Sunday, February 28, 2010

We Can't Say It's Cheese

The generous folks at We Can't Say It's Cheese graciously sent me samples of their current lineup of, well, cheese.  Of course these specimens are vegan, but they are also wheat-free, soy-free, kosher, and not made with GMOs.  If you can believe it, the main ingredient is actually oatmeal!

I was so anxious to try the cheese that I admit I was a little lax in my ingenuity.  Actually, that's not true.  When it comes to cheese I am so drastically out of practice that I really have no imagination whatsoever.  I love tried & true cheesy staples and will make no apologies for basking in them.

The first flavor I tried was the Mexi Cheddar-Style Dip.  I scooped the contents of one entire container into a bowl, microwaved it for two minutes (stirring in-between), and instantly had creamy, nacho cheese reminiscent of the kind you can get at sporting events or movie theaters.  So exciting: the only thing I was missing was the pump!  I drizzled poured the entire bowl over a ginormous plateful of nacho chips and started noshing; it was delicious.  The consistency was exactly right, although I would have like it a bit spicier since it was the "Mexi" variation (I also like things extremely spicy).  Not one to be deterred, I spooned some salsa on top of the cheese and even sprinkled some jalapeno slices for good measure; the resulting combination was amazing.  The nachos were gooey just like old times: reminding me how much more delicious they get as they get a little soggy from the cheese (!).  You could alternately create your own queso for dipping by mixing 1 cup of WCSIC with 1 cup of salsa, but, having tried it both ways, I would highly recommend the plate-o-nachos as the preferred technique.  Cheese + chips + salsa = yummy dipped nachos, but drizzled cheese + chips + fixins = NACHO PLATTER EXTRAVAGANZA.  Please note that hoarding 80% of an entire WCSIC container's worth of nachos with cheese is not very wise, as the cheese is extremely filling (perhaps because of the oatmeal?).  So instead, pretend you're being selfless and share.

Next up was a comparison between the two flavors of spread: Hickory-Smoked Cheddar-Style Spread and Cheddar-Style Spread.  I went simple, adorning a whole wheat cracker with each in order to really appreciate the cheese.  I tried the cheddar first: it was easily spreadable, but adequately stiff in texture (like "regular" cheese spreads).  It had an extremely mild flavor that I'd liken more to American cheese than cheddar.  Next I tried the hickory-smoked; it was an obvious victory.  With the exact same believable consistency as the plain cheddar, the smokiness gave it a much appreciated and winning kick. 

Since I enjoyed the hickory flavor so much more than the plain cheddar, I decided to save it for snacking and use the Cheddar-Style Spread for a grilled cheese sandwich, since I always pepper mine with tomatoes, onions & hot peppers anyway.  I generously spread the cheese onto two large slices of bread (the container would have made two like-sized sandwiches), stuffed it with the afore mentioned accoutrements, and fried it in a frying pan with Earth Balance instead of sans butter in the toaster oven, per usual.  This turned out to be an excellent decision, as the cheese became oozy to the point that I imagine it would have made a bit of a melty mess within the toaster oven.  As you can see, the ooziness extended to the eating portion of the sandwich experience; it was considerably more sloppy to eat than your run of the mill grilled cheese.  Both the taste and runniness reminded me more of making grilled cheese with cheese whiz rather than cheese slices, so it comes down to preference.  Personally, I think it would make quite the fondue!

Finally, the Cheddar-Style Dip, which I had been saving specifically for cheese fries.  It had the same mild flavor as the cheddar-style spread, and worked well on the fries.  The dip satisfactorily duplicated non-vegan, pump-style cheeses in taste and texture, but suprisingly did not deliciously soggify the fries in the same way as the mexi-cheddar-style dip had worked on the nachos; that was disappointing.  Maybe my fries were simply impervious to the cheese?  Ultimately, the fries were enjoyable, but the nachos were better.  I've since realized I haven't had cheese fries since I was in high school in a very long time, so maybe they're just not as high on my list as nachos.  

