Friday: On the Importance of Adding Fresh Ingredients to Premade Foods (aka the “Better Soup from a Can” Post)

Fast forward a number of years.

Of all the posts that will comprise thephoto-5 BLD Project at that time, no doubt this one will be regarded as fairly insignificant. But I beg to differ.

The point to note here is not that this is about the organic chicken with white and wild rice soup from Wolfgang Puck’s line of canned organic soups. It’s what else I did: I spent five extra minutes chopping up two-thirds of a stalk of celery and the end of a small red onion and satueed these small bits in the bottom of a saucepan, with olive oil. I added in some chopped fresh parsley, and once that began to cook just slightly, then I added in soup.

This miniscule bit of additional prep not only made the soup more appealing to photo-6look at, taste better and improve its overall character — I also just fit in an extra half-serving of vegetables. Fresh vegetables. And nothing, nothing in package foods can compensate for the taste, texture or overall vibrancy of fresh vegetables. And most of us don’t get enough.

I’ve been thinking about Mark Bittman’s blog post about convincing fast food chains to offer more healthful options all week. “The fact is that fast food isn’t “bad” because it’s fast — it’s bad because of crummy ingredients,” he writes. We can’t all eat splendidly all the time — let alone make chicken with white and wild rice soup from scratch.

So if you are making a quick lunch at home by heating up some soup from a can — or any prepackaged food, for that matter — improve it. Add some fresh vegetables. A drizzle of olive oil. Some fresh herbs. A little seasoning. A little goes a long way in making a meal taste better, and be better for you.

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Wednesday: Kashmir Grill Finds Its Stride (aka the “$3.99 30th Anniversary Lunch Special” Post)

Dang. In business for 30 years in this dismal neighborhood?!

photo-5Eighth Avenue near the Port Authority has to be one of the last bastions of that gritty, grimy, seedy New York City that far too many New Yorkers wax poetic about, wearing it as some badge of pride.

Well, I’ve seen far more of it than I ever cared to having worked nearby for not even a year — so I can’t imagine the tales that Kashmir Restaurant, an open-around-the-clock Pakistani-Indian restaurant located at the nexus of it all, could tell. If only these freshly-painted walls could talk.

From when I first heard that the restaurant had reopened as a counter-service spot with a spruced-up interior, and had done away entirely with the perpetually stale, and slightly terrifying (and yes, I ate there) lunchtime food buffet, it was only a matter of time until I made a visit.

photo-7Now known as Kashmir Grill, the restaurant is offering two “30 years promotion specials”: A $2.99 kabab roll and a $3.99 rice and chicken special (regularly priced $4.99). In hindsight, I think I would have rather tried the roll, which consists of two grilled kababs wrapped up in naan bread — all the better to sample the new grill feature that I’m assuming prompted the name change.

But I might be thinking about that now because the rice and chicken plate was, well, just okay. Not that I have an issue with offal, but I like to know when I’m ordering it. And I’m fairly certain that not all of the chicken meat was simply white or dark meat pieces, there were some other bits mixed in. The rice was satisfactory, if a little burnt. And the cuts of romaine lettuce laid across the top of the rice and under the charred naan — well, they were neither salad nor anything, other than out of place.

photo-6For the price, you can’t beat it, but I still prefer the meat plate from the nearby food cart, Meal O’Bama.

That kabab roll, on the other hand ... I’m still thinking about it. I think it’s the way to go; I have high hopes. Because really, Kashmir Grill can’t have made it this far for nought.

$7 (and Under) Lunch: Meat and Potatoes, Kolache Mama Style

First impression of Kolache Mama: pink tiles, stainless steel interior, pop-y, cutesy, logo and fonts — some kind of Beard Papa’s copycat?

Then I read a blurb in Time Out NY, which describes a kolache is “a type of stuffed pastry from Central Europe.” Huh? I did not get that at all.

photo-3photo-2Truth is, Kolache Mama is all of the above — and then some. It has more sweet-style kolaches than savory — 10 of the 25 on the menu are listed under the “SweetieMama” section. But, there is a conspicuous bottle of Sriracha sauce sharing a counter with coffee sweeteners and stirs. And the whole interior is pretty, in that anime sort of way.

photo-4Which brings me to the menu: Many of the “MeatieMama” and “VeggieMama” options are even more difficult to grasp than the idea of a central European snack food gone anime rogue.

