Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brunch at Sprig and Vine X 2

Take one:

Ever since being wildly impressed by lunch, we've been wanting to try Sprig & Vine's brunch offerings.  We were thrilled that we were greeted warmly at the door and instantly bonded with our waitress, Jackie, over Scrabble.  We started out with our usual breakfasty beverages of choice: Small World coffee for VM and fresh-squeezed orange juice for me.  Tasting like it came from sweet clementines and without any pulp, it was one of the best juices I've ever had.

VM went with the apologetically un-photogenic pancakes: local blueberry, rasberry, and strawberry compote.  While she really enjoyed these large cakes with the surprisingly crisp exterior, I would have needed a vat of maple syrup to go along with them (I heart syrup).  I do want to mention that while I usually don't butter my pancakes, the butter was surprisingly good; could it be housemade? 

You can't tell, but there are 3 generous cakes under there.
Ever on a quest to duplicate the retired frittata florentine from Counter, I chose the tofu benedict: hollandaise sauce, smoked tempeh and english muffin served with hash browns and grilled tomatoes.  This is definitely a dish that everyone turns to look at when it's delivered to your table; it is pretty awe-inspiring.  And, much like the cotton candy at the Four Seasons, once one person orders it you start to see almost nothing else coming out of the kitchen. 

As you can see, the benedict made an impressive cross section.  I've never had the non-vegan version, but the fluffy tofu along with the sauce lent a nice overall creaminess to the extremely rich, savory (tomato-y?) tempeh patties.  I did think a veggie would have been a good addition-- mushrooms or greens-- but there I go trying to recreate the frittatta florentine again.  It was delicious and extremely filling.  The potatoes were a hit but, while I appreciate the use of multi-colored tomatoes (that's a purple one on the left), I really don't like the idea of grilling them.  Warm tomatoes are not my scene; VM had to eat 'em.

Not ones to shy away from carbs, we ordered an extra side of home fries: carmelized onions because my dish only came with a few and VM had none (gasp!).  Crispy and lightly seasoned; they were very good.

Note to ketchup lovers, don't forget to ask for ketchup because it doesn't come with (you might need two if you're a fiend like me).

Finally it was time for dessert.  These are the housemade donuts: sugar & cinnamon that had enticed me to visit for dessert brunch in the first place.  They were airier and less cakey than I expected, but delicious.  If you have one leftover I'd suggest heating in the toaster for a minute or two.

Next we went with the cookie plate.  The cookies in the back were some sort of cornmeal cookie topped with blueberry compote.  They were crisp and good, but not our favorite (i.e. not too sweet).  The cookies in the center were light, fluffy, supersoft lavender snickerdoodles.  Not completely sure what lavender tastes like, I was afraid it would be flowery; but, these were extremely melt-in-your-mouth pleasant and my favorite of the plate.  Finally, the cookies covered in powdered sugar that look like traditional Mexican wedding cookies were orange pistachio tea biscuits.  VM swooned, but they were not for me; I like more traditional combinations and this was not one.

It was a delicious brunch from beginning to end, but we felt the need to return soon after in order to try some of the other enticing choices we hadn't had room for been able to on this visit.

Take two:

On the previous visit we'd both been eying the grilled local zucchini sandwich with charred red onion & frisee, black olive tapenade and hummus, so that was a must.  The bread looked like the "vanilla" version of the delicious pumpernickel that had graced my tempeh reuben on a previous visit.  While equally delicious, it unfortunately failed to form the same neatness pocket and seal around the sandwich filling as I'd experienced with the reuben; so, this wound up being a knife-and-forker.  I cannot stress how delicious this sandwich was, but I would have preferred to have enjoyed it as intended: by the mouthful instead of by the forkful.

With trepidation I chose the breakfast burrito: scrambled tofu, potato, black beans, avocado, salsa verde and smoked paprika aioli and hoped VM would like it; she's kind of afraid of tofu.  Not only was it delicious and full of all kinds of yummy flavors, but it taught VM us a very tasty important lesson about tofu not judging a book by its cover.  In other words, it turns out that VM really likes tofu scramble!  I didn't have to be convinced and I too thought it was a wonderful and tasty rendition of what can sometimes be a bland and plain menu offering.


