Friday, July 30, 2010

Who Orders a Small Shake From Foodswings?

I'm not gonna lie; when deciding where to eat for breakfast/lunch the other day, Foodswings won hands down on the merit and reputation of their epic shake menu alone.  It was my first visit, so I was expecting some kind of crazy, shake decor/atmosphere.  Obviously there isn't any, but imagine my surprise to walk in and find that the only nod to the shake extravaganza that exists within the four walls of Foodswings is a display of the two available cup sizes: small and miniscule.  WHAT!?  Isn't this a vegan to hungry vegans?  To be fair I should note that Foodswings refers to their size offerings as "Regular" and "Large", but to that I say, "Um, no; I don't think so." 

For the moment, I was able to look past the absurdity: partially because I was hungry and needed to get my grub on before moving on to dessert (shakes and Vegan Treats!) and also because part of me thought that the small cup was a kind of joke.  So tiny, how could it be serious?  Really!  Ha ha, good one.

Anyhoo, we had no idea what to order; how often do you find yourself in a vegan fast food joint?  Slightly overwhelmed, we decided to go for a bunch of old favorites. 

I could not pass up the eggie and cheese sandwich: Fried Tofu "egg style" with Sliced Soy Cheese on Toast.  I was hoping it would be served on a kaiser roll, but the toast wound up working really well with the sandwich.  Not sure what kind of cheese was on this, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Daiya; it seems that they use Daiya only where specifically noted on the menu.  To that I say, USE IT ON EVERYTHING; so good!  Certainly the other cheese was fine, but who needs fine when you can have stupendous Daiya?  Yes, although I still pronounce it incorrectly, I am involved in a love affair with Daiya.  The whole sandwich was really good and authentically diner-y.  One note, though: go for the ham or sausage as an add-on.  I chose the bacon only because I was expecting it to be crisp.  Since it was kinda the same mushy (in a good way) texture of the egg, cheese, and bread it didn't really add anything, so I'd suggest one of the other options.  Also, ketchup, black pepper and hot sauce, of course!

VM went with the classic nachos, Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips [!] Served w/ Chili or Black Beans, Tomato Salsa, Cheddar Soy Cheese & Tofu Sour Cream.  Again, I don't believe this was Daiya, but it was really good and saucy and they sure did put a whole heck of a lot of toppings on the giant mound of chips; no skimping at Foodswings!  Also, I don't know if it was Tofutti sour cream (unpictured) or not, but it was really thick and yummy.

As spicy potato fiends, neither of us could pass up the chipotle cheese fries.  Perfectly cooked, shoestring "McDonald's"- type fries drenched in a creamy (presumably not Daiya) cheese and-- purportedly-- chipotle sauce.  Except for that no, it was actually BBQ sauce.  Huh?  Here's the thing.  I really like to dunk fries in BBQ sauce (especially sweet potato fries), but BBQ doesn't equal chipotle!?  What's going on here; I don't know, but the flavors do manage to work: just don't expect it to be spicy.  And, if you do: no matter; just drizzle some hot sauce onto your cheesy, inexplicably barbecue-y fries and enjoy.

Foodswings has four varieties of chicken drumsticks: buffalo style, barbecue, southern fried, and sweet southern fried barbecue.  I normally only eat chicken wings about once a year from Red Bamboo, but I couldn't resist trying the southern fried drumstick: Battered & Fried; I hadn't had crispy fried chicken in decades.  (Yes, I know I keep using the terms "wings" and "drumsticks" interchangeably; who cares when they're not real appendages?)

Ain't no thang but a chicken wing!

The especially cool thing about the Foodswings' wing menu is that you can order however many you want (even one!), or a combo plate that includes 3 wings and a side.  The side is huge, but I think it should be 4 wings & a side because how are you supposed to leave one out!?  Anyhoo, the southern fried drumstick was authentically crisp just like I expected; definitely a very good choice.  One oddity, though: there was some weird sauce slathered on it when I expected it to be dry.  The sauce was nice and tasty, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was...or why it was there.*  Then again, I wouldn't hesitate to place a repeat order, so what do I know?  In other news, doesn't my bite mark look like a sideways heart?  Yikes!  I've been tweeting too much, <3!  *It would seem that I accidentally received a buffalo drumstick.  I have since seen the southern fried and will need to get one in my belly pronto.

