Review: Bookbinder’s Pub in Oxford, UK

IMG_2612Bookbinder’s is a quirky neighborhood pub in the upscale Oxford neighborhood of Jericho. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a mellow weekday evening, and the atmosphere reminds me of two other places I really like (1) the club room of the fancy-schmanzy 21 club restaurant in New York City and (2) Pavilhão Chinês, a bar I went to once in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Bookbinders is decorated eccentrically, with random collectibles – train sets, old ice skates, beer coasters, and old photographs – placed on the walls. There’s also a “music room,” with old records and sheet music.  During the Christmas season, they serve delicious mulled wine and cider with spices and raisins. (I am convinced it’s the best mulled wine in Oxford, because  I’ve sampled the drink in almost every local Oxford pub.) They serve food as well, but I haven’t had the chance to try it.

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The Entrance to the “Music Room” at Bookbinder’s

Last night, Jon and I stopped in after a formal three-course dinner to grab drinks and play a few rounds of our favorite card game – Shithead. Bookbinders has a terrific board game collection, with all the classics -Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, etc.

A quick practical tip for the gluten-free folks: If you’ve been gluten-free for awhile, you know that beer is off limits. However, alcoholic cider is gluten-free, as are all forms of hard liquor. Last night, I had the cider on tap, and it was perfect.

Review: Scoops Icecream in Los Angeles, CA

Scoops is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. It’s located in a trendy enclave called “Hel Mel” – the unofficial bike district of LA. I first heard about Scoops because it’s in the council district of a local politician I interned for in college, and after going one afternoon with coworkers, I was hooked.

What I love about Scoops is how whimsical it is. Everyday, the owner dreams up new crazy icecream flavors, and you never know what you’re going to get. Other than the staple flavor, brown bread (which sadly isn’t gluten-free veggie appropriate), every flavor changes daily. There’s always a vegan option or two.

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Here are the owners of Scoops (picture courtesy of Serious Eats).

My favorite flavors include strawberry poppyseed balsamic, thai iced tea, and green tea jasmine. Also, the prices can’t be beat! For a little over $2, you can get “one scoop” which includes two different flavors.

Scoops also sells its icecream in Golden State cafe on Fairfax Ave., but the Hel Mel location is the best.

Recipe: Jean-Georges Fried Rice (From Mark Bittman)

Mark Bittman is the man. I love his New York accent and his simple recipes. I’ve watched all his NY Times cooking videos, and my favorite is probably his “Jean-Georges” fried rice recipe. I was absolutely hooked on the dish in college. It requires only a few ingredients, is cheap and easy to make, and  goes really well with a dash of sriracha sauce.

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Here’s the link to the recipe and cooking video, courtesy of the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/27/dining/27mini.html?ref=dining&gwh=

Ingredients:

      • cooking oil (I use olive oil)
      • a couple minced garlic cloves
      •  a bunch of chopped ginger pieces (without the peel)
      • 2-3 chopped leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
      • cooked white rice
      • eggs

sesame oil and gluten-free tamari soy sauce (for garnish)

    salt (optional, for seasoning)

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown (you want little “chips”). Transfer to paper towels to drain, and salt lightly. Put aside

2. Add 2 tablespoons oil and leeks to the old skillet. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt.

3. Add cooked rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through. Season to taste with salt.

4. In a different skillet, fry eggs in oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.

5. Divide rice into dishes. Top each bowl with an egg and drizzle with sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of gluten-free soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve.

Recipe: Japanese carrot-ginger salad dressing (From Gwenyth Paltrow)

I’m a big fan of Gwenyth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog “Goop“. Many of the recipes she recommends work for gluten-free vegetarian folks, and the restaurants she reviews are consistently great (I’ve tried out a few of her picks for Barcelona, Los Angeles, and London)

Her ginger-carrot salad dressing is absolutely the Pièce de résistance. Have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant and ordered a bento box that comes with a little salad with a delicious bright orange dressing? This recipe teaches you how to replicate that magical dressing in your own home. I’ve also tried using the dressing as a sauce on salmon, and it turned out great.