Since both sandwiches came with a small salad, we surreptitiously tried to order the fries from the lunch menu, but it wasn't possible.  Undeterred, we decided to go with one new side and one familiar side.  For the familiar, another batch of the home fries (come on, you can't go wrong with potatoes).  Even though it was only a week later, these were prepared a little differently, but were equally as good.  As a plus, our now favorite waitress Jackie doubled up on the ketchup for us and provided hot sauce.  Thank you, Jackie!


For the new we went with the corn grits: local cornmeal and fresh corn.  My only previous experience with grits was as a kid when I ran out of familiar options ordering the 12 items for the $2.99 Denny's Grand Slam breakfast.  I recall a small bowl of gritty, white mush and up until recently I thought it was the only prepared potato I didn't like; now I know it's made from corn.  Speaking of, get a load of these grits: neither sweet or salty, these would make an appropriate and neutral side dish for any meal, not unlike creamed corn.  I usually mix one can of regular corn with one can of creamed so it's not so runny; these grits were even less so, in addition to having been made significantly more textural from the cornmeal and infinitely fancier by the charred kernals.

At this point I was really looking forward to having the chocolate cake I'd enjoyed on my first visit.  Unfortunately, they were out (!).  The other options didn't float my boat and we were kind of full, so we decided to share a cookie plate (again).  Jackie to the rescue by personalizing it: omitting our least favorite and giving us extras of each of our picks. 

Needless to say, now that we have exhausted most of the menu we will be anxious to return when it changes for the season. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Squirrels love Peanut Butter White Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

Because I love peanut butter so much, it's easy to forget that I usually don't like peanut butter cookies (because they're not peanut buttery enough).  My Chick-o-Stick version was really good (because of the Chick-o-Sticks), but the only other one I've every really liked was Evan's version from the bakesale.  So, I decided to go out on a limb and try to recreate his crispy concoction.

I bought some oats even though I am vehemently opposed to health foods in sweets do not like oatmeal cookies.  Next, I pulled out the bag of Lieber's white chocolate chips (blue bag) I'd been saving in my pantry.  I'd only ever bought white chocolate chips (yellow bag) once before and I hadn't really liked them, so I was hoping that this brand would be better.

I followed the recipe for crispy peanut butter oatmeal cookies (plus my chips) from VWAV, making adjustments for the fact that I don't use natural peanut butter.  My first batch were giant cookies that, to my dismay, were not crispy at all but instead light, fluffy & moist.  Drat!

For my second batch I decide to try to make them smaller and slightly overcook them cook them a little longer in an effort to capture more crispiness.  No go; they were just as soft, albeit mini.

At this point I decided that in order to bind the moisture and better promote crispiness the answer might be more oats.  I added a generous amount and cooked a batch of the same size for the same length of time (ok, maybe a bit more); these were better, but still didn't hit the mark.  I ask you, what does a vegan have to do to bake a dry cookie? 

So I went to town and added as many oats as the remaining batter could stand and still form cohesive dough balls.  Then, I flattened the cookies so thin that the chip peaks were actually peeking up out of the batter.  Yes, the result was tasty and crispy.  Did they taste like the ones I was trying to replicate?  Not in the least. 

To make matters worse, I was not thrilled with the white chocolate chips.  As a matter of fact, I thought they were kind of non-sweet, un-white-chocolatey, and a bit chalky.  They weren't horrendous, but the one I ate by itself (the doubler from the first pic) was not good; they definitely need to be an ingredient.  Perhaps worse than that, the entire esteemed tasting panel collectively consumed one half of one small cookie.  Granted these are people who simply don't like peanut butter flavored things, but come on; cookies are cookies. 

So, most of the arsenal went to my co-workers, but somehow I forgot about a few that were still hanging around at home.  After only a few days they were kind of on the stale side, so I decided to break them up and feed them to the squirrels.  Finally, an appreciative audience!

You can see that the squirrel on the right is holding a big hunk of cookie!

