Cupcake Merlot, 2007

Cupcake Merlot, 2007

A few people had suggested trying Cupcake wine, so I thought I’d pick up a bottle for my next book club. They are my wine guinea pigs and a name like Cupcake wouldn’t embarrass them too badly. Getting a bunch of busy women together sometimes fails and book club was canceled that week. So out of sheer curiosity later in the week, The Man and I opened this bottle after dinner.

The wine lived up to the name. Not that I’m saying it was bad. It was on the timid side though. Very mild for such a dark red, with dried fruit flavors and barely a hint of cocoa. And it had a slightly rusty finish.

It also oxidized pretty quickly, so after an hour of being open, it was getting hard to drink. A wine with a stronger flavor might have carried this a little longer, but it was so mild, this became the dominant flavor too quickly.

This hasn’t put us off the Cupcake wines though. There was absolutely a potential there. I want to try a white. Looks like they also have some interesting specialty bottles, including a riesling from Germany. I’m giving Cupcake another chance.

Cupcake
2007 Merlot
Central Coast, California
About $8/bottle

[Girl21]

Bocce

If you are a food lover, you also have to be pretty active and work out regularly. I do. It’s the only way I can allow my love affair with cheese to continue and not start to look like a wheel of aged gouda. I also have been into sports throughout my life, from basketball with my dad, to street hockey in high school, and I like playing games that don’t involve a computer.

But I have a special place in my heart for a sport that can be played with a glass of wine or beer in my hand. And being annexed into an Italian family has introduced me to bocce. After a meal, there’s nothing like carrying a few bolas around the lawn while leisurely sipping a chilled adult beverage, and calling that a sport.

This is not the kind of bocce you see the serious old guys playing in the park on the long courses. This is hippie bocce, a meandering version of the game that allows for trash-talking, breaks to refill glasses, and all manner of random tangents.

It’s pretty simple. You toss the jack (the small white ball) somewhere on the lawn, and then take turns tossing or rolling your own bolas to get as close to it as possible. Knocking other people’s balls out of the way, or even knocking the jack somewhere else, is allowed and even encouraged. The point goes to the person who got the closest to the jack (two points if both of their balls were closer than any others). And the winner tosses the jack next.

You keep playing until it’s too dark to see, a majority of players need a drinks refill at the same time, or you’ve done measurably damage to a nearby house, car or other valuable property.

As you generally play this only in nice weather, I highly recommend a chilled white wine, a Belgian beer, or a snazzy sangria. It’s a good idea to stick to something that’s not going to get people to snozzled after an hour of walking and drinking, because (see above) once you do damage to valuable property and you hide all evidence of your bocce set, it will appear suspicious that you are all sitting in the kitchen desperately looking innocent.

Let’s assume you drink slow and have a nice game, you can tell people you played ball all afternoon and they’ll think you’re in shape and a total jock under that foodie exterior. I think that’s a win!

[Girl21]

Getting Your Dog to Eat

This is completely unrelated, but it’s to do with food, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with lately.

My old dog is terminally ill and has a hard time eating. She just isn’t hungry or can’t tell if she’s hungry or not. But she does need to eat.

I tried all kinds of things to get her interested in food, but talk about picky. She would turn up her big black nose and sulk off to a cool patch on the tiles for a nap. And she kept getting skinnier.

I’m telling you, I tried everything I knew she liked, and for dogs (who eat anything), this is a wide range of options. I searched the web for things people were suggesting to try, and still no luck. And the weight loss was getting to be a serious problem.

So on two different blogs I noticed a few notes about things for nausea in dogs, garlic and tomato sauce. Lightbulb! Italian food as a medicinal solution? Why the heck not?

Well, not so fast. Actual pasta sauce apparently was not the answer. Think, think, think. She was acting like a grumpy child, why not treat her like one?

Canned ravioli. I’m not proud. I bought that terrible so-called ‘meat’-filled pasta in cans, by a chef who probably wasn’t a chef. But it works. She loves it. I pour it on top of her regular food and she goes to town. She put on weight again, and stopped avoiding her food bowl.

