Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tzatziki Pasta

I love a good creamy sauce occasionally... but pasta alfredo seems waaaay too heavy for a summer meal. So as an alternative, I made something close to my Greek neighborhood of Astoria's heart- tzatziki- and tossed it with fettuccine. And so said the Italian cook to the Greek dip, who needs pita when you have pasta? With cucumber and mint, it's fresh and summery, and could possibly encourage you and your friends to grab drinks at the Athens Cafe after dinner. This serves about 3-4 people.

The Whats:
* 2 cups of Greek yogurt
* 1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
* 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
* 2 tsp. lemon juice
* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 tsp. dill
* 1 tsp. mint
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1/2 box fettuccine

* For garnish: chopped black and green olives, pignoli, sprigs of dill, whatever you like!

The Hows:

1) Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth; let the yogurt drain in the colander for at least one hour. Lightly squeeze excess water from yogurt in the cheesecloth after it has drained. While yogurt drains, placed the peeled & chopped cucumber over paper towels, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and let cucumber sit for 20 minutes; rinse and pat dry.

2) Cook half a box of pasta according to package directions. As pasta cooks, mix together the drained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, dill, mint and salt and set aside. Drain pasta, then toss with tzatziki. Garnish with olives, pignoli or dill, and serve immediately.

The Veg is Loose!

On the web, that is! I just signed up for two more networking sites, both food related... hey, the more the merrier!

The Sugar and the Spice now has a profile on, a social networking site aimed at foodies in the 20 to 30-something bracket. It's brand-spankin' new- I think it just went up a month ago- and users can share their fave restaurants, write reviews & recommendations, and invite friends to food related events.

Also joined's New York City Vegetarian Meetup Group- for those of you unacquainted with, it's another cool social networking site where you can start any type of group, and get to know people who are interested in whatever crazy thing that you're into as well (and after spending just a few minutes perusing groups by topic, I'm quite convinced they've got everything covered!) The NYC Vegetarian Meetup group has been around since 2002, but it's still growing, and they have monthly meetings at various restaurants... an even better way to learn what places are really veg-friendly in the city!

I'll be sure to keep you posted on what's going on with these groups... but in the meantime, you should sign up too, meet new people, eat at new places, and of course, add me as a friend! Come on, you know you'd love to check something other than Facebook and MySpace while you're at work :)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Miracle Fruit

... because anything with "miracle" in the title either elicits a groan and a shake of my head, or a raised eyebrow and piqued curiosity.

And after scanning the Most Emailed Articles list on the NY Times website yesterday and finding that an article on a berry was #1, my curiosity was definitely piqued.

Definitely read the article for more info, but long story short, revelers at a LIC tasting party series can sample a West African berry who's protein binds to our taste receptors and ultimately sweetens bitter/sour flavors... so cheap tequila tastes like Patron, as the party host, Franz Aliquo, attests, and Guinness tastes like a chocolate shake. I'm definitely intrigued! And it goes without saying that I'm going to need to "flavor trip"... I'm already signed up for their email list to get more info on those parties (along with everyone else that read that article, I'm sure, haha), and if you're into mind/tongue games (yes, probably could've phrased that differently, but at least I'm entertained by it!), you should sign up too!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Treats Truck

FINALLY hit it up today! While trying to find the appropriate Father's Day gift at the Yankees Clubhouse store on 5th Ave and E. 36th Street, I saw the beautiful gleam of old Sugar... that's the name of the truck, for those of you unfamiliar with The Treats Truck. I'd heard about it through in Time Out New York; since last summer, The Treats Truck has been parking in various neighborhoods throughout the city and serving up fresh baked cookies, brownies, iced coffee, and more. For fellow eco-minded dessert lovers, the truck runs on more environmentally friendly compressed natural gas.

I know it's bikini season, but I couldn't resist- I had one of their cookies on special, a peanut butter sandwich cookie filled with chocolate, and an iced coffee.... so good! Not too rich, the cookie was nice & soft and melted in my mouth. Heaven. This has got to be the most brilliant idea in baking... I wish I'd thought of it! Maybe I should make my pies mobile?

Kim Ima, the mastermind behind The Treats Truck, offered a punch card with my cookie purchase- for every 10 treats, you get one free! And conveniently located on the corner of E. 38th and 5th Ave in midtown, you know where I'll be every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon! Check the website to see when desserts will be hitchin' a ride to your hood!

It's Memorial Day! It's a Vegan Pasta Salad!

