The Gaijin Cookbook, a review

“The Gaijin Cookbook” is a very different creature from its predecessor “Ivan Ramen,” both books by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.  When “Ivan Ramen” came out, it was self evident that the recipes were from the noodle restaurant of the same name, and artisan ramen is a complex process.  The Shio Ramen chapter itself is divided into making the eight components of the dish. “The Gaijin Cookbook” is practically the antagonist to the first book.  It’s about cooking Japanese food at home for a weeknight or for a party.

The layout of the book is a bit odd.  I’ve added quotes from the book about what each chapter is about.  And each chapter had some recipes that were grouped together, and sometimes recipes that only related to the chapter and not to each other.  So I’ve done my best to reflect that.

  1. The Recipes by Category
  2. Eat More Japanese – “… foundational recipes and flavors that taught [Ivan] to understand Japanese food”
    1. The Vanishing Japanese Diner
    2. Natto [Fermented Soybeans]
    3. Feeding Our Kids
  3. Open to Anything – “… fusion… recipes that have mingled… leading to new and delicious collaborations”
    1. (various recipes)
    2. Sandwiches
  4. Empathy – “nurturing through food”
    1. (various recipes, mostly rice and stews)
    2. Nabe
  5. Otaku [Geeking Out] – “more intensive recipes”
    1. (oden, dan dan noodles, gyoza)
    2. Frying
  6. Good Times – “dishes that are conducive to sharing while you sip on an adult beverage”
    1. (various recipes)
  7. New Year’s – “symbolic snacks that will ensure prosperity in the coming year”
    1. (various recipes)
    2. Jubako
  8. Pantry

 

If this were a novel, I’d be ok with this layout.  But as a cookbook, I find it a bit confusing if I’m looking for a recipe.  It almost feels random instead of intentional. If there’s a specific recipe you’re looking for, it’s the index you’ll need to depend on.

But the recipes themselves look good.  Here are some of the recipes I want to try:

  • Seasoned Ground Chicken (Tori Soboro) – I want to compare this version to the soboro I already make today
  • Mentaiko Spaghetti
  • Miso Mushroom Chili
  • Pork and Tofu Meatballs with Buttermilk Sauce
  • Smoked Fish Donburi
  • Okinawa-Style Soba with Pork Belly and Tatsuobushi
  • Salmon and Miso Hot Pot
  •  Sweet Dashi-Poached Prawns
  • Candied Sardines
  • Sesame Furikake
  • Katsuobushi Furikake

 

For my inaugural recipes, I made shimeji mushroom rice from the Empathy chapter, and the chicken meatballs (tsukune) from the Good Times chapter.  Both were straightforward to make, and ingredients were easy to come by where I live.

For me, the meatballs were decent but not necessarily a recipe I will remake as written.  It’s just a very ginger forward flavor even with the accompanying sauce. But I still like the general instructions, so I’m thinking about messing around with it, maybe using Chinese black bean paste as the flavoring agent.  It’s just a personal preference, not a critique on the recipe.

That’s when I decided to make the mushroom rice.  I wanted to see how a second recipe would work out, and I loved the results.  It’s a light flavor, and the cooking instructions are spot on. I used haiga rice (haiga is a semi-polished short grain rice where the bran is removed but not the germ, and cooks like white rice), and skipped the bonito flakes.  The recipe instructs you to soak the rice for at least 20 minutes, and up to 1 hour. I chose 30 minutes. For garnish, I just used scallions (no photo documentation, but I also used store-bought furikake as a garnish when I was eating leftovers).  Next time, I’ll use the katsuobushi and see how it changes the flavor. I can see myself making this regularly going forward as it stores in the fridge well and is great for meal prep.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was the photography.  The food photos are enticing. The portraits of Ivan scattered among the pages give insight to his personality.  And because I’m a romantic at heart, the photos of Ivan and Mari are endearing.

If you don’t have a cookbook on everyday Japanese cooking or don’t have one you like, give “The Gaijin Cookbook” a try.  I think it’s very home cooking friendly, and there’s a good diversity of recipes.  