So every week I make that walk of shame down the canned aisle to the grotto of bad food, and stock up on canned ravioli. I hope this helps someone, some day, somewhere. It’s helping her, and that’s what matters to me.

[Girl21]

Lentil Bulger Salad

Lentil Bulger SaladNot only am I a vegetarian, but I live in the south. Why am I bringing this up? It’s hard to get a good protein in every meal. And it’s equally hard to get interested in cooking on a hot day. So what to do?

I’ve been fine-tuning and evolving my lentil bulger salad recipe, a solution to both issues. Frankly, this recipe will probably continue to evolve for years to come, but this is how it stands at the moment. Easy to make, since it involves very little cooking or technique. Yet full of flavors that make your mouth happy about salad.

First you need to get about 4 cups of water boiling in a medium pot, and set a half cup of bulger in a heat-friendly bowl with some kind of lid (I’m such a slacker, I use a bowl with a plate to cover it). Really, this is the most actual cooking you’ll be doing, so don’t complain.

Once the water comes to a boil, scoop out a half cup and pour that in with the bulger. Stir up the bulger a bit and plop the lid on, and leave that for 30 minutes. Hard work so far, right? The rest of the water in the pot should still be boiling. Put a half cup of dry lentils in the water, and a half teaspoon of salt (check your lentils to be sure they’re the ones that don’t need to be soaked overnight). Bring the lentils back up to a boil then turn down to a fast simmer for 30 minutes or until they get to chewable consistency. I like the lentils a bit al dente, but some people prefer them soft.

Meanwhile, on your chopping block…

You need to gather and dice, chop, grate, press:
1 small thumb ginger, grated on a microplane
2 medium carrots, grated
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 medium onion, diced small
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped fine

I personally don’t like all of the stems of the parsley in my mix, so I take the time to pinch off the leaf bunches from the major stems and chop up just the leaves pretty small. A good medium-size bunch of (Italian!) parsley will make up a loose cup to cup-and-a-half.

Usually I toss all of these ingredients into a bowl and set it aside. You also want to get your seasonings together. I love having little glass ramekins around for this. Not because I look like I’m on TV, but because it keeps me organized and I don’t forget an ingredient so easily. Anyhow, in a small bowl or ramekin, you’ll need:

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
(or 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning if you hate curry… boo!)
dash of cayenne

And don’t forget to get out the two most important things… lemon juice and olive oil. If you’re feeling luxurious, fresh lemons are always preferred, but I’m usually not, so I use a good quality pre-squeezed juice. Olive oil is also up to your preference. A good friend who is kind of OCD about this advised me to look for ‘first press’, ‘cold pressed’, and ‘organic’ when choosing olive oil as you’re getting the better stuff (but more on that later).

Also a word about curry powder (I can go on for pages but will not), I highly recommend going to a specialty store for curry powder, and trying different kinds until you find what you like. Traditionally, every family in India has their own blend of spices to make up their curry powder (kind of like plaids in Scotland). So, all curry powder is not the same. It varies in spiciness, sweetness, and strength. And that yellow stuff you buy in your grocery store might do in a pinch (pun intended… haha, I kill me!), but it’s not something you want to have as your go-to curry. In this instance, I’m using a somewhat mild curry blend, but if you have a strong one you like, maybe pull back to a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon or it might drown out all other flavors.

Okay… so that’s all of the cooking out of the way and your kitchen isn’t boiling hot. You might be a bit sweaty from all of the chopping, but that just means you need to work out more. And here’s how…. mixing!

Un-lid your bulger and fluff it up a bit. I have a lovely wooden spoon I spent way too much money on at one of our local arts and craft fairs, but it’s so sexy and sleek, I love to use it for most mixing situations (yes, I’m also a kitchen geek). Drain your lentils and mix them into the bulger with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add your seasonings, and mix some more.

Add your carrots, parsley, garlic, ginger, and onion here, and mix up a bit more. I notice the pressed garlic and the grated ginger tend to clump up, so it takes a bit of trying to get these mixed in evenly. Then add in about 1/3 cup lemon juice (I sometimes also add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar if I’m feeling fancy). And… yes, continue mixing. Firm but broad strokes so you mix everything up instead of turn your lentils and bulger into paste.