Sure, you think you should be behind a grill on Memorial Day weekend... and though I love whipping up some awesome grilled squash or throwing veggie burgers and veggie corn dogs on the BBQ, I focused on being the Pasta Master rather than a Grill Master. For all too long, pasta salad has been relegated to a boring "I suppose someone's got to bring this" side dish with no personality or taste and absolutely no extra nutritional value. Let's face it, no one likes the sour taste of mayo from a typical pasta salad left out in the sun for too long.

Instead, I'm making this a full-on, picnic ready meal, minus the mayo. Throw in some fresh, colorful summer veggies, basil, and some cannellini beans for a protein kick, and you've got a great Friendly Veg dish- one that's ready to share! This recipe makes enough pasta salad to bring to your next BBQ with friends... and whoever brings the veggie burgers and veggie corn dogs is up to the rest of the group!

The Whats:

* 1/2 box of whole wheat elbow pasta or mini penne (small shapes work best!)
* 3 plum tomatoes
* 1 bell pepper (I love color, so I used an orange one!)
* 1 medium zucchini
* 1 small red onion
* 3 cloves garlic, crushed
* 1 15 oz. can of cannellini beans
* 1 2 oz. can of sliced black olives
* 3 tbsp. basil, finely chopped
* 3 tbsp. oregano, finely chopped
* 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 6 tbsp. red wine vinegar
* salt and pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) Dice all the vegetables and toss in a large bowl with 1 tbsp. basil, 1 tbsp. oregano, salt & pepper, and 2 tbsp. each olive oil and vinegar. Toss until veggies are coated, and set aside.

2) Cook pasta until al dente; after draining, rinse with cold water until pasta is cooled. Add the cooled pasta to marinated vegetables and toss. Drain olives and cannellini beans; rinse. Add beans and olives to the pasta and vegetables, along with remaining olive oil, vinegar, basil, oregano, and some salt & pepper; toss until all ingredients are coated. Refrigerate pasta for one hour, to allow flavors to blend, before serving.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bottino and Ayza

Again, the Friendly Veg hates falling behind with blog posts, but when you're hacking up a lung with a bad cold, it does take a little joy out of cooking and trying new cafes and restaurants. But I've got a few mini reviews for you to take in as I continue to take in some NyQuil!

Birthdays are pretty much equated with dining out, and for the celebration of the big 2-5 of one of my high school homegirls, we planned a dinner at Bottino, a Tuscan bar/restaurant in gallery central, Chelsea. Opened in 1998, it maintains a gallery-like setting with the sparse, but chic look of simple furniture, low lights, and windowed ceilings; our party of 5 had dinner around 8, so this was perfect for catching the last of Friday's sunset! We started out by splitting some yummy bruschetta, with really fresh, juicy tomatoes, and I had a few slurps of a rather bland chickpea soup that was on special that day. Ah well, can't blame the vegetarian for trying. Bottino, for better or worse, doesn't have an extensive menu, and I'd selected the only vegetarian entree that night, ravioli verde: spinach ravioli with a ricotta and swiss chard filling. Topped with a simple tomato-basil sauce, the ravioli was good, but not great- I'd been hoping that the slightly bitter bite of swiss chard would come through to complement the ricotta, but there was no trace of it; in fact, I'm not quite sure they even put swiss chard in the filling! Dessert more than made up for the good, but by no means above average dinner- I could've drowned myself in my fabulous maple walnut gelato, and the tiramisu I nabbed off a friend' s plate was heavenly- light, mousse-like layers, instead of the heaviness that's usually associated with a rich tiramisu. I MUST learn how to make this!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a tough critic when it comes to Italian cuisine- aside from the unfair "my mother makes a better sauce" comparisons that inevitably crop up, it's hard for me to understand why a restaurant cannot successfully use the simple, fresh ingredients synonymous with Italian cooking to their fullest. And Bottino falls into that 2nd category; though I understand that sometimes restaurants have nights when they're not completely on point, a vegetarian entree shouldn't be a part of that. Still, for the romantic ambiance and the moderately priced menu, it's worth checking out.

