So I like veggie burgers

As much as I love a big ol’, juicy, meaty burger (and you should I know I love it a lot), I’m also and have been since way before this whole vegan challenge of mine a big fan of veggie burgers. I don’t equate one with the other but love them both separately. Sometimes I want a good burger, and sometimes I just want a solid veggie burger. That’s just how it is.

I’ve had some made from tofu, great ones out of black beans,  and others with actual chopped up veggies, but never until a few days ago, when I had the forbidden rice burger at Ni Japanese Delicacies in the Essex Street Market, had I eaten one made out of rice.

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The tasty rice burger at Ni Japanese Delicacies 

Ni is a small place, really a tiny, walk up counter of vegan and vegetarian Japanese inspired bites and drinks. Their veggie burger, which usually comes on a brioche but can be replaced with vegan sprouted bread, has a “patty” of Asian black rice, maitake mushrooms, carrots, and kale and comes topped with baby arugula, pickled sweet peppers and vegan herb mayo.

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No meat here, fake or otherwise.

This rice burger I’m sure without a doubt is better on the brioche, but even on the vegan-friendly sprouted bread, it was pretty good. The problem with a lot of veggie burgers is that they end up dry or crumbly, but Ni’s rice wasn’t either of those. It was soft and just moist enough to not be a dry ball of rice, and had a good, earthy delicious flavor. The pickled sweet peppers and the baby arugula added a little variety in the way of texture and veggie flavors.

All around meatless deliciousness, and something I’ll definitely be coming back to when I just want a veggie burger.

Plated: my new best friend in the kitchen

Fact: I can eat like nobody’s business, but I can barely cook to save my life. No really, not kidding. If my life depended on my cooking, I’d probably die.

But there’s hope for me yet, thanks to a service one of my friends turned me on to called Plated. Every week they put up a collection of meals, you pick the ones you like, and they send you all of the ingredients needed to pull it off, along with nice, easy-to-follow illustrated cooking instructions. (I can’t stress enough what a huge difference illustrated instructions make for us cooking-challenged folks. Total game changer.)

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For someone who loves getting stuff in the mail, this was like Christmas!

For my first Plated meal, I chose a polenta pizza with ricotta cheese, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Plated sends you everything, in the exact quantities you need, so there’s no waste, and best of all there’s no waiting in line at the supermarket, which because I live in New York, the world’s worst city for supermarkets, also means no risk of violent outbursts or homicidal thoughts. (Mark my words, it’s only a matter of time before someone snaps at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square.)

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All the ingredients come individually wrapped and labeled, so you don’t confuse your Brussels sprouts with your thyme, for example.

The only ingredients I had to provide myself were pantry staples olive oil, salt and pepper. Plated sent everything else and with it, this nice big recipe card. Again, pictures make a serious difference.

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Maybe a picture book approach to recipes is what I’ve been needing all along.

So with my oh-so-helpful color pictures to guide me, I followed all of the steps. I cooked up some polenta, sauteed some Brussels sprouts and mushrooms with garlic, oil and thyme, then spread the polenta on to a baking sheet and loaded it up with a layer of ricotta cheese, the sauteed veggies and a sprinkling of parmesan.

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Building the base and toppings for my “pizza.”

Once everything was loaded up and ready to go, I popped my baking sheet into the oven and tried my hardest not to be whiny and impatient whilw it cooked.

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Assembled and ready to go, next and final step: the oven!

Once out of the oven, I let it cool for a bit (but really only because the instructions told me to. I’m usually all about digging in immediately and burning myself with molten hot food.) before cutting it into slices, drizzling with just a little bit more olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and pepper, and BAM! Delicious, healthy, home made dinner for two.

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Who knew a slice of home made polenta pizza could do so much for making me feel like a normal functioning adult?

In my opinion, Plated is a genius idea, for both those who actually know their way around a kitchen and those of us still struggling to to learn the ropes. I’m looking forward to lots more Plated boxes waiting for me on my doorstep.

Cozy up with congee

As it happens every year in January, the twinkling lights are gone, once happy Christmas trees are now piled up naked  on sidewalks, and the holiday parties have all dried up. But the thing everyone seems to be bitching about most is the cold, the frosty temperatures and face numbing gusts of winter in the city.