With a feast in his hands and more in front of him, this squirrel was happy to let me take his picture.
Let's just say that I'm now very popular amongst certain squirrel circles.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Counter: Your Reputation Exceeds You

I hadn't expected to return to Counter, but I found myself there again recently at the behest of two fellow vegan foodies.  It was nearing the end of brunchtime when we arrived and the waitress didn't hesitate to tell us to hurry up making our decisions.  She could have been considerably more friendly and/or diplomatic with her choice of words and attitude (if only to have started us off on the right foot), but I was still hoping for a good experience.

To share, we were going to order the crowd pleasing vegan nutella pastry basket (breads and muffins) that comes with vegan nutella, but with a visit to Champs in our future we decided to instead go with the potato latkes.  Served with a tiny portion of "housemade applesauce" (that tasted like the pear apple compote it used to be served with), it was just all right.  There was nothing specifically wrong with the dish, but it was nothing to write home about either; at almost four bucks a latke I expected more.

They used to be small, compact discs; these were haphazard in comparison.
I was going to order the most recent incarnation of the frittatta, but after having been grossly disappointed by every variation that has followed the incomparable frittatta florentine I didn't want to bother.  I couldn't really get excited about anything on the brunch menu so I chose simplicity: French toast.  ArielaIsAwesome warned me that it was just basic French toast, but VM ordered it once and it was just the way I like it: with crispy edges and mushy middles.  I should have listened this time around, though; as with most good things at Counter, the good version bit the dust.  So, there it was; a yawn on a plate.

I admit that I don't like thick cut French toast to begin with, but if you choose to serve it that way, please do so in a manner whereby the entire slice of bread is cooked through.  As if the boredom of the dish wasn't enough, to add insult to injury, the center was simply uncooked bread.  Luckily, when slathered with the delicious cinnamon butter and drowned in extra maple syrup, it was okay.  It was supposed to be served with walnuts, but I didn't see any: in the toast, in the butter, in the syrup; I checked walnuts.  Sigh.

I know it's blurry, but you can see my point: raw bread inners!
My vegan dining companions both went with the biscuits and gravy.  I've never been able to wrap my head around this dish, but I tasted it and as a non-fan thought it was okay.  Just David gave it a 3.5 out of 5, and ArielaIsAwesome a solid 4, so I'd say it must have been pretty good.  The real issue, though, was that one of the two identical orders was served sans hash browns and, by the time they finally came out of the kitchen, the rest of the food had gotten cold.  This left me wondering how hard it could be to bring three complete dishes to a table at once when only two of your restaurant's tables are occupied?  Or, more to the point, why the waitress was so obviously apathetic about this and everything else relating to us- and then closed on a tacky note when she hovered over us immediately and constantly after placing the check on the table. 

Over the course of the past year or so Counter has changed their menu numerous times (for the worse), adding uninspired dishes and removing favorites.  They've raised their prices considerably and have drastically decreased their portions.  As Counter is a somewhat upscale establishment, in a tough economy I can almost forgive this-- but not when the service and/or atmosphere is not up to snuff in proportionate merit.  There was no music playing, our waitress was obviously bored by us, the food was mediocre, and, most egregiously, the chair I sat in was almost entirely reupholstered with duct tape.  Not cool, Counter.  I wish you the best, but it's going to take a while to get me back.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ethiopian Butcha, Buticha, or Fancy Hummus?

I haven't been able to get my hands on an Ethiopian cookbook (does it exist?) and most of the recipes I find online vary greatly from each other, as well as versions I've eaten.  But I've been meaning to try to recreate Butcha, a dish I had at Mesob Ethiopian restaurant a few months ago and today I decided to wing it.

Ethiopian-inspired Hummus (?)

2 cans chick peas, rinsed & drained
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 green chili peppers*, finely chopped (that's all I had)
4 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp evoo
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper*

  1. In a large, shallow bowl, mash chickpeas to smithereens with a potato masher.
  2. Add onion and chili peppers.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients.
  4. Add liquid to peas, onions, & peppers, stir.
  5. Chill overnight & serve.
 *Please keep in mind that I like things rather spicy, so adjust to taste.

