Monday, November 29, 2010

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Over-Cheese Your Parmigiana

I like to cook; unfortunately, I'm not very good at it.  One: I have no intuition whatsoever, so I can't invent something off of the top of my head.  Two: I'm not diligent about following directions, mostly because I always feel the need to multiply the recipe... and math is not exactly my strong suit.

VM, on the other hand, is a very good cook (and a veritable math whiz); however, she abhors everything about it.  A few times a year she makes massive quantities of each of my favorites, but it's a gift; if left to her own free will she would never bother.  Besides being disinterested in the process of planning, shopping, preparing, and-- least of all-- cooking, she doesn't have anything written down and she's one of those people who can't even begin to tell you how she makes something.  You know, "those people" who can actually cook off the top of their head.

Today was one of those occasions where I pinned her down to create one of her specialties and stood nearby with a pencil and eraser to record her measurements and actions.  The dish?  Daiya Eggplant Daiya Parmigiana.  With Daiya.  Since the secrets of the recipe have just been made available to me, I can't exactly share it with you right now.  But, I'll give you some helpful hints.

All you need to get the breadcrumbs to stick to the eggplant slices is the old tried & true cornstarch/water mixture to mimic eggs.

No secret here; fry 'em up until they are good and browned.

Resist eating them like an appetizer because they will be so much better smothered in cheese and sauce.

Start with a layer of VM's super secret, homemade, best-in-the-world, spicy, marinara (or, you know, yours), then add eggplant, cheese*; repeat.

*Do not allow cheese fanatics near your cooking.  VM's one misstep was allowing me to be in charge of the cheese layers.  Does this look like a lot of cheese to you?  It looked fine to me, if not a little restrained.  There is no such thing as too much cheese in my book.

Admire the assembled parmigiana.

Admire some more as it goes into the oven.

Behold the magical results after 75 minutes at 350 degrees.

Get it into your belly.

Ok, I will admit that I may have slightly over-cheesed, but it was still a phenomenal meal.  Leftovers, however, had to be eaten over pasta because the incredible cheesiness ultimately turned the parmigiana into more of a creamy sauce with eggplant chunks.  As a matter of fact, it tasted surprisingly similar to penne vodka.  It's all good!

VM says she must now redeem herself by making another batch of eggplant parmigiana without permitting outside sources (that would be me) from affecting her cheese measurements.  More eggplant parmigiana?  Darn.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stellar Thanksgiving Grub (VM) and a Cookie Fail (That Would Be Me)

In an effort to divert attention from themselves, when eating in mixed groups, lots of veg-heads say, "Don't go to any extra trouble for me; I can just eat the side dishes."  Most of the time, they are lying.  Who wants to eat sides for dinner- especially since, in all likelihood, they are filled with unnecessary animal products.  Well, not at my family's Thanksgiving.  I do want to eat all sides for dinner and, while VM still allows turkey to be served at her table, everything else is vegan.  Not vegetarian, VEGAN.  That's how she rolls.

Since she was planning a separate day-after-Thanksgiving feast, this meal was to be simple and delicious.  I don't know how simple it is to be cooking six things at once, but she definitely hit the delicious mark.

  • baked sweet potato, served with butter and cinnamon sugar
  • sauteed mushrooms and onions with peas
  • Brussel sprouts roasted with chestnuts

And, the piece de resistance, VM's famous corn stuffing balls.

VM has worked tirelessly over the last decade to veganize all of her vegetarian specialties, but the knack for keeping her stuffing in the shape of balls without eggs has eluded her...until now.  Thanks to and chia seeds we enjoyed our first stuffing balls in years! 

smothered in Veganomicon gravy

All was going well until I decided to make some cookies.  I broke out the butterscotch chips I'd been saving and began looking for a cookie recipe that would be the appropriate vehicle to transport them into my mouth.

I decided on Veganomicon's rumnog pecan cookies (p. 238-9) and started off by toasting the pecans because I thought it would be a nice touch.  I burned about half of them: severely.  I should have quit then, but I didn't.