(And because you might just be wondering where the harsh Italian critic likes to eat, my favorite Italian places in NYC are Lupa, Via Emilia, Otto, and from my old Bensonhurst hood, Spumoni Gardens)

Bottino, 246 Tenth Avenue, between 24th and 25th Streets, 212-206-6766


Up next for review: Ayza, a relatively new wine bar in midtown. Branding itself as a wine and chocolate bar, there seemed no better way to finish off an afternoon of blowing bucks at H&M than with two of my favorite things! The interior of the eight month old Ayza is small, but did have a number of tables outside; we had no problem selecting a good spot outside for a late afternoon/early evening snack. For celebrating a successful shopping trip (curvy fit jeans aren't easy to find you know!), my friend chose a 2007 Domaine de la Potine Sauvignon Blanc, which was delightfully fruity, but not overly sweet; I chose a 2005 Summers Cabernet Sauvignon, which was nice and medium bodied, with some kind of oaky or cedary (I'm still learning to pinpoint flavors in wine, bear with me!) undertones. Perhaps it was the fact that we ordered their Baby Rocket arugula salad with dates, walnuts, apples, and manchego, which was quite good, but I was definitely feeling the sauvignon blanc more than the cabernet sauvignon. Next up was a small cheese plate, for which we chose a piave vecchio, bucheron, and comte st. antoine... all were artfully presented, and went well with the honey, cranberry bread, and fruit served with the cheese. And because I'd have been missing out if I didn't order them, we split some chocolates by Jacques Torres- a bin 27 port infused dark chocolate ganache, an Alize heart of passion with passion fruit and Alize, and a surprisingly good white chocolate ganache with key lime flavor. I'll also happily mention that Ayza suggests wine pairings for not just their salads, paninis, and cheese, but for their chocolate as well.

Though the service is a bit slow, everything is fairly priced here at Ayza, and with a more hip downtown vibe than any generic Midtown bar & cafe, I'll be visiting more often!

Ayza, 11 W. 31st Street between 5th Ave and Broadway, 212-714-2992


And speaking of wine bars, as I was taking in some fresh air and wandering around my Astoria nabe this weekend, I discovered a wine bar called Winegasm (they took my phrase! I regularly toss "foodgasm" around!) on 37th Street between Broadway and 31st Avenue- has anyone been here before? No idea how long it's been there, but I'll make a point of finding out soon! Apparently they have wine classes and Friday night world music & wine.

Also of note in Astoria: I had one of the best glasses of sangria EVER at a small Mexican place called Guacamole, on Broadway between 38th Street and Steinway. After pressing the waitress, I learned the secret: a bit of brandy. Sweet! You know what I'll be serving next time I throw a party!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Top Ten Food Blogs

This week's top ten list on one of my favorite food sites,, features a countdown near and dear to the Friendly Veg's heart... food blogs. Mostly because I'd like to be on that list at some point :)

The blogs listed by Chow colunmist Aida Mollenkamp, who'll be hosting a new Food Network show this summer called "Ask Aida" (and for those of you who love your reality TV served up with side of kitchen drama, Food Network's "The Next Food Network Star" kicks off its new season on June 1st!), are both diverse and entertaining, with mouthwatering photography and recipes that range from easy comfort food to challenges for seasoned cooks and foodies. With my upcoming trip to Paris in June and my love of baking, pastry chef David Lebovitz's self titled blog immediately drew my attention, as well as the humorous "Definitely Not Martha," which chronicles both triumphs as well as crash and burns in the kitchen. Because let's be honest with ourselves: if you had a dollar for every time you added too much pepper, steamed your veggies for too long or had bread that didn't rise to the occasion, you could probably pay to have your kitchen professionally cleaned several times over from the messes you've made.

I'll be working at my end to try to bring this blog up to par for a top ten list with good recipes and funny quips... all you guys need to do is keep reading and logging hits on my page. Fair 'nuff, no?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Veggie Pride '08

Penelo Pea Pod at San Gennaro in 2006... hilarious!

Veggie Pride 2008 flyer

... and though I stupidly slept through the first annual Veggie Pride Parade this past Sunday (I usually take complete and utter advantage of the fact that alcohol is indeed vegetarian!), I'm doing a short blog on it anyway!

Believe it or not, this event actually began in Paris, and the New York City parade is the first in the U.S.- and appropriately, marchers paraded through the West Village waving "Go Veg" signs. The parade boasted a costume contest, live performances in Washington Square Park, and the nuptials of parade sponsor VivaVegie's mascot, Penelo Pea Pod, and PETA's Chris P. Carrot. Sounds like good fun!

