Sunday, November 13, 2011

A happy tummy week in Park Slope

As I've transitioned out of my friend's apartment and scoped out the neighborhood New York Sports Club as part of my 30-day membership (thanks Groupon!), I've had three positive experiences in dining this past week in the Slope.

Positive Dining Experience #1Cocoa Bar on 7th Ave (between 3rd and 4th Sts.) where I met a friend to have coffee and have a productive "let's do work in each other's company" date. The coffee was yumcious but what really stood out was the vegan lentil pate sandwich--veggies, salad, and lentil spread on a small baguette. The size was adorable--I liked that it wasn't as overwhelming as some baguette-based sandwiches can be. Of the three experiences, I'd say this was my aha!/duh! moment. I should totally add spreads to my sandwiches to make them more interesting. I mean, not entirely a surprise to me as I've often used hummus as a base for pita sandwiches and wraps. But for some reason I never thought to put things like mashed lentils into my sandwich. This sparked a plethora of ideas to try: Trader Joe's olive tapenade spread (it's not just for crackers anymore), Trader Joe's eggplant with red pepper spread, etc. etc. Once I can afford to stock up on these yummies at TJ's, I'm totally experimenting with different sandwich flavors.

Positive Dining Experience #2: An impromptu lunch while I waited for my clothes to dry at the laundromat. Looking for somewhere close by and, in particular some place with soup options, I walked into Luna Burrito on 22nd St. and 5th Ave. I ordered the veggie soup ($4.50) and the guacamole with chips ($5.25). The chips were nice and crunchy and had that thicker tortilla taste than say a bag of Tostitos. I like it, it feels heartier, like the chip is working for me and I'm not working for the chip. The guacamole was somewhat weak.* I downed it mostly out of hunger but, as I find with many restaurants, it's hard to get that perfect bowl of guac.

The soup was better than I expected to be. I don't know if my generous squeeze of lime boosted it immensely (give me lots of lime and I'm a happy camper) or if on its own it stood up to my hunger, but it was very filling and satisfying--veggie broth, tomatoeyness, potatoes, carrots, and maybe a few other things. Very simple but very comforting on a cold day.

Positive Dining Experience #3: Shinju on 7th Ave (between 3rd and 4th Sts.). A great place for sushi on a budget, this provided the most bang for my ever-dwindling bucks. For a Thursday dinner for 2--that's four 6-piece maki rolls, the total with tax came out to $10.90. The mango/avocado roll I had was refreshing and the pumpkin roll (very apropos-for-the-season) was delicious. I don't know what else to say about this place except that I will be going back sometime soon to try out more of their rolls. If I can have a sushi smorgasbord for less than $10, then so be it! My dreams are coming true!

*Notice to readers paying careful attention. I'm still looking for the best guacamole recipe so if you think you have it, please send it my way. Also, if you have tips on picking out winning avocados, I'd appreciate those as well. So far I've just been crossing my fingers and coming out about 50-50. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Italian-inspired Veg-ging Out

On one of my (almost) monthly visits to New York this past year, a friend and I stopped in Red Bamboo in Greenwich Village for some sustenance before I hopped on the Bolt bus back to D.C. Yet another instance of my eating companion choosing a more desirable dish than one of my choosing.

The Soul Chicken Sandwich (Panko breaded soy chicken nuggets, romaine lettuce, tomato, vegan mayo and vidalia dressing served on bread) was good but a little dry. I typically love anything with a panko crust--especially Trader Joe's Panko Crusted Tilapia--whoops but those are my pesky pescetarian tendencies and not the vegan way--but this dish did not compare to my companion's Chicken Parmesan Hero. I enjoyed his dish so much that I kept stealing from his plate.

When I got back to D.C., I had to have more. Guessing/simulating the ingredients on a venture to Whole Foods, I picked up one package of Boca soy chick'n patties, 1 bag of shredded Daiya mozzarella, and a jar of regular marinara pasta sauce. Pretty simple. After heating up a little olive oil in a pan, I added two patties and let them get softer before adding in the pasta sauce (reducing the heat so it wouldn't splatter everywhere) and finally, the Daiya. Not used to cooking with vegan cheese, I didn't realize the melting process would take a bit longer than with normal cheese.

The initial result: tasty. Who knew Boca's chick'n patties would be as delicious as their soy burgers?

Since that first attempt, I've made variations of this dish a handful of times. And I've gotten better about knowing when to add the cheese to get it nice and gooey. I've cooked it with and without noodle and shell pastas depending on my level of hunger.

Inspired by this fantastic dish at Red Bamboo, I figured I should combine veggie protein with pasta more often. So when the same friend who ordered this dish came to visit me in D.C. a couple months later, I made us both dinner. The make-up: fettucine (a nice size noodle for holding the sauce), red pasta sauce, and Veggie Patch Meatless Meatballs. Again I used Daiya mozzarella, a little basil, and crushed red pepper.

Now the tables had turned and it was my friend who ended up stealing the food from my plate.