Saturday, May 9, 2009

Great Eats at Great Sage

by Erin

Since drinking the Kool-Aid of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," I have not been eating that much meat, and when I do, I prefer it to be local and/or organic. (Don't get me wrong, I break my rules all the time, such as when I indulge my growing addiction to the Hilltop Carry-Out gyros.) Several of my friends (and Xani) are of the same mind and some have even gone vegetarian or mostly vegetarian. I met up with several of these girls (including Lauren, NYC friend extraordinaire) last weekend to celebrate our friend Lydia's birthday, and the birthday girl chose to have lunch at Great Sage in Clarksville, MD.

Great Sage is a vegetarian restaurant that uses organic produce and happily accommodates vegans as well. The space is open and sunny, and the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating. At the bar in the front of the restaurant, patrons on their laptops sipped coffee or munched on sandwiches.

We sat down and amongst our chit-chatting and catching up, we ordered the mango iced tea, a refreshing tea with a mild mango flavor. The menu had soups, salads, a few entrees, and a nice selection of appetizers. Many of the dishes had what I'll call "veg-meat," meaning usually soy-based products used to emulate meat in flavor and/or texture. I tried these fake meats in college when I would dine out with vegetarian friends (I'm talking about you, Jeff Fields!), and to be honest, that was enough for me. I prefer to eat either real meat, or no meat. Substitutions be gone!

Mango iced tea

For our appetizers, we ordered the Hummus Plate, served with carrots, celery, olives, and toasted naan bread, and Artichoke Spinach Crostini, an artichoke and spinach dip with parmesan and toasted crostini. Both appetizers were delicious and heavy enough to satisfy our hunger immediately, but not too heavy that we couldn't enjoy the rest of the meal. I especially liked the artichoke dip - it had lots of tartness in it and for a moment I wasn't sure what it was from, and then I took the cue from the garnish: a lemon slice! The lemon juice added brightness and cut right through the creamy cheesiness of the dish. Delish!

Spinach-Artichoke Dip with Crostini

Hummus with veggies and naan

For our mains, I ordered the Black Bean and Roasted Corn Quesadilla, with white cheddar and sour cream on the side. They gave me hot sauce on request (Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill brand - nice and spicy). It was a good quesadilla, a large portion, but not as great as the appetizers. The other girls got the Italian Pesto Panini, the Portabella Caesar Salad Wrap, and the Southwest Burger, and all got great reviews. Lauren's wrap came with amazingly tart and spicy pickles, and we were obnoxious and ordered a whole plate for the table!

Black bean and corn quesadilla

Southwest "Burger"

Italian Pesto Panino

Portobello Caesar Wrap with awesome pickle

The last course was dessert, and this was the biggest surprise of the meal because these desserts were KICK-ASS! First our waitress surprised the birthday girl with four very mini birthday cupcakes! It was a sweet surprise, and the cupcakes were excellent. The chocolate cake was moist and had a nice hint of salt, and the icing was not too sweet (it was a merigue buttercream so it was more butter than sugar) and there was a good proportion of icing to cake.


Next we got MORE dessert. As I've gotten older, I've noticed that I've been shying away from chocolate desserts and more often order fruit-based desserts, so my vote was for the fruit tart or fruit crisp, but I got outvoted. After heated debate, we ordered a molton chocolate cake dessert with vanilla ice cream on top (not on the menu, we got it special because the b-day girl knows a guy who knows a guy), and Sage's Famous Carrot Cake. I was hesitant about both. I never order carrot cake; I don't even think I had ever had it before since why would I want silly vegetables in my dessert??

The verdict? I was blown away by both desserts! The molton chocolate cake was rich and chocolatey, and the ice cream was a great accompaniment. (The waitress asked if we wanted dairy, soy, or rice-based ice cream - we went with dairy.)

The carrot cake, however, was RIDICULOUS. First, it was a gigantic portion. It was served ice cold, which normally I wouldn't like, but it totally worked. The cream cheese frosting was vegan so it did not have the same tanginess as traditional CC frosting, but it was still sweet and smooth. The cake was VERY dense (is that normal?) and there was a great cake-to-frosting ratio. Who knew vegan carrot cake would be so amazing??

What a meal! I was glad I was able to celebrate with Lydia and see Lauren and Sarah who were in town from NYC. Happy birthday, Lyd!


Happy organic/vegetarian/vegan eating,

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Back to Blogging....

by Xani

It's been a while since I've blogged. After my little accident, I had to put cooking and blogging pretty much on hold. Cooking was almost impossible (I almost cried when I realized I was unable to grind pepper one-handed) and maybe even dangerous (left-handed knife skills? Not so much), and typing one-handed was so frustrating, I pretty much gave it up except for when I absolutely HAD to, for work. It was a sad month. But now my splint has been removed, my bone is all healed, and it's been so exciting to be able to cook (and blog) again! Here are a few dishes I whipped up soon after getting my hand back-- and just as fresh, local produce begins to emerge!