Even I couldn't eat like this all the time, but it was a nice divergence from the norm.  If, like me, you overindulge and find yourself too full for a shake right away, don't fret.  Simply take a walk and come back.  But whatever you do, you must have a shake.  And not the tiny one, wuss!

While we were eating I noticed quite a few people coming in for takeout and taking shakes to go along with their food order; sweet!  But wait, what was that?  Some of them had that teeny size!  Crazy much?  Honestly, two sips and I'd be thinking, NEXT!?  I don't know, Foodswings, this is a mystery to me.  At least label it "kiddie size" or something in order to maintain your street cred.

Do you need me to clarify that we had two larges (one each)?

I knew going in that I was having The Tank shake: Chocolate Ice Cream, Peanut Butter & Cookies (I know, right!); it's the one on the right with the "T" on the lid.  As a fellow fan of Terri's version, VM took one look at the menu and immediately chose the Butterfinger shake: Chocolate Ice Cream & Chik O' Stiks.  I don't know how she does it, but after I deliberated over my choice for weeks, at a moment's notice she managed to pick the superior flavor.  It was crunchier, sweeter, thicker, and I'd even go so far to say colder (maybe that part was in my head), but it was definitely THE shake.  Go get one!  But remember: if you get a small I'm going to laugh.  Or cry, whichever.  More shake for me (take that, Sip)!

So Foodswings is exactly what they say it is:
vegan (score) fast (yep) food (yum). 

I do want to point out that it's counter service: the gal at the register is super friendly and nice and sweet, so you should definitely tip her a lot because she could just as easily be an eye-rolling, snotty, punk, hipster, but she's not.  The entire place is no-nonsense, the cooks are super fast and efficient, and I can't imagine they serve anything that you wouldn't like.  The end.

P.S. Their Daiya chicken parm sandwich is ridics.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Day Camp, Junk Food, and Vegan Pudding Pops

My Mom didn't really buy a lot of junk food when I was little, so I can distinctly recall where and when we enjoyed special treats (requisite Twizzlers at the bowling alley, surprise last minute Hubba Bubba in the supermarket checkout line, our first KING size Snickers, etc.).

In contrast, my grandmother was an actual killjoy, regularly taking me to the Pepperidge Farm cookie section of her C-town only to consistently choose the bland, boring, Chessmen when any sane person would have chosen Milanos (and don't get me started on the chocolate-covered "enrobed" Milanos).  In other words, there certainly weren't any treats to be had at Grandma's house.  But one day her neighbor reached over from her terrace to ours and handed me a chocolate pudding pop.  To my surprise, my grandmother did not object.  Because it was so hot and the treat was entirely unexpected, I thought it was the creamiest, most delicious dessert I'd ever tasted.  Funny enough, I don't think I ever had another one.

Fast forward to this recipe for do-it-yourself pudding pops, music to this vegan's ears.  I'm no chef, so I was initially going to pose the veganization to my supremely more talented tweeters; but then I had an epiphany.  No, I wouldn't use the obvious substitution of a mixture of soy creamer and milk, but instead ALL COCONUT MILK (all the time; yay!).  Since I was under the assumption that I had all of the ingredients in the pantry already, I decided to make them immediately.

But first, there was a slight moment of panic when I couldn't find any popsicle sticks.  After tearing through every possible popsicle stick hiding place, Non-plussed, I easily settled on disposable spoons (but I will find those sticks).  Then, when my hand reached out to the spot on the shelf in the pantry where I was certain there was a box of chocolate pudding mix, there was only vanilla.  And lemon.  Ignoring the lemon for obvious reasons, I tried to convince myself that vanilla would be fine; hadn't I enjoyed vanilla pudding as a kid?  Wait, was that only by default?  Insert wavy backflash indicative special

Picture this: day camp where every lunch consisted of a sea of paper plates, all identically pre-assembled with the following assortment:

  • greasy hot dog
  • scoop of beans
  • pool of ketchup
  • pile of corn
  • redeeming puddle of vanilla pudding

We'd only ever eaten chocolate pudding at my house (in homemade graham cracker pies adorned with cherries: *swoon*), but I figured vanilla pudding had to be better than anything else on the plate.  So, in an independent setting where no parent could monitor my food intake, I decided to make it a daily habit to simply grab the plate with the biggest scoop of pudding and ignore the rest of the slop food (ok, some days I ate the corn too).  Then my clumsy self would carefully balance the flimsy dish in an effort to avoid allowing anything to compromise my pudding by running (or rolling) into it as I made my way to a table.  On good days, at the end of "lunch", the head counselor would come around wielding the industrial sized can of pudding and a spatula, serving out seconds from the bowels of the can.  Good times, better nutrition.  Yay, camp.