While it didn't wind up tasting even remotely like Mesob's version, it did make quite a nice spread/sandwich filling.  It was nowhere near authentic enough to inspire me to attempt to make my own injera to accompany it, so instead I served it in red leaf lettuce boats.  The tomato was a bit overpowering to eat with it, but made a nice side.  I know we all have a million other such recipes to try (gotta love the versatile chick pea), but I'd recommend giving this one a go: maybe doctoring it up with some traditional Ethiopian spices if you've got 'em.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Match Meats Sausage: Too Matchy for Me

Match Meats generously donated a complimentary package of their meat analog to every attendee of Veggie Conquest IV; as a taster, that included me.  I'm not a big fan of faux meat, but since I attended with two almost complete eschewers I wound up with three packages in my freezer.

I decided to whip up some sausage and onion heroes.  I'm not sure what prompted this epiphany; I don't even remember what sausage tastes like and I don't think I ever ate such a hero.  But I do like sauteed onions, so there's that.

Match doesn't seem to present itself as a vegan company, so the wording all comes across as a little sci-fi to me.  Also, I am a sucker for a slick website and this is not one.  I suspect this may be because, as a vegan, I am not necessarily the company's target audience.  To be honest, if anything, the website almost scared me away entirely:
"MATCH® premium meat alternatives are the natural choice for meat lovers because they are made with a relentless commitment and passion to match the taste and texture of unprepared animal meat."
Once I ceased gagging I browsed the website for some preparation guidance.  I wasn't at all inspired or impressed by any of the recipes (note: they were not all vegan).  Further, the instructional videos made me groan.  So, I decided to wing it.

Understanding that actual sausage is nauseating on so many levels above and beyond what faux meat could ever be, Match Meats' version out of the package remains completely unappetizing.  It kind of slides out in a flat rectangle, but I took the liberty of breaking it up for your viewing pleasure.  Yes, I do believe this is what cat food looks like.

It comes seasoned, but the company suggests that you season it to taste.  There was no way I was tasting it raw, so I decided to just season it to sight.  I added olive oil, fennel, garlic, salt, telecherry pepper, parsley, and lots of crushed red pepper.  I was just guessing; I have no idea what's supposed to be in sausage!  But I did have the forethought to save an un-seasoned crumble and, after cooking and tasting both, my version was definitely an improvement (although could have been infinitely spicier).

Match suggests that you form the mixture into meatballs, but that's just strange.  I may be vegan, but I know that sausages are meant to be oblong.  Behold my vegan beauties (yes, I over-fenneled).  I would have liked them longer and thinner, but this was the best I could do without them falling apart.

I fried them up in some olive oil

until they were good and browned.  Despite the earlier delicacy, they held their shape very well while cooking.

Yep, still over-fenneled.

All in a row:

The finished product: some sausage, lots of Secret Aardvark, and even more sauteed onions.

Overall, the sandwich was good.  Would I just as much have enjoyed a sandwich full of sauteed onions and hot sauce?  Yes, I probably would have; I like veggies. 

Even though I have only minimal recollection of what meat tastes like, I think the problem I have with Match is that it's, well, too "meaty"; I don't even like Boca burgers.  That being said, I think this is a great product for someone who does like meat, but is considering a more compassionate, healthy, and eco-minded lifestyle.  I would definitely add this item to my list of things to serve unsuspecting omnis; I wholeheartedly believe it would be enjoyed undetected.  Not that I did that would do that.  Much.  Ok, that's where the rest of them went.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Most Versatile Blogger Award

photo credit: Just David
I am flattered that Ali from Yum Veggie Burger recently chose me as one of her picks for Most Versatile Blogger.  It's great knowing that people read my blog, let alone enjoy it!  I've never actually heard of the award, but it seems that once you've been crowned, your duties are to share seven things readers might not know about you and bestow the award upon five bloggers.  I've decided to shake things up by sharing five things readers might not know, and crowning seven deserving bloggers; see how I did that?

Here goes, Five Things Readers Might Not Know About Me:
(Courtesy of Just David, the theme of this list is, "What does Abby have a problem with now?")

1. I am not really a fan of fruit.  It started out as a joke because I really abhor fruit in dessert, but eventually I realized that closer to the truth might be that I'm really not a big fan in general.