Having tried all of the flavors/variations, I was a little perplexed by the overall difference in intention between the dips and the spreads.  I realize it's not rocket science, but the lack of instructions and/or serving suggestions on the packaging left me to wonder how best to utilize the vegan cheese.  I had tried to use the dips and spreads in a manner true to their description, but then I decided to try an experiment: I melted the hickory-smoked cheddar-style spread in the microwave in same way as I had melted the dip.  There didn't seem to be any discernable difference in the results except for that perhaps the melted dip was ever-so-slightly smoother and creamier in texture than the spread.  But overall I'd say that they both have equal meltability, so have at it!  If you like the hickory spread melted, do it.  If you like the mexi-cheddar dip smeared on a bagel, go for it.  Perhaps the lack of serving suggestions are because all versions are meant to be versatile?  Ultimately, I'd recommend you go to town at your will.  Surely the We Can't Say it's Cheese police aren't going to come knocking on your door for an infraction (or are they?).

So here are my current thoughts on the vegan cheeses in my repertoire:
  • Dr. Cow is my go-to "gourmet", highbrow, cheese alone (ha), or cheese & crackers cheese.
  • Daiya is my "serious cooking" cheese.  From pizza to parmesan these shreds really deliver in recipes.
And now,
  • We Can't Say It's Cheese has now come along to fulfill a whole, separate cheese niche.  It's uber-convenient to prepare and has a considerable "shelf" life in the refrigerator, so there's no reason not to keep a couple of flavors on hand for instant cheesy fixes at your whim: old-school favorites or creative ideas.  Because of their mild flavor, versatility, and ease of use, I would specifically say that they would be particularly great for kids. 
Thanks, We Can't Say It's Cheese, for letting me give it a try!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Super Peanut-Buttery Chick-O-Stick Cookies

As a coconut lover and a super fan of peanut butter, I really like vegan-by-accident Chick-O-Sticks.  They used to be somewhat hard to find, but, for some reason, my neighborhood Marshall's has been selling bags of "old-time candy" recently, and mini Chick-O-Sticks are one of the two vegan options (hello Atomic Fire Balls).  With restraint, I bought only one bag, but then when I went back they were on clearance for half price.  Am I the only Chick-O-Stick fan in the area?  Needless to say, I bought more, leaving me with two, possibly stale, giant sticks in the pantry (for those who don't know, Chick-O-Sticks come in a range of sizes: hard-candy size, pen-size, and gargantuan).

I recalled having read Jess Sconed's recipe for cookies that involved crushed chick-o-sticks and decided to try my hand at it.  Instead of a chocolate chip cookie recipe as a base, though, I decided to use a simple peanut butter cookie recipe.  So, I turned to Mom's (Lois', not mine) Warm Peanut Butter Cookies from Lois Dieterly's Sinfully Vegan, subbing chunky peanut butter for smooth. 

Admittedly, I'm a terrible cook.  I can't even follow recipes very well.  And this is a very simple recipe.  I intended to halve the recipe, but inevitably my stellar math skills came into play and I accidentally "wholed" one ingredient, forcing me to backtrack and double the rest.  In the end I thought I had all of the measurements right, but my batter seemed very wet.  I thought it might have something to do with the fact that I used regular peanut butter (full of oil) instead of natural, so I added more flour and that seemed to firm things up a bit. 

It was time for the Chick-O-Sticks!  I whirred two ginormous sticks in my Magic Bullet and instantly had Chick-O-Stick powder to add to my batter.  It made it super orange and very, very dry (making me rethink the previous flour addition), so I added more peanut butter.  When in doubt, some chefs add more butter.  I add more peanut butter.  A lot more.  Oh!  I also added peanuts; things can never be too peanutty.

What else?  Okay, I baked them and they were delicious.  Per usual, they weren't peanut-buttery enough for me (despite all of my peanutty additions), but the Chick-O-Sticks added a really nice sweetness and really, you can't beat cookies with an orange glow.

In lieu of an actual recipe, I'll say this: take your favorite cookie recipe and add lots of extra, oily, peanut butter.  Then add a generous amount of crushed Chick-O-Sticks, some peanuts, and even some shredded, toasted coconut if you're feeling extra fancy (obviously I wasn't).  For some reason you can't leave the cookies in balls, so pat them down a little flatter with a spatula before or midway through cooking.  Voila, you will have your very own glowing orange Chick-O-Stick cookies.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Vegan Treats CANDY!

This Valentine's Day, I heard a rumor that Vegan Treats was going to be offering chocolates.  I nonchalantly mentioned this to my Valentine's Day chocolate suppliers and, a few days after the holiday (before I had even finished my first gift, which was from Rose City), I happily accepted a second present of Valentine's Day booty.