I like to set this aside for about a half hour to marinate and get all yummy. This gives me a minute to lay down a bed of lettuce on a plate, dress it with a little pepper and lemon juice, and grate some feta cheese (optional). Do what? Those dense blocks of salty feta you can get are delish but what do you do with them? I love to gently grate it instead of get the crumbled version.

Easily the most complicated part of this dish is plating it. You have to very carefully plop a pile of your lentil bulger salad on the middle of your lettuce bed and drop some grated feta on top of that. For an added flounce, I like to add some green olives on the side, or maybe some flatbread toasted up in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! Yum for the tum, protein, and no overheated kitchen.

The other bonus of this is that it’s one of those fabulous dishes that actually gets better after sitting in the ‘fridge over night.

Yes, yes, yes… you might be poised to comment about the lack of tomatoes like in a traditional tabouleh salad. Keep your pants on and step away from the comment area. I get a rash from fresh tomatoes so don’t ever look for them in any of my recipes. If you want to add tomatoes to this, I’d suggest cutting back on the lemon juice a bit and using about half of a tomato, diced small. And don’t tell me about it.

[Girl21]

Finger Meals Fast

Only Martha Stewart and other aliens are always prepared for guests. The rest of us get get caught off guard by last minute guests or find ourselves feeling inadequate in the kitchen. If you live close to a decent grocery store, you can always come up with a classy spread after a ten minute dash around the deli and produce sections.

I have to say I’m quite practiced at this by now. I host a book club at my house (much to The Man’s amusement on those nights he’s home to witness the ladies’ gathering) and twice a month have to rush through the store on the way home from the office. A couple sorts of cheese, some savory crunchy things, some seasonal fruits and veggies, and some sweet tidbits… you’re gold.

Keep in mind the crowd you’re entertaining when choosing you yummy little bits and pieces. People used to potato chips and orange cheddar cheese are just not going to be game to try the Roaring Forties blue cheese. On the other hand, fresh fruit is usually a good option for just about any group. And of course you’re limited by your local grocery store.

We’re lucky enough to live near a Publix and Ward’s. We went to Upstate New York last summer and I was introduced to Wegmans, so my world has never been quite the same. Never the less, I shop at Publix happily because you can get a decent selection of fresh deli and bakery things. Plus the added Greenwise sections mean some good healthfood options. And of course I like Ward’s because it’s a locally owned business that has great local produce, super-healthfood sections, and a fun selection of wine and beer (that I can spend too much time perusing). And they stock the best coffee in town, Sweetwater Organic Coffee.

Anyhow, two things to keep in mind in these situations, SIMPLE and FRESH. Wait … three things… YUMMY! For a base, try getting a loaf of herb bread or a whole grain baton (yes, the long bread), which you can slice up and pop in the oven. Try a jar of pre-made pesto to slather on the bread first, topped with some deli sliced gouda and crumbled gorganzola. Or just sprinkle the slices with salt, pepper, italian herbs, and garlic powered, then cheese. Just toast them in the oven long enough to melt the cheese and let some corners get a bit golden. A box of Triscuits or some other whole grain crackers are also good if you’re in a hurry or want a variety.

For savories, if you have an olive bar, absolutely go a little wild. Even toss in some garlic stuffed and blue cheese stuffed options with the usual oil cured and kalamata. If you can find some Castelvetrano Sicilian olives, these bright green beauties are delish. Or splash out on a few nice jars of olives off the shelf. Try a jar of asparagus and artichoke hearts for a little texture.

Fruits and veggies are great balance, and besides a little cutting and arranging, are very little work. I usually go for some Granny Smith apples and whatever is in season… peaches, cherries, grapes, or pears. And for veggies it’s a no-brainer to grab some carrots (always organic carrots!), celery, cauliflower, broccoli, and maybe a pretty sweet pepper or two. I’m biased against tomatoes, but feel free to get some little cherry or grape tomatoes if you see some nice ones.