Oh yeah, the recipe.  I made two minor adjustments:

#1  Since the can of coconut milk was only 13.5 ounces, I added 2.5 ounces of soy milk.

#2  I froze the cups for an hour before putting the spoons in (otherwise they wouldn't stand).

Note: I don't know what kind of doll-sized dixie cups the Serious Eats folks were using, but my equivalent measurements yielded 4 small-sized pops (these are miniature plastic spoons and plastic "wine" cups) to their purported 6.

I let them freeze overnight and gave one a try the next day.  What can I say?  It was vanilla.  Ok, that's not fair.  It was good: creamy, slightly coconutty.  The best part?  The chocolate chips.  Did I forget to mention that a few jumped into the cups?

Perhaps I'm so spoiled by Lula's incomparable frozen confections that these types of things don't float my boat anymore.  Or perhaps a boxed pudding mix simply cannot be saved by coconut milk and chocolate chips alone.  Whatever the case, I'll be at Lula's long and often before I bother making these again.  

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Another Reason Why I Shouldn't Cook: Failed Ethiopian Loubia

I love Ethiopian food.  I am also a smart enough gal to know that I am too crappy a chef to attempt any of the delicious main dishes I enjoy at Ethiopian restaurants.  But, after buying a pound of huge, plump string beans from a local farmstand, I somehow got it into my head that I could duplicate loubia, the scrumptious, green bean appetizer at home.  You mightn't be surprised to know that I couldn't even come close.

Armed only with my beautiful string beans and the ingredients that are listed in most menu descriptions, I got to work.  I cooked the beans in a frying pan on high heat, maintaining a half inch level of water.  It took much longer than expected to get them to the almost mushy consistency that is expected of loubia, giving me plenty of time to fiddle with the sauce.  I noticed immediately that the sauce wasn't thickening (not sure why I thought it would), so I tried adding cornstarch; it didn't do a darn thing: not even when heated.

This is roughly what I ended up using, adding once the beans were fully cooked for just long enough to heat (and not thicken):

  • 1 lb fresh green beans
  • 8 tbsp evoo
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 2 tsp lemon
  • s/p

The plated meal looked extremely appetizing, but not at all like the thickly coated restaurant version.  If nothing else, the fragrance was pure Ethiopian (thank you, cumin).   The beans were un- questionably fresh and absolutely delicious.  But, when I generously ventured that it rated 40 on a scale of 100 Ethiopian goodness points, my fellow Ethiopian food lover corrected that it rated a 4!  I was aghast, horrified, offended-- but I think she may have been right.  Admittedly, had I never eaten Ethiopian loubia before I would have simply considered this a nicely spiced snack.  But having had I think a 4 was generous.   Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Whatchamacallits and Peanut Butter Pit Bulls

When I first heard about Rescue Chocolate's Peanut Butter Pit Bull vegan candy bar, my first thought was, "What a great cause"; then, "Let me support this vegan owned & operated venture immediately".  No, wait.  It was actually, "Did someone finally veganize the Whatchamacallit for me?!"  (I promise that the other thoughts followed shortly thereafter, but I really liked Whatchamacallits.) 

Since I was full of ice cream Because I have extraordinary willpower, once I got my hands on one I decided to hide it in the fridge for a rainy day.  You know, a rainy day that requires a veganized Whatchamacallit.  Yesterday was that day.  (Today is looking pretty much the same.)

If you've already had the pleasure of eating a Peanut Butter Pit Bull, I know what you're thinking.  "It's delicious but it doesn't taste like a Whatchamacallit."  And yes, even though everyone I asked told me the same thing, I still managed to convince myself that it would.  I took my first bite and was instantly overwhelmed by the decadence and surprised by the uniqueness of the candy bar.  Then I think I heard it laughing at mere peanut butter cups, but I can't be sure (i.e., more testing necessary!).  My first intelligable thought was, "This is inexplicably* yummy, but it tastes nothing like a Whatchamacallit."  Sometimes you just have to find out for yourself! 