Options include everything egg-topped versions (presumably for breakfast but sold all day); a “Street Dog” version, in which the lightly-sweet buns that are used as the base for all of the kolaches — sweet or savory — are wrapped around an All Beef Hebrew National Frank; and the “Combo Nosh,” a veggie version, which is topped with hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki and spices — and just about everything in between.

photo-1All are priced equally: $2.99 ea. or a pair for $5 ($5.44 with tax). Given that common denominator, I picked my two based purely on looks: The reuben, which, according to the menu, was a roll topped with corned beef, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and caraway seed, and the twice baked potato one, one of my favorite styles of potatoes, and came topped with mashed red potatoes with flecks of red potato skin, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives.

photoSurprisingly, I preferred the potato one, although the idea of starch-on-starch seriously unsettled me, at first. The corned beef version was okay; I ended up eating all of the topping and only about half the bun underneath, plus the whole thing was a little dried out — in part because, so far, people aren’t buying them quick enough. The only other people to stop in while I was making up my mind about the prettiest kolaches to try were two guys, who said something along the lines of, “We’re just stopping by to try to figure out what this place is about.”

My thoughts exactly.

Friday: Nom Nom Saigon Soba Noodles (and Good For You, Too)

Cheap? Check. Good for you? Check. Delicious? Check, check, check.

photo-6Not much more a girl could ask for from a container of premade Saigon-style buckwheat soba noodles, which happen to qualify as both macro and vegan, and a serving of which includes 4g fiber, 11g protein and healthy dose of Vitamin A, C, Calcium and Iron. (Mom would approve.)

Plus, they taste really good; far exceeding the expectation for such “health” food. Since moving to New York and discovering the line of Macro Vegetarian prepared foods first in Gourmet Garage, and then in natural food stores around the city, I’ve sampled a number of noodle, rice, tofu and dumpling varieties.

photo-7I continue to be impressed. The Saigon soba noodles ($4.59/14 oz.), for example, have a nice sesame flavor, plus garlic and other, more subtle spices. Plus, the noodles have a nice portion of mix-ins: carrot bits, fresh herbs, smoked tofu.

I prefer to doctor mine up even further with some baby spinach (love, love, love the price point and the geographical localness to Satur Farms‘ line of greens — all grown on Long Island) and chopped red onion, and sometimes a little extra sesame oil or red pepper flakes. So good, and good for you. Good squared.

Wednesday: One Last $5 Sandwich from Food Exchange (aka “The Third Time Is Not the Charm” Post)

The magic of the $5 sandwich finally wore off. I finally saw where the Food Exchange sandwiches were coming from (mystery gone). Or, maybe I just picked a bad one — made by a bad sandwich-maker. I’m not exactly sure what happened, or how, but I am certain that today’s Italian Submarine sandwich is the last sandwich I’ll be eating from Food Exchange for a while.

photo-11photo-12Which is not to say it was bad; it was just … ordinary. Sort of what I expected the quality of these sandwiches to be before back-to-back successes raised the bar.

photo-14photo-13Badly-folded, ultra-compressed slices of genoa and cappicola salami, a few thin shreds of proscuitto, thin shavings of red onion, a sparse distribution of hot peppers, wilted shredded iceberg lettuce, all within a so-so sesame seeded hero loaf, the sort that starts to dry out on the ends quickly after being cut. Generally uninspired. Next!

Monday: Oh Why The Hell Not (aka the “Back for More $5 Sandwich Love from Food Exchange” Post)

A friend of mine who saw my Tweet about trying Food Exchange on Friday asked me over the weekend, “Well, how was it?”

photo-7“Oh it was sooo good,” I said. “The special runs through Wednesday. I might just have to try three more.” I was teasing, sort of. But as it turns out, not really, because here I was, perusing the online sandwich menu for Food Exchange at 11:35 am on Monday morning. More than a little deja vous.

The only thing deja vous, however, about the “100% all natural beef” steak & cheese sandwich from the “Hot Pressini Melts” section (quite different from the “Cutting Edge Sandwiches” section) was … the serious deliciousness.

Another winning sandwich: It arrived via delivery perfectly warm, the cheese melty, tender slices of beef, flecked with bits of sauteed mushroom and red pepper, garlic aioli, all pressed between a crusty rosemary focaccia bread. My one (minor) critique would be I’d love to have the beef a little more rare, but that’s virtually impossible, particularly in a warm sandwich.

Alright, Food Exchange, you’re 2-for-2, so far…