I left cheese for last because it’s the best place to go completely berserk. I could go on and on about cheese, but there are some safe bets to please the most people. Cheddar–no not the orange variety–is possibly the most obvious choice because you can easily chop it into chunks, it has a good texture, and its sharp but not overpowering flavor can pair with just about anything on the table (go for the sharpest version you can find… we like the Racer’s Edge Cabot since you can find it easily). I also usually grab a block of swiss if I can find it (I like Amish swiss) or even some Mexican queso fresco.

If you’re feeling adventursome, try a round of brie (or even goat brie). Keep the brie simple by unwrapping it, slicing the rind off the top and putting it in a shallow glass or ceramic oven-safe dish, drizzling it with olive oil and baking it at 350 for ten minutes. [In the above picture we had some cheese curds, and a super yum Humbolt Fog goat cheese.]

Notice I didn’t go on about wine or other drinks here. That’s pages of rambling. For my book club ladies I usually go for a mild red wine, maybe a chard if I’m looking to change it up a bit. I love a nice tempranillo in the $7-10 range. Or my standard seems to be a bottle of Our Daily Red (fantastic at about $7 a bottle). Basically you want to go for something the most people will be comfortable drinking, and something you like.

A little chopping and slicing, and some attention to arranging the goodies, and you can set up a nice little spread in less than 30 minutes. It’s fresh food that’s also kind of healthy, and it’s fun and easy to eat while talking and drinking. And of course it’s tasty!

[Girl21]

Gladius Tempranillo, 2009

Gladius Tempranillo 2009A bottle of this was given to us at the holidays and since it was unfamiliar, we didn’t jump at opening it right away. But our wine rack was looking kind of sparse the other night and a tempranillo seemed like the right sort of thing to celebrate the close of a long week.

Personally, I was put off by the label because it seemed like more thought might have been put into the design than the wine itself. And there’s just no personality in a grey and black color scheme. But I keep reminding myself not to judge a wine by the label.

So I popped the synthetic cork and chucked that into the blue cork vase. An initial sniff around the rim of the glass had me thinking I’d rather wait or The Man to have a go at it first. It was hugely floral and girly (a big statement from a girl who owns far too much pink in her wardrobe). But The Man handed it back and insisted I have a sip before I wandered off to finish cooking dinner.

It had a lovely, delicate fruit flavor initially, which balanced the flowery fragrance. But that girliness quickly matured into a rush of cedar and oak with solid earthy undertones. It finished pretty clean, leaving only a dry, peppery tingle on the tongue.

This is not something you want to decant or leave sitting open as it oxidizes fairly quickly. The last glass was kind of rough. It was a pretty deep purple wine, definitely leaning towards the blue-purple rather than wine red. I say this because this is not a first date kind of drink. You’l be awkwardly looking at each other’s purple tinted teeth and lips. I was not amused by my tongue being as dark as a chow chow dog’s.

My best friend, Google, had a hard time finding anything about this wine, so I couldn’t begin to tell you a price range except ‘somewhere between $7 and $15’. It’s a Spanish red wine. It’s not half bad. I wouldn’t pay more than $9 for this. I’d probably pair it with something Italian or Mediterranean for dinner and serve it to people without vast wine vocabularies. But yes, I would drink it again.

[Girl21]

Brunch, Sunday’s Happy Place

Brunch. To me, that meal is often associated with a hangover, or at least an uneasy feeling that food and sunshine are not worth rolling out of bed for early on a Sunday morning. But you might need to brave the young day due to friend obligations, the inability to work the coffee maker, parental units needing your attention, or your half-grown kids wanting to overtly hit you up for money. So you agree to brunch. *sigh* At least you should eat well.

Any brunch place worth its salt will have three things: bottomless cups of coffee, optional outdoor seating, and a menu that offers sweet and savory breakfast and lunch dishes.

Not required, but definitely appreciated, is a place that also offers typical brunch drinks like mimosas and bloody marys. Of course here in Gainesville, we’re limited by some archaic laws that don’t allow alcohol to be served before 1 o’clock on Sunday. So if you require some hair of the dog, time it so you arrive around 12:30 because most servers will kindly announce when they are allowed to take orders for adult beverages.