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The salad dressing in its “element.” I usually just eat it over plain greens, but avocado and sliced shallots would be delicious additions.

Here’s the link to the recipe, as well as some of Gwenyth’s other recommendations for “detox” recipes. I’ve tried making the broccoli soup as well, and it’s also quite tasty.

Here’s the recipe, straight from the Goop site:

Ingredients:

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon  miso
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seed oil
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions: Pulse the carrot, shallot and ginger in a blender until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides, add the miso, vinegar and sesame seed oil and whiz together. While the blender is going, slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil and the water.

Additional Greer tips: Be patient if you have a crappy cheap blender, and consider adding more water to the mix if things aren’t blending the way they should.

There you have it – the greatest salad dressing of all time (or, until I blog about another salad dressing recipe)!

Review: The Karczma, a kitschy Polish gem in Birmingham, UK

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There are few things I love more than “kitsch.” I grew up going to presidential libraries in the United States, scouring vintage shops to add to my growing collection of antique vintage election pins, and falling in love with local town brass band concerts in rural New England. I love old-timey American diners and Norman Rockwell-style schmaltz. Last week, Jon and I were flying through Birmingham on our way to a ski vacation in the Alps, and decided to plan a date night out on the town before flying out. I found a review in the Guardian for the kitschiest sounding restaurant in the city and decided we absolutely had to go check it out!

The restaurant is called the Karczma, and is a traditional Polish place, located next door to a bleak concrete Polish cultural center. The interior of the restaurant consists of a fake thatched roof, sheepskin chairs, nostalgic murals of Polish farmers, and a TV permanently set to a Polish news channel. But if that’s not enough of a draw, the food is PHENOMENAL.

Jon and I started out our dinner with some vodka – his was flavored with grass, and mine had a delicious subtle honey aftertaste. We decided to splurge on some starters – I had a wonderful pickled whitefish dish with diced onion. Jon had (AVERT YOUR EYES DEAR VEGETARIAN READERS!!) fried sheep cheese wrapped in fried bacon. Needless to say, he loved it.

For mains, I had a fried trout, with just the perfect balance of crisp skin and smooth silky interior. The sides included a generous heaping of mashed potatoes with a slight flavor of vinegar, and a side of sauerkraut. Jon had a portion of meat and wheat – some hearty pierogis.

The only downside is that there did not seem to be very many options on the menu for strict gluten-free vegetarians, but if you love fish, you’ll find Karczma heavenly. Check out the menu here: http://www.thekarczma.co.uk/. It’s pretty reasonably priced as well. Our meal came out to somewhere around 30 pounds for the two of us.

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“More vodka, please!”

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Recipe: Vegetarian Stew

My mom told me she was going to make vegan stew for dinner one night over Christmas break, and I was very skeptical. It sounded far too healthy. BUT as soon as I tasted it, I realized how wrong I was, and was instantly humbled. The stew alone is great, but with shredded sharp cheddar cheese and white rice it is celeste! (Google translate tells me that means heavenly in French). Recently, I’ve been making a big batch and keeping it on hand for lunches during the week. My meat and wheat eating boyfriend loves it too. He has suggested we eat it several times a week for dinner, which is a major endorsement considering his two favorite food groups are otherwise cheese and bacon.

Kidney Bean and Butternut Jamba Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • 1 can of chopped or whole green beans
  • 2 cans of chopped or tomatoes
  • 1 butternut squash, pealed and cut into pieces
  • spices: pinch of ginger, garlic salt, salt and pepper

For added scrumptiousness, after cooking add:

  • white or brown rice (I usually use white rice, and mix it with “sushi seasoning” vinegar to give it an extra punch).
  • shredded extra sharp or mature cheddar cheese (which has less lactose than normal cheese).

Directions: Throw all the ingredients in a big pot, and let it simmer for up to an hour (or until the butternut squash is tender). Serve over rice with cheese, or with a tasty gluten free bread roll. Read more

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