Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Long, NY Day, But There's Always Room for Lula's

We started our weekend day at Cowgirl's Baking, but were disappointed that at opening time they were more overwhelmed than inviting, and had only cupcakes and brownies available.  Perhaps we'll revisit in the middle of a day, or once they are established and have more of their exciting advertised offerings available, but on this visit we left feeling rather unwelcome.

a most welcoming sight

So instead we decided to go to one of our favorite places, The Bean.  Yes, The Bean has a decadent red-velvet cake and a delicious chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, but they also have yummy breakfast treats.  Also, it's The Bean

On this day we shared a blueberry muffin and a mixed berry scone to accompany our coffee and chai...whilst a friendly patron looked on.

For all of the vegan options available, for some reason The Bean does not carry Tofutti cream cheese.  So, while we enjoyed our baked goods we looked longingly at all of the bagels being served, then kept the craving in our stomachs long enough to walk over to Bagels on the Square for some take-home booty.

After catching an indie at IFC, it was time to make our way over to Veggie Conquest 6!!  After another great event we agreed that we'd already enjoyed a full day, but you know what they I always say, "There's Always Room for Lula's".  We were admittedly tired and a bit loopy at this point, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I could only attack a "normal" size sundae: chocolate and kitchen sink ice cream with hot fudge, marshmallow, whipped cream, and a cherry.

Lightweight VM proudly whipped out her full Lula's card and went for a chicken leg drumstick sugar cone.

On this visit I learned two things I hadn't previously known about Lula's.
#1 My head cannot fit between the stools. 
I was full, tired, and clumsy; so, when I dropped something- well, let's just say that you learn something new every day.

#2 They have an official A to boast!
I'm still convinced that they deserve a higher mark, so I've taken matters into my own hands.

See you soon, Lula's; I have another card in the works ;-)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Do Soy & Sake Diners Have to Re-Start Their Vegan Clocks? A Review in Two Parts

PART I: Enjoying

VM and I love us some Soy & Sake.  It's pretty (minus the fishtank), it's delicious, the servers are pleasant & efficient, and it's a far enough walk from Lula's to restore your appetite.

On a recent visit, I went with my standard lychee martini, and she went for the pomegranate martini. The pomegranate sure was pretty, but the lychee always wins.

Of course we had to order the chicken & vegetable tempura appetizer, the only faux meat VM ever touches.

As a second appetizer we went with something we'd never noticed before, Naruto: avocado, oshinko, asparagus, mango, kampyo wrapped in cucumber with sweet wine vinegar.  It was so, soo, sooo good.

And then it was sushi time; we ordered all of our veggie favorites.

The mix vegetable tempura roll: sweet potato, broccoli, and asparagus.

Just take a gander of all the tempura veggies stuffed in there:

The veggie lover roll: cucumber, avocado, asparagus, topped with mushroom tempura and vegan eel sauce.  No, I don't know what eel sauce tastes like, but the vegan version is sweet.  And yes, by this point it was tempura overload- even for us.

And, finally, the always delicious peanut avocado roll.

I don't know what is wrong with me, but I still couldn't find the inari listed on the menu.  Luckily the server knew exactly what I was talking about and the little pockets of goodness were mine ours, ready to be filled with soy sauce, ginger, and lots of ridiculously mild wasabi.  Seriously, the wasabi at Soy & Sake perplexes me with its tameness.

And, finally, I couldn't help but to order the pad thai chicken: traditional spicy Thai noodles with soy chicken, tofu, scallions, bell peppers, preserved radish, and crushed peanuts.  As you might imagine, at this point I was quite stuffed.  But I've never had pad thai and I've been meaning to try it.  I only managed a taste and it was good; but, unfortunately, the leftovers didn't fare too well: the microwave turned them into a pasty mass.  My bad.

I considered ordering the sweet and sour chicken as well (I wouldn't have eaten it all!), but the server literally told me us I we had ordered enough (I know, but still).  So, of course I was too embarrassed to order the delicious, Vegan Treats, chocolate oreo cheesecake that I only seem to find at Soy and Sake.  Next time!!

PART II: Questioning

VM and I always enjoy a sushi feast at Soy & Sake, but when with friends I tend to order the General Tso's Chicken: a generous amount of chicken and perfectly steamed broccoli (you know it has to be for me to say steamed broccoli is good) coated with dried, whole chili-laden Tso's sauce, topped with giant cashews, and served with rice.  After enjoying this on a recent visit, I was disappointed to receive an anonymous tip that the mock meats served at Soy & Sake might not be vegan.

