Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stuffed Shells

If you're going to be noshing on cookies and gulping eggnog during the holidays, then you might as well fill yourself with a good pasta dinner! This party favorite is great for sharing, and versatile enough to make substitutions with other ingredients you might have on hand. I'll be away for the rest of December, so happy holidays to all and enjoy all the great winter veggies that will be on hand at your holiday table!

The Whats:

* 1 box of large whole wheat pasta shells
* 2 tbsp. butter
* 1 small onion, finely chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed
* 2 tsp. nutmeg
* 1 tbsp chopped basil leaves
* 1 tbsp. white wine
* 1 egg
* salt & pepper to taste
* 2 cups fat free ricotta
* 1 box of frozen spinach, or 2 10 oz. bags of fresh spinach
* 2 cups tomato sauce
* 2/3 cup shredded parmiggiano reggiano or pecorino

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta shells and cook for 10 to 15 minutes- pasta should be chewy and not quite al dente. Drain pasta. Fill a large bowl with cold water and place the shells in the cold water until ready to use.

2) In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and saute the onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Add spinach by the handful, cooking until wilted and cooking liquid boils off; mix in salt, pepper, basil, nutmeg, and white wine. Remove from heat and allow ten minutes to cool.

3) Transfer spinach mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add ricotta and egg and beat well to mix. Taste for seasoning and add more nutmeg, salt, or pepper if desired.

4) Spread about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce over the bottom of a large baking pan. Remove a pasta shell from the cold water, shake excess water off. Fill with 2 to 3 tbsp of ricotta-spinach mix and place stuffed shell in the baking pan; repeat until your ricotta-spinach mixture is finished. Spoon remaining sauce over the shells, and sprinkle shells with parmesan cheese. Bake shells for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sad! Closing of Zen Burger

Though it's only been around for a year, the veggie answer to fast food in Midtown, Zen Burger, closed on December 12th. A note taped to the door cited extremely high rents as the reason for shutting its doors.

Too bad! When you need a veggie chicken wrap or veggie burger on the quick, Zen Burger was a great place to go! Alas, I'll have to resort to making crosstown trips to Zen Burger parent, Zen Palate, on 46th and 9th Avenue.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

For real???

Apparently, December 16th is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, as I learned while skimming The Treats Truck website... well readers, you know what this means.

A chocolate covered anything recipe for later this week, and a visit to the Treats Truck to partake in this national holiday :)

Roasted Carrots with Ginger

Have you ever bought a veggie because it was beautiful? Yeah, I said it, beautiful! I saw the most lovely baby carrots at the Greenmarket last week... bright orange with bright green stems, these were a food photographer's eye-gasm. And sure, roasting them and taking snapshots with my lil Sony Cybershot digital camera can hardly do these babies justice, but a little ginger and garlic might. Eat your veggies!

The Whats:

* 1 lb. fresh baby carrots
* 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
* 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
* 3 tbsp room temperature butter or olive oil (whichever flavor you like best!)
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Trim stems from carrots and peel. In a large mixing bowl, mix together garlic, ginger, carrots, and butter/olive oil until carrots are evenly coated.

2) Line the bottom of a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Spread the carrots over the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast for approximately 30 minutes, or until carrots are golden, and just slightly softened on the outside. (Even roasted, I prefer veggies with some bite or a bit of a crunch to them)

Makes for a great side dish! You can also saute the carrots, using the same ingredients, for an equally delicious result.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pancakes, 3 Ways

Pancakes are not just weekend staples; I'll make a giant batch every Sunday and have pancakes every morning during the work week. That being said, you should never resign yourself to eating the same boring pancake every day; I like to put more fun and creative twists on my pancakes!