But Vegan Treats wasn't just offering "chocolates"; they were offering CANDY!  Replications Veganified Superior versions of candy bars that I once knew and loved: specifically, peanut butter cups and Twix bars.  Truth be told, I have always liked dark chocolate more than milk, so I've been pining for dark chocolate versions of mainstream candies even before I was vegan.  So, dark, vegan versions are a miracle.

I don't know why I'm surprised, but Vegan Treats really hit the mark with these.  Both candies were at the same time authentic, yet artisinal.

The peanut butter cups: offered in a long, slender, window-pane box filled with minis or in a two-pack of regulation size, were enticingly drizzled with peanut butter.  Thick, dark chocolate surrounded Vegan Treats' signature peanut butter, otherwise found atop favorite staples such as their PB cheesecakes and brownies.  I'd recommend the larger sized cup because of their heavier proportion of peanut butter to chocolate.

The "Twix" were equally as scrumptious, if not moreso.  Two sticks wrapped in adorable baggies decorated with hearts, it was a gift suitable for just about anyone.  A hunk of magnificent cookie/shortbread was smothered in a ridiculously delicious & generous helping of caramel, and then the top was coated with dark chocolate.  With an exact ratio of each ingredient, the result was divine to my astounded tastebuds.  I shall never pine for Twix of days gone by whilst in the check-out line of the supermarket ever again!

In conclusion, Vegan Treats does it again.  What can't they do?

(Psst, please make a Whatchamacallit.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Bent Spoon

The Bent Spoon is an extremely popular artisan ice cream shop in Princeton, NJ; a little known fact is that they are vegan-friendly.  They serve homemade ice cream and sorbet sourcing local, seasonal, and/or organic ingredients when possible.  The important thing to note is that most of the sorbets are vegan (ask which contain honey) and include flavors that taste more like rich gelato than fruity italian ice. 

If you're interested in a cone or cup and eschew fruity desserts like I do, I'd recommend the coconut sorbet (on top) and the dark chocolate sorbet (on the bottom).  They are both creamy like ice cream, not icy.  But what I'd really recommend is a shake made out of their dark chocolate sorbet and soy milk: it's super thick and even more chocolatey.  Sprinkle some cinnamon on it for an extra kick.

Another vegan option at The Bent Spoon is their Banana Whip.  I'm not exactly sure how they do it, but one second they have a bowl full of frozen, organic bananas, and the next they are handing you a cup of banana soft-serve.  It's completely vegan because there are no other ingredients: just the bananas and magic.  Voila, healthy dessert.  I will note that: much like different bananas have a different taste, so too can the banana whip. If you find yourself facing a somewhat bitter batch, you can always gussy it up with a sprinkle of cinnamon and some agave (if you happen to travel with it).

Finally, The Bent Spoon sometimes has vegan, euro-style, hot chocolate (there's even a sign with the word vegan on it!).  I don't really know what "euro-style" means, but I implore you to get over there and have a cup; it is phenomenal.  One of the many kind and helpful staff members let me try it one day and it knocked my socks off.  They do not have the vegan, soy version all of the time so get it when you can.  I've also been advised that sometimes in the summer there is a vegan, soy version of frozen hot chocolate.  I had a frozen hot chocolate ONCE before I was vegan and I still haven't quite gotten over it; it tasted like the thickest, coldest, most chocolately shake ever.  I've tried to duplicate it at home with vegan ingredients, but have only had disasterous results.  Considering how good their hot chocolate is, I am looking forward to trying The Bent Spoon's frozen version, as I don't imagine it will disappoint.  Will update when I know!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NJ Welcomes The Cinnamon Snail

The all vegan, organic food truck, The Cinnamon Snail, finally made it's debut on a blustery, windy day in Hoboken, NJ this past weekend!  As a longtime fan of Adam Sobel, the chef at it's helm, I was proud to greet the newest addition to the Northeast vegan landscape.  Oh yeah, I also went for the food.

To start, the actual truck is a pimped, gourmet version of a Mr. Softee-mobile.  The graphics are awesome, the awning adorable, and the bakery case (!) divine.  The words vegan and organic are artfully incorporated into the design, yet prominently and proudly displayed from every angle.  From a distance, the parked vehicle is intriguing and beckoning to passerby.

