Monday, February 20, 2012

Italian-inspired Veg-ging Out, Part 2

I want to say that New York trumps D.C. in terms of its offering of Italian fare. It probably does but I should be honest: I rarely sought out Italian food while I lived in the District so there's not much I can compare except for the pizza. It's kind of superfluous to say that New York pizza is better than D.C. pizza.

And luckily some of the best New York pizza can be found in my neighborhood, Midwood. DiFara is a small, corner shop located off the Avenue J stop on the Q. My friend and former co-worker recommended this little place of heaven/hole-in-the-wall to me even before I moved here. Now that I live within walking distance, I see the wisdom in her suggestion. I don't care that they were shut down a few months ago for health code violations. They worked it out and have reopened. Owner Dom makes some of the best pizza I've ever tasted in my life. The simple cheese slice comes with deliciously fresh basil, rich tomato sauce, oozing cheese and oil you actually don't want to dab away. It's well worth the wacky operating hours and what can be a 30-40 minute wait.

If you want more atmosphere with your pizza and more distance from the greasy kitchen, I recommend Fornino on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg. When I stopped in this cute little brick-walled place, I had trouble deciding what to order but finally eeny meenied my way to a decision: the Bianca pizza. It was quite good, but I wasn't paying close attention while choosing and didn't realize that it was sauceless. Even so, the arugula and cheese were so fresh and amazing. This is a cheese lover's pizza indeed: mozzarella, ricotta, and parmigiano--yum! I personally would've been happy with the mozzarella alone, but everything blended nicely for a fresh, satisfying taste. To accompany my meal, I also had an $8 glass of Chianti. For dessert, spumoni--a blend of pistachio, chocolate and vanilla ice cream. What a great finish. On my second trip I ordered the Melanzane (pictured on the right) which knocked Bianca out of the park. Between the delicious flavors, the soft lighting, the exposed brick, and the cozy feel, Fornino makes a great date spot.

A couple blocks further up Bedford Ave. is another good date place: La Nonna. Their gnocchi. Oh. my. god. This is the best gnocchi I've ever had. It's light but also filling. The buffalo mozzarella combined with the red pasta sauce and soft potato gnocchi are like a ballet troupe dancing gracefully on your tongue.

I ordered something else on my first trip here, but I don't even remember what it was called. Some pasta I had never heard of, a fun shape, but definitely not as memorable as their gnocchi. I'm sure there are more wonders on the menu but I'm not sure I'll ever get to them because I'm hooked. I can tell you, however, that their bruschetta is also divine and they have some of the best homemade balsamic vinegar I've ever tasted in my life. I'd drink it if I could. Well, I should admit, I was not too ashamed to literally lick the plate.

Unlike my first post on Italian veg-ing out, I can't imagine trying to recreate these perfect palette pleasers. If you should find yourself in either pole--North or South Brooklyn, I highly recommend you hit up one of these delights on your journey.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What to eat for lunch when you're too lazy to cook it

Sometimes I'm really good about planning my lunch meals the week ahead. I buy fresh ingredients or get inspired by recipes I see online. Then there are other weeks I can't be bothered. That's when I turn to Trader Joe's for my lunchtime dining on-the-go/at work.

And because I happen to be particularly lazy/tired at the moment, I'll just give you a quick list of my favorite Trader Joe's items to bring to work.

The following selections are based on savoryness and low sodium (for the most part). The list would definitely be longer if I weren't taking into account how much salt is in a lot of their frozen food.

-Vegetable or vegan pad thai--For some reason I can't quite distinguish, I prefer the vegetable to the vegan pad thai. It tastes more flavorful but I haven't figured out why.
-Paneer and spinach basmati rice--This is absolutely divine and colorful (the reddish orange paneer coupled with the green rice makes for a festive lunch plate). The only downside is that there's a lot of sodium in this one.
-Shells in brie and asparagus--Watch out! This may be so tasty that many of your coworkers will smell it from a distance and hound you on where you got it from and can they have a bite. I speak from personal experience.
-Pizza Olympiad--Here you get two meals out of the price of paying even less than you would for a slice at some places. Topped with olives, feta and tomatoes, this little pie will surely delight your palate. It's the best microwave pizza I've ever had. Take that DiGornio/Red Baron/Freschetta. Actually, take Freschetta off that list. It's too bready.