Of course nothing beats pancakes from scratch... I don't know about you, but I'm a non-functioning mess before my first cup of coffee, so I tend to use a mix for my pancakes. You can find lots of healthy multigrain mixes in your supermarket, instead of using refined sugar and sodium-laden mainstream mixes. If using a mix, follow the general 2 cups mix + 1 cup (soy) milk + 1 or 2 eggs or 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil formula, then add whatever fruit or nuts you like. My choice mix, Arrowhead Mills Multigrain Pancake Mix, tends to come out thick, so I tend to add a few more tablespoons of milk to the batter. Depending on your add-ins (rinsed raspberries or pumpkin puree) you might not need any at all! Here are my three fave varieties to get you started:

Blueberry Coconut Pancakes

The Whats:

* 2 cups pancake mix
* 1/4 cup soy milk
* 3/4 cup coconut milk
* 1 tbsp canola oil
* 2 tsp vanilla extract
* scant 1 pint blueberries, rinsed (you could definitely add less, but I'm a big fan of blueberries)
* 1/2 cup shredded coconut

The Hows:

1) In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pancake mix, soy milk, coconut milk, canola oil and vanilla. Do not overmix- your pancakes will not be as fluffy! Fold in the blueberries and shredded coconut.

2) In a large skillet or griddle pan, heat a pat of (soy) butter until melted and coat pan. Over medium heat, pour 1/4 cup pancake batter for each pancake onto the griddle; cook until batter bubbles, about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip over. Cook until other side of the pancake is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with maple syrup, butter, fruit, or whatever your fave topping might be.

Raspberry Nutella Pancakes

The Whats:

* 2 cups pancake mix
* 1 cup soy milk
* 1 tbsp. canola oil
* 2 tsp. vanilla extract
* 1 6 oz. container of raspberries, rinsed
* 1/4 cup nutella

The Hows:

1) In a large mixing bowl, mix together pancake mix, milk, oil and vanilla until just incorporated. Fold in nutella and gently stir until just incorporated. Fold in raspberries.

2) Follow cooking instructions as in Blueberry-Coconut Pancake recipe.

Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes

The Whats:

* 2 cups pancake mix
* 1 cup soy milk
* 1 tbsp. canola oil
* 2 tsp. vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
* 1 tbsp. cinnamon
* 2 tsp. nutmeg
* 2 tsp. ginger
* a sprinkle of brown sugar
* 1/2 cup crushed pecans

The Hows:

1) In a large mixing bowl, mix together pancake mix, milk, oil, vanilla, brown sugar, and spices until just incorporated. Fold in pumpkin puree and pecans; gently stir until just incorporated. You may need to add an extra tablespoon or two of milk if the batter is very thick.

2) Follow cooking instructions as in Blueberry-Coconut Pancake recipe.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lupa and Sakagura

Veggie dishes can be a mere blip on the culinary radar of some of NYC's more well-known dining institutions, as I bemoaned in my last series of reviews (yes, I'm still appalled at Savoy). I never understood the incredulous looks I'd get from servers when asking which dishes can be prepared without a random animal part- after all, if your Michelin star chef has such vision and talent, shouldn't he/she be up to the challenge of creating a veg-friendly interpretation of a menu specialty?

And though it's even easier to just visit one of New York's many vegetarian restaurants, I've made it a mission of mine to visit as many NYC Zagat darlings as I can to see how accommodating and creative they can be with vegetarian cuisine and share my findings with my fellow vegetarians that are similarly determined not to have their lifestyle choice marginalized when dining out.

I've got two recommendations here for non-veg specific restaurants... albeit one might be biased with many a glass of sake... that may not have the largest selection of vegetarian entrees, but the ones they have are out of this world.

First up: Lupa, a slice of Batali-Bastianich restaurant heaven in the West Village. Offering traditional Roman cuisine in a casual, rustic setting, Lupa (Italian for she-wolf, as you'll discover from a glossary on the back of the menu) has its fair share of seasoned tonno, guanciale, and hearty bolognese-type sauces, but it never neglects- rather, it nails- the simplest Roman fare, the basics that are sometimes vegetarian by nature.