2. When I first started drinking soy milk, I didn't realize that you were supposed to consume it within ten days of opening the carton.  Sometimes it would last me a month!  Even though it didn't hurt me, now when the ten day mark is impending I use it as an excuse to finish it off with some Kahlua. 

3. I don't like noise.  Loud venues make my head pound and repetetive noises (beeping, static) have the ability to drive me over the edge.  I don't listen to the radio, although infrequent exceptions are made for Soterious Johnson).

4. Judge Judy should be president.  Small but mighty, that lady knows what's up and she's not afraid to tell it like it is.  If that's an impossibility, perhaps the government can simply watch her show each day for pointers from a common sense pro.

5. I was captain of my high school cheerleading squad.  There, I said it.  And now you should forget it instantly!

Ok, talking about myself has been a tad uncomfortable so now let's get to the good stuff.

I hereby proclaim that I, Abby Bean, find these bloggers deserving of the Most Versatile Blogger Award (in no particular order).

1. Vegansaurus - CRACKS ME UP.  This band of bloggers does it all: has me laughing with their unmatched humor & wit, awwing over their cute animal pics, applauding their animal adoption efforts, and making me hungry with their food posts (etc., etc., etc.).  If you haven't read them yet, start!

2. If you're an activist, you should be as concerned with your own personal rights as well as those for whom you are advocating.  Enter Green is the New Red to keep you educated about who/what/where/when/why & how animal and environmental activism falls into the category of "eco-terrorism".  Will is a journalist and advocate who is an informational asset to activists everywhere.

3. My Face is on Fire is a well-written, though-out, informative blog that speaks unwaveringly about ending animal cruelty and exploitation.  Mylene panders to no one and with good reason; watering down a definitive term serves no purpose: veganism is a high, but necessary and attainable goal.

4. Her professional blog is mouth-watering, but her personal blog is thought-provoking.  We don't always see eye-to-eye, but aren't the most compelling friends like that?  Ok, I admit Lagusta and I have never met, but I appreciate her keeping my wheels turning with Resistance is Fertile.

5. Scouting NY never ceases to make me want to be where he is.  Whether in a dusty, forgotten building of unexpected grandeur or traveling cross-country (with the exception of where the giant tarantulas were); Scout never ceases to unintentionally remind me that his vacations and his job are better than mine.

6. Doris Lin's Animal Rights blog on is such a fresh dose of reality that I just want to applaud each time I read her posts.  Armed with her innate BS detector she does not shy away from pointing out inconsistencies with the business practices of vegan-friendly corporations or taking people out of their comfort zone by sharing information they might not otherwise know.  She delivers the facts in a matter-of-fact, unapologetic manner that we can take a lesson from, as we can certainly do with a little less flowery language in our activism and a little more dry chutzpah. 

7. Finally, I'm going to boomerang right back to Yum Veggie Burger; it's so fun and although it's mainly about burgers, it's not "just about burgers".  Ali is a vegetarian, but is always looking out for vegans when she visits restaurants.  If not eating a vegan meal herself (which she often does), she never fails to post how vegan friendly her vegetarian meal is & I applaud her mightily for doing the work for me the effort and the respect.

Oh and that up there is just an obligatory picture of a recent Lula's ice cream cone: creamy, decadent butterscotch and super ridonkulous peanut butter chip, if you must know.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Did It; I Veganized White Pizza. I Am Full.

What better way to embark upon any pizza preparation than to dig into your ten pound stockpile considerable frozen stash of Daiya?  None, so for the first step I simply let a pound of mozzarella shreds defrost in the fridge for six hours.  In the meantime, I made the tofu ricotta recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance/Veganomicon, subbing 1 1/2 tbsp white miso for the salt.

This is what my tofu looked like while it was pressing.  I'm quite proud of this configuration, as it uses no wasteful paper towels and does not require a tower of items precariously set so that they will inevitably topple, breaking the fancy, monogrammed mug your boss gave you last holiday something (obviously I don't have a Tofu Xpress).