I'll make sure I'm in top shape (aka- not stumbling in the door at 4am the night before) for next year's parade; and after perusing the VivaVegie website, I'll need to check out their Vegetarian Center in the city as well- who knew?? Check out their site: you can get more vegetarian health info and recipes, find out more about the Center, plus order free vegetarian guides to New York and New Jersey, as well as past issues of VivaVegie's famous "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian."

With the ever-increasing popularity of the the "go-green" movement, now is as good a time as any to get more information about vegetarianism and veganism out there! Props to VivaVegie!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Veggie Soul Food!

Yes, you CAN work vegetarian magic with traditional soul food dishes! Now normally, I'm not a fan of fried food- it's way too heavy- but hey, this is comfort food we're talking about, and sometimes we're all entitled to an occasional binge! Round out your chicken-fried seitan with collard greens and baked sweet potato fries, and don't feel so guilty! This meal will serve 2 to 3 people.

Chicken Fried Seitan

The Whats:

* 2 cups whole wheat flour
* 1 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
* 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (you can find this flaky veggie supplement at a health food store!)
* 2 tsp. paprika
* 1/2 tsp. pepper
* 1 tsp. salt
* 2 tbsp. tamari sauce
* 1 1/2 cups water
* 1 package of seitan (I used White Wave brand Traditional)
* 1/3 cup canola oil

The Hows:

1) Prepare a wet batter: Mix 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tbsp garlic powder together. Add water, more or less for desired consistency. Stir in tamari sauce and mix well.

2) Prepare a dry batter: Mix 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tbsp garlic powder, nutritional yeast, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1/2 tsp salt.

3) Heat oil in deep skillet. As oil heats, immerse seitan pieces in wet batter to coat; then roll in dry batter and cover completely with the dry mix. Place seitan pieces in skillet, and cook until crisp on all sides, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

The Whats:
* 2 medium sized sweet potatoes
* 2 tbsp olive oil
* 1 tsp pepper
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 tsp chili powder or paprika

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 450. Cut sweet potatoes into wedges. In a large bowl, toss sweet potato wedges with olive oil, pepper, salt and chili powder until evenly coated.

2) On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, arrange sweet potatoes in a single layer. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through and outside is crisp.

Collard Greens

The Whats:

* 1 large bunch collard greens, washed and roughly chopped
* 1 small onion, chopped
* 5 cloves garlic, minced
* 4 tbsp olive oil (for a fun twist, substitute 1 tbsp olive oil for 1 tbsp white truffle oil)
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Add onion and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add collard greens, salt & pepper and stir for a minute.

2) Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to greens, stir, and cover skillet with lid. Steam greens, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, adding a tsp or two of water as necessary; greens should be tender, but still have some bite to them. Stir in last tbsp of olive oil or white truffle oil; taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Remove skillet from heat.


Red Bamboo... finally!

It's easy to walk past the strip of basement level restaurants on West 4th Street... which is probably why I've never noticed vegetarian/vegan cafe Red Bamboo until now. Mock meats and good friends always make for a good night out, and I was all too happy to hit up someplace other than Vegetarian's Paradise 2, located a few doors down.

And I couldn't believe what I've been missing this whole time! The tiny resto (be prepared to wait at least half an hour for a table!) has an unpretentious, punkish vibe, and pulls out veggie versions of traditional soul, Creole, and Asian dishes. Absolutely everything on the menu looked fab, and runs the gamut from the traditional vegetable stir frys, dumplings, and veggie burgers that you'd expect most restaurants to have on hand in case a veggie shows up, to the more creative creole soul chicken, jerk spiced seitan, and grilled bourbon chicken. Definitely a restaurant that any veggie will want to impress his/her uninitiated omnivore pals with!

Many vegetarians and vegans are split on the mock meat issue- while some of us will argue it makes for feeding non-veg friends easier and it's a quick, convenient way to get a protein boost, others will argue that we gave up meat for serious reasons, so why on earth would we want to eat fake meat? And sure, I can see both sides of the argument, but sometimes "fakin' bacon" adds the comforting smokiness to a winter pea soup, and using veggie crumbles in veggie chili really helps nail the texture of the dish. As far as veg restaurants are concerned, a number of them thoughtlessly fry tofu and other soy products, and other places just don't cook them right and the "meat" comes out stringy or tough; I was definitely curious to see how Red Bamboo handled a mostly mock-meat menu.