Upon approach, my companion and I were each handed a complimentary, grand opening, apple cider donut.  I've never had such a thing before, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the fresh, crispy creation tasted neither of apple or vinegar, but rather cinnamon sugar!  Once we were done genuflecting over their divinity, we took the opportunity to peruse all of the other incredible offerings in the large dessert case, seamlessly incorporated into the truck underneath the main window.  In addition to the donuts, there were namesake cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, tarts, mini-cheesecakes, small bundts, and full-sized cakes.  It was difficult to put the goodies temporarily at bay, but eventually we forced our attention to the surprisingly lengthy and varied food menu: boasting melanges of ingredients that were definitely not your typical "truck" fare.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late for breakfast (served 9:00am - 11:00am), or else I would have certainly gone for the blue corn cakes with maple syrup.  Instead, my companion and I pored over the more appropriately-timed salad, entree, and raw options-- finally deciding on two sandwiches to share.

I went with the maple mustard glazed tempeh sandwich, which was a giant sandwich served on a soft, toasted baguette overflowing with extremely moist and tender tempeh.  Festooned with tomato, carmelized onions, and the most deliciously prepared kale I've ever tasted (I normally find kale much too bitter for my taste), it was a great and hearty choice for this unabashed, yet picky, tempeh-lover.  My companion chose the smokey portabello carpaccio sandwich, which was served on incredible semolina fennel bread with golden raisins.  Bearing no resemblance whatsoever to your run-of-the-mill, requisite "vegetarian portabello sandwich option", The Cinnamon Snail's version was served with kalamata olive tapenade, arugula, and capers.  The delicious bread, thinly sliced & delicately prepared mushrooms, and accoutrements all worked together as an impressive, fresh, and creative twist on a what is typically a thoughtless standard.  Bravo!

And then we found ourselves back to the topic of dessert.  We jointly decided upon a few things to take home and bid The Cinnamon Snail good luck and great success.  Then we drove home and instantly devoured our take-home booty.  Ok, we may have snuck one snack during the ride: an unpictured chocolate chip cookie.  The sole disappointment of the take, it was unexpectedly brittle and tasteless.  Considering the continuously overwhelming evidence of Adam's culinary genius, I'm willing to accept the misstep as a token of his modesty and simply skip it on future visits.
In stark contrast was the mini chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, which was EXCELLENT.  As a huge fan of peanut butter, I am often disappointed by subtly flavored PB desserts.  This cheesecake fulfilled my high expectations of sufficient peanut-butteryness with a dark chocolate accent of non-overpowering proportion.  I suspect Adam may have even utilized my favored crunchy peanut butter variety, because there were satisfying crispy bits within each decadent bite.  The chocolatey Mississippi mud cupcake was a chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate crumbs and fudge, then drizzled with chocolate.  Aptly named, it was definitely a cross between a chocolate cupcake and Mississippi mud pie.  And, finally, you don't really need me to confirm that the second apple cider donut was just as scrumptious as the first.

The Cinnamon Snail is hoping to branch out to Brooklyn, but until then you can visit in Hoboken on weekdays from 9:00am - 3:00pm.  Keep up with their exact location and ever-evolving menu (showcasing the freshest available ingredients) via Twitter, on the web, and on Facebook.

It's my pleasure to support a good-hearted, vegan owned and operated business whose offerings are well-planned, artful preparations of sincerely good and nourishing food.  Keep it up, Cinnamon Snail!

A couple of tips:
  • Look for parking away from the hub-bub of trendy Washington Street and beware of parking spaces that are intended for permit parking only.
  • While enjoying your food so close to the water, keep your eyes peeled for hungry and aggressive seagulls.  They like to congregate here, and they want a taste of The Cinnamon Snail just as much as you do!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vegan Valentine

I don't know why there are so many Valentine's day haters out there; how can you have hostility in your heart towards a day dedicated to love chocolate?  Yes, chocolate, people.  Valentine's day wasn't invented so that the florists and card shops could make money.  It wasn't even declared by lovers to celebrate their passion whilst blatantly disregarding the singletons.  In my opinion, Valentine's day is a holiday for everyone: the opportunity to spend an entire day revelling in chocolate.  And revel I do.

