Sunday, March 30, 2014

Restaurant Review - Nosh Arizona

I hate to use trite phrases, but Nosh Arizona is truly a hidden neighborhood gem. The intimate space located just north of Ray Road on McClintock in Chandler,  is owned by husband and wife team Stacey and Mark Carson. Stacey, a 17 year restaurant industry veteran (she started out as a dishwasher and worked her way up) and certified chef, always dreamed of opening her own restaurant. Her dream was about to come true when the economy took it's plunge in 2008. She wisely decided the time was not right to open a restaurant. Instead of giving up on her dream, she enrolled in culinary school to gain even more valuable experience before opening the doors to Nosh in New Year's Eve 2012.

Stacey is a chef who demands quality in ingredients and presentations for all of the dishes at Nosh. The magic happens with her incredible culinary team. Chef Robert Perry, who developed his culinary chops at BLT Steakhouse, heads up the kitchen with a calm confidence. He and his crew: Jim, Ramon and Riley cook together like a well oiled machine. This can be challenging enough for a relatively new team, but they also have to perform in an open kitchen.

Which brings me to one of my favorite features of Nosh's space: the seating in front of the display kitchen. I love the option to watch the magic happen in the kitchen. The first time we sat there, I was truly impressed by the professionalism of the kitchen staff. Equally impressive is the cleanliness of the kitchen. The high back chairs in the front seating area are cozy, making you feel relaxed and calm. The brick walls lend a welcome rustic feel to the room.

I have been here several times with friends and with my honey. Each time we have been here, the service has been friendly, attentive and efficient. We are always welcomed by at least one employee as we walk through the door, even on busy nights. The servers we have had have been very knowledgable about the menu. If there is something they don't know, they will find a way to get you an answer.

Ah the menu and the food. This is my true love as you well know. The menu is relatively small, but there are some very tantalizing options for vegans and carnivores alike. To keep things interesting they change the menu about every three months.

It can be very challenging to find "foodie" grade vegan eats in the East Valley. I am thrilled to report that they do exist. While there are only a few items on the menu are inherently vegan (Side of Bread and Warm Olives), the chefs willingly and easily can "veganize" many of the dishes.

I have to stop for a minute and tell you that the bread and the pizza crust (both vegan) alone are worth the trip. The breads are Chef Stacey's original recipes. The are made fresh on site every day. They are probably one of the best (maybe even THE best) I have experienced. The toasted french bread is perfectly chewy on the outside and light on the inside. The pizza crust has the perfect amount of crunch and stays crispy even with the generous amount of toppings on the pizzettes.

Side of Bread may not sound like anything special, but when it is Nosh's bread, take notice. It comes with garlic and fresh herb infused olive oil dipping sauce. The fresh herbs make the difference. The infusion gives the olive oil incredible flavor. The simplicity and deliciousness of the dish took me back to some of my favorite gastronomical experiences in Spain.

The Bruschetta on the menu is not inherently vegan, but with a few tweaks by the chefs, we were able to enjoy the Bruschetta Trio. The version we had on our most recent visit was vegan AND gluten free by substituting the french bread with polenta triangles. The polenta had the firm texture to hold up to the toppings, but it did not have much flavor. It needed a little salt and pepper, maybe some garlic. I'm not sure, but it is certainly something that can be easily remedied. What I did love about their bruschetta is the toppings are piled high with delicious options. Our trio selections are described below:

  • Cauliflower and Sun Dried Tomato - I never used to be a huge fan of cauliflower, but I adore it roasted as it was for this topping. Sun dried tomatoes lend such a wonderful depth of flavor and I would have welcomed even more of them. 
  • Olive Tepanade with Capers - I'm a huge fan of olives and capers. I loved the piquant and salty tepanade with the mild polenta. 
  • Garlic with Yellow and Green Squash - The squash was bright, fresh and beautiful. The first bite I took of this selection seemed to lack flavor (a little more salt would have done the trick for bite number 1). However, the next bite included rich roasted garlic that turned it into something special. 