We started out by splitting Filipino-style spring rolls, with a mashed mock pork & shrimp filling. I've never been crazy about either item even when I did eat meat, but these were tasty! My mango chicken was served in a mango shell, sauteed with strips of bell peppers and mango... it hit the spot! The veggie chicken was lightly crisp on the outside, and not too chewy- somebody knew how to saute it just right! Also quickly devoured at our table: coconut crusted chicken, which had a great bite to it for mock meat, and really complemented the sweet, crispy coconut on the outside! The vegan milkshake we split for dessert ended the night on a (dare I say it?) sweet note! I'll definitely be visiting Red Bamboo again after the Veggie Pride Parade this coming Sunday!

If you're in the mood to make your own veggie soul food and forget about eating healthy for one night, I've got some other suggestions for you :)

Red Bamboo, 140 W. 4th Street between 6th Ave and MacDougal, 212-260-7049

Puerto Vallarta and Mexican Munchies

My older blogs are feeling a little lonely! I haven't posted anything in the past few days because I took a short vacation to Puerto Vallarta. And though beautiful Pacific beaches just can't be beat, I'm happy that I can once again eat some light, healthy, vegetarian fare. Most places in our area (and I suppose I lucked out in that department, we were on a resort) were relatively accommodating and some cheese quesadilla or jicama salad was made for me, but I'll have no problem avoiding greasy melted cheese dishes for the next few weeks!

Unless it's chilaquiles. Way too greasy, and all too good at the same time... this, of course, just means I'll have to experiment and make my own!

More posts to come, "La Vegeteriana Amistosa" is back!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Veniero's Closed

I was shocked to hear that two days ago, the NYC cannoli institution, Veniero's, was shut down by the health department, which cited a number of health code issues linked to their current renovation project. At the risk of grossing you out, dear readers, the DOH specifically cites two dead mice, live roaches, "300 mice droppings in six different areas of the restaurant," and mice droppings in a box of chocolate. You can read on the DOH website about past citations.

Hmm, makes me wonder what was really in those St. Joseph's sfinci & zeppole I indulged in a month ago! I guess you're bound to get some bugs if you're 114 years old. Too bad...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Calorie Counting

It's official- as of last week, chain restaurants in NYC are required to post calorie counts on their menu boards. While chains are trying to overturn the ruling, uncompliant franchises will not be issued fines until July 18th. I've heard Starbucks has already complied (I'll find out tomorrow morning!) and I know chains like Subway have been posting calorie counts for the last several years. If you want to read through some of the legal docs and the original press releases for more information, check out the Health Department's website.

I understand that the measure is trying to help educate consumers about what they eat... but at the same time, you've got to have lived under a rock for the last 50 years if you can't figure out that scarfing a Big Mac every day probably isn't the healthiest way to eat. While I'm not always a fan of government "parenting" measures, overall, I think calorie posting is a great idea... because I'm sure there are people who really don't know how ridiculous a giant-sized soda is, much less their greasy Big Mac. And while posting calories is certainly important, if the Health Department really wants to help consumers make informed decisions, I hope they require the posting of complete nutrition facts! The more the average consumer takes note of what they put into their body, the better they'll eat and more importantly, adopt a healthier lifestyle! Kudos for getting the ball rolling!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Veggie Chili and Veggie Nachos

Happy Cinco de Mayo! This is my absolute favorite party dish... and just like those vegan chocolate cupcakes I posted last week, few ever guess this is vegetarian! With less fat & calories, you can down these and still have room for an extra margarita... or four...

As with a number of recipes I've posted, feel free to add/subtract spices as you wish; this is all about making a satisfying veggie dish that you love! I like to let everything cook for a few minutes in between adding the various ingredients and spices. Make the chili the day before you plan on serving it- letting the flavors blend is key!

The Whats:

* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 medium onion, diced
* 4 garlic cloves, crushed
* 1 bag Morningstar veggie crumbles (if for some reason you can't find these, you can also break up a 4-pack of veggie burgers)
* 2 bell peppers, diced
* 2 jalapenos, diced
* 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
* 1 2 oz. can of chopped olives, green or black, drained
* 1 2 oz. can of chipotle peppers, in adobo sauce (look for these at a Spanish grocery or at your supermarket- I picked these up at C-Town!)
* 1 bag frozen sweet corn
* 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
* 3 cans of beans- I used black, kidney, & pinto- drained
* juice of 2 or 3 limes
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
* 2 or 3 tbsp, depending on your preference, of each: cumin, coriander, Sazon, & chili powder
* salt & pepper to taste

For serving: a bag of tortilla chips and shredded pepper jack cheese, or soy cheddar.

