Monthly Archives: July 2012

Caprese Panzanella

What should we talk about today? Should it be the weather, specifically the derecho that hailed over NYC on Thursday? (Don’t worry, I was prepared — I wore pants.) But nothing really happened and I didn’t end up baking anything, so not much to say there.

Or we could talk about the Olympics, aka the only thing I will be paying attention to for the next two weeks. My new favorite sport: racewalking. Finally something I could possibly compete at in the Olympics! But I really need to work on my hip action and the event hasn’t started yet, so let’s wait a few days on that.

So … let’s talk about Mexico, specifically a personal challenge I made on the flight over: to eat anything and everything that was put on my plate. The trip really tested my mettle: I tried everything from octopus ceviche (surprisingly not that bad — proof that fresh seafood really does make a difference) to tacos de cabeza (beef cheek tacos, a bite of which was delicious, but a whole one would be a little much) to a host of fresh tomatoes, part a Mexican caprese salad that was one of the best things I ate during my weekend.

Topped with balsamic, fresh basil, rock salt and cubes of salty queso panela, the salad was salty, a little sweet, slightly acidic, with the firm cheese, tender tomatoes and crunch from the salt — perfect on so many counts. Turns out, when tomatoes are masked by paired with delicious things, tomatoes are not all that bad.

It’s a lesson I took to heart, creating a version of that caprese bulked out with cubes of crusty bread, briny olives and sweet, crunchy bell peppers. Added to colorful heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market, pearl-sized rounds of fresh mozzarella (called perlini, from Whole Foods), plenty of fresh basil and a heavy pour of balsamic, this caprese panzanella, or Italian bread salad, becomes a hearty summertime meal that tastes even better the next day. AND it got me to eat tomatoes. Definitely something to talk about. Continue reading

Spicy Fiesta Veggie Burgers

Happy National Tequila Day! Prior to 12 p.m. today, I did not know that this day existed (thank you Twitter!), for which my wallet, liver and parents are all thankful. Having learned all about tequila in Mexico, I decided to eschew celebrations of this great holiday, and focus on what you might eat while mainlining politely sipping tequila instead.

But before we get to these fiesta veggie burgers, I have a terrible confession to make: last week, I ate meat. I know, I am actually the worst. To defend myself slightly, I ate out a lot last week, and after two straight nights of ordering vegetable pasta, I went to a Spanish place on Thursday and broke. Then at my aunt’s on Sunday, I broke again, in the face of the delicious dinner that she made before realizing I wasn’t eating meat. And I can already tell you that I will be breaking again over the weekend, as I head home to Maryland for my mom’s birthday.

So, turns out I have zero willpower. But also, even in a city as diverse and alternative diet-friendly as NYC, it’s kind of hard to be vegetarian. Most restaurants have one vegetarian option, but it’s often a cheese-laden pasta dish. (I refuse to accept a green salad as a meal.) And while there are some vegetarian- or vegan-focused places, I don’t want to force my dietary choices on others. It’s much harder than you’d think to find a place that caters to all diets relatively evenly.*

But it’s a new week, so I’m starting over, and trying to stay vegetarian during the week. Which brings us to these spicy little fiesta veggie burgers, perfect for enjoying with anĀ ice cold Corona shot of tequila. (God I love a good segue. Too bad this wasn’t one.)

As you well know, veggie burgers are my jam. Having already conquered a chickpea version, I next set my sights on a black bean one, since you know, I’m a wee bit obsessed with black beans. I couldn’t quite find a recipe that had everything I wanted, so I created my own. And then forgot to put in an egg. So these are a tad mushy.

But otherwise, they’re everything a good veggie burger should be: crisp exterior, with rich vegetable flavors (no fake meat please), a fiery kick and smoky undertones. I especially loved the kernels of sweet corn, which contrasted with the spiciness nicely. While not the best thing I’ve made this week (I’ll share that with you soon!), they were definitely a welcome return to the world of vegetarianism.

*I have some personal favorites that do this well (Otto, The Smith, Founding Farmers in Maryland / D.C.), but if you guys have any recommendations, please send them my way! Continue reading

Questions on Vegetarianism

Not to throw another rando curveball at you fine people, upon my return from Mexico,* I’m going to try being a vegetarian. My reasons are poorly thought out: I hear it’s a good thing for both your body and the environment, though I’ve done minimal research on either and pretty much am only doing it as a mini-challenge for myself.