We started our meal with verdure miste- a huge sampler antipasto platter with marinated olives, sliced brussel sprouts with pecorino, broccoli rabe tossed with ricotta, beets cooked with pistachio, radicchio with breadcrumbs, and sauteed squash. I usually shun giant appetizer platters for their overabundance of fat and greasy ingredients, but with fresh veggies gently cooked in olive oil with equally fresh, light cheeses, it didn't take much convincing to break out from my usual mold. For my main course, I chose a squash pansotti (the half-moon shaped ravioli) with sage. Cooked in butter sauce, the fresh pasta just melted in my mouth, and I was all too happy to savor the creamy squash-ricotta filling that remained. It might just be the most amazing ravioli I've ever eaten. We finished with a black pepper panna cotta with figs. The panna cotta was not particularly peppery, but I was more than happy with the vanilla-fig combination that was still not cavity-inducing sweet.

There are sometimes when simple is simply boring, but at Lupa, the mouth-watering flavors of simple is enough to make me a regular!

Lupa, 170 Thompson Street, between Bleecker and Houston, 212-982-5089


Dinner is infinitely more satisfying after you hunt for it. Of course by hunting, I mean bars and restaurants where there is a hidden door or secret upstairs/downstairs level between you and your destination! And sake bar Sakagura is that hidden gem in Midtown East. One might easily be distracted by over 200 varieties of sake in this small restaurant straight out of Tokyo, but you might just as easily be swept away by Sakagura's extensive menu with authentic Japanese small plates.

Of course to be fair, we had to partake in both.

I started with a simple tofu salad with mixed greens and miso dressing. Sakagura was very generous with the chunk of tofu laying over my salad, and I've yet to have fresher miso dressing while dining out! My salad was soon followed by cold udon noodles with plum paste. The noodles weren't actually udon noodles at all, but the thin Thai-style noodles. Served with fish sauce on the side (thankfully) and a smear of plum paste, it was tasty, but there wasn't enough in this dish to make it as flavorful as it could have been. And honestly, after several premium sake samplers (Yuki No Bosha Super Premium was my favorite, with a really smooth finish and just a slight fruity aftertaste), it didn't matter. I love sampling new wines, beers, and sakes just as much as I do sampling new foods, and to be completely taken out of typical Midtown surroundings and brought into a little Japanese village where you can sip sake and chat, and perhaps have a few small bites, the experience overall was worth it!

Sakagura gets a few knocks for service- trying to move your customers to accomodate a bigger party isn't proper resto etiquette- but for the experience, you must give this sake bar a shot... minus the crappy pun that I couldn't resist typing!

Sakagura, 211 E. 43rd Street, B1 (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), 212-953-7253

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gastropolis- 12/5/08

If I didn't work late on Fridays, you know I'd be here! Check this out: class-gastropoli s-food-new-

Astor Center Presents: Gastropolis - Food & New York
Date: Dec 05, 2008 (Fri)
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Cost: $45

Place: Astor Center
399 Lafayette St
New York, New York 10003

An evening of New York City food history, delicious savories, and good wine.

Contributors of the newly published Gastropolis, a deliciously fun sampling of New York City's rich food heritage, will read from their varied chapters and some will prepare food inspired by their essays.

Co-editor Annie Hauck-Lawson on "food voice" narrative; Mark Russ Federman, 3rd generation owner of Russ and Daughters, on the soul of a store; Ramona Lee Perez and Babette Audant savor Latino NY; Andrew Smith gives a brief history of food and drink in New York City; Suzanne Wasserman presents a history of pushcart cuisine and markets; Harley Spiller weighs in on Chinese cuisine and prepares Garlic Steamed Shrimp; Performance artist Annie Lanzillotto prepares Rachele's Pocketbook Frittata.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Salut Montreal!

Montreal gets many a "kudos!" in my book- not just for the beautiful stone buildings from the colonial era, or the bars teeming with loud, silly college kids in the Latin Quarter, and funky Canadian artwork at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Paris of the Northeast is actually a wonderfully veggie friendly city! With an variety of Indian, Vietnamese, and vegetarian cafes, along with a frequently recurring "Vegetarienne" section on several bistro menus, this is definitely the way to travel!

For all vegetarians traveling in Montreal, you should definitely pay a visit to Casa del Popolo- a grungy little vegetarian cafe and music venue on Blvd. St. Laurent. The small, artsy cafe serves up veggie samosas and other apps, sandwiches, and salads; and at night, you can sip wine and beer and listen to up and coming Canadian bands... tre fantastique!