Word or warning: if you get the gluten free version on polenta, it may be tricky to pick it up with your hands. Forks may be required (small price to pay for delicious gluten free fare).

The Baked Pear Salad over Arugula normally comes with gorgonzola cheese. The vegan option obviously does not include this creamy component. Mixed field greens can be requested and I recommend this option for the vegan version. I love arugula, but in this case the chef's suggestion to substitute was right on. The acidic notes in the champagne vinaigrette were a perfect complement to the crunchy candied pecans and sweet creamy pear. I could have eaten a bowl of the pecans all by themselves, they were that good.

We couldn't go without having one of Nosh's "pizzettes". It is their answer to the popular flatbread craze. We were not disappointed! We had the Vegetarian, hold the cheese. They use grilled seasonal vegetables on top of a tomatoey pizza sauce all served up on the incredible pizza dough. The pizza is presented on a wooden cutting board. I particularly loved the portobello mushrooms. The marinade made their flavor pop. The veggies were so plentiful, it was hard to keep them on the pizza. So often when we order pizza with a lot of veggie toppings, the crust turns into a white hot mushy mess. Not so with this one. We were chatting it up with the chefs, so the last couple of pieces actually sat there for quite a while before we finally ate them.  The crust was crisply until the end. 

The new menu just came out this month. They offer a Taro Taco Trio. The Chimi Vegetable taco is vegan! We didn't get to try it, but plan to in the near future. 

I do want to mention the portion sizes. So many restaurants deliver monster sized portions of mediocre food and processed foods. They don't call our way of eating the SAD (standard American diet) for nothing. Nosh's portions are not gigantic. I found them to be just right in size. Their prices are in line with the quality and similar establishments (wine bars and upscale pubs). 

I'm sad to report that at the current time there are no vegan dessert offerings. The good news is, Mark makes all of their ice creams and he is looking into developing some vegan options. Yay! We honestly couldn't have fit one in on our most recent visit anyway as we had so many courses. 

Speaking of Mark, he is the creative force behind the bar. Mark crafts a crazy array of specialty cocktails. He is also a winemaker. The restaurant features two of his hand crafted wines on the menu. Look for the Hugo name on the list and you will find his creations. He makes one white and one red each year (somewhere between 120 and 150 gallons). Most of the grapes he uses in his wines are from the Napa Valley region of California. He started making wine about 10 years ago from kits he purchased online. Over the years he has learned a lot about the art from other wine makers. We didn't have room or time to imbibe in any adult beverages this trip, but we intend to make a point of leaving room on our next visit. The wine list is not huge, but there is a good variety. They also serve over 25 craft beers and the selections change periodically, so you can try all sorts of different styles.

Nosh is a breath of fresh air in the corporate chain and sports bar saturated Chandler/Tempe area. It is so great to have a cute, independently owned hang out in the neighborhood. It is even better that the food is so delicious. Make sure you stop by and get a seat by the kitchen! 

Nosh Arizona
4080 W Ray Rd #26
Chandler AZ 85226
(480) 838-NOSH or (480) 838-6674
Monday            Closed
Tuesday           4pm to 10pm - Special 1/2 price beer
Wednesday     4pm to 10pm - Special 1/2 price wine bottles and Sangria
Thursday        4pm to 10pm - Special Free Glass Nosh Select Wine w/Entree
Friday (Lunch/Dinner) 11am to 11pm - 1/2 price dessert after 9pm
Saturday          4pm to 11pm - 1/2 price dessert after 9pm 
Sunday (Brunch) 9am to 2pm - Featuring $2.00 Mimosas and Bloody Mary bar. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Little Luck of the Irish - Stew of course!