Dish Number 1: Bastardized Panzanella

A simple dinner thrown together on a weeknight. Some pieces of roughly torn Italian bread, drizzled with olive, salt and pepper and toasted in the oven until they emerged as golden croutons. Meanwhile, tossed a small salad of parsley, and little grape tomatoes, minced or grated garlic, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. When the croutons were done, I added them, as well as some adorable fresh mozzarella pearls to the salad, tossed gently, plated, and topped the whole thing with some fresh shaved Parmesan and a bit more olive oil. Light, easy, and tasty. Mine had a bit too much garlic, and as summer approaches with delicious heirloom tomatoes and basil bursting from gardens, I would certainly adjust the recipe to include these.

Dish Number 2: Soft-boiled Eggs with Asparagus

This dish seems almost British to me-- why is that? Did I see Nigella Lawson make it long ago on the Style Network? Perhaps. Anyway, it seemed a perfect vehicle for the first local asparagus of the season, which EP and I picked up at our beloved Emily's Produce stand (which reopened for the season just the day before!), on our way home from a brief visit to Blackacre. Hungry for brunch the next morning, I brought some salted water to a simmer, and in went the asparagus and eggs. Four minutes later, the spears were crisp tender and the eggs were perfectly soft-boiled (although at this point I realized I don't have any egg cups or other dishes that effectively hold an egg- add those to my wish list!). I served the eggs and asparagus alongside some toasted thick bread to soak up the yolks, and lots of coarse salt.

Dish Number 3: Calzones from Scratch, Two Fillings

After spending a few nights in Philadelphia for work (and getting a killer migraine that ruined my dinner at Cuba Libre and left me incapacitated for 18 hours) I arrived home to a fridge full of veggies needing prompt attention, and a package of pre-made pizza dough I picked up at the grocery store. My grill is currently being taken over by ivy (seriously, my backyard is like a JUNGLE, and while some think it looks "magical", I bet my neighbors don't. My "I only have one hand" excuse is no good anymore, so I guess it's pure laziness at this point-- it's on the To Do list, for sure), so grilled pizzas were off the table. But calzones seemed like the perfect solution. I invited EP over for a study break, and got started on making the fillings.

Kale-ricotta filling (a twist on traditional spinach ricotta): I didn't have any spinach, but I did have kale, which I blanched in boiling salted water, shocked, drained and chopped. Then mixed with some sauteed onion and garlic, ricotta, one egg, Parmesan, fresh mozzarella, and salt and pepper.

Veggie tomato filling: Another twist on a classic, I omitted the sausage from a traditional sausage, pepper and onion filling and added mushrooms and asparagus to the sauteed onion, garlic, and red, yellow and orange mini-peppers. Once all the veggies were nice and tender, I added about half a can of (GASP) prepared tomato sauce, along with red pepper flakes, oregano, and salt and pepper, and let the whole thing cook together for about half an hour until it had formed a nice, thick sauce-- almost like a ragout.

Once the fillings were done, I started trying to stretch out the prepared pizza dough-- emphasis on the word "trying." I guess it had been sitting in my fridge for too long, because this stuff was a MESS. Unbelievably sticky no matter how much flour I added, wouldn't hold shape, etc. But I already had the fillings all made-- I was screwed!! Or was I...?

Behold: my latest purchase/obsession. Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman, is a fantastic book about how many of the basics of cooking can be reduced to simple ratios. Bread dough (including pizza dough), for example, is 5:3, flour to water. The book stresses how simple it is to make great bread with just a few ingredients (flour, yeast, salt), and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try out the technique... what else was I going to do with all that filling!?

My other new favorite toy-- digital food scale!

In retrospect I didn't time things quite right-- the dough should have rested a lot longer between initial kneading and stretching into the calzones... lesson learned for next time. The dough wasn't really very elastic and hadn't developed the gluten in a way that gives pizza dough it crispy, chewy texture. But hey, I made dough, and formed it into calzones, and they didn't fall apart or explode or taste half-bad. In fact, they were pretty damn good! EP and I ate well that night. The kale had a really interesting flavor, and the veggie ragout was delicious with the melted mozzarella and Parmesan. All in all, a BIG success.

I'm so glad to be two-handed again. I promise to do lots more cooking (especially with the farmers' market open again as of this morning-- EP and I almost drowned getting there in the today's monsoon, but it was so worth it) and blogging. I've got a few in the pipeline that I'm sure you'll all enjoy. Until then...

Happy eating (and cooking, and blogging),

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