The coating of chocolate is straightforward, candy bar perfection.  It's the ideal thickness, the wave design is extremely appealing, and, most importantly, it's dark and sweet.  This sweetness proportionately compliments the saltiness of the delightful peanut butter center, which is hard to describe.  *The texture is light and creamy and melty and smooth.  It's not a truffle, but also not a cream.  Besides being dreamy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, it's studded with rice crispies: for the requisite candy bar crunch.  Overall, the treat is like an exquisite dessert made portable and convenient by its candy disguise. 

And guess what else?  All of the "net profits are donated to animal rescue organizations", so you're not so much buying candy as you are making a donation.  See how easy they made it for you to be helpful and get yummy things in your belly?  The credit goes to Sarah: for that, for bringing the Mocha-inspired idea to fruition, AND for representing the east coast in the vegan candy bar war.  Ok, so there is no such war per se, but a little friendly competition only means more vegan candy bars everywhere. 

Which brings me back to the possibility of a vegan Whatchamacallit; enterprising vegans, I'm talking to you.  We have melty cheese for goodness' sake; is it so hard to veganize me a Whatchamacallit?  Don't make me make my own.  Seriously, don't; I have no skillz whatsoever.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dining at 4 Course Vegan with Vegetarians, Flexitarians, and Ovo-Vegans (!?)

Though a Brooklyn native, it is not easy to get VM to return.  It would seem that you can take the girl outta Brooklyn, but you can't necessarily lead her back.  Unless, of course, you gift her with a homemade Mother's Day gift certificate for 4 Course Vegan, the infamous underground supper club in Williamsburg; then you've got her attention.

We made our way to the secret location and were surprised to find that the space comfortably seats over 30 attendees.  Thoughtlessly choosing the first table we saw, our boisterous greeting of self-introduction was unceremoniously ignored by the group of five already seated, so we quietly moved to another table where the diners at the other end returned our tentative smiles. 

Shortly after we settled in, two gentlemen entered the room, made their way over to the seats directly across from us, cordially introduced themselves, and initiated conversation.  Despite our previous error in judgment, we were lucky enough to have ultimately hit the dining companion jackpot with the charming Daniel, a longtime vegetarian and cooking enthusiast, and affable Phillip, a flexitarian open to all kinds of vegetarian and vegan adventure.  Culinary conversation immediately ensued, and restaurant recommendations flew excitedly between us.  The evening was a success and the meal hadn't even started!

Take a look at the mouth-watering menu we were anticipating as we chatted: 

At some point one of the ladies at the table joined our conversation and I wound up innocuously asking if her group of four was vegan, a seemingly wholly appropriate inquiry at a vegan supper club.  The unexpected answer, accompanied by animated pointing, was, "She is, she isn't, and the two of us are almost vegans; we only eat eggs from a CSA!"  In response to my quizzical horrified facial expression, the almost vegans clarified by sharing a cliquey giggle and exclaiming conspiratorially, "...from chickens with names!"

And just like that, my serene 4CV experience was abruptly halted.

Admittedly, my first instinct was to see just how wide a net this 'almost' qualifier cast by checking under the table to see if the egg-eating almost vegans were wearing leather shoes.  But, VM-ingrained couth prevented me from doing so.  My second instinct was to get super-specific by asking if they were otherwise vigilant about not eating eggs in any form, from chickens without human-designated names.  A combination of fury, confusion, and restraint prevented me from pointedly articulating this inquiry with any immediacy.

So instead, I hesitated.  The experience was a gift for my mom and I didn't think she should have to point out, during her Mother's day celebration, that I am not the knowledgeable and articulate Joshua Katcher and am therefore ill-equipped to address such a situation with his stunning charm, panache...and composition.  Yes, this is a point she makes often (and you're lucky for that, lady theater-goer who drapes her deplorable animal pelt over the back of her chair so that it nauseatingly hovers inches above my vegan knees).  But there was no escaping my incredulity at the 'almost vegan' explanation, so I could not resist revisiting the issue with genuine interest and gravity.

I turned back to the nearest , self-described, almost vegan and earnestly asked, "So, why do you choose to call yourself vegan and not vegetarian?"  Without pause (or thought, or embarrassment), she looked at me as though it was my question that was absurd, and not her justification: responding with an implied 'duh', "Because I eat, like, 95% vegan!"