Behold half (shut up) of my giant box of vegan chocolates from Rose City.  I discovered these delicious vegan chocolates years ago and they have been bestowed upon me as my my V-day booty ever since.  This is the closest thing to a conventional holiday assortment I've ever come across (truffles aren't my thing) and I really enjoy the creamy, rich, dark chocolate confections with their varied flavor/texture centers: just like a "real" assortment!  Despite not coming in a heart shaped box (which would hold considerably less than the square anyway), they are just terrifically decadent, upscale chocolates.  My own favorite flavors follow (I particularly like hazelnut), but there are more offerings available.

Irish Coffee
Peanut Butter
Chocolate Hazelnut Coffee Cream Ganache
Hazelnut Cream Crown
Hazelnut Cream Heart
Escargot Hazelnut Crisp
Hazelnut Cream with Whole Hazelnuts
Hazelnut Cream with Cornflakes
Cherry Cordial
Hazelnut Cream with Rice Crispies

If you didn't receive one of these incredible boxes yourself, fear not: Chocolate Valentine's Day isn't the only time you can order; this deliciousness is available all year long!  Chocolate is always an appropriate gift option and Rose City accepts orders anytime.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dear Daiya, I Heart You

I joke a lot about liking sweets (donuts! ice cream!), junk food (nachos! french fries!), and-- presumably because I went veg so young-- old-school, low-brow concoctions akin to the kind I enjoyed before the time came when I discovered and acknowledged the suffering that was involved with many of the foods I was eating and ceased doing so.  This was many, many, MANY years ago before there were so many delicious and realistic analogues and substitutes in existence, let alone widely available (yes, before the internets).  As a result, "going without" took getting used, but was really the only option.  So much so that in recent years it's actually been somewhat mind-boggling to reacquaint myself with foods in their faux form (hello fried shrimp and thank you, Red Bamboo) and I find that enjoying these items in extreme moderation is sufficient.

But in the grand scheme of things, it's not a joke; I really do like sweets, junk food & low-rent foodstuffs (yay Fruity Pebbles!).  High on that list would be the elusive-until-recently grilled cheese sandwich.  You see, it's possible that I like grilled cheese sandwiches as much as I like love peanut butter sandwiches.  But at some point I gave up trying to find a suitable cheese substitute, and simply doubled, okay tripled, my peanut butter sandwich intake instead.

And then came Daiya.  I won't bore you with the story of how we met, but you should know that the affair continues.  Since I order mine online and it has a relatively short shelf life, it's not yet a frequent staple of my diet.  Read: it's still a thrill everytime I have some.  This evening was no exception.

I remembered that I had frozen a half a bag of cheddar Daiya as a test.  So, I transferred it to the fridge to thaw for a couple of hours and then proceeded to assemble a monster grilled cheese on Dave's Killer Bread.  The results were twofold:
  1. Behold my super-cheesy, crazy-delicious grilled cheese sandwich.
  2. Bask in the success of the freeze test: the frozen & thawed Daiya was no different in taste, texture, or cookability than fresh Daiya. 
So there you have it, I officially heart Daiya.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Cinnamon Snail: Organic Vegan Food Truck Headed for NY & NJ

Move over Portland and Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey will soon have their very own mobile, vegan eatery: The Cinnamon Snail. Launching in Hoboken, New Jersey on Sunday, February 14 (with service to Brooklyn soon to follow), Chef Adam Sobel will be serving up breakfast, lunch, and plenty of snacks from 9:00am – 3:00pm. Everything will be vegan, unprocessed, and containing no artificial ingredients. The emphasis is on sourcing the finest, fresh, organic ingredients, and there will be options suitable for gluten-free, macrobiotic, and raw food diets, as well.

A longtime veteran of the food biz, Adam is no stranger to nourishing vegans: The Cinnamon Snail is merely his latest culinary adventure. I caught up with the vegan chef extraordinaire to find out a little bit about how he got to this point and what the future looks like; here’s what he had to say:

How long have you been and what prompted your decision to go vegan?
I have been vegan for 8 years, after being vegetarian for less than a year. My wife (vegan for 21 years) and I were expecting a child, and I knew I would want to raise the child vegan. I also knew that it was unlikely for our child to stay vegan if I weren't vegan as well. Going vegan has been a really important decision in my life that has encouraged me to perfect my ethics, and my ability to live with absolute non-violence.