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 24, 2019.

Reference Links:

https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/The-Gaijin-Cookbook/9781328954350

https://www.ivanramen.com/

 

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Umami Bomb, a cookbook review

Umami…  One word with so many expectations!  Or rather, I tend to have high expectations when I see it thrown around.  The last time I reviewed a cookbook with the word ‘umami’ in it, I was underwhelmed by the recipe testing result.  Would “Umami Bomb” by Raquel Pelzel be equally underwhelming or will it pass expectations with flying colors?

The chapters are sorted by the main umami ingredient of the recipe.  The chapters are:

  • Parm and Other Aged Cheeses
  • Soy Sauce
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Caramelized Onions
  • Miso
  • Smoke
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Fish

What sets this book slightly apart from other umami focused cookbooks is that this one is (lacto-ovo and pescatarian) vegetarian.  For better user experience (ok, that’s the nerdiest thing I’ve said on this blog), recipes are marked if they are vegan, vegan-optional, and with a rating system based on the number of umami ingredients.  What makes this book possibly better than the other umami book I’ve reviewed in the past (based on appearance only) is how approachable these recipes are. Pelzel’s book isn’t asking for any specialty ingredients if you’re living in an urban area.  It’s not asking you to build a pantry of DIY pastes, seasoning, or sauces.  

And… there’s a wealth of recipes I want to try.  I just didn’t have time to make more than one in time for this review.

  • Killer Chocolate Cake (just because I want to put soy sauce in frosting)
  • Grilled Pan Con Tomate with Miso Butter
  • Tomato ‘Nduja
  • Sick Day Tomato Soup
  • Savory Mushroom Breakfast Porridge
  • Veg and Cornbread Bake
  • Falafel-Spiced Grilled Mushrooms with Miso-Tahini Dressing
  • Mushroom Gravy
  • Caramelized Onion Korean Pancake 
  • Miso Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Polenta with Smoked Cheddar and Kale
  • Eggplant “Meatballs”

In the end, I decided to make Toasted Sesame Granola with Coconut, Orange, and Warm Spices.  I’ve never tried using sesame oil in my granola before or fresh ginger. Or soy sauce for that matter.  I try not to meddle with recipes for review, but I had to leave out the orange for this. I forgot to pick it up at the store.  Another note, cinnamon is one of the ingredients, but Pelzel suggests smoked cinnamon if you can get your hands on it. And now that I’ve made this granola, I’m seriously considering sourcing some smoked cinnamon.  The flavors in this recipe are really bold, some of the other ingredients are sesame seeds, shredded unsweetened coconut, ground ginger and ground coriander. My taste buds couldn’t really taste the sesame flavors but the amount of saltiness from the soy was perfect.  For me, the main flavors were ginger and coriander so smoked cinnamon would have matched really nicely.

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Mmmmm granola

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Unadorned, the granola is almost overwhelming but I couldn’t stop eating it anyway.  (Isn’t that kind of the point of umami anyway?) But when I topped my plain yogurt with it, it was perfect in every way. Pelzel also suggests pairing it with chocolate ice cream so obviously I need to go pick up some chocolate ice cream, sooner rather than later.

Overall, I really appreciate how unique the granola recipe is.  It makes me excited to experiment with the other recipes.

The book doesn’t have photos for everything, but that’s ok.  The photos that are there are bright and appetizing.  I think the array of recipes nicely covers a little of everything from breakfast to dessert.  I also appreciate how approachable and functional the book appears to be.  It’s all very appealing.  I definitely recommend giving this book a try if you can.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Workman Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 3, 2019.

Reference Links:

http://www.raquelpelzel.com/recipes/

https://www.workman.com/

 

Six Ingredients with Six Sisters’ Stuff, cookbook review

Cookbooks advertising minimal ingredient lists can really go either of two ways, right?  Either it’s minimal with little commercial products, or it’s heavy on the commercial products.  So, I didn’t know what to expect from “Six Ingredients with Six Sisters’ Stuff,” the latest book from sixsistersstuff.com.  I’m slightly acquainted with the recipe material they’ve posted on their website, but I’ve never done a deeper dive. Their website has a large collection of recipes but I guess I just never came across anything that really grabbed my attention.