I returned to the restaurant as promptly as possible to inquire; the waitstaff maintained that the menu is vegan by default and the non-vegan indications are accurate as noted.  Still, I decided to delve further. 

According to the waitstaff, Soy & Sake serves Absolute Vegetarian mock meats; it is my understanding that Red Bamboo and VP 2 do as well.  But a visit to the site proved curious, as when you click on any item on the product page, you will note that none include a complete ingredient list.  Instead, they simply say "100% meat free, egg free", with no mention of dairy. 

In an effort to gain clarification directly from the source, I've left numerous messages on the Absolute Vegetarian voicemail, but have yet to receive a return call.  Emails to Soy & Sake have also inexplicably gone un-answered.  As a result, I am even more concerned that these meat analogs could contain dairy derivatives (consistently or inconsistently); what else would prevent the company and restaurant from responding to a customer inquiry? 

If you are also concerned and have the resources, I have two words for you: OPERATION PANCAKE.  Until then I'm convinced otherwise, to be on the safe side, I'll stick to the veggie sushi & martinis.  Or, I might not go at all.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Stuffed Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Ganache

When I think of filled cupcakes I think of filled cupcakes: small cakes stuffed to overflow with deliciousness.  I don't know that I've every had such a cake, but this is what I think.  So, while I can sort of appreciate a cupcake with a hint of filling, ideally I'm looking for a glob.  I finally decided to make some for my very own and started out with VCTOTW peanut butter cupcakes (p. 59-60) to make chocolate pudding stuffed peanut butter cupcakes with ganache.  I did sub regular chunky peanut butter for natural, so I cut my oil by 2/3. 

After cooking, before the tops caved in:

Once they were fully caved cooled, I used a grapefruit knife to remove a generously sized inverted tee-pee from the cupcake.

Slicing off what was the top, I used the rest of the freed cupcake dough to thicken the walls of the welled cupcake: pressing the dough into the sides and bottom of the remaining cupcake shell in order to better reinvorce the weight of what was about to be introduced.

Short of exploding the unsuspecting cake, I seriously filled the cup to capacity with chocolate pudding.  I used the ZenSoy I'd won from Vegan Beauty Review, but you could make your own if you feel so inclined.

Then I replaced the cupcake lid and the secret was almost undetectable.

And, finally, I "iced" them with VCTOTW quick melty ganache (p. 160) and let them set in the fridge for about an hour before serving.  Note: not only is the ganache delicious (use good chips!), but it also handily covers up any and all of imperfections.  Garnish with a peanut and chip because they are buds.

The cupcakes were a huge hit; I would highly recommend this recipe for the peanut butter/chocolate lovers in your life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Veggie Conquest 6: Get Your Kale On

Since enjoying our first event, VM and I have made every effort to attend all proceeding installments of Veggie Conquest, which has been no small feat.  Tickets sell out in about 5 nanoseconds, so imagine my desk littered with reminder post-it notes for the date and time tickets go on sale, warnings to my co-workers that I'll be indisposed from 10:00 - 10:05, and VM texting at 10:01 to see if I've completed the transaction yet. 

As if we weren't excited enough at the prospect of another fun evening, imagine our thrill at finding out that the judges for Veggie conquest VI would be Chef Matteo of 4-Course Vegan, Danny Carabano of the V-Spot, and Chef Adam Sobel of The Cinnamon Snail

Chef Matteo, Danny Carabano, Chef Adam Sobel (& Jessica!)
And then, as if things couldn't shape up any better, the secret ingredient was revealed as kale.  Um, we love kale.  So needless to say, no matter how many VC's we'd attended thus far, we were more psyched than usual.  Plus, as an added bonus, my friend, a fellow kale-lover extraordinaire, attended as well.

Let the "Battle of the Kale Appetizer" begin:

#1 The evening got off to an impressive start, as the first entry was fantastic; Marilyn Mayers' Quinoa Kale Croquettes remained mine and VM's favorite throughout the tastes.  Kale, quinoa, toasted pine nuts, and parsnip cream = yum.

#2 VC II winner Steven Carpenter's Balsamic Kale Quiche with Caramelized Shallots was also impressive.  The sweet shallots alone deserved a prize.

#3 The Kale Brown Rice Cake with Scallion Miso Cream & Basil Oil Accent submission from Momo Kajiwara was just as good as it sounds.  This was a close second choice for both VM & I.

It was no wonder it wound up winning top judges' honors, as well as the coveted Taster's Choice award.