-Try any of the Indian Fare varieties. If you're looking for spice, try the Punjabi Chole. I find the boxed Indian selection to be spicier than the frozen selection at TJ's. It seems even spicier than Kitchen of India and Tastybite, if you're familiar with those brands.
-Butternut squash soup--Dip crackers, bread, anything you can get your hands on into this soup and wait for your body to warm up and your stomach to smile.

-Organic lentil vegetable soup--Serve with a side of TJ's vegetable crackers available in the assorted crackers box (4).
-Organic vegetarian chili--Delicious and filling, flavorful but not salty or gassy. The tofu and red beans really make this meal shine.
-Organic split pea soup--Not too salty. Split peas can be on the boring side but this is tasty for such a soup. Makes me wonder how I was ever able to digest Campbell's condensed soup.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tastes from the Middle East in Brooklyn

Note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my friend Dina who introduced me to zaatar, lebneh, and most important of all: the wonder of Doritos dipped in yogurt.

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food are great. With both you get a punch of flavors without the intensity or spiciness of South Asian food (which I love but can't eat for every meal). It's light but filling and there are many options for vegetarians. For these reasons, when I'm thinking of a place to eat out but not overindulge, Middle Eastern cuisine comes to my mind.

A few weeks ago, I checked out Bedawi Cafe in Park Slope. A small and cute location on Prospect Park West, Bedawi had excellent food and a homey feel. It was hard to narrow down what I wanted to eat so my sister and I decided to get an assorted plate. I feel like the picture here speaks for itself. Deliciousness. Baba ghanouj, foul (fava beans with tomatoes, garlic, parsley, scallion, and lemon), beet salad, lebneh, and black beans with plum tomatoes, scallion, parsley, and bulgur.

And because I can't get enough of lebneh (a strained tart yogurt that is almost cheese-like), I ordered a separate plate after downing half of the assorted plate.

This meal definitely rivaled a similar assorted plate I had at Turkish Cafe Restaurant on E16th St in Midwood. Open 24 hours, Turkish Cafe is a hole-in-the-wall with a family atmosphere. It's not as pretty as Bedawi but it does stay open on Christmas, which was convenient when my dad was in town and we were looking for a place to eat.

The full plates on the menu are all meat-based, but if you happen to be in this part of Midwood, I recommend stopping in for their appetizer mix. The small size coupled with the delicious fresh bread was enough for me, but for $4 more you can order the large. A mix of hummus, baba ghanouj, Russian salad, piaz (white beans with vegetables), cacik (yogurt, kirby, mint, and garlic), and Turkish eggplant with mashed green and red bell peppers and garlic. So delish! Next time I want to try their falafel--like finding good guacamole, finding good falafel is also a task.

Before telling you my lazy person's version of an assorted plate or mezze, I must go on a slight tangent about lebneh. If you haven't tried lebneh but you love plain (Greek or not) yogurt, do it. You'll thank yourself. Every time I think I can go vegan, something dairy pulls me back. First it was my discovery of the crisp taste of Dubliner cheese, intermittently because of goat cheese, and now more than ever, plain yogurt. I just love plain yogurt--whether it's with fruit and granola, on top of a taco (salad) in lieu of sour cream, along with a beans and rice/couscous dish, or alongside a spicy Indian meal, it makes my tongue happy. And a trick I learned from one of my best friends, it also tastes delicious with Doritos (the original nacho cheese version).

Ok, and now with my lazy person's mezze recipe (which is not so much as a recipe as a "let's-throw-this-all-onto-a-plate" technique).

What you'll need
-Middle Eastern flatbread, lavash, or pita
-olive oil
-tomatoes (grape or cherry, but any will do)
-fava beans
-garlic, lemon
-plain yogurt (Greek or not) or lebneh
-parsley or cilantro

Start by warming up the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat the flatbread/lavash/pita with olive oil, then sprinkle on desired amount of zaatar and sumac. If you're like me, sprinkle a lot. Warm in oven for about 7 minutes. Meanwhile heat olive oil and garlic in a pan. Before garlic starts to brown, add canned fava beans and grape tomatoes cut in half. Sprinkle lemon juice over it all and cook til fava beans and tomatoes are soft. For eggplant, cut up into small pieces, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it until tender. When all the hot elements are done, place a dollop of plain yogurt and hummus on your plate, the hot stuff, and voila! a lazy person's mezze.