The chapters in this book are pretty straight forward:

  • Main dishes
  • Side dishes
  • Desserts

… and that’s it.

First impressions of this book?  The recipes are about 50% commercial product involvement and, of that, I think it’d be pretty easy to replace the commercial product with something homemade if preferred.  Just a barometer of what to expect, there are 7 mentions of taco seasoning, 4 mentions of Italian seasoning (not to be confused with Italian dressing mix which is also used in the book), 3 mentions of canned cream of soup, and 6 mentions of bbq sauce.  (Yes, I tried to tally. No, I did not re-count and verify.) So, that’s not so bad. And it’s not as if I’m anti-commercial products. I just don’t keep this stuff around with the exception of bbq sauce.

A handful of the recipes use more commercial products.  For example, the 5-ingredient turkey meatloaf uses Stove Top Stuffing Mix, and Lipton Onion Soup mix.  But then, there’s a recipe for lemon and dill salmon that is simply salmon, salt and pepper, butter, lemons, garlic, and fresh dill.  

Here are some recipes that I may try in the future:

  • Avocado Chicken Bites
  • Savory Slow-Cooker Turkey Breast
  • Turkey Tenderloins and Asparagus
  • Grilled Mediterranean Pork Kabobs
  • Pesto Salmon
  • Mushroom and Garlic Quinoa Bake
  • Easy Homemade Rolls

For this review, though, I went with the Smoky Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork which uses a lot of liquid smoke.  (Like half of the bottle of fancy liquid smoke that I got from HomeGoods that one time.) This recipe uses paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, liquid smoke, pork shoulder, and bbq sauce.  The bbq sauce isn’t used during the cooking process, as it’s more for serving, so I didn’t worry about not having the full amount of bbq sauce. Everything else, I had in my pantry, and pork shoulder was on sale at one of my local markets so score!

Now, I may not sound overly excited for the book (that’s not a long list of recipes above that I want to try), but this pulled pork recipe?  IT’S FANTASTIC!

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Pulled pork ☺

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I kind of feel like the whole book was worth the pulled pork recipe.  I’ve used smoked paprika in the past to try to get some smoke flavor, but I never thought to douse meat with liquid smoke before.  I’ve certainly used liquid smoke before, but I’ve always been conservative about the amount used.  

For a pork shoulder that wasn’t actually slowly smoked, it’s a brilliant indoor version.  My only gripe is that the recipe says to “use a generous amount of salt and ground black pepper, up to 4 teaspoons each.”  I used 2 teaspoons each, and it was plenty. (I was using about 3.5 lbs boneless pork shoulder.) I think any more salt or any more pepper would have made the pulled pork less enjoyable.  

I served it with Trader Joe’s Organic Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce because that’s what I had on hand, but I think I would have been perfectly happy with just the liquid in the slow cooker.

Zero regrets, people!  And now I have delicious pulled pork for dinner all week.

So, I recommend this book with some reservations.  Your cooking style is going to determine how much use you get out of this cookbook, but I think there are, for me, a couple of hidden gems.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Shadow Mountain for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 3, 2019.

Reference Links:

https://sixsistersstuff.com

https://shadowmountain.com/product/six-ingredients-with-six-sisters-stuff/

 

Rustic Joyful Food, cookbook review

This week, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing “Rustic Joyful Food, My Heart’s Table” by Danielle Kartes.  I can’t lie. I was really interested in the book for 1) the cover photo and 2) the title. The cover photo is of a ham and brie sandwich with green apple and mustard.  And it just so happens that one of my favorite sandwiches to pick up when I’m on the go is a turkey sandwich of similar construction. As for the title, it neatly compacts my feelings about good food and cooking.

