spicy tortellini with eggplant and peppers.

spicy tortellini with eggplant and peppers.

I used to think my vegetarian friends’ lives were seriously lacking. Meat is so tasty, why go without it? Other times, I’d think, Man, they’re brave, knowing that I wouldn’t last a week. Sometimes, this led to resentful, defensive dialogues (with my own thoughts, mind you) about how they just couldn’t appreciate food as much as I could, what with my extremely developed taste buds, and were simply incapable of understanding how to enjoy a cut of savory, succulent meat like I could. In a whirlwind, I would suddenly pity them, their mediocre palates and inevitably malnourished bodies (ya know, since there’s no way to get sufficient nutrients without consuming tender slabs of cooked animal flesh).

Well. After sitting down with a few good nutritional reads (including Clean Plates NYC and Food Matters), watching Food, Inc., familiarizing myself more with the misinformation distributed by our government (and you trusted the Food Pyramid all these years) and doing some general boning up on the subject of food nutrition, I’ve learned a thing or two.

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weekend breakfast scramble.

weekend breakfast scramble.

When I was a kid, I hated breakfast. Clearly, I had issues.

I liked some cereals but without milk. And by some cereals, I mean those of the sugary toxic persuasion, mainly the attempts of candy companies to clamber onto the kiddie-level shelves of the cereal aisle. If milk made it into my bowl, with say, Cheerios, they were accompanied by an equal pairing of sugar, which I meticulously scraped from the bottom of the bowl with every spoonful. My irrational father commanded that we not let perfectly good milk go to waste and thus enforced a strict protocol of slurping down the remaining cereal milk, with its sickly color and floating particles of soggy Froot Loops. (Thus, the dry cereal.) Yogurt was weird. (But chocolate pudding was a go.) Pop Tarts made the list, but only if they weren’t toasted and I was permitted to leave the crusts.

And while most of the population perked at the special-occasion offering of homemade pancakes or French toast, I replied with a grimace, much to my poor mother’s dismay. Years later, I am much wiser and realize that this is ridiculous.

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hearty eggs in marinara.

hearty eggs in marinara.

I’m sure I’ll start whining about the cold soon, but for the moment, I’m loving how the days have been bright and breezy and the nights have cooled enough for jeans and a cardy. Cooler temps also mean it’s finally appropriate for me to post one of my favorite comfort food recipes: hearty eggs in marinara. Put an emphasis on hearty, folks, because this is not a breakfast dish but rather a great excuse for eggs in the evening.

As an equal opportunity omnivore, I am generally open to eating anything, anytime of day. During debauchery-filled college weekends, my roommates and I would arise in the p.m. hours, groggy and in need of sustenance, and while Rachael habitually required classic breakfast fare for her first meal of the day, I was content nuking leftover pizza.

This is probably why, when I spent a semester of undergrad in Alicante, Spain, I was completely at home with their custom of serving eggs with everything at any time but breakfast. Hamburguesa especial, a burger piled high with the standard fixin’s and topped with a slice of jamón (the Spanish love their ham) and a fried egg, was a particular artery-clogging fave.

Susana, the sweet Argentine woman who played the part of my madre while I shared her brightly furnished apartment, also loved topping fried pork cutlet with marinara, melted provolone and, of course, a fried egg. (This delicious culprit was a contributing factor to why, despite my pedestrian lifestyle and the five flights of stairs I regularly climbed up to our brightly painted piso, I did not, in fact, lose weight during my six months on the Mediterranean coast.)

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city island: i’m on team johnny.

city island: i’m on team johnny.

Dear Hurricane Earl, I know you caused a ruckus for plenty of folks further south, and that was admittedly not very cool. I know you were supposed to be all big and bad, that as an East Coaster, I am now supposed to be wary of hurricanes instead of tornadoes.

But apart from the boisterous breezes, which made wearing a skirt a no-go for our Saturday trip to the Brooklyn Flea Market (stop by just for old-fashioned shaved ice and fruit pops at People’s Pops, YUM), you really outdid yourself with the weekend weather. So my sincere thanks for that, in part because it resulted in my first adventure to City Island.

What’s that?, you ask? City Island is a small maritime community that is surprisingly part of the Bronx, neighbors Pelham Bay and is known for its plentiful seafood, nautical activity and views of Eastchester Bay and Long Island Sound.

