Blossom Du Jour: Fast Food Vegan Style

For my last post of the semester, I wanted to find something a little different from the other vegan restaurants I had been going to. Most vegan restaurants are sit-down restaurants, whether they are fancy or more on the casual side, but Blossom Du Jour is a healthier and vegan version of a fast food restaurant. They have five locations, one of which is not too far from Columbia, located at 449 Amsterdam Avenue between 81st and 82nd Street.

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The restaurant was very small inside with a decent amount of counter space. A lot of people get take-out, but many also sit at the counter to eat. If you sit at the counter, there is a nice view of Amsterdam Avenue through the windows. It is a nice spot to eat alone, but you can also bring a couple of friends to enjoy the food with.

I decided to try the Strawberry Banana Burst smoothie and it was truly amazing. It was made with strawberries, bananas, and apple cider. I couldn’t even tell that there were no diary products used to make the smoothie!

Strawberry Banana Burst Smoothie
Strawberry Banana Burst Smoothie

I also tried the Midtown Melt sandwich, which is made with cajun spiced seitan, vegan cheese, agave, guacamole, lettuce, and chipotle aïoli. I could not even tell that the cheese used in the sandwich was vegan! Also the guacamole and chipotle aïoli tasted great together, along with the other ingredients in the sandwich. I would have to say the best part was that my food was all made in under five minutes and it tasted like food that I would order at a restaurant, which would take more than quadruple the amount of time to make.

Midtown Melt
Midtown Melt

I really enjoyed going to Blossom Du Jour, and I will definitely be going back sometime soon! I have never been to a vegan fast food restaurant before, and I’d have to say that it was a great experience. I recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a quick and delicious meal in a casual and comfortable atmosphere.

Late Night on the Low

So it’s past 3 am, and you’re starving.

Whether it’s after a night out with friends or after an intense night of studying, we’ve all been there. Luckily for us, we go to school in the “city that never sleeps.” And, even luckier for us, the concept of no-sleep is also applicable to the gracious food vendors that keep their doors open throughout the night.

Typically, our food cravings at this hour involve the greasy, the sweet, the salty. Basically the unhealthy. The middle of the night binge eating is usually accompanied with the morning after guilt. The guilt of wasting an entire week’s worth of exercise should not be accompanied with the guilt of wasting an entire week’s worth of money. Breaking your diet doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank.

So, here are some of my favorite (cheap) late night eats:

2 BROS PIZZA in the East Village

http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/2%20Brothers%20Pizza
http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/2%20Brothers%20Pizza

$1 slices. Do I need to say more? Literally all you need is a single dollar bill to engage in the magic that is 2 Bros. This pizza joint serves up fresh slices at all hours. Their greasy, cheesy slices are the perfect ending to a night of bar-hopping in the East Village.

MAMOUN’S FALAFEL in the East Village

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https://lovefalafel.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/falafel.jpg

Wander down the street from 2 Bros and you have Mamoun’s. This hole in the wall serves savory Mediterranean food at all hours, taking late night dining to a new level. For $3.50 you can get a full falafel pita, stuffed with salad and tahini. Their crowd speaks for itself.

The HALAL CARTS on Broadway

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Basically every Columbia student’s go to. Nothing is more promising than the Halal carts that bless us by campus. For just just 5 dollars, you can have a platter of perfection at any hour. We all know the sauce is everything.

No regrets, am I right?

Avocado Egg Boats

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Hi everyone! 

As the semester draws to a close there are two things running through every student’s mind:

  1. WINTER VACATION
  2. Finals. Finals. And more finals.

So, because we’re all so busy right now, I wanted to share one of my simplest, healthiest, and tastiest recipes. It’s a hearty, filling treat that takes almost no time and will keep you kicking through these final few weeks. 

An Avocado Egg Boat is basically an egg baked inside an avocado half. There are a few simple steps, and all you need is one avocado and two eggs.

Preheat oven or toaster-oven to 350, and line a baking sheet with tin foil.

First, cut a ripe avocado in half. Remove the pit carefully by piercing it with the knife and pulling it out. 

Next, scoop out another fourth of each half around the pit. You just want to make a bigger hole than there already is. 

Place each half on the tin foil covered sheet.

Then, crack an egg into the hole you just made. One egg goes in each half. Carefully, put baking sheet in the oven.

Cook for 30-40 minutes. Note that a toaster-oven will cook on the faster side.

Finally, top the finished product with salt and pepper. If you have some fresh herbs, add some on top for a bit of freshness!