#4 Christine McSweeney's Kale Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce were gigantic and she gets extra credit for serving something that's meant to be cold since it's so hard to keep things hot in chilly DCTV.

#5 My favorite part about the Mushroom and Kale Bisque by Frank Ciulla was the sweet corn.

#6 Jenn Lynskey's Kale Tapas were like gourmet mini-pizzas.  It's hard to make out in the picture, but that little scoop of green in the back is kale hummus; why didn't I think of that?!

#7 Unfortunately, the last contestant, Jessica Gunter, did not make it to the event in enough time to compete.  Fortunately, she was kind enough to share her entry of Kale Flatbread Pizzettas in an unofficial capacity, during the second course.  The pizzettas were delicious (infinitely better than inferior pizzettes); I'm sure they could have been a prize contender!

If all this wasn't enough, guess who won the first door prize?  Yep, VM; she won a copy of Animal Camp by Kathy Stevens of Catskill Animal Sanctuary.  Timely, as we are planning our first trip there in the coming months.

All in all, a good time was had by kale all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Maoz is Great, People are Gross.

Utilizing the basic tenets of both art and architecture, I have become a (self-proclaimed) Maoz salad-building aficionadoFalafel, hummus, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, chick peas, purple cabbage, tabouli, and beet-dyed baby eggplants (!): as long as it doesn't contain cilantro, it's in there.

Come on, you can't help but to admire this masterpiece.
I have mastered filling my salad bowl to capacity with salad bar fixins because common hygienic sense dictates that you only have one go at the bar: PRIOR to digging in.  I thought everyone knew this; however, on a recent visit I was chagrined, then disgusted, by the multiple return trips I witnessed by fellow diners who thought nothing of continually returning to the bar to refill their partially eaten pitas: communal serving spoons dangling perilously close to their saliva-laden bite marks.  This is not okay, people.  We all want to get the most for our money, but trying to do so in this most germ-tastic way is not acceptable

I know Maoz is concerned about cleanliness because their bar is always neat, tidy, and fresh; but as further proof that the company is as terrific as their eats, I received a response to my outrage within minutes of posting my review on Yelp: with a confirmation that there is indeed a one-visit salad bar policy and that Maoz restaurants do their best to enforce it and will do more.  So thank you, Maoz.  I am a big fan of your establishment and want to continue to visit.  Beware, gross people.  If I see you contaminating my salad bar I will call you out tell on you.

On a brighter note, I had received an email that this particular Maoz was offering an anniverary gift with purchase, but I'd forgotten about it by the time I'd reached the store.  While I was waiting in line I noticed that they had added assorted candy bars to their refrigerated section: marble halvah, chocolate-coated halvah, and-- what was that?  A vegan, chocolate-covered wafer cookie bar.  SOLD!

To my surprise, the free gift was actually a choice of the three candies; how nice that they didn't forget their vegan customers when it came to dessert!  If one more restaurant offers me a bowl of fresh fruit...  Maoz, please continue to rule.  People, please cease being nasty.  That is all for now.

How have I never before noticed this adorableness on my receipt?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Yummy Curried Cabbage and Incredible African Stew, but Authentic Vegan Irish Soda Bread Remains Elusive

When St. Patrick's Day rolls around I always find green cabbage on sale have the urge to cook with cabbage.  This year VM picked me up a 6 pounder (yes, really), so the urge is now gone.  But, in the meantime, I made two dishes that turned out great.

First I whipped up the Curried Cabbage and Peas (p. 111) from Appetite for Reduction.  I did sub frozen sugar snap peas for regular (this is now a vegetable I do not recommend buying frozen) and it was really tasty: kind of like a less-carby, kicky, and healthier halushki.  I tried serving it over udon noodles (no, I don't know why), but that was a fail; the dish is much better on its own.

Then I tackled the African Vegetable Stew (p.148-149) from The Natural Vegan Kitchen.  I've taken classes with the author, Christine Waltermyer, and have always been very impressed by her flavor combinations; I've even successfully recreated many of her recipes (tempeh salad, lentil-walnut pate, basil summer rolls, broccoli slaw) in my own kitchen.  So, when her cookbook went on sale became available I knew I had to buy it.  I was a little daunted by the amount of ingredients in this recipe, but it came together quite easily.

The final dish was really impressive and hearty.  The base of the sauce is peanut butter with elements of clove, tamari, and cinnamon; I'd recommend throwing some actual peanuts in right before serving for extra crunch.  And, even though the scoops are much cuter, I'd suggest serving over rice; reason being, cute = work.  Why have to combine the dry rice into the meal as you're eating if the rice can be absorbing the delicious sauce from the moment it is plated?  You can't argue with this kind of laziness logic.