So where to go in Gainesville on a bright Sunday morning? We have our standard haunts that are veggie friendly, but are always open to suggestions. We would recommend starting with one of these:

• Leonardo’s 706 (or just 706)
High on the list because they have some delish standard menu items including omelets, benedicts, tofu stirfry, pancakes and french toast. Or commit to the buffet if you like big breakfasts because it’s packed with goodies. They have some great never-ending coffee, as well as the fancy stuff that requires a French accent to order, and noteworthy alcohol-mixed drinks (their mimosa is a favorite). It’s a bit pricey when you look at the menu, but you get a full bang for your buck because the minute you sit down, you’re served with their famous brunch punch (citrus, ginger, and watermelon) and mini-muffins (usually chocolate, cream cheese, berry, etc), and you’ll be delivered hot latkas (crispy potato pancakes). First rate service and an eclectic menu makes this a standard for us.
**Midtown, 706 W. University Ave [find them on Facebook!]**
Website: Leonardos-706.com

• The Top
“The Top?” you say. Why, yes. They’ve revamped their brunch offerings. If you like their dinner menu, you won’t be disappointed in brunch. They even have some decent vegan options which can be hard to come by. I absolutely recommend the Cuban bread with guava jelly and goat cheese to start with. Or they have vegan biscuits and gravy. The menu changes from week to week depending on what they’ve got on hand, but it usually looks like pancakes and grits, and home fries, and other hot comfort food that is better with syrup or hot sauce. And as always at the Top, you’ll get enough food to take some home for later. My only caution is that the pancakes tend to taste like the griddle, an oddly cloying cooking oil flavor. A bonus of the Top is that you don’t get a big wait time like at some of the other places. If you show up at the crack of 11:00, you can get your pick of tables. [They post that brunch is from 11 to 2. Check the chalkboard and specials menu.]
**University and Main, a block north, just follow the smell of food**

• The Flying Biscuit
Yes, this is a small chain restaurant, but it’s not sold its soul off yet. If the bright Disney-like interior design doesn’t wake you up, and regular coffee doesn’t sound appealing, try one of their insane drinks… you can get four shots of espresso in a bowl-size cup with whipped cream, or a Guinness (yes, the beer!) with shots of espresso in that. Once you’re awake and you’re grazing the menu, you’ll see there is almost no end to options. They’re all pretty good. And don’t even think about leaving without trying their biscuits. I heartily recommend one of their huge omelet meals if you know you can eat a lot. If you are not into big breakfasts, make sure to check out their sides menu where you can mix and match grits (light, made with cream cheese), half-order of french toast, soysage, ‘moon dusted’ potatoes, and more. Good food for good prices, and the staff are fun people. There is always a waiting list, but it’s worth it! [It’s posted that they open at 7am but that’s not verified, and who the heck wants to eat that early on Sunday anyway?]
**Northwest / Thornebrook area, near Fresh Market [find them on Facebook!]**
Website: FlyingBiscuit.com

• Ivey’s Grill
I have to add Ivey’s because they don’t have much for veggies, but do I love their potato pancakes. The coffee is good, and they have some great specials. Absolutely worth checking out. The small dining room is relaxed, and theres usually a wait time or it’s pretty busy. A good regular client base means good food and good service.
**University and 34th, next to Sunflower**
Website (incomplete): IveysGrill.com

• 43rd St Deli
Many people are partial to 43rd St Deli because they have a lot of options at reasonable prices. Ever since they closed the one on 13th St to make room for the huge CVS, I’ve hesitated to make the drive across town to one of the other locations. They earned a good following because of their real down-home cooking style, and there’s plenty of veggie and vegan options as well. Hint: check out the specials menu before anything else. Brunching here will definitely not break the bank.
**NW 43rd St location, behind Zaxby’s & Las Margaritas**
**SW Williston Rd location, just south of I-75**

That’s not the final list of options, but this is where we generally think to go first when someone says “Brunch!”. There are a few other places we want to check out over time, and we’ll add them as we gather info. If you want to suggest something, we’re open to ideas.