Diving right in, the book is divided into these chapters:

  • Pantry Staples
  • Appetizers
  • Salads and Side Dishes
  • Soup’s On
  • The Main Dish
  • To Drink
  • Sweets
  • Simple and From Scratch

Many of the recipes from the Main Dish chapter that I originally thought about testing for this review didn’t happen this week because they felt more like cooler weather recipes.  There were also several recipes from the dessert chapter that I nixed for this review only because I’ve consumed a lot more sugar in the last few weeks than I normally do. (I made a layered birthday cake for a friend a couple of weeks ago.  I ate a lot during an overnight trip to NYC last week. Gotta live life a little after all.)

But just because I didn’t test them out, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to mention them.  Here’s a list of recipes that I really want to make when autumn arrives:

  • Beef Barcelona Stew
  • Roasted Tomatillo Chile Verde
  • Sister’s Turkey Minestrone
  • Perfect Braised Chuck Roast
  • Spanish Style Braised Chicken
  • Almond Butter Brownies
  • Banana Bread Made with Greek Yogurt and Pepitas
  • Perfect Apricot and Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
  • Buttermill Vanilla Pound Cake
  • Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Coconut Custard Macaroons
  • Frangipane Jam Tart
  • Plum Preserves

As for the recipe I did test… Surprise!  There were three:

  • Spicy Baked Hominy
  • Turkey and Chickpea Greek-Style Pitas with Dill Yogurt Sauce
  • Quick Balsamic and Tomato Jam

I had originally picked the baked hominy as the only recipe I was going to make but it was so simple that I thought it wasn’t fair of me.  Overall, I liked this, but I think I’ll cut back the salt next time. I’m not sure if it was the salt I used, the brand of canned hominy I used, or both, but it was just really salty to me.  (I don’t cook with a lot of salt day-to-day, to be honest.) I couldn’t get it to bake up crispy so I might play around with the oven temperature and baking time next time. Having said that, I found that it made for a pretty tasty sandwich filling.  I ate most it on bread with cheese, and I liked it that way.

So for a second recipe, I went with the Turkey and Chickpea Greek-Style Pitas with Dill Yogurt Sauce.  As you can tell by my photos, I was using bread that was too small. (Ok, I can’t lie. I used toaster sized naan instead of pita.  I’m slowly making my way through breads that I’ve stored in my freezer. I refuse to make or buy more bread until the current stock is used up.)  My patties didn’t look as nice as the photo and I realized later that I technically used too much chickpeas (my fault for reading the ingredient list too fast), and so my patties crumbled too easily.  Having said that, I’ll probably make it the exact same way next time as I hate having unused chickpeas around. It didn’t affect the flavor at all. With my leftover patties, I tried a plating of cabbage instead of bread.  Delicious either way! And it’s easy. You’re making patties with ground turkey, mashed chickpeas, egg, black pepper, garlic powder, salt, and onion powder. The dill sauce is easy too, just Greek yogurt, dill, milk, black pepper, garlic powder, salt, and onion powder.  

Not in the mood for a dill yogurt sauce?  Not a problem. When I was sitting down to write this review, I noticed a recipe for balsamic and tomato jam toward the back of the book.  I had all the ingredients (there’s only 3 main ingredients, not including salt and pepper), and the sudden motivation to cook at 9:00p on a work night.  It smelled a~mazing when it was done. Since it was an impulse cooking session, I wasn’t sure what to serve it with. In the end, I tried some on a turkey chickpea patty.  I have no regrets, and I think you should try it too.

My overall impression is that this book is a great collection of well crafted and functional recipes.  I highly recommend giving them a go.

One last item to address is that the introduction chapter has faith-based commentary in it.  If that’s not your thing, simply skip the intro.  

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Sourcebooks for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Reference Links:

http://www.rusticjoyfulfood.com/

https://www.instagram.com/rusticjoyfulfood/

https://www.sourcebooks.com/

Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen, a cookbook review

If I had to name a cookbook that both embodied home cooking and simple elegance, it would be Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen by Atsuko Ikeda.  It’s the reason why I was looking forward to this review.