When did you decide to devote your life's work to nourishing people through organic, vegan (and sometimes raw) food?
I was about 16, wandering around a National Rainbow Gathering. At these gatherings, people set up free kitchens to feed people. People offered vegan baked goods, baked in solar ovens. Some people offer sprouted grains, and the Hare Krishna crowd served up their delightful stuff. I was blown away by the idea of food as a gift. The way people took pleasure in serving and nourishing one another, seeking nothing in return. I was inspired to learn how to cook, so I could bring pleasure and strength to everyone in this world.

Are you formally trained, or is your talent inherent?
I always preferred to learn by direct experience. I was fortunate to start out getting a job in one of Chef Tom Valenti's restaurants. He was also self taught, and was a big inspiration to me. His whole staff was formally trained, and I learned bits and pieces from all of them. I went on to work in a handful of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, picking up people's tricks along the way.

What is your inspiration?
The force that inspires me most is TRANSFORMATION. In a world that serves up suffering, hunger, war and pain every day, I know there is a higher potential for our species. Human beings can evolve to a higher kind of existence. I know that our species has the potential of being such caring, kind beings. If we care, we can create a world of peace and beauty, free of violence and illusion. To collectively get to a state where we can understand ourselves and the role we have to play within the universe, introspective meditation is mandatory. And to have that self realization, a life of non-violence is the key. I am inspired to help all beings get to a state of peace and freedom. I can't think of a more important thing to do in this life, and I can't think of a more fun way to do it!

I first became familiar with your creations when you worked at Down To Earth, the all vegetarian restaurant in Red Bank, NJ that has since closed. Can you speak a little about that experience, other restaurant experience, and how it might have affected your decision to open a mobile truck instead of a stationary business?
Working at Down to Earth was a great experience! I learned quite a bit and was encouraged a lot by Chef Lacey Sher and Chef Gail Doherty. (Lacey just opened Encuentro, an awesome new vegetarian wine bar in CA, and Gail is planning an exciting vegan restaurant in Red Bank, NJ). I have been planning a vegan food truck for at least five years, and in that time, the concept has evolved a lot. Working at Down to Earth made me more conscious of making "real food". Their whole menu was nourishing, creative food with no nonsense. The whole fake meat and cheese thing is a little morbid to me, and I am not too convinced that TVP and soy cheese are actually digestible.

How would you describe Certified Orgasmic, your catering company? How long has it been in existence and how has it evolved?
I started Certified Orgasmic when Down to Earth closed its door suddenly, three years ago. It is NJ's only full service vegan catering company. We do everything from birthday cakes, to complete weddings, to craft service. For years we did a weekly menu of appetizers, entrees, soups, and desserts available for pick up. Now that we are starting the truck, folks who live in our area will be able to place orders with us by phone, email or text message, and when the truck returns to Monmouth County at the end of the day, they can come and pick up their food.

Where else can people find your goodies?
We’ve done a really nice table for the Red Bank Farmers’ Market for the past two years. We bring a huge display of vegan donuts, have cases of treats and sweets (cooked and raw), and we serve raw pizzas, nut milks, breakfast burritos and more. It seems like I am always saying, "Alright, this weekend, let's give ourselves a break and make less stuff". But, we always end up pulling out all the stops and making an epic amount of items. We just really love what we do, I guess. As soon as the farmers’ market was over this past summer, instead of taking the next weekend off, we were up early in the morning, testing new apple fritter and donut recipes. We bring the donuts to "Kaya's Kitchen" (a sweet vegetarian restaurant in Belmar, NJ) for them to serve at brunch during the summer. Year-round, we deliver cakes and raw desserts almost every week to Kaya's and to The Eurasian Eatery in Red Bank.

What gave you the idea for The Cinnamon Snail, and what will be your measure of its success?
The Cinnamon Snail has been my dream for years, and I am not sure anymore what sparked the concept. I used to be a little punk graffiti artist when I was a kid. I always liked the idea of forcing creativity and beauty back into the community, onto the street, where everyone comes in contact with it. I guess my measure of success will be seeing just how much the truck positively affects people. Since I started preparing vegan food professionally, there have been few things that tickle me as much as hearing how something vegan and yummy helped someone change their life in a significant way. To see people take hold of their lives, to refuse the default violence of our civilization, to start living in harmony with nature. If my food helps people in any way with that transformation, I am delighted!