You can get there by bus or bike easily enough and when I decided to sell my car, I was envisioning my new automobile-free life with, well, much less automobile. But the thing about living in student housing with most of your new friends – many of whom hail from various New England locales, is that there are abundant opportunities to ride shotgun. One such friend, a Scarsdale local, offered to drive us out to City Island for dinner, so we packed into his SUV and headed across the bridge to stuff ourselves with seafood.

As we followed the Labor Day weekend crowds down City Island Avenue, past one dining venue after the next toward our destination, our host informed us of the fierce rivalry between Johnny’s Reef and Tony’s Pier, two seafood restaurants across the street from each other offering nearly identical fare. Like the Yankees and the Mets, everyone is die-hard one team or the other, and thanks to years of visits with his dad, the Scarsdale native and all-out Yankee fan is staunchly on Team Johnny.

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chipotle chicken-and-rice bake.

chipotle chicken-and-rice bake.

When you’re borderline OCD about scouring food mags and cooking sites, ravenously seeking inspiration before locking in on a tempting meal quest, you can’t help but pick up a few gems along the way. Gradually, I’ve developed some sense of what flavors mingle together best, as well as which shortcuts are handy and which are epic fails (despite anything you read online about rice noodles, you will actually need to soak them for an entire day).

Eventually, with a fair share of satisfying wins to balance those devastating fails, you’ll manage to throw something together with confidence that it will likely result in an enjoyable dining experience. The following foolproof recipe was lovingly concocted by yours truly and based on a couple recently acquired gems that fall under the category of handy shortcuts:

 

  1. Canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce make a fantastic, no-fuss marinade.
  2. Lipton, the quintessential iced tea producers, also offer surprisingly tasty boxed rice mixes.

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spicy cabbage soup with sausage.

spicy cabbage soup with sausage.

Last week, I attempted to make a dent in the invasive pile of unread magazines that has grown to unreasonable heights on my coffee table. Part of the problem is that, a little over a year ago while I was planning and editing the music section of a city mag, I wisely decided to up my industry knowledge by ordering a three-year subscription to Rolling Stone. In my defense, at a mere 78 cents an issue, it seemed like a steal compared to the outlandish $5 newsstand price.

However, as the semi-weekly issues splayed across my former college coffee table began to gather dust and beer-bottle rings, I realized I’m not actually that big a fan of RS (probably because they don’t have recipes in the back. Also because of the absurd number of consecutive times U2 has appeared somewhere on the cover.) But of course, at the fear of sending trees to die without purpose, I diligently skim through each one and will continue to do so until my subscription runs out in March 2012. So it goes.

Anyway, food, I’m talking about food.  As I reached the end of an issue of Women’s Health and my stomach began to rumble, I thought, Why the heck don’t I make more soup? I’m quite fond of the stuff. And most soups embody so much of what I love in a good recipe: versatility (time to clean out the fridge), simplicity (chop, simmer, slurp) and easy clean-up (the original one pot meal).

On this particular day, as the pantry was rather bare, the versatility aspect was very attractive, so I utilized a WH recipe for a soup of the Savory Moroccan variety for inspiration and proceeded to mangle it until it was something completely unrelated to the original recipe, with the exception of four or five surviving ingredients. Anywho, this is how it went.

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grits: oatmeal of the south.

grits: oatmeal of the south.

Bahhh, two bacon spinach salads, one crustless quiche and an All-American breakfast later, and what do we have? MORE bacon in my fridge. Sigh.

I’ve been sick of ingredients before, but it’s usually because I’m bored with it. Not because it’s delicious and unhealthy as hell. So what’s a girl who likes to cook for her boy to do?

Well, I reckon she makes him some grits with bacon.

Grits are easy shmeazy. I didn’t actually have them growing up, despite being a Texas child. I can only guess that’s because I’m a displaced Iowan, or at least my parents are. But thanks to a late night adventure at Waffle House that led to an order of cheesy grits (aka a small bowl of grits with a slice of American cheese on top) to accompany my chocolate-chip waffle, I became a fan of the stuff.

First I fell into the quick fix – one-serving packets of instant grits, that is – and ate them simply, with a quick zap in the microwave, a little butter and a dash of salt and pepper, before heading to class. Nothing special, just a means for appeasing a whiny stomach.

Then I met Mr. Joshua White. With family deeply rooted in the heart of New Orleans, where the grits flow mightily, he is no stranger to grits. (Though his preference for grits with barbecue sauce and hard-boiled eggs remains in question.)

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