Back when I first started to cook, I was drawn to Japanese cuisine.  Shabu shabu, Japanese curry, miso soup with a proper dashi, etc. were the things I was trying to make in my home kitchen.  Somewhere, I stopped cooking Japanese food (with the exception of the occasional nabe). I’m not sure why. Maybe because it stopped feeling new to me?

But Ms. Ikeda does an excellent job of taking those familiar Japanese dishes and adding a modern flair, taking a familiar homemade dish and giving it a breath of newness.  Some examples are:

  • Smoked mackerel and dill onigiri
  • Mushrooms with blue cheese, yuzu ponzu, and truffle
  • Molten eggs with lightly seared marinated steak (molten eggs seem to be jammy eggs)
  • Mushroom and soy milk soup

 

That isn’t to say that there are no traditional recipes in this book.  For a few days, I couldn’t decide whether to test out her chicken and eggs on rice (oyakodon) recipe, or her beef and potato stew (nikujaga) recipe.  (And then I chose neither for this review.)

The book is divided into fairly standard chapters:

  • My Japanese kitchen
  • Regional Dishes
  • The secrets of Japanese cuisine
  • Small dishes for sharing
  • Soups and Noodles
  • Easy one-plate meals
  • Special occasion meals
  • Sides and Dressings
  • Desserts

 

The recipes I’m interested in making that I haven’t named already:

Glazed lotus root and chicken meatballs – I was introduced to this recipe years ago, and I may have lost the recipe.  I love renkon (lotus root) and you don’t see this stuffed renkon recipe in English written cookbooks often.

  • Ceviche-style scallops with citrus sauce – On paper, it reminds me of a dish from Tyler Kinnett, Executive Chef at Harvest (one of my favorite restaurants in the Greater Boston area).
  • Chicken in nanban seasonings with tartar sauce – Somehow, I never heard chicken nanban until recently.  It’s apparently the Japanese version of sweet and sour chicken.
  • Fried and steamed salmon in miso garlic sauce – The photo for this recipe really appeals to me.  It’s listed in the special occasion meals chapter but the ingredient list isn’t daunting, nor are the instructions.
  • Pumpkin salad – Kabocha squash, Japanese mayo, Greek yogurt, raisins, and almonds.  It sounds intriguing.
  • Azuki bean paste pancake sandwiches – It never occurred to me to make my own dorayaki.  I love red bean desserts!

 

And a shout out to the photographer, Yuki Sugiura.  Every recipe is accompanied was a gorgeous photo to inspire!

For my review recipe, I ultimately picked the chicken teriyaki with lime.  (The recipe serves it over quinoa rice, but it’s been hot here in the Greater Boston area so I chose not to cook another dish.  I ate it with store bought naan, and salad. I’ll make the rice next time.) I like Japanese teriyaki but I just never make it at home, but I was really curious how the lime matched the dish.

Aside from the chicken and the lime, I had all of the ingredients in the recipe.  (Full disclosure, I swapped the leeks with onion.) It was easy to make, so I can vouch that it’s a perfect dish to make at home.  Ms. Ikeda claims “after trying this recipe, you might never purchase ready-made teriyaki sauce again.” I’m inclined to agree! I thought this was delicious!  And the touch of lime elevated the recipe from being boring and ordinary.

If you’re interested in Japanese food, or if you’re looking for some new ideas that can be used for everyday cooking, I highly recommend this book.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I wasn’t. In fact, I think I’ll make the fried ginger pork for dinner this weekend.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Ryland and Peters for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

 

Reference Links:

https://rylandpeters.com/products/atsukos-japanese-kitchen?_pos=2&_sid=d98f195e2&_ss=r

https://www.atsukoskitchen.com/

The Greek Vegetarian Cookbook, a review

Every once in a while, there comes along a cookbook that I know immediately I am going to like.  In my never-ending quest to try to eat more vegetables and fruit, I am always looking for new ideas or inspiration.  And for me right now, that is The Greek Vegetarian Cookbook by Heather Thomas.  The recipes in this book are mostly uncomplicated, unpretentious, but not boring.  