[Girl21]

Desserts: Shrikhand

Low fat desserts…

No! Come back! Low fat desserts are not horrible. I swear.

Okay, so it’s not a German chocolate cake, but it’s simple, it’s easy, and it tastes good. And yes, it’s pretty low in fat since it’s basically yogurt with some spices and a bit of sugar and maybe fruit.

Shrikhand is a dessert from India where many dishes are milk-based and most are pretty rich. Ghee is the best part of butter and it’s in everything. Except this dish of course.

You’ll need only a few things, and as ever, good ingredients make all the difference. First of all choose a good yogurt, preferably natural, organic, whole milk, etc. Yes, pick the highest fat content type. I love the cream top style from Stonyfield. You’ll want a 32oz/2 lb container for this. It serves about four people.

You’ll need about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom. If you don’t know if you like cardamom or not yet, I’d use a smaller amount because it’s easy to use too much. Cardamom is great in coffee by the way. If you use a French press, sprinkle some in with your ground coffee before you add the hot water. Tasty!

Confectioners sugar is easy to come by. You’re going to need about a half cup of finely ground sugar because the yogurt will be too dry and cold to dissolve regular sugar well. Got it? Half a cup. Once you have made it a few times, you could adjust up, but the sweet tends to overpower the other flavors.

And last but not least, saffron. Possibly the most expensive single substance on the planet by weight. Never cheap-out on saffron. It’s just not worth it. The good thing about saffron is that it goes a long way, so you only need a little. You can get Spanish saffron pretty readily. Look for the highest percentage of red saffron strands you can find or afford. The red strands have the most flavor; yellow has less. If you can get your hands on Indian saffron, consider yourself lucky and pay whatever price is asked. You only need about five threads of saffron for this recipe.

I’m going to shamelessly plug one of my favorite spice catalogs for a minute, and you’d best pay attention because they’re good people and have a good selection of reliable-quality spices. Take yourself over to www.penzeys.com and request a catalog. I always buy online, but the catalog covers a good deal of what they have and has fun recipes to try out. They know spices and they know customer service.

Shrikhand IngredientsSo back to shrikhand… and the weird things you’ll need to “cook”. (Yes, there is no actual cooking involved here, so it’s actually a kid-friendly recipe.) You’ll need a small mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a spatula or wooden spoon, a two-by-two foot section of cheese cloth, and a metal strainer.

The best thing is if your strainer fits over your bowl leaving a space of a few inches underneath it. Because, well, here goes…

Line your small mixing bow with the cheese cloth. Bring all of the edges out neatly because you’re going to be wrapping this up around the yogurt in a minute. If you chose cream top yogurt or other creamy style, you’ll need to mix it up as much as possible so it’s pretty even consistency. Pour the yogurt into the bowl/cheese cloth, then pull all of the edges of the cloth up tight around it like a little hobo running-away bag. You can tie it off with twine, ribbon, twist-ties, what ever. I twist it up and use one of those wooden clothes pins because I find them very handy in the kitchen.

You’ll see fluid already escaping the fabric. This is the excess whey, and the more you drain off, the better your shrikhand will be. Carefully plop this cloth covered yogurt in the strainer you’ve propped in your medium bowl. The whole goal here is to let the moisture drain off the yogurt, drip through the strainer, and collect in the bowl. So you can check every hour or so and pour out the whey in the bowl as it collects.

Put bowl, strainer, and yogurt in the fridge like this for at least four hours to drain. The more ‘natural/organic’ your yogurt, the faster it will drain. Four hours is minimum. I usually let it go over night, or at least 8 hours. Like I said, the more moisture you drain out, the better the shrikhand is. You’ll even consider re-tying the top because the body of the cloth-covered yogurt will contract.

After your shrikhand is drained, pull it out of the fridge and unwrap it. It’ll seem more the consistency of soft cream cheese. Roll it around gently in your hands to get it all off of the yogurt off the cloth, then scoop it into a mixing bowl. First the 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom. Then roll the saffron threads between your fingertips to break them up a little and drop them in. Mix this up and return to the fridge for about a half hour. Add the powdered sugar and mix well, then return it to the fridge for another half hour. Mix one last time and you’re good to go.