Can you give us some examples of the types of menu items that will be available?
The menu is going to be seasonal, and expect it to evolve at our whim! Here are a couple of offerings to chew on:

• Smokey portabello carpaccio on semolina fennel bread with kalamata olive tapenade, arugula and capers

• Hempseed crusted tofu with spicy French mustard dressing over white truffle mashed potatoes, greens, and rosemary bread pudding

• Creole grilled tofu sub on toasted baguette with caramelized onions, arugula, and grilled tomato

When? Where?
We will be opening ON VALENTINES DAY, 9:00am – 3:00pm, with some special treats and sweets, and we will be offering free vegan donuts all day (or until we run out). We will be starting service in Hoboken NJ (don't worry NYC, it's just a couple stops out on the PATH train), exact location to be announced later this week. We are working full tilt at getting our truck running in Brooklyn. I can't say how long that will take, but get in touch with us if you have any suggestions or resources to share about it.

Until then you’ll find us in Hoboken on weekdays from 9:00 – 3:00. From 9:00 - 11:00 we will be serving a fully awesome vegan breakfast / brunch EVERY DAY! This will include things like breakfast burritos, raw as well as fresh baked granolas with live nut milks, smoothies, donuts, breakfast platters of pancakes, scrambled tofu and roasted yams, and a lot of other good things.

Then 11:00 - 3:00 we will be serving an absolutely ridiculous lunch. Most items are totally dinner worthy too, such as Apple cider glazed tempeh with matchstick fried parsnips over marinated kale and, rosemary root vegetable puree. There will be raw, cooked, and macrobiotic options available every operating day.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers, who are already undoubtedly drooling over the prospect of a mobile, vegan, organic truck coming their way soon via The Cinnamon Snail?
KEEP HAVING FUN, no matter what this world tries to get you doing instead. Please hug people more, and work hard at making more great things happen in your community! We look forward to meeting you, and serving you nourishing food really soon!

Thank you so much, Adam, for taking the time to chat.  And for all of the incredible chocolate ganache cakes you've made for me over the years!

For updates, follow The Cinnamon Snail on Twitter, on the web, and on Facebook.

** 2/13 update per Chef Adam: The Cinnamon Snail 2/14/10 LOCATION: We will be parking on Sinatra Drive in Hoboken. There is no way for us to have an exact location posted until we are parked, but we will be trying to get a spot as close to the train station as possible on Sinatra. We will send out our exact location tomorrow morning as soon as we are parked by twitter and ...on facebook. If all else fails, call us at (201) 675 3755. See you tomorrow!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Little Lad's Herbal Corn

Some of you have heard of it, some not.  Either way, one taste and you'll be hooked 4-eva. 

Little Lad's is a tiny, vegan, weekday, breakfast/lunch (only) spot hidden within the Financial District.  But besides all of the vegan food, they also serve a special popcorn concoction called Herbal Corn.

Herbal Corn may look like regular popcorn until you notice various speckles and other crumbage adhered to the kernals and floating haphazardly around the appetizingly clear bag.  But don't read the ingredients, just taste it.  Then try to guess.  It's one of those combinations that will have you scratching your head wondering why you'd never thought of it before, whilst you shove the rest of the bag into your face at dizzying speed: savoring the extra "herbs" at the end.

Fret not if you can't get to Little Lad's, as Urban Roots also carries Herbal Corn.  The staff is super-smiley and they won't judge you for buying four bags at a time.  Or six.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cocoa V, Part Deux

So, I decided to revisit Cocoa V for two reasons, neither of which was in the spirit of 2nd chances.

Reason #1: The dessert I had just eaten at Blossom was small, unsatisfactory, and did not contain chocolate (thus negating it's categorization as dessert).
Reason #2: I was nearby and curious to see how popular the oft-written about media darling of the vegan chocolate world was really doing.

It was "dessert time" by my watch (literally: it was after dinnertime), but there was nary a soul inside except for one employee: both the store and the cafe were completely empty.  Once again, the samples were miniscule, unlabeled, and un-offered; once again, I took it as an unspoken "Help yourself".  Unfortunately, I wound up mistakenly trying a chocolate-covered crumb of crystallized ginger and almost gagged on the potency* until I was able to shove a shard of pumpkin seed bark in my mouth to counter the taste.  Surprisingly, the counterperson politely acted like he didn't notice the incident and I will say that the bark seemed tasty, although the escapade prevents me from being able to sufficiently expound.

My eye was quickly drawn to a counter beyond the chocolate spread:  filled with a large assortment of baked goodies in large, glass jars.  Despite the obvious thievery of Lula's brilliance, I will say that the addition of these varied and fairly priced options was a good move on the part of Cocoa V for those of us who prefer baked goods over candy-- especially when said candy can run well upwards of $3 per morsel.