Whether the effervescent Daniel had heard and/or had the opportunity to digest the severity of my disgust during the course of this exchange, or if it was merely a coincidence; I do not know.  But before I could outline the definitive mainstays of veganism, he valiantly swooped in with the light-hearted quip, "I guess you're an ovo-vegan, then."  Ah, levity.  I let out an unattractive guffaw laughed out loud and, calmed, turned back towards our group of actuals.  Having considered the timely ovo remark an unequivocal point for our side of the table and a signal that I should continue to enjoy my evening, that was the extent of our interaction with the other end.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to situate yourself amongst allies!  When attending 4CV, my advice is to keep a look out for your very own Phillip and Daniel for optimum evening enjoyment.

Onto the meal!

Disclaimer: my culinary aptitude cannot begin to do justice to the flavors, textures, and incredible ingredient combinations that constituted each of these phenomenal dishes.

The first plate we were presented with consisted of two Cashew Cheese Turnip Raviolis with basil (not cilantro!) pesto and black sesame seeds.  I was initially disappointed because I thought this meant that the farmer's market had failed Chef Matteo and this was taking the place of the dal.  It turned out that this was merely an amuse bouche, as opposed to the "bonus course" I dubbed it when the dal arrived as promised.  In my unsophisticated defense, it's been my experience that an amuse bouche is usually minuscule; this dish was not.  Crisp "noodles" filled with dense, creamy, nut cheese: this was a refreshing start to the meal.

The first course, the French Lentil Dal with Seared Okra and Roasted Garlic Raita, was nothing like I imagined it would be, delicious in an entirely different way than expected.  Mildly spiced, it was served as a soup rather than a traditional dal.  I've never eaten raita, but this version was cool and creamy: a perfect compliment.  I don't normally like okra, but the thick stalks were as tender and sweet as asparagus.  One minor disappointment was that dish contained sneaky bits of cilantro, but I managed to overcome them by still enjoying every drop.

Golden Beetroot Tikka Masala with Fava Beans and Toasted Cumin Dressing was next, a sweet and delectable second course.  The dish was bursting with a melange of ingredients I can't even begin to list and decorated with the crispest, freshest (and most gorgeous) fava beans I've every tasted.  This was VM's favorite course.

The third course was a Puffed Millet Croquette with Minted Pea Salad and Tamarind Chutney.  This was the spiciest dish of the evening, and my unequivocal favorite (thus far).  Happily, it seemed to grow in size as I ate it, and although I was already stuffed I could not resist consuming every tasty bite.

It would be an accurate description to say that during the course of the evening I enjoyed each dish incrementally more than the previous one served.  As such, this dessert lover can attest that the fourth course, the Dark Chocolate Mousse Tart with Tri-Star Strawberries and Chai Spices, concluded the meal on the absolute highest note that could possibly have been expected after the exquisite plates that had preceded.  Thick, smooth, rich, dark chocolate packed into a divinely nutty crust; the pungent chai spices paired with what I believe was an agave drizzle and the sweetest strawberries that even I, hater of fruit desserts, couldn't bring myself to disregard.

Although the gorgeous and equally palatable dishes were the obvious stars of the evening, I would be remiss not to specifically mention the extraordinarily talented Chef Matteo at the helm (and everywhere else).  The mastermind behind every detail of the meal and experience from beginning to end, he is so mild-mannered and unassuming that you can't help but focus on the food, forgetting the man behind the curtain, er, kitchen.

Besides conceiving of and preparing every dish, he delivers and clears each course in a stealth and unobtrusive manner, while still managing to acknowledge every compliment: which tends to number at least one per person, per dish.  He also doesn't hesitate to answer any questions about ingredients, preparation, etc., even though many attendees (myself included) simply choose to relish the meal rather than analyze it.  More accurately, it's easy to get so caught up in the evening that you simply overlook the enormous logistics, concentrating only on consumption.

Without a doubt, I HIGHLY recommend 4 Course Vegan for a one-of-a-kind vegan dining experience, the likes of which I've never encountered.  It was terrific for our special occasion, but be forewarned that you'll leave tempted to return regularly to see what Chef Matteo can create.  The best (and worst) thing about the experience is that the weekly menu doesn't repeat and there is no cookbook, leaving you with no choice but to appreciate each Saturday meal as the stroke of genius that it is, as it's happening.