Always serve shrikhand chilled. I like to serve this in a bowl with fresh fruit. Peaches are great because they don’t overpower the subtle saffron flavor. Or drop some mango puree in there with it and a drizzle of honey. If you get it thick enough, you could pretty much ice a cake with it, which could be fun. This is great to serve after a spicy Indian mean because it’ll cool off your guest’s sizzling tongues and offer a gentle flavor after the big fireworks of curry.

You can find many variations of shrikhand flavors depending on what gets mixed in. Mango puree is great as long as you drain and press as mush fluid out as you can. Or finely chopped pistachios is another traditional addition. I suggest having fun with it. Just go for lest wet additions and you’ll be okay.

If you want to save it over night, you’ll see it continues to separate. Just pour out the excess fluid and stir it up. Good for a few days in the fridge.

[Girl21]

Pesto Asparagus Sandwich

Pesto Asparagus SammieGarlic herb focaccia
Stone ground mustard
Pesto
Sliced cheese… Muenster, provolone, mozzarella, swiss, etc
Marinated asparagus

We love easy meals that taste like they came off a trendy SoHo bistro menu. And a sandwich that takes two minutes to assemble is a fantastic option for picnics, pool parties, and impromptu lunch work-dates.

We can usually get all of the ingredients we need at our local grocery shop. (Buy local to support community businesses!)

Start with a light bread, preferably herbed or flavored. I love this rectangular focaccia made by a local bakery. If you’re looking to assemble in a hurry, make sure to pick something already sliced!

Mustard varies by personal taste, but we like a stone ground, medium flavor style. Something with a good flavor that won’t take control of the sandwich. As for pesto, those little good-quality jars in the gourmet or health food sections are guilty little pleasures. After all, fresh is best, but who has the time or resources often?

Slather opposite sides of your sammie with the mustard and the pesto. Then apply a layer of your preferred cheese. We use Muenster, provolone, or swiss because it’s fairly easy to find pre-sliced and good quality. We settled on Boar’s Head Muenster last time and it was perfect.

Before you seal up your sammie, slide in a few stalks of marinated asparagus for texture and flavor. Look for the right kind of jarred asparagus though because it can be very bad if you go the cheap route. Look at the heads to make sure they’re still intact so you don’t end up with mushy asparagus slugs.

Suggested accompaniments: blue corn chips, black bean humus, and dry cider or real ginger ale.

Mwah! Delish!

[Girl21]

Vittoria’s Italian Coffee & Pastry, Daytona

Friends and I discovered this pastry shop by accident on a girl’s weekend to Daytona. A few months later, on a trip with my boyfriend’s family, I nervously suggested it for breakfast. It’s one thing to over-eat sugary pastries with girlfriends. But his family is Italian and I wasn’t sure if this Italian pastry shop would be scoffed at as not Italian enough.

Suffice it to say it was a big hit. Vittoria runs the place and she’s a five-foot-nothing Italian lady from New York who’s been in the business forever (you can read the yellowing newspaper articles framed on the wall). And the cafe is a tiny little converted storefront decorated exactly like your grandmother’s house was when you were a kid. Well, my grandmother’s at least.

She makes everything by hand from real ingredients. Don’t look for fat free or sugar free anything here. Aside from a broad selection of traditional pastries and cakes, she also does panini, coffees, and special requests. Call ahead by a day or two and she can make just about anything on request. Some of these pastries I had to Google when I got back just to find out what it was I had breathed down.

Mmmmm… cannoli, tiramisu, cream puffs, almond cookies… I am drooling on my keyboard as I type. If you’re in the Daytona area, you absolutely must stop in and have a few goodies. Last time we were there it was still a cash-only shop, so we recommend bringing at least $100 on you… trust me.

Vittoria’s Italian Coffee & Pastry
3106 S Atlantic Ave / Van Ave
Daytona Beach Shores, FL 32118
(386) 788-6063

[Girl21]