But as it also goes every January, I’m eating it all up with a spoon! A soup spoon, that is. Soup season is upon us, people, and just that should make everyone quit their pissing and moaning.

Christmas night, when it was blustery and frigid, a friend and I went out for Chinese food at Congee Village on the Bowery, and for the first time ever, I tried congee. Game changer, guys, game changer. Congee, not really a soup but a savory Chinese rice porridge instead, is exactly the kind of thing meant to be eaten on cold nights. It’s a reason to wish for cold nights, if you ask me.

It's not exactly soup, but this chicken congee will give any ol' chicken noodle a run for its money

It’s not exactly soup, but this chicken congee will give any ol’ chicken noodle a run for its money

We shared a few things over dinner but the chicken and mushroom congee was far and away my favorite. The chicken added just enough salty flavor  to spruce up the otherwise plain rice, making for a subtle, satisfying and just all around comforting winter meal. Creamy and warm, with the  consistency of oatmeal, I could eat a bowl of this stuff every night for the rest of winter. And it’s only just begun, so cozy up and get yourselves some congee, winter haters.

The things I miss

Sometimes (though I should point out definitely not always) I really miss Florence. I miss lots of things about it, but it should go without saying that hands down, I miss the food the most. But I live in New York, after all, where there are precisely 30 million italian restaurants, markets, wine bars and gourmet shops, so most things, whether it be bomboloni, pici al limone or a good piece of  schiacciata aren’t all that hard to find.

HOWEVER, and this is about to be a big however (hence the all caps), I have yet to find crostoni that come close to the perfection of those at  Fuori Porta, just outside the old city walls, and that gives me the worst pangs of longing for Florence. They’re just that good.

During my recent visit to Italy, I put lunch at Fuori Porta on my list of things that had to get done while I was there. The beau and I went one afternoon, and just like I had remembered, the crostoni were amazing. So good I could cry… if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face.

Walnut, honey and brie crostone, I missed you SO much!

Crostoni are basically just large slices of bread, topped with cheese (which at Fuori Porta, can be either mozzarella, Brie, pecorino, or gorgonzola) and other topping combinations including meats, veggies, or nuts. They’re popped in the oven so that the cheese melts and everything gets warm, and you as the eater, basically have your mind blown. My favorite combo, and the one I got most recently when I was there, was Brie with walnuts and honey.  Each bite is simultaenously gooey and cheesey, crunchy, sweet and savory. I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and never not love it.

Prosciutto and mushrooms under a blanket of melted pecorino. SO. FREAKIN.’ GOOD.

Flaneur on the other hand went with a more savory combination of pecorino, prosciutto cotto  and mushrooms. While I preferred mine, his was pretty damn good too. Really, most things covered in thick, melted cheese are bound to be good, but this crostone, with its earthy, sweet mushrooms and salty-sweet prosciutto (the sweeter cooked kind, not the cured variety) was really phenomenal.

Yea I miss crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night, the view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and being able to visit The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, but let’s get real, I really, really miss those crostoni.

Finding The One

Since moving to the West Village last December, I’ve felt a little like Goldilocks in The Story of the Three Bears. Instead of a bed though, I’ve been looking for a place to make my neighborhood go-to, my spot if you will.

I’ve tried coffee shops, wine bars, and all sorts of eateries, from greasy Chinese take-out to homey Italian to sushi directly below our apartment and yet nothing’s felt exactly right.

That is, until Buvette, which might just be the one, the one that’s cute and charming, has good food, wine and coffee, and feels right whether I’m alone at the bar with a book or at a small corner table with the beau.

Snuggled in to a small space on Grove Street, Buvette is a casual eatery that feels like something you might find in a picturesque Parisian neighborhood. The food has a decidedly French slant with Italian notes here and there, like the Campari spiked lemonade or the selection of Italian wines. From the times I’ve been there, here are my favorites:

Pomodorini tartine

On my first visit I had this tartine, which I’ll admit I didn’t think would be more than a snack, but ended up being  pretty filling and a great lunch. On top of the crunchy toasted bread were creamy blobs of mozzarella, juicy, tart sun-dried tomatoes, soft, purplish-colored olives and a crisp, almost bitter green mixed in.