The Hows:

1) In a large pot over medium heat, saute onion & garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes; Add bag of veggie crumbles, 1 tbsp of cilantro, 1 tbsp of lime juice, and season with some of the cumin, coriander, Sazon, & chili powder- cook for 5 minutes or until the soy starts to crisp. Add tomatoes, bell peppers & jalapeno peppers and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Add 1/2 can of tomato sauce and mix into the soy & vegetable mix. Add beans, by can, and mix. Add the other 1/2 can of tomato sauce, chipotle peppers, and mix. Stir in corn and olives. Season again with lime juice, cilantro & other spices and stir.

3) Turn heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally; taste occasionally and add more spices/lime juice to your taste. If serving chili right away, allow 5 minutes to cool.

4) For veggie nachos: preheat oven to 350; spread tortilla chips over a baking sheet, and spread veggie chili over the chips. Top with shredded cheese and garnish with extra cilantro and jalapeno slices if you like. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.


Yet another reason to not throw your support (aka, your $$) behind mass market meat... just saw this on the Some of the Girls newsletter:

Tyson has advertised its chicken as "Raised Without Antibiotics," and "Raised Without Antibiotics That Impact Antibiotic Resistance in Humans."
The truth is Tyson injects antibiotics into its chicken eggs, and Tyson uses chicken feed that contains ionophores. Ionophores meet the American Veterinary Medical Association's definition of antibiotics. However, ionophores are not conventional antibiotics and do not contribute to antibiotic resistance. Have these advertisements encouraged you to purchase Tyson's chicken? If so, we want to hear from you. Please call Carol Walsh at 214-827-2774, ext. 114


On a more personal note, I'd like to give people another reason to boycott Tyson- they're ultra-conservative bigots. Not exaggerating. When I worked for WE, I was casting for a Thanksgiving/family themed episode of one of our movie wrap shows. I was so excited, because I'd cast a perfect family for the show- a gay man in his 30s, his partner of ten years, and his brother, who had just come out, and had been living with them. All three had such a strong bond between them, and they were all funny, comfortable around each other and comfortable during my preliminary interview- anyone who's done casting dreams of finding an ensemble like this!

And though the producers loved the guys as well, we were all disgusted to discover that the sponsor for the Thanksgiving episode, Tyson, would drop sponsorship if the program didn't feature "wholesome values of a Christian family" (this isn't the exact phrase that appeared in the contract, but that was the gist of it!). Needless to say, we dropped the original film we planned on airing, The Ice Storm, and I couldn't bring myself to call the guys and tell them why I couldn't cast them. In retrospect, I should've told them exactly why and watched the potential lawsuit unfold. Though I haven't worked in TV for a long time, it's certainly something I'll never forget... and whenever Tyson comes up, I'll be sure to tell them that story.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Champagne Risotto

Sounds sexy, doesn't it? This dish was actually a post-New Year's accident- I was out of white wine (a standard risotto component) and had nothing left in my kitchen other than an extra bottle of bubbly- and I've been whipping it up ever since. Generally, I love the extra bite and acidity that wine/champagne/liqueur will give to a dish, and using champagne in risotto is even more fun when the acidity is curbed by sweet spring vegetables like asparagus (now popping up at a Greenmarket near you!) and peas. After a reading an article in the New York Times last year that suggested cheap wines were just fine to use for cooking, I figured that $11 bottle of champagne deserved more than being thrown in a New Year's morning-after mimosa.

The Whats:

* 3 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 bunch fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed, and sliced into 1/4 in. chunks
* 2 cups fresh peas (a 10 oz. box of frozen peas will also work)
* 1 1/4 cups arborio rice
* 1 3/4 cups vegetable stock (reserve extra as needed)
* 1 1/2 cups champagne (reserve extra as needed)
* 1/4 cup parmiggiano reggiano
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1. Heat olive oil in large pan over medium heat; add onions and garlic, and saute for 2 minutes.

2. Add the rice and mix well until it is coated with oil. Add 1/2 cup champagne and stir frequently. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock and stir frequently until it is absorbed; alternate between adding champagne and stock; each time liquid is almost absorbed, add another 1/2 cup. Rice should be al dente between 10 and 15 minutes, and you should still have some liquid in the pan.

3. Add peas, asparagus, salt and pepper and stir; add more liquid if necessary. Remove from heat, add parmiggiano, and stir. Serve immediately.

Yields 3-4 servings.