I had made up my mind not to attempt Irish Soda Bread this year because it never turns out authentic.  But then VegNews posted an easy recipe so I had to give it a try.  I decided to make mini-breads instead of one big loaf and I doubled the raisins, which was an excellent call.

Unfortunately, the result was the same as always: some sort of muffin/scone hybrid not at all like traditional Irish Soda bread.  It didn't taste bad, but if I wanted a muffin or scone I would have just made one.

Eh, Irish Soda bread isn't one of my favorites anyway.  I should have just turned my attention to potatoes.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spreading the Vegan Treats Love

I was recently in the position of wanting to show my gratitude to a group of people that I didn't know very well, but whose efforts had made a difference in my life.  I tried to decide on a gift that would be appropriate for both sexes, different ages, and varying palates.  I wanted something festive that would make a person's day, something that said, "A. Bean thought of me today".  And, when I considered what I might most like to receive, the answer was obvious: Vegan Treats.  I assumed none of the recipients were vegan, but Vegan Treats' authenticity and variety are loved by all the vegans and non-vegans I  know, so why not?  A gift should be something the other person will enjoy, as well as from your heart.  And what screams "from this Bean's heart" more than Vegan Treats?

I chose an assortment of family favorites that I feel are a good indication of what Vegan Treats is capable of, leaving enough margin for error in case someone didn't like nuts, coconut, or, worse, (gasp!) chocolate.  The visual (not to mention extraordinary taste) of the chocolate-coated devil's food donut, raspberry coconut crumb bar, and the incomparable cowboy cookie made a most impressive presentation, while remaining casual enough for people not to feel like they'd have to stand on ceremony to eat.  The fabu pink box and adorable Vegan Treats' tag and bow didn't hurt either.

Each and every recipient was thrilled with the gift; nothing like hearing exhilarated exclamations of glee from people who didn't expect to receive a box of goodies during the course of their workday.  And, in an unexpected turn of events, I actually met another vegan during my deliveries; she hadn't ever heard of Vegan Treats!  How is that possible, I wonder?  Perhaps I really am eating more than my fair share?  You can bet I schooled her in the fabulousness that is VT.

It's nice to share a happy thought with others, especially others who have helped you to achieve a personal goal.  It's even nicer when that happy thought spreads the vegan message one delicious bite at a time.  Thanks to Vegan Treats for being a friendly, efficient, and uber-talented class-act and for making the collective tummies of the recipients and myself (surely you assumed I ordered an extra box for me) very happy.  XOXO

Friday, March 11, 2011

Daiya-fied Vegan Stromboli

I don't know why, but I've had it my head that I should make a stromboli.  It seemed easy enough in my mind; I had visions of preparing a regular pizza and then simply rolling it up into a neat, precise boli.  The first part was true enough; I used my now standard My Bread pizza dough recipe* and carefully layered my accoutrements:

Then I rolled.  The boli kind of stretched as I did, so there was no time or extra hands to slow down enough for fancy folding.  Luckily, it wasn't necessary; the ends inexplicably self-sealed into neatly rounded pockets.  However, the actual bulk of the boli grew so much during the manipulation that I had to simultaneously roll and slide so that the extra long boli would be contained fit diagonally on the sheet pan.  No harm, no foul.  I did poke a couple of little holes along the top for venting, and sprayed it with olive oil before popping it in the oven.

It would seem that my frantic fingertip tracks in the oil tell the tale.
Thirty minutes in, the boli was already looking and smelling impressive.  I decided to let it cook for an extra 15 minutes and the 45 minute cook time was perfect.  Once cooked, I removed it from the oven, vented it a few more times, and let it stand for about five minutes before slicing. 

I'm not sure why, but the interior view looked more like I had just folded the dough over top; there was none of the dough/topping swirl that most stromboli boast.  However, the taste was phenomenal.

The only thing I'd do differently would be to separate the dough in order to make 2 smaller, tightly rolled and overall more controllable stromboli- instead of one unwieldy monster.  But as far as taste is concerned: no complaints.

the end
*Please keep in mind that one batch of this recipe is intended for 2 extremely thin crust pizzas, but I prefer to make 1 thicker pie: resulting in a crust somewhere between a regular New York pie and a Sicilian.  I used the same 1 batch for my monstrously sized stromboli.