Spoon bread

For dessert on that first time, I followed up with the spoon bread, if for no other reason than because I had no idea what spoon bread was. It turned out to be a delicious carrot cake-like dessert, served with in a rammekin and topped with a small mountain of a thick, rich, cream cheese frosting.

Croque Madame

On my most recent visit, I had the ridiculously good Croque Madame, a neat little stack of  crunchy toast topped with a fried egg, buttery ribbons of prosciutto and a sprinkling of parmesan. When I poked the fat, orange center of the egg peeking out from underneath the ham, it erupted with runny yolk oozing over everything. My mouth is watering as I type this. Torture, I tell you, torture.

Croque Forestier

Flaneur, who I couldn’t wait to take to Buvette, had the Croque Forestiere, a mini tower of pieces of toast smothered in gruyere and mushrooms, browned to a warm, golden crust. This would be amazing for breakfast, lunch or dinner… or even all of them all in one day.

Chocolate mousse

Finally, because my sweet tooth always has to have the last word, we split the chocolate mousse, a seemingly shapeless, fat scoop of chocolate mousse with an equally haphazard but generous dollop of whipped cream. It might not have looked like much, but man, was it good. The chocolate was not as airy as other mousse desserts I’ve had but instead was thicker, richer, the perfect dessert to share. The whipped cream, which tasted home made, was only subtle in its sweetness, perfect for the chocolate to shine through in all its delicious glory.

I’ve been there a couple of times now and every time I go, I start thinking about when I can go back again. I want to spend whole afternoons there in my new spot, washing down croques with fresh lemonade, letting the day slip into night while I sit snug as Goldilocks taking a nap in a bear’s bed.

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“Reunited and it feels so good”

I just came back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Italy. (I know what you’re thinking. Who goes to Italy for the weekend? It was for a wedding, alright? Jeez.) But it wasn’t all about celebrating other people’s love. I was there to see a  couple of my own loves, too. Yes, I’m mainly talking about my boyfriend who’s been flaneuring around Italy while I’ve been in California, but more specifically as it relates to this blog, I was there for something else, my all-time favorite sandwich: the #15 from Antico Noè, served by my all-time favorite, muscly armed panino maker, Luca. ::sigh::

My favorite sandwich of all time, the #15 at Antico Noè

Flaneur and I only had a couple of hours to spend in Florence before having to be elsewhere for wedding festivities, so the million dollar question was where to eat lunch. Now, really, this isn’t a fun question to be asked. I could name 20 places I wanted to have lunch in it. New places, old places, panino places, sit-down places, gelato places (yes, gelato can be lunch), the choices were endless. But since I knew convincing Flaneur to have more than one lunch in the course of a couple of hours wasn’t going to be likely, I had to go with the one place I hold nearest and dearest to my fat little heart: Antico Noè. Continue reading

No animals were hurt in the eating of this meal

Of the million-and-one places to eat in San Francisco the one I’ve frequented the most in the month and a half that I’ve been here is—wait for it… waaait for it—a vegan restaurant. Yup, that’s right. Me. Vegan. No cheese. No bacon. Absolutely no trace of pork belly. None of it.

I should probably clarify, though, that the main reason I’ve been there more than any other restaurant is because it’s just around the corner and a 15-second walk from where I live, and they take credit cards (which always wins major brownie points from me.)

Loving Hut is a national chain of vegan restaurants, and while they all have a decidedly asian slant, each one has a different menu to reflect the culture and ingredients of the city it’s in. The one I go to is in Chinatown so most of the  menu, with the exception of the somewhat awkwardly named “western” page (featuring the likes of spaghetti and vegan hot dogs), is Chinese, with other asian countries represented as well (shout out to Vietnamese pho).

This particular Loving Hut has a lunch special I always see advertised, but since I’m never around during lunch time, I never get it. (I’m usually there on weeknights when I don’t have anything to eat at home and am feeling lazy.) On Thursday, though, I had the day off so I decided to take advantage.

Eggplant and tofu, mushrooms and green beans, and white rice

Continue reading