Eat up, stay nourished, and good luck on your finals! 

Winter Italian Recipe: Minestrone Soup

Winter is coming and we all need something hot and nice to warm us up. What is better than a Minestrone soup? It is a easy dish from Northern Italy, typical of winter season. You can put in it more or less what you want, from beans to zucchini, from lentils to potatoes. If you want to use dried beans or lentils, you just have to remember to leave them in a bowl with some water for at least two hours before beginning to prepare your soup.

Here is my soup. Begin with a soffritto: put onions on olive oil, and add celery and carrots.

SoffrittoSoffritto with carrots and celeryYou can add on it any vegetable you like: zucchini, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, peas.. etc.

Vegetable mix

At this point it is time to put the legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya beans, what you want is fine! The more varieties of legumes, the better your minestrone will be! Just add them with at least two cups of water, and some salt.

You have to stir your soup once in a while and let the beans and lentils cook for at least half an hour. Then, depending on your taste, you can add more water to make it more “minestrone” or let all the water evaporate to make it more “soup”.

Minestrone styleSoup style

Your minestrone soup is ready. Enjoy the winter!

A Sampling of Smorgasburg

 

A disclaimer: I didn’t actually have the ramen burger. I know, it’s a travesty—who treks out to Williamsburg from Morningside Heights (taking the dreaded L train; I don’t think it’s that bad…) only to not try the food that Smorgasburg’s most famous for?

Well, I guess it’s a reason to return!

I think Smorgasburg is quite genius, actually. Plunked on the western edge of Williamsburg, it (the original site; there are several others now) rewards Manhattan-ites who are willing to get to Brooklyn with a vast number of options of extremely filling foods and incredible views of Manhattan. Much of the food is more than just the latest, trendiest, foodie-est thing to eat.

This is the way I suggest doing it:

  1. Bring cash. That’s all the vendors take, and you don’t want to have to wait in the line once you get there.
  2. When you arrive, walk around and look at every vendor. You don’t want, upon spending all your money and stuffing yourself, to realize that someone sells your favorite food on the other side of the space.
  3. Bring friends to split. Too many things to try to eat all of everything.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve had fried calamari. These were excellent. The spicy tomato mayo (just behind the squid in the cone) was a nice touch—I might try to make that sometime soon.

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This corn is grilled, and then rubbed with butter and sprinkled with cheese. I’ve had corn like this before, but I’ll never say no to this combination. It’s completely delicious.

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This was the highlight of the bunch. Duck confit with cabbage on a brioche roll from Duck Season. You really can’t go wrong with duck confit and brioche. We actually wanted to get two sliders, but they were out—the cook generously offered to cut this in half for us. Even half of this sandwich was enough—I’m not sure I could have eaten the entire thing.

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A friend recommended this nutella ice cream sandwich from Good Batch—it did not disappoint. Though again, the serving was essentially too large to finish.

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My friend wanted to get something sweet, but these caught her eye instead: beer-battered cheese curds. I thought it sounded disgusting, and even once we got them I wasn’t so into it. Then I dipped one in spicy aioli and bit into it; my doubts melted away in a haze of melted cheese and umami (that’d be the fermentation of the beer). I’m actually still craving these.

All in all: Smorgasburg is totally worth it. I’ll definitely be going back when it opens again in the spring.

Cupcake Bliss

After trying three bakeries that were all French-style patisseries and relatively close to campus, I wanted to try something completely different for my last post of the semester.  So what better bakery to try than a cupcake shop in the West Village?

The cheerful exterior
The cheerful exterior

Initially, I felt like I was just jumping on the cupcake bandwagon and that the cupcakes I bought would taste like all of the others that I have had before.  I quickly realized, however, that Molly’s Cupcakes is anything but your typical cupcake store.  It is located on Bleecker Street, a lively thoroughfare filled with an abundance of restaurants, cafes, and shops (the perfect place to wander on a lazy afternoon).  Even amid all of these shops, Molly’s Cupcakes can’t be missed with its bright yellow exterior.  The interior has its own cozy and quirky style, with white Christmas lights hung from the ceiling and vintage lunch boxes displayed as art.

