Sunday, June 26, 2011

Geer Street Garden: Another Durham Gem

Image courtesy of
Gavin and I are always in search of great new places to eat and Durham rarely disappoints when introducing a new restaurant. In the past couple of years, we've been lucky enough to have a number of great new restaurants, especially in the downtown area. The next area to be developed - with more to come, I'm sure - is the Central Park district. Already home to the Durham Farmers' Market and Piedmont Restaurant, this stretch of Foster Street and surrounding area seems to be exploding. Fullsteam Brewery recently opened on Rigsbee Avenue, serving up cold seasonal and local beers along with music and food truck eats. And even more recently, this Central Park district has welcomed Geer Street Garden, an old gas and service station turned casual eatery, using local produce, meats and cheese. The restaurant combines a lot of what is great about Durham: an old, brick building repurposed to serve great food highlighting local farmers' and artisans.
I was a little nervous about trying it out when I first looked over the menu, wondering if they would have any options for me that didn't include gluten. Although their sandwiches sound and look amazing, I am unfortunately unable to eat them. For most of the gluten-eating population, however, the menu is full of great looking finds, from the locally raised beef burgers to the giant pimento cheese sandwich - a southern classic. However, when we arrived at the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of gluten-free options and a very helpful bartender who was willing to check and assure me which menu items I could eat. Instead of being forced to order the one and only gluten free option, I actually had choices! I was thrilled with what I ended up ordering - the seasonal vegetable stew, pictured above - but I'm sure the other choices would have been equally as tasty.
Gavin and I started the evening off with the local salami and cheese board. Unfortunately we gobbled most of it up before I remembered to take a picture but it was complete with thin slices of salami, local fresh goat cheese covered in honey, apricots, and almonds, delicious little pickles and black olives. The toasted crostini rounded it out for Gavin but I didn't miss the bread with all of the other great flavors on the board. As I mentioned, I ordered the seasonal vegetable stew, which was exactly that: a mix of all of the vegetables I had just seen at the farmers' market earlier that week. Mine included patty pan squash, snap peas, carrots and greens, but yours might look a bit different depending on whatever is the freshest available that day. Topping the soup was a generous triangle of polenta cake with sprinkled Parmesan cheese. An absolutely delicious and satisfying meal, showcasing the best our local farmers can produce. Gavin chose the local, pasture-raised burger, complete with a slice of cheese and spicy red cabbage on the side. Not to mention a delicious mound of fresh-cooked French fries, which I was happy to sample. To accompany your dinner, Geer St. offers several beers on tap and in the bottle, a short but tasty looking wine list, and a number of signature cocktails along with anything you want the bartender to whip up for you. The inside of the restaurant is rather small but the big patio outside nearly doubles the space and makes for a lovely evening. All in all, our visit to Geer Street Garden was a huge success and will definitely be followed up by more visits. Nothing beats an affordable meal, highlighting both the history of Durham and the incredible food produced locally.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vegetable Gazpacho: Perfect for a Hot Summer Night

Sometimes in the summer - especially a North Carolina summer - you just don't feel like cooking. The thought of turning on a hot stove and then standing over it for 30 minutes or so sounds unbearable. But just because you don't want to cook anything, doesn't mean you have to miss out on a healthy, homemade meal. Besides, getting takeout usually involves going outside, which will probably be hotter than turning on the oven anyway. And we all know that homemade food is better for you than takeout (not that the occasional Thai takeout meal hasn't saved me during pregnancy-induced exhaustion). But making something at home is definitely the better bet when you can. Although I love me some salads, sometimes I want other options for no-cook dinners. So instead of eating vegetables tossed in salad dressing, I blended them all together and made gazpacho. This delicious, cold soup - usually made with tomatoes - fits the bill perfectly for a healthy meal that requires absolutely no heat. It's full of good for you veggies and heart healthy fats like avocado and a touch of olive oil. I served the soup with some crackers spread with a bit of cheese and had a delicious dinner that didn't cause the temperature in my house to raise one degree. I used a blender and did the pureeing in batches. A food processor would also work, just be careful to not overfill it. Most gazpacho recipes call for onion, but I don't really like the bite of raw onion so I left it out. But feel free to include a small onion or other vegetables that you like: bell peppers would also work nicely. Basically you can throw the whole vegetable garden in there and create a delicious soup that takes very little time to prepare.
Vegetable Gazpacho

  • 2-3 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced; reserve 1/2 of 1 cucumber
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2-1 cup tomato or vegetable juice
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 bunch basil, divided
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
In a blender or food processor, chop up tomatoes, 1.5 cucumbers and zucchini. Add about 1/4 cup tomato juice to help the vegetables combine. Do this in batches if needed, making sure everything is finely pureed.
Dice the remaining 1/2 cucumber into small cubes and reserve.
Roughly chop half of the avocado and add to the blender. Cut the other half into cubes and reserve.
Chop half the basil and add to the blender. Thinly slice other half and reserve.
Add balsamic vinegar, 1/4 - 1/2 cup tomato juice, juice of half a lime, and about 1/2 tsp of salt to blender and puree until well combined. (Amount of salt will vary depending on saltiness of tomato juice).
Pour all of the pureed soup into a large bowl. Stir in diced cucumber (I like the added texture, but puree everything if you want a totally smooth soup).
Add more tomato juice if too thick. Stir in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice, if desired.
Soup can be served immediately or refrigerated for up to a day before serving.
Garnish each bowl with a few chunks of reserved avocado and ribbons of basil.

For a printable recipe click here