Our sincerest gratitude to the hosts, Chef Matteo and tiny Winston, as well as our entertaining dining companions and new friends: Daniel and Phillip. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Emmy's Raw Vegan Macaroons

Chocolate-dipped, yes, but I don't usually like flavored macaroons.  Yet, for some reason when I spied all of the varieties of Emmy's macaroons at Dean's I was intrigued.  The cashier highly recommended the mint chocolate chip flavor, but seeing as the macaroons were raw and healthy and stuff I was afraid that I wouldn't like them.  I only seem to like mint chocolate chip when it's on the fake-tasting side; real mint kinda makes me gag.  Lemon-ginger and chocolate-orange were easy for me to pass up; fruit does not equal dessert!  The coconut-vanilla became a real possibility until I saw the chai-spice.  Really?  Coconut chai all wrapped up in a vegan macaroon?  Yes, please.

I like macaroons and I like chai, so I was excited to try these morsels. 

Emmy's website describes this flavor as:

Obscenely flavorful Chai Spiced macaroons! A unique, mouth-watering experience, features warm & sweet spices balanced to perfection.

I have quoted them here because I really couldn't have said it better myself.  I think we've all had chai tea that was much too sissily weakly spiced, as well as overly spiced versions that give you a burning sensation at the back of your throat.  This was the chai-spice macaroon equivalent of the very best hot chai I ever tasted, made with coconut milk via the secret recipe of Blossoming Lotus.  Delicious! 

The macaroon itself was impressive. Not only vegan, but raw & gluten-free; it was perfectly macaroony to me, and only enhanced by the eclectic pairing of the spice. The two parts: macaroon & spice, were done so well separately that together the flavor really flourished.   I don't follow a raw diet, but I'm always impressed by how a few clean ingredients and a dehydrator can achieve such a moist, delicious result.  Just to give you an idea of what we're dealing with here, the ingredients for this particular flavor are as follows:

organic raw coconut
organic raw agave
natural almonds
organic raw coconut oil
organic spices
organic vanilla bean
organic himalayan salt

Note: I've noticed that the website's flavor titles get a little confusing because some include the word vegan and some don't.  But, if you read their story, you'll see that all varieties are vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free.  So have at it and try any and all of the flavors.  Let me know which one you think I should try next dark-cacao, and maybe I'll take your suggestion dark-cacao.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Peacefood Cafe

We approached this visit to Peacefood cafe with a gameplan.  Knowing that their timing can be a little off, we decided to order smarter-- one course at a time-- in an attempt to self-regulate the normally erratic timing of the food delivery.  Despite our best efforts and the fact that the cafe was not bursting at the seams per usual, the odd food delivery order persisted.  Still, fun and good eats were had by all. 

It was oppressively hot, so we started by ordering watermelon summer coolers.  You'll find it listed under the smoothie section of the menu, but it's not necessarily a smoothie; it's a refreshing drink made of watermelon juice, mint, agave, and ice...that inexplicably takes twenty minutes to prepare.  Order yours with a side of ice cubes on particularly hot days to increase the chill factor tenfold. 

In line with our ordering strategy, once our drinks arrived we ordered appetizers only: fries, a biscuit, and tempura.  Then one of the owners kindly popped by our table to welcome us, make a few suggestions, and to assure us that we could take our time to enjoy a leisurely meal.  Yes, we greatly appreciate the laid back speed, sir; it's the non-sensical preparation order that we can't figure out!

The first appetizer to grace our table was one that we love: the always delicious chickpea fries, served with the cooling house dipping sauceSimultaneously chewing and pondering their scrumptiousness, we realized that the reason they differ so drastically from our other favorites at Candle 79 is because the ones at C79 are polenta fries.  Can't fool us.

Next to arrive was the savory biscuit that we ordered for no reason other than it's delicious and hard to pass up regardless of what meal you're enjoying at Peacefood.  Filled with Daiya and a ton of roasted vegetables, this is a must have; make sure to ask them to heat it for you in the oven to combat microwave-induced mushiness (then cross your fingers that they'll comply).

With one appetizer still outstanding, our friendly waitress offered to take our lunch order.  We hesitantly ordered a sandwich, the raw entree, and a side to share.  So, can you guess what came out next?  No, not our final appetizer, but instead- inexplicably- the side that was intended to accompany our meal.

Bad timing notwith- standing, the potato salad is a generously sized and yummy plate.  Since sandwiches are served with pickled veggies instead of the requisite potato fries or chips, it's a nice, potatoey addition...were it to actually accompany said sandwich. 