The view welcoming you as you enter
The view welcoming you as you enter
A Bionic Woman lunchbox decorating the wall
A Bionic Woman lunchbox decorating the wall

Apart from the welcoming appeal of the shop, the cupcakes are what really shine.  Winner of the popular Food Network show Cupcake Wars, the store is known for its center-filled cupcakes, which add a new dimension to the standard cake and icing structure.  These center-filled cupcakes are available year round, with special seasonal selections offered as well.  I was ready to jump straight into this cupcake experience, so I chose two filled ones: the Ron Bennington and the Cookie Monster.

My two selections
My two selections

The Cookie Monster was every cookie lover’s dream.  The entire center of the cupcake was full of gooey, raw cookie dough, and it was topped with a mint chocolate chip cookie, which combined the joy of licking the bowl with the result of your hard work.  This cupcake transported me back to my childhood baking days, sneaking bites of cookie dough.

The Cookie Monster
The Cookie Monster

My second choice, the Ron Bennington, was a chocolate cupcake with a creamy peanut butter filling, topped with a decadent chocolate ganache and butterscotch pieces.  The combination of peanut butter and chocolate is close to perfection for me, so this cupcake hit the spot.  If none of the cupcakes displayed look good to you (highly unlikely because they all looked amazing), there is also an option to build your own cupcake, where you can choose the cake, frosting, and toppings.  And if even that does not appeal to you, Molly’s Cupcakes also sells homemade ice cream, cookies, and more sweets.  There is something here for everyone, and I will be trying even more cupcakes on my return visit.

The Ron Bennington
The Ron Bennington

Meat, and just meat: Why Argentina is not for vegetarians

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Saludos from Argentina!

Argentines are famed for their barbeque, or asado. People here eat lots of meat, lots of bread, and very little vegetables, which can be frustrating, especially for people on my program who are vegetarian and/or celiac. I am not a big meat-eater, and so I have really tried to avoid having asado, surviving instead on empanadas, any veggie places I can find, Mexican, and Chinese food. Buenos Aires, like any other large city, has a wide variety of restaurants, making the carnivorous food culture of this country easier to bear. But I realized that spending three months in Argentina without having an asado is like spending three months in Paris without eating a croissant. So last week I began my search for a good parrilla, a “grill,” or a restaurant that serves asado. The New York Times had recently come out with a “36 Hours in Buenos Aires,” and one of the restaurants recommended was “La Carnicería Parrilla y Ahumados,” located in the young and hip neighborhood of Palermo.

I haven’t really adapted to the Argentine custom of eating dinner very late, so when the restaurant opened its doors at 8 pm, I was their first customer, eagerly waiting on the sidewalk. Seated at the bar, I had an excellent view of the grill where huge chunks of meat were being cooked. I ordered a bife de chorizo, otherwise known as a sirloin steak, which came with a baked potato and squash puree, traditional trappings of an asado meal. A warning to all steak-loving Americans: Argentines generally have their steaks well done (I know, gross), so you better know how to order a less-cooked steak in Spanish. Jugoso, literally “juicy”, is the word for medium-rare, a punto is for medium, and bien cocido is for well done.

I waited some 30 minutes for my food, watching my large chunk of sirloin being cooked on the grill in front of me while I munched on some delicious bread. When I go out to eat by myself, I love sitting at the bar because I think that it is very entertaining. I watched the chef as he took out every piece of steak from under the counter, carefully seasoned it, and slapped it on the grill. When I got bored of watching the sizzling steaks, I would turn my attention to the bartender effortlessly mixing up delicious-looking tragos, or cocktails.

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But then my food came, so I all of my attention was diverted to the food in front of me. The steak was humongous, and, as you can see in the picture, the salt crystals used to season the meat were still visible. I picked up my fork and asado knife, and began to devour the meat. Cooked just to medium, my sirloin was juicy and flavorful, and very well seasoned. I ate it with some hot sauce, some chimichurri sauce, or dipped it in some of the squash puree on the plate.

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I definitely would not say that I am a meat-lover, but this meat was good, and I am very happy to say that I have been to Argentina and actually had an asado. Overall, it was an excellent experience: friendly staff, good food, and a very nice vibe (once I wasn’t the only person there). Kudos to the New York Times for coming to the rescue as I ventured into meat-eating territory!

Happy eating!

Tacos in Morningside Heights

With the new taco emoji, it seemed only fitting that I scout out places to get tacos around campus. My two finds: Taqueria y Fonda and Cascabel Taqueria (both of which are on seamless). Both places have delicious tacos that are quite traditional. You will not find hard shell tacos stuffed with ground beef. As delicious as those tacos are, they are not true to the Mexican specialty. Instead, an authentic taco consists of a double-layered corn or wheat tortilla filled with a variety of fillings: seafood, chicken, pork, or vegetables. Tacos are native to Mexico and predate the arrival of the Europeans to such lands. The word tacos was used by the colonizers, at the time, to describe the indigenous food. Thus, tacos are a lasting part of Mexican history.