Tomorrow is the day of the Leprechaun. My mom's side of the family has a lot of Irish heritage that has tricked down to me. I have the love of potatoes, a reddish tint to my hair (not as much now that it is getting grey), an occasional flare up of Irish temper and a love for the celebratory adult beverage. Oddly, even when I did eat meat, I never cared for the corn beef and cabbage thing. So for me, Irish Stew is a far more delicious choice for St. Patty's day.

We live in a really fantastic neighborhood with incredible neighbors. Last night we invited some of our favorite neighbors over. They are decidedly not-vegetarian. Since I can remember, I ponder what I can make that will impress my dinner guests. It is even more fun when cooking vegan for non-vegan guests. I was going to go all Southwestern, then it hit me, St. Patty's Day is Monday. I decided to make my own version of Irish Stew for our al fresco dining experience. The stew was a success. The neighbors and Fred loved it.

I remembered that Guinness is not vegan, so I had Fred pick up some Killian's Irish Red, which is vegan according to Barnivore. The beer is key to a rich, deep flavor for the stew and it's pretty great for enhancing the cook's mood as well. There is some spirited debate about whether or not carrots should be in traditional Irish Stew. I opted to go carrot free and let the potatoes take the stage. Shoot I'm already bucking tradition making it without little lambs. Your belly and tastebuds will be feeling the Luck of the Irish as you sit down and dig in to this hearty and flavorful stew brimming with earthy portobellos, creamy potatoes and rich gravy.

Luck of the Irish Portobello Stew

Makes 6 Servings

1 1/4 cup Butler's Soy Curls
1 1/4 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
4 large portobello mushrooms, fins removed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 large yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme, de-stemmed and minced
1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 bottle Killian's Irish Red beer (or other red lager)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet
2 pounds unpeeled red potatoes, 3/4 inch dice
Salt and Pepper to taste

Pour the boiling water over Soy Curls and let re-hydrate for 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze excess water out of Soy Curls.

In a 6 quart dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add Soy Curls. Sauté until they are nicely browned stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add another tablespoon of the olive oil, portobello mushrooms and onions. Sauté until mushrooms release there liquid and onions are soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, parsley and pepper. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn heat to low and add last tablespoon of olive oil and flour, stirring to combine. Cook for about 10 more minutes to red the flour of the starchy flavor. Turn heat back up to medium high. Add beer to deglaze pan. Make sure to scrape the yummy bits that may have gotten stuck on the bottom of the pot. Add tomato paste and stir until it is dissolved. Add vegetable broth, kitchen bouquet and potatoes. When mixture starts to bubble, turn heat to low. Let simmer covered for an hour. Uncover and let simmer for another 1/2 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls. You can sprinkle with roughly chopped fresh parsley as a garnish if you like. Serve with Irish Soda bread or any rustic chewy bread.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Chia - It's Not Just for Pets Anymore!

History and Cultivation

Chia seeds were a staple in the diet of ancient Aztecs, Mayans and Indians in the Southwest of the United States. The tiny seed was so revered at one point that they were used as currency.
Chia is currently cultivated and grown in Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Australia.  In Australia it is a relatively new crop compared to the seed’s ancient history in other parts of the world. Even though Australia is a relative newcomer to the chia arena, it is predicted they will become the largest producer of the seed.

Superfood Characteristics

The Oxford dictionary defines a superfood as “A nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. This tiny seed truly fits this definition. Chia is a Mayan word that means “strength”.  Many health conscious athletes (especially distance runners) use the mighty chia to keep hydrated and energized during workouts. The unique gel they create allows liquid to stay in the body longer.

·      The health benefits are many:
  • ·      Excellent protein source
  • ·      One of the most concentrated sources of omega – 3 essential fatty acids
  • ·      High in anti-oxidants
  • ·      High in fiber
  • ·      Excellent slow-releasing energy source
  • ·      Support healthy muscle function
  • ·      Anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties
  • ·      Aids in hydration

Chia vs. Flax

Chia can be used in many of the same ways that flax seed is used. As opposed to flax seed, chia is much more stable. Flax seeds go rancid very quickly and must be kept refrigerated or frozen to prevent spoiling. Flax seed are higher in omega-3 fatty acids; however, they must be ground in order to get the full benefit of the nutrients in the seed. Chia does not have to be ground to reap its nutritional benefit (although some research has shown that more nutrients become available when it is ground). Clearly Chia is the winner in the convenience category.