While I’m planning to start out small and only eat vegetarian for the last two weeks of July, depending on how I feel, I can definitely extend this “trial.” I assume it will be hard, since I usually eat meat at least once a day, but I’m very excited to try new vegetables, and maybe even rethink my opinions of some old ones. (Not making any promises, but I may try some eggplant. [gasp] Sorry tomatoes, you’re just not happening.)

I’m also interested to do more research on vegetarianism and its pros and cons. If anyone has any recs on books or articles that have explored this topic without being too preachy, please send them my way! And, I have a question for you all:

Have any of you ever considered being vegetarian? And if you are (or have been) vegetarian, what made you decide to do so?

*In case I haven’t bombarded you with this already, I’ll be on a culinary tour of Los Cabos, Mex. on behalf of The Daily Meal — can’t wait to tell you guys about my trip!

Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans

In planning a Fourth of July picnic last week, Mili and I got very traditional American with the menu. Fried chicken and cheesecake were immediately agreed upon, and then for a side, we wanted potato salad. What’s screams “red, white and blue” more loudly than that?

Well, fried chicken quickly became cornflake-crusted baked chicken and the cheesecake morphed into the cutest berry yogurt cheesecake cupcakes a girl ever did see. And the potato salad … being mayo-averse, I knew the potato salad would have to be different from what you usually find at the deli.

Obviously when in search of a potato salad recipe, my first resource was Smitten Kitchen. Deb has made a LOT of potato salads in her blog life, including one that jumped out at me instantly (and possibly another one that I must make soon [and another one too]).

Pairing fresh, crisp green beans with the potatoes and pesto seemed like a no-brainer to me, and even though I cheated and used store-bought pesto, the salad was bright and summery. The crunch from the beans and from lightly toasted pine nuts offset the slight softness of my over-boiled potatoes and the touch of vinegar added just the right amount of tang. While I’m not quite a potato salad junkie yet, anything that requires minimal stove time and produces maximum flavor for zero effort is always a winner in my book. Continue reading

Berry Yogurt Cheesecake Cupcakes

For the first 20 or so years of my life, July was always a quiet time, made for lolling around in shorts and flip flops, taking my summer vacation strictly at its word. It was too hot to move or be busy or do anything other than sit in the shade (or in the house) with a good book and an ice-packed glass of water, so that is what I did.

Then, quite without warning, for the past three years July has become a month of activity: finding apartments, moving, traveling, working and generally running around a city that literally stinks in hot weather. (I love you NYC, but your eau de rotting trash is a major mark against you.) Yet again, I find myself barging into strangers’ apartments every night, hoping to find a little room that’s perfect for me. A responsible person would also start packing, but instead, I’ve used “moving soon” as an excuse to postpone the cleaning of my closet.

In the middle of this maelstrom, I’ll be traveling to Mexico. (Wait what? [Yes, I’ve been keeping secrets. Must be something I picked up while watching my new show of the week.]) I’m going to Los Cabos on a press trip, representing The Daily Meal. I couldn’t be more excited, and I can’t believe I leave in 8 days (!!!) — rest assured, there will be more to come on this.

All of this is to say that I could really use a day off. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers chose to give me one in the form of the Fourth of July, and while I don’t love that it’s on a Wednesday, I do love sleeping in and going to brunch and picnicking in the park and cute little red-white-and-blue mini berry yogurt cheesecake cupcakes.

Seriously, could they get any cuter?

The recipe comes from Gina at Skinny Taste, my current food blog crush (those pictures!) and could not be easier. Mini vanilla wafers form the cheesecake “crust,” softening and melting as they absorb the liquid from the cheesecake batter. The cheesecake batter itself is a cinch to make, tangy and creamy but airy and light. Topped off with ripe summer berries, it’s definitely a crowd pleaser, whether you’re taking them to your cookout today, eating them solo tomorrow (thank goodness for extras!) or making them just because sometimes, a night should end with a little cheesecake.

Continue reading