My favorite kinds of taco are pastor, pollo, carnitas, and chorizo. Tacos al pastor are filled with thin pork slices marinated in a combination of dried chilies, spices, and pineapple. Traditionally al pastor is cut from a spit, similar to shawarma (a Middle Mastern meat spit, usually made with lamb). It is said that Arab immigrants, especially Lebanese, brought this style of cooking meat to Mexico. Al-pastor meat is usually sweet with a spicy zing to it. Pollo tacos are filled with shredded chicken that can be marinated in a few different ways depending on the chef. Carnita tacos are filled with slow braised pieces of pork in oil. The meat is extremely tender and mildly flavored since it is not usually heavily marinated in spices. Chorizo tacos also do not incorporate many other ingredients. They are only filled with pan-fried pieces of chorizo, which is a spicy pork sausage. The basics of a taco are the same from establishment to establishment; they are just served with different toppings and sauces.

Taqueria y Fonda is a very modest setting with little seating that serves up very simple, no-frills added tacos. All tacos come topped with cilantro, tomatoes, grilled onions, a slice of lime on the side, and a choice of mild green tomatillo sauce or spicy red sauce. The only difference is the filling, of which there is a large variety (vegetarian as well).

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The tacos at Cascabel Taqueria come two or three in a serving and are more individualized than those from Taqueria y Fonda. Each kind of taco comes with its own toppings and a choice between four different sauces varying in levels of spiciness: roasted tomato, tomatillo, Diablo, and habanero. The al pastor taco is topped with grilled pineapple, sautéed onion, and avocado. The pollo taco is marinated in chipotle seasoning and served with avocado and green onion. The carnitas taco is topped with pickled red onion, roasted chili, and crispy rice. The chorizo taco is topped with onion and cilantro. The toppings for the tacos at Cascabel are more tailored to the dish and balance the flavors well, but they are not entirely necessary since, as Taqueria y Fonda proves, every taco is set topped only with cilantro, tomatoes, and grilled onions.

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The tacos at both places are equally delicious. Cascabel is more of a place to go out to since it has a lively atmosphere and plenty of seating. Their tacos are filled with more of a mix of flavors, whereas the tacos at Taqueria y Fonda do not contain a mix of ingredients, but are still very flavorful. There are only two or three tables in the entire restaurant so it is definitely a better option to order out from. These are the two best options for tacos in the vicinity of Morningside Heights, but better finds are sure to be found in Spanish Harlem, which I hope to visit soon.

A Vegan’s Heaven in the Village

This time when I chose a vegan restaurant to visit, I decided to stray a little further from campus and I found Red Bamboo on 140 W 4th Street in the Village.

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The restaurant has a very calming and cozy feel, making it a very nice place to go if you are stressed. I decided to get take-out from the restaurant and it only took them 10 minutes to make my food! So, if you are very hungry after making the trek from Morningside Heights, luckily, you will not have to wait long! And my trek was truly worth it!!

Popcorn shrimp
Popcorn Shrimp

I decided to start off my meal with an appetizer. I chose the popcorn shrimp because one of the things that I miss the most after becoming a vegetarian is shrimp. The vegan popcorn shrimp were absolutely amazing! The shrimp I got had the same texture and taste of real shrimp! The shrimp were fried perfectly and the sauce that came with them complimented them very well. I will definitely be going back to get more!!

Classic blt
Classic B.L.T.

I got the classic BLT for my entrée because I was really interested in trying Red Bamboo’s version of bacon. The tempeh bacon was also really good and it  had a very similar taste to real bacon. The sandwich also included whole wheat bread, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and vegan mayonnaise. The mayonnaise didn’t taste exactly like real mayonnaise, but in some ways it was actually better. It was a little less thick than real mayonnaise and had a little bit of a different taste, which actually went better with my sandwich than real mayonnaise would have. I definitely will have to get this sandwich again!

I loved everything about Red Bamboo and I will definitely be going back sometime very soon. Everything I tried tasted absolutely amazing and now I know that there is a place that makes great substitutes for the food that any vegan or vegetarian misses. I will definitely be recommending this restaurant to everyone I know, whether or not they are vegan or vegetarian!