Chia is actually higher in fiber, calcium, phosphorus and selenium than its nutty counterpart. I want to make a point here; flax is still a super food in its own right and should be included in a healthy diet plan. It is higher than Chia in magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B1 and copper. Include them both regularly for well-balanced nutrition.

Here is a side by side compairison of Chia Seed vs. Flax Seed (1 oz. serving)

Data provided by
*Data Provided by
**Data Provided by Chiatrition Chia

Chia Seeds
Flax Seeds
9 g
12 g
Saturated Fat
1 g
1 g
Dietary Fiber
11 g
8 g
12.3 g
8.1 g
4.4 g
5.1 g
177 mg
71.4 mg
1.7 mg**
1.6 mg
265 mg
180 mg
44.8 mg
228 mg
1 mg
1.2 mg
0.6 mg
0.7 mg
15.5 mcg *
7.1 mcg
Omega-3 fatty acids
4915 mg
6388 mg
Omega-6 fatty acids
1620 mg
1655 mg

Chia in Food and Recipes

With all of chia’s health benefits, it is a great idea to add it to your daily eating plan. Here are some great ways to use chia in your kitchen:

  • ·      Chia can be used as a substitute for eggs in many baked goods. To make a chia “egg” grind up 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and combine with 3 tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for at least 10 minutes to thicken.
  • ·      Use chia to thicken stews, soups and gravies.
  • ·      Thicken salad dressings with chia or just sprinkle seeds on top of a salad for extra crunch.
  • ·      Make your own energy gels for working out. They are far healthier than the corn syrup and chemical ridden commercial versions.
  • ·      Puddings are super easy to make with chia. There are plenty of flavor options: chocolate, vanilla and fruit to name a few. Below is a recipe I created with the fresh oranges from my tree.

Orange Dream Chia Pudding

Makes 4 servings

1 can light coconut milk
1/3 cup raw cashews
2 large oranges, peeled and cut into quarters
¼ cup white chia seeds
2 tablespoons organic coconut sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in high-speed blender until smooth. Taste for sweetness. If a sweeter pudding is desired, add another tablespoon of the organic coconut sugar. Pour into serving bowls and chill for at least one hour. Top with chopped fresh fruit and/or nuts as optional garnishes.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spain Memories - Pimientas del Padron

When I visited Spain a couple of years back, I was lucky enough to have hosts that let me play in their kitchen. Not only did I get to play in the kitchen, I had the honor of having my friend Nena share a couple of her family recipes. Such great memories of the day we hung out and cooked together.

Spain has these incredible chilies that are about the same size as a big jalapeño, but are shaped a little bit differently. They are called Pimientas del Padron from La Caruna in northwestern Spain. These peppers are typically pretty mild, but every so often, you may get one that is realllllly hot. My dear friend got one of these crazy hot ones on our last trip to Spain. I like to call it "Pepper Roulette". It's a very delicious gamble.

I had never seen these pepper stateside before. Last week I found them at Whole Foods. I was over the moon! I just couldn't believe it. I snapped up a big bag of them. The traditional preparation for them (as taught to me by the fabulous Nena) is quite simple. A healthy portion of olive oil is heated to a high temperature (but do not let it smoke!). Pour the peppers in the pan and cover with a lid. Let them sauté for about 5-7 minutes, the peppers should be nice and browned. Shake pan to turn peppers. Saute for another 5-7 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Salt with coarse sea salt. Let them cool for a couple of minutes so as not to burn your mouth with the temperature cuz you may burn it with the heat if you get one of those fiery babies!

They are a rare find, so if you see them, make sure to get your hands on them!