The book is also really enjoying to flip through, as every recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photo.  The breakdown of the cookbook is basic:

  • Chapter 1 – Meze, Dips, and Snacks
  • Chapter 2 – Salads
  • Chapter 3 – Breakfasts and Brunches
  • Chapter 4 – Light Lunches
  • Chapter 5 – Dinners
  • Chapter 6 – Bakes and Desserts

Trying to narrow down a recipe to test for this review was a little tough.  The recipes that I was most interested in, some of the ingredients are not in season yet (here being in New England).  But here’s a snapshot of some of the recipes I want to make from this book:

  • Halloumi and Lentil Salad
  • Hummus with Fennel and Golden Beets
  • Cretan Tomato Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette
  • Crunchy Greek Islands Salad
  • Melon and Avocado Salad
  • Halloumi with Sweetcorn Fritters with Fried Eggs
  • Chickpea and Eggplant Pilaf
  • Baked Stuffed Vegetables
  • White Bean, Tomato, and Feta Baklava
  • Fresh Fig and Orange Cake

In the end, I went with testing out the Broccoli Salad with Yogurt Dressing recipe because I had most of the ingredients and the photo looked appetizing.  It’s almost embarrassingly easy. You re-hydrate some raisins. You boil some broccoli. You make a dressing of Greek yogurt, honey, and vinegar. And then you serve the broccoli with the dressing, some onion, sunflower seeds, toasted pine nuts, and the raisins.

And you know what?  I loved it. The recipe comes with variations which also sound good, and I’m tempted to try all the suggestions.

So, would I recommend this book to someone else?  Yes! I think I’d recommend this book to anyone to be honest.  Interested in the Mediterranean diet? Get this book. Interested in recipes easy enough for a beginner?  Get this book. Want to eat more veggies? Get this book. And if you do get this book, let me know what you think of it.  🙂

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Phaidon for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Reference Link:

https://www.phaidon.com/store/food-cook/the-greek-vegetarian-cookbook-9780714879130/

What I’ve been eating this year so far

I still dream about this curry breakfast sandwich.  It came from 3 Little Figs.

Sadly, it was a special.  So if I want it again, I need to learn to make it.  Which in turn means that I need to work on my biscuit making skills.  It is going slowly because I am a household of one.  There’s only so much carbs and fats a person should be allowed to eat in a day.

Other works in progress?  Recreating the candy bar of my childhood.

Right now, my favorite ramen place is Tsurumen in Davis Square.

Oh, and I finally made it to Tasting Counter! The food was really excellent. It’s not the kind of place you can go to all the time… or at least, I can’t because I’m not made of money, but I highly recommend hitting it up at least once. It’s the kind of place where the people who opted out of alcohol pairings still got mocktails and other beverages that matched every course.

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Turbot, peas, and mushrooms

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And like everyone else in Greater Boston with a hankering for good Thai food, I highly recommend Dakzen. I can’t wait to go there again.

I finally made it to a meal at Commonwealth and was not disappointed. The night I was there, deep fried snapper head was the special. Luckily I was with friends who are adventurous and we were all the better for it. The restaurant also makes all its own ice creams and sorbets, which I also recommend.

I finally made it the famed Oleana, and every dish I ate there was amazing. My favorite, though, might have been the duck dish.

And most recently, I got to eat at Littleburg again. Littleburg is a vegan pop-up restaurant that I’m very fond of, but they are often at times/places that doesn’t fit into my schedule. At least, I was able to make it to their noddle bar night.

In all honesty, I don’t eat out that much.  Everything above was over the course of three to four months.  So, it’ll probably be another three to four months before you get another update like this.  lol!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.littleburgveg.com/

https://www.oleanarestaurant.com/

http://commonwealthcambridge.com/

https://www.dakzen.com/restaurant

https://www.facebook.com/TsurumenDavis420/

https://www.3littlefigs.com/

https://tastingcounter.com/