Instead of rolling the cookies in pecans, as the recipe suggests, I added a halved amount of them directly to the batter; the other half was made up of butterscotch chips.  The only additional substitution I made was Bacardi for dark rum.  To say that the first batch didn't rise would be an understatement; they merely oozed.

After that, I added flour, baking powder, baking soda- whatever I could think of to initiate a poof of some sort.  It was no use; one after another the batches came out just as flat as before.

Although they were unappetizingly steamrolled, the finished cookies weren't horrendously inedible.  Well, they weren't exactly delicious either.  And, while the butterscotch chips were generally underwhelming, they somehow managed to overwhelm the cookie with their fake, sweet, not really butterscotchy taste.  They were simply the orange equivalent of  the white chocolate chip disappointment.

Did I mention that dinner was excellent?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Snail of Two Cities

As if it's not enough that you can gorge yourself on Cinnamon Snail food in Hoboken and Red Bank, NJ, recently we (yes, you too) had the opportunity to enjoy the bounty of the beauteous truck in New York City at the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, as well.

New York, New Jersey: no matter; since there is no limit to how much Snail food I can consume it is my duty as a vegan to support wonderful vegan entrepreneurs, I'll gladly cross state lines for an outstanding donut... or four.

A couple of weeks ago VM and I visited the Snail in Red Bank on the last day of the Farmer's Market.

There was a huge line the entire time we were there, and we were there a good, long while stuffing our faces with Snail grub buying kale and whatnot.

Since VM daydreams about the miso glazed shitake mushroom sandwich with grilled onion, olive tapenade and arugula on 7 grain bread, she had to order it yet again.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is eons beyond your typical vegetarian mushroom sandwich.  Ironically, I'd describe it as the mother of all mushroom sandwiches!

This picture doesn't do it justice; it's not easy to balance a sandwich on your lap and take a worthy photo.

Because I can always count on a bite of VM's sandwich, I tend to vary what I order and have never been disappointed.  This trip I went with the miso teriyaki seitan sandwich with grilled onions, arugula, wasabi mayonnaise, and 5 spiced fried sunflower gomasio on a toasted baguette.  For those of you questioning the quality of food that is served from a truck, kindly re-read the previous sentence.

I know this picture is worse, but take my word for it: delectable!
On to dessert.  Do you know what happens when two fantastic vegan masterminds combine their superpowers?  Magic.  (Please reference Lula's Sweet Apothecary's rocky road and/or caramel marshmallow graham ice cream flavors filled with Sweet & Sara marshmallows for proof)  Wanna know what happened when the Cinnamon Snail met Sweet & Sara?

Yep, the epic smores donut was born.

A chocolate glazed donut covered in graham crackers, Sweet & Sara marshmallows, and even more fudgy, chocolate goodness; as an added bonus, it is also filled with chocolate ganache.  Behold one humongous bite in:

For those of you concerned that the ganache filling was anything other than overflowing, I took yet another picture when I was two thirds of the way through.

I do it for the fans.
So, notice anything unusual about VM and I sharing one donut?  Are you impressed by our admirable restraint?  Don't be; we had a full box of scrumptious Snail creations at home waiting for us!

But eventually we exhausted our personal supply of Snail yummies.  Luckily, it was only shortly thereafter that we learned that The Cinnamon Snail would be participating in the New York Gourmet Food Truck Bazaar.  I'd like to say that we we were first in line, but it was much more serious than that; we were a half hour early!

Not to worry, as soon as the truck was open for business the crowd was steady and seemingly filled with an equal number of fans and curiosity seekers.  I overheard one man say to his companion, "I've never heard of it, but there's unusual stuff on the menu."  Get used to it, man; we're taking over the world.

Attracting vegans and non-vegans alike: this couple ate some non-vegan dumplings before moving on to the Snail!