I ultimately chose four items, of which you see pathetic halfsies in the picture.  Frankly, as a loyal fan of Vegan Treats, I did not expect to be impressed.  But then I tasted one thing in the cab, and that turned into tasting another, and then another, and then all.  By the time I was out of the moving vehicle this is what was left to photograph. 

  • My dining companion's favorite was the mini hazelnut chocolate chip scone: impressive scone texture with a subtle hazelnut flavor.  Despite mistaking the flavor for vanilla (I told you it was subtle), it was her favorite of the dessert selections of the evening.
  • chocolate chip cookie: although not the usual Blossom CCC (the one I enjoyed on my previous visit to Cocoa V), this one was good, but not sweet enough for my taste; I prefer their original version (which is also bigger). 
  • chocolate chip pistachio biscotti: a true biscotti, not your typical pansy vegan "biscotti"
  • chocolate dipped chocolate shortbread sprinkled with espresso shavings: my favorite of the offerings, this "cookie" was so delectable that I'd dare put it on par with Back to Eden goods (my companion vehemenently disagrees this ridiculously high accolade).  The shortbread was chocolatey, "buttery", and light: drenched in thick, dark chocolate & punched up with espresso crumbs.  YUM.
Overall I'd note the following:
  1. Despite the space being devoid of other customers, everything was completely fresh.
  2. Although I chose somewhat similar offerings, everything had a distinct taste.
  3. Chip generosity was prevalent throughout.
So this is my new theory on Cocoa V: enjoy dinner at Blossom, but skip the boring, sub-par dessert offerings.  Grab an assortment of tasty goods from Cocoa V's newly added buffet of mini-desserts, but take it to-go in an effort to avoid the pretension, loneliness, and steeply priced menu-offerings.

One more thing: Cocoa V was selling what seemed to be a handful of re-packaged Dandies in an unmarked bag for $4.  A real bag of Dandies contains at least five times the amount for just about a $1 more; don't let yourself be taken.

*This is not necessarily a judgement on Cocoa V's crystallized ginger; I happen to simply abhor it in any form.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blossom...Best Appetizer in NYC

Another dinner at Blossom where two pathetic diners can't help but order the very same things they always do, but don't regret it in the least.

For starters, the beloved Black-eyed Pea Cake.  Oh pea-cake, how we love thee.  This was a decidedly rounder and less crispy (smaller?)version of Blossom's single pea cake appetizer (Cafe Blossom serves two miniature ones in their variation), but equally delicious.  Filled with yukon-gold potatoes, black-eyed peas, onions, bell peppers, and probably other unidentified goodies, this appetizer is a winner topped with and sitting atop of an addictive chipotle aioli.

For dinner, the (seemingly smaller) lentil-packed Phyllo Roullade swimming in a buttery carrot cream broth and served with swiss chard and carmelized onions: this alone could make Chelsea's Blossom your favorite of the group (and it has for us). I like to pretend that you can't adequately reheat phyllo dough as an excuse to finish the whole portion, but I will have to test this theory one day because I certainly wouldn't mind having this for dinner two nights in a row (or twelve).

We don't usually do dessert at Blossom, but for some reason I decided we should try the caramel apple cigars for dessert.  I am neither a fan of apples or fruit as dessert in general, but my companion loves the combo and I was feeling generous.  Error in judgement.  The boring, miniscule order consisted of 4 teeny phyllo sticks (~2" long with a dime equivalent circumference) "filled" with barely visible pieces of apple.  There was a tasteless, caramel-colored liquid sloshing around the plate, but the piece de resistence was the foul, melon-ball serving of "vegan ice cream".  Perhaps I'm now spoiled by Lula's, but for a restaurant whose food offerings I hold in such high regard to offer such an unappetizing ice cream was both surprising and disappointing.

Here's my current take on Blossom:
  1. The food remains delicous, but the dessert is a definite pass*.
  2. The portions are shrinking.
  3. With prices on par with Candle 79, the Blossoms need to collectively up their game as far as service is concerned; the waitstaff is consistently adequate and that doesn't cut it.  Hipster swagger is ok for a coffeehouse, but not an upscale dining establishment.
* alternate dessert suggestion to be offered in next post