesy quotient and fishbowl-sized drinks than real Texas-style barbecue. (As a friend once pointed out, “You don’t have to point out that the barbecue’s from Texas to a Texan, we’ll know right away whether it is or not. That sign’s for the rest of y’all.”)

Really though, who am I to judge? I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’ve outright avoided Dallas BBQ in the past … but pretty damn close. That is, until today.

The verdict: The soup, pleasant enough, nice rich flavor to the broth. Big slice of carrot, a couple of tender shreds of chicken. The cornbread, a touch dry and mealy, in the just the way a basic cornbread should be. The fries, piping hot from the frier.

And the chicken? Frankly, it was superb.

Skin crisped and golden, the chicken literally falling off the bone, dribbles of juice running down my hands for the rest of the meal.

Writing this post is almost making me crave Dallas BBQ — that’s right, I said “crave” and “Dallas BBQ” in the same sentence — right now.

Maybe this time around I’ll go crazy and try one of those fishbowl drinks …

Dallas BBQ has several locations around New York City.
See www.dallasbbq.com for location information.

Thursday: Zen Palate Fail (aka the “Vanessa’s Dumpling House Comes Through … Again” Post)

photoI am easily excited about the prospect of a great food deal, like the e-mail I received from SeamlessWeb advertising “Delivery Week” (which actually runs through October 31st). Um, 3-course lunch specials of $12.09, in my shit Midtown West neighborhood? Yeah, what’cha got?

Well, the best offer (at least the day after the Bill’s burger gorging) was: Mmm… Zen Palate. So veggie, and so good-ish for you.

Well, it was the best offer …

until I discovered that my sweet photo-1potato fries didn’t even have a hint of warmth (they were hard), and that was after I found a bug in my already disappointing, stalk-filled watercress salad, which was all before I bit into one of the worst veggie patties I’ve ever had — a sad, flavorless, tan-colored thing smashed between a stale bun and a slice of tomato that had been pushed on so long that it’d made a damp imprint on patty.

photo-2I don’t waste food. I did on Thursday. … Good thing I had to run to LES and I had the chance to pop into one of my Eldridge Street favorites, Vanessa’s Dumpling House, for a sesame pancake sandwich and a side of soup. Fixes everything.

Friday: On the Importance of Adding Fresh Ingredients to Premade Foods (aka the “Better Soup from a Can” Post)

Fast forward a number of years.

Of all the posts that will comprise thephoto-5 BLD Project at that time, no doubt this one will be regarded as fairly insignificant. But I beg to differ.

The point to note here is not that this is about the organic chicken with white and wild rice soup from Wolfgang Puck’s line of canned organic soups. It’s what else I did: I spent five extra minutes chopping up two-thirds of a stalk of celery and the end of a small red onion and satueed these small bits in the bottom of a saucepan, with olive oil. I added in some chopped fresh parsley, and once that began to cook just slightly, then I added in soup.

This miniscule bit of additional prep not only made the soup more appealing to photo-6look at, taste better and improve its overall character — I also just fit in an extra half-serving of vegetables. Fresh vegetables. And nothing, nothing in package foods can compensate for the taste, texture or overall vibrancy of fresh vegetables. And most of us don’t get enough.

I’ve been thinking about Mark Bittman’s blog post about convincing fast food chains to offer more healthful options all week. “The fact is that fast food isn’t “bad” because it’s fast — it’s bad because of crummy ingredients,” he writes. We can’t all eat splendidly all the time — let alone make chicken with white and wild rice soup from scratch.

So if you are making a quick lunch at home by heating up some soup from a can — or any prepackaged food, for that matter — improve it. Add some fresh vegetables. A drizzle of olive oil. Some fresh herbs. A little seasoning. A little goes a long way in making a meal taste better, and be better for you.

Wednesday: Kashmir Grill Finds Its Stride (aka the “$3.99 30th Anniversary Lunch Special” Post)

Dang. In business for 30 years in this dismal neighborhood?!

photo-5Eighth Avenue near the Port Authority has to be one of the last bastions of that gritty, grimy, seedy New York City that far too many New Yorkers wax poetic about, wearing it as some badge of pride.

Well, I’ve seen far more of it than I ever cared to having worked nearby for not even a year — so I can’t imagine the tales that Kashmir Restaurant, an open-around-the-clock Pakistani-Indian restaurant located at the nexus of it all, could tell. If only these freshly-painted walls could talk.

From when I first heard that the restaurant had reopened as a counter-service spot with a spruced-up interior, and had done away entirely with the perpetually stale, and slightly terrifying (and yes, I ate there) lunchtime food buffet, it was only a matter of time until I made a visit.

photo-7Now known as Kashmir Grill, the restaurant is offering two “30 years promotion specials”: A $2.99 kabab roll and a $3.99 rice and chicken special (regularly priced $4.99). In hindsight, I think I would have rather tried the roll, which consists of two grilled kababs wrapped up in naan bread — all the better to sample the new grill feature that I’m assuming prompted the name change.

But I might be thinking about that now because the rice and chicken plate was, well, just okay. Not that I have an issue with offal, but I like to know when I’m ordering it. And I’m fairly certain that not all of the chicken meat was simply white or dark meat pieces, there were some other bits mixed in. The rice was satisfactory, if a little burnt. And the cuts of romaine lettuce laid across the top of the rice and under the charred naan — well, they were neither salad nor anything, other than out of place.

photo-6For the price, you can’t beat it, but I still prefer the meat plate from the nearby food cart, Meal O’Bama.

That kabab roll, on the other hand ... I’m still thinking about it. I think it’s the way to go; I have high hopes. Because really, Kashmir Grill can’t have made it this far for nought.