Next up was the final appetizer: the vegetable tempura.  Although this dish is listed as a side, it is so GIGANTIC that it should come with a warning.  Seriously, I'm no pansy eater and this dish is a formidable meal.  Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, potatoes, and what I think was Japanese pumpkin (yum!) all in a startlingly authentic tempura batter.  Served with just enough of their minced daikon, ginger & mustard soy sauce, this is fantastic, but filling: a must-share.  Even split between two people you still know you shouldn't eat the whole thing, but you can't help it.

As soon as we were finished with the last crumb of tempura the first lunch dish arrived, VM's tahini sprouts sandwich filled with sprouts, avocado, cucumbers, onions, carrots and poppyseed miso tahini spread on fresh whole spelt rye.  Tasting as fresh as it looked, this sandwich was far superior to the tempeh avocado sandwich I had on the previous visit and the bread was much better un-toasted.

I anxiously awaited the arrival of my dish, picking at the potato salad that had been languishing on our table for some time now.  I waited and waited, and waited.  And then it seemed to be coming!  But no, it was the same dish being delivered to the table behind me whose companion's dish had yet to appear (!?); le sigh.

Eventually it arrived, my raw sushi roll.  I don't follow a raw diet (obviously), but I had previously spied this on another diner's table and wanted to give it a try because it looked so appetizing.  I swear, though, that his dish was served in a completely different manner than mine; but, perhaps I am mistaken.  In any event, the circumferance of these rolls is HUGE; it's no small feat fitting one into your mouth and then you're committed.  I say this because the first roll had me questioning my selection: the combination of the walnut pate with the bitter sprouts and extremely "fishy" nori was a little startling.  But I gave it a fair shot and, with plenty of sauce, was able to enjoy my meal.  While I personally wouldn't order it again, there's no question that it is a hearty menu choice.

Much to my dismay, the gigantoid serving of tempura combined with the unusual sushi made it impossible for me to consider dessert.  Not to be completely deterred, we decided to bring home two of our Peacefood favorites.

As I've said before, the chocolate dipped macaroon is a standout.  While it's almondy taste isn't necessarily traditional, I really like it; it's kind of a cross between a macaroon and a pignoli cookie minus the pignolis (and cookie).  Also, the coating gets considerably toasty in a very good way.  Another bonus is that it lives happily in your fridge until you're ready to enjoy it.

The chocolate chip cookie sandwich, however, does not seem to fare so well with passing days.  Extraordinary when fresh, this cookie sammie clearly was not meant to be cooped up for an overnight until you decide to eat it at your whim.  Insulted, it revolts: becoming a sad, mushy, almost entirely unrecognizable ghost of its former glory.  My bad, cookie sammie; I'll make it up to you next time by eating you promptly no matter how full I am! 

Oh yes, there was one other sweet that missed being photographed: the never before seen magic cookie.  Filled with an unusual assortment of coconut, nuts, carrot, and the darkest chocolate chips I've every tasted; it was a happy surprise.

I like all kinds of vegan joints and Peacefood is high on my list.  However, they clearly have the capacity to do better.  Their location offers them practically no vegan competition, the food is delicious, the servers are pleasant, the restaurant is inviting; how hard can it be to get the food out in a sensible order?  They are always obviously busy with eat-in clientele, take-out orders, etc., and they consistently seem to be well staffed, so I can't help but wonder why they can't seem to get their act together?  It seems like it's not a big deal, but it kinda is--  especially since this isn't the hardest part to get right!  They've been open (and busy) long enough that the disarray is no longer forgivably cute, but bordering on flaky and annoying.  Come on, guys.

Oh, and also: lighten up on the cilantro.  Sheesh.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pineapple Right Side Up Cupcakes (from VCTOTW)

I had some fresh pineapple left over and my encyclopedia said that the sweetness was dwindling.  I searched the indexes of my favorite cookbooks for "pineapple" and decided upon a dessert recipe, of course.  With potato masher at the ready to transform my fresh pineapple into crushed, I tackled the Pineapple Right Side Up Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World.

They were super easy to make (even for me).  And, as a bonus, the accompanying recipe is for a topping rather than a buttercream, which I usually eschew.  

Wherever the cake or frosting recipes called for crushed pineapple "in their own juice", I substituted coconut rum.  This substitution seemed only to affect the topping preparation, requiring additional cook time.