Then I pan-fried a bag of frozen broccoli florets in garlic and a negligible amount of oil until lightly browned.  I should note that although I specifically bought the florets, I had to cut about an inch of stalk off each piece in order to wind up with actual florets.  This is why it the resulting pizza doesn't look overly broccoli-fied even though I used an "entire" bag.  Don't worry, I did eat the stalks; they just didn't make the cut for what I was anticipating would be a beautiful pie.

The pizza dough was courtesy of the basic recipe in My Bread .  The recipe is intended to make two extremely thin-crusted 13 X 18 pizzas.  I prefer a thicker crust, so I used the full recipe to make only one pizza of the same size.  Also, in order to avoid over-oily issues I've had with this cookbook in the past, I chose to lightly spray the pan with olive oil instead of pouring it on by the truckload as suggested in the accompanying photographic directions.

Dough before the first rise:

Dough after the first rise; it never gets old:

I do want to note that by the time all of the rising was done, I was beginning to wonder if I had chosen the right dough recipe.  It seemed that the trade-off of 2 1/2 hours of rising for a no-knead method, vs. 5-10 minutes of kneading for 1/2 hour of rise time was a tad disproportionate.  This, however, was before I tasted the results.

It was tricky to spread the ricotta without stretching the dough; this might be because mine was chilled from being in the refrigerator.  Perhaps if you make it right before you are going to layer it on the pizza it will be warmer and more pliable.  But, right out of the fridge, a rubber spatula did not work at all, so I wound up using the tip of a metal cake server instead.  If you do so very carefully and patiently, it will eventually spread so that you have an even layer.  One batch of ricotta was just enough for one pie.

The copious amount pound of Daiya mozzarella shreds (yep, the whole pound) was exactly enough to make the pizza ultra cheesy, while still allowing the taste of the ricotta to shine through.  At the last minute I considered not adding the broccoli, but I'm glad I did.  This is a very rich pizza, so some juicy, green vegetables were a fine and welcome addition.

Eureka, success:

While my minimal photography skills are mostly to blame, white pizza isn't exactly photogenic.  But I did manage to get one photo to adequately represent the impressive results of my day of cooking:

And this is me showing off the perfectly cooked underside of my homemade crust:

If I were to revisit this white pizza recipe I wouldn't change any proportion or step; everything worked out really well.  But next, I think I'll tackle a traditional pizza because I like things saucy.

In the meantime, this one makes excellent leftovers:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cotton Candy ICE CREAM

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw cotton candy ice cream on the flavor list at Lula's the other day.  You see, they have proven themselves to me; there is no need to taste any ice cream flavor before buying it because I trust them implicitly; they have never let me down.  But cotton candy?  Not possible, I thought, even though if anyone can do it they can.  So I did what I never do: asked for a taste.  It was no less than I could have expected: perfectly authentic, sweet, cotton-candy-y... and then it was like I was punched in the face with a memory.  The ice cream somehow managed to leave me with the oddly enjoyable, slightly cotton-mouth sensation you get from eating actual cotton candy: in the best possible way.  How did they do that!?  Whether it's science or magic, or my mind playing tricks on me, it is sensational.

I was afraid that, much like actual cotton candy, there would be a consumption limit: thus the small portion choice.  Lesson learned; I could eat it by the truckload!

The NEXT day I wondered if it wouldn't make a good sundae ingredient because it's such a specific taste.  But I couldn't resist including it and I was glad I did.  My sundae: rocky road (with big, honking Sweet & Sara marshies!), drumstick (aka chicken leg), and more COTTON CANDY!  Topped with hot fudge, Sweet & Sara graham cracker bits, whipped cream, and a cherry: swoon!

VM went with a weenier sundae of only two scoops: rocky road and drumstick (I finished the cotton candy!) with marshmallow, graham bits, whipped cream and a cherry.  Not sure where her small stomach capacity came from, but it can be an embarrassment.

Unpictured is my second course: a fanstastical chocolate chocolate chip shake, which was deliriously thick and garnished with a few chips for good measure.  Thank you, Luke!

And looky what I've got:

Oh, one more thing.  Just because Lula's takeout spoons are biodegradable doesn't mean they are dishwasher safe ;-) It still works for shoveling ice cream into your mouth, though.