Note: the cupcakes were a bit delicate so I would advise letting them fully cool while still in the circular confines of the cupcake pan.  I didn't realize until it was too late, so mine were a little squishy.  Fear not, they still tasted fantastic.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Viva Herbal Natural Pizza

The only excuse I have for not running to Viva as soon as I heard they were using Daiya is that whenever I pass I'm usually on my way to Lula's, and Lula's trumps all.  On this day, I had Lula's first *wink*.

Viva is not entirely vegan, but they have a ridiculous variety of vegan pies available by the slice at any given time. Oddly, the only one that seems to have Daiya is the plain cheese pie, but that's good enough for me.  The other vegan options are inventive, veggie-loaded versions, but they are in need of some Daiya as well!  So too the very sad marinara-only vegan Sicilian slices they offer...but a customized Daiya-smothered, Sicilian pie loaded with veggies?  My goodness, I am getting ahead of myself; next time.

Apologies for the single, half-assed photo; it is in no way a reflection on the gastronomic success of the visit.  The fact is, this is the first pizzeria slice I've had handed to me for immediate consumption, piping hot from the pizza oven (!) in over a decade.  I asked for it to be heated "extra hot" and I received it as such, looking so authentically cheesy and wholly fantastic that I was barely able to contain myself in order to snap a shot at all.  Then I dug in and didn't stop till the huge slice (only $3.50) was all gone.  People, I even folded my slice!  So ridiculously good; Viva is the only place that I've seen be as generous with the cheese as I would be making my own pizza, or anything else.  The crust is whole wheat spelt, which is a little different, but the cheese is the star here: so it doesn't matter.

Don't go to Viva looking for a cozy atmosphere or friendly, pizzeria banter; there is none of that.  But do go for this awesome slice of cheesy goodness like only NY can deliver.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

I am a voracious reader of fiction, but I rarely read anything that I would wholeheartedly recommend.  While I realize this isn't a novel, I am so impressed by The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood that I have to gush a bit and implore you to check it out.

Basically you look up any fruit, vegetable, grain, or herb that you are interested in and it gives you a bit of history, along with medicinal benefits, usage, types, and tips on how to buy, store, and sometimes prepare.  So cool!

  • Did you know that popcorn is a decidedly American snack?  
  • Or that you should store a pineapple upside down in your fridge for a few days before cutting?  And that it's juice can soothe a sore throat?  
  • Were you aware that pine nuts seasoned with asafetida makes a delicious snack?
  • Or that refrigerating potatoes causes some of their starches to turn into sugars?
While I haven't read the encyclopedia in its entirety yet, I promise that I have read beyond the "P"s (basil is a natural mosquito repellent!).  It's hard to resist going from one page to the next once you get started reading.

This book will not only remind you of how healthy it is to be vegan (prepared foods such as donuts and ice cream aren't included), but will also provide you with plenty of useful tips to share with others: vegan or not.  The index is another incredible tool, as you can search by terms such as "burns" and it will point you to the items that serve as natural remedies.

Because it is as interesting as it is a useful source, you will find yourself using this book not only as a food encyclopedia, but also randomly flipping through for informative entertainment.  My only complaint is that there are no photos, but I would imagine that might have caused the price to skyrocket prohibitively.  Definitely check it out; it quickly became a welcome addition to my kitchen and library.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Vegan Pineapple Upside Down Cake

A pineapple made its way home because it was on sale, but since my stomach doesn't do well with fresh pineapple or pineapple juice it sat in my fridge with nothing to do.  Luckily, I recalled the Vegansaurus post about Pineapple Skillet Upside-Down Cake from What the hell does a vegan eat anyway? and, with my trusty cast iron skillet (from the Marshall's clearance aisle) in hand, I got down to business.

I made a few slight variations that didn't seem to affect the taste of the cake significantly, if at all.  I soaked the pineapple in coconut rum, added diced pineapple to the cake batter, and used vanilla yogurt instead of plain.  Onto the assembly...

Clearly my pineapple artistry could use a little work:

"Topped" with cake batter:

Cooked, pre-flip (I'd recommend letting the cake cool a bit longer than the recipe suggests):

Post-flip; ta da!

I served the cake to myself warm, and then again to myself chilled; there doesn't seem to be a bad way to eat it.  It is neither a convoluted recipe, nor labor intensive, but the result is so fancy-schmancy that it's a good way to impress others into thinking you really know what you're doing in the kitchen (even if you don't).