We were only intending to have a donut each as breakfast, but who can resist everything else?  Besides, VM and I decided it would be much more health conscious of us to share a sandwich than to start off our day with sweets.  I deferred to her and she chose her favorite yet again.  Yes, it's that good.  Unfortunately, I was so busy trying to out-eat her that I forgot to take a proper picture, so you'll have to make do with this one that was taken from space:

Tip: if you ask nicely, Adam will gladly cut your sandwich in half for you.  Of course he may do it even if you're a terd, but why wouldn't you be nice, meanie?

To reward ourselves for having shared a nutritious meal, we treated ourselves to some donuts.  A creature of habit, VM couldn't pass up her favorite: the cinnamon sugar coated apple cider donut.  Like everything of Adam's, this was as good as ever and possibly better.

We both wanted to try the autumnal maple glazed donut with toasted coconut, so we did!

It was fantastic.  It tasted very similar to the apple cider donut, but instead of the cinnamon sugar it was coated in a delicious maple glaze and smothered in freshly toasted coconut.

And, finally; how could I have been expected to pass up the chocolate peanut butter cookie dough donut

Covered in chocolate glaze, chocolate fudge, and scrumptious chunks of dark chocolate...then filled with chocolate, peanut butter insanity.  Notice the shape of the filling?

It was also filled with love:

If you don't know, now you know; the Cinnamon Snail rocks.  Do yourself a favor and follow them on Twitter and Facebook to find out where they'll be when and support them in every which way you can: all vegan, all the time.  Organic too!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sweet Avenue Bake Shop Cupcakes and Cookies and Muffins, Oh My!

After visiting the Rutherford Pancake House, our next stop was Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, the all-vegan cupcakery in Rutherford, NJ.  I went for the first time over a year ago, but the experience was so unexpectedly underwhelming that I was never able to bring myself to blog about it.  Now that I've made another trip I feel more comfortable sharing my observations.

The first time I visited Sweet Avenue I was a bit googly-eyed over the thought of an all-vegan cupcakery, and the adorable website and the owners' witticisms on Twitter (twitticisms?) and Facebook didn't hurt either.  So, I was surprised and disappointed that all three people in the shop that day were barely friendly.  It was like seeing the man behind the curtain and he was indifferent.  To make matters worse, I had two omnis with me who were obviously affronted by the incongruity of the bright, kitschy shop vs. the wholly unwelcoming atmosphere. 

On top of this, we were conducting a major taste test between the three of us, and the shop was out of (disposable) utensils.  This made sharing a bit of a problem, and not one staff member offered us any assistance whilst we messily attacked our cupcakes with but one large plate, a few napkins, and our fingers.  Perhaps they could have offered to split our cupcakes in the back or at least provided us with more appropriate plate-age in order to make our bounty more enjoyable to consume, but they didn't seem at all interested.  In fact, they were so dis-interested in us that we dared not ask.

On that visit, between the three of us we ordered about eight cupcakes and were wholly underwhelmed by all but one: the Old Skool.  Luckily, this vegan version of the traditional Hostess cupcake was so stupendous that it alone made the trip worthwhile.  It and the four more of the same that I took home with me.  But the other flavors?  Eh.  The cupcakes were all stunningly decorated and the presentation was immaculate, but the flavors were nothing special: run-of-the-mill cupcakes.  The most egregious offense, however, was the fact that the "special" cupcakes each boasted being filled with a certain something (preserves, cream, etc.), but the "filling" was barely noticeable.  Besides the Old Skool (served Tuesdays & Thursdays for those of you interested), we all left extremely disappointed.

Luckily, this recent visit was infinitely more successful-- at least as far as my taste buds were concerned.  I wish I could tell you differently, but once again we were barely greeted; the service was lethargic at best.  I realize that it's ridiculously laborious to run your own business, but many other establishments in similar situations (young people, small but busy storefront, etc.) still manage to consistently extend a welcome and appreciative attitude to all customers throughout the day.  Lula's Sweet Apothecary is the absolute best example of this; in addition to their awe-inspiring product quality and selection, the employees (owners and every member of the staff) always manage to exhibit behavior that conveys a gratefulness for your business and your company; they are happy you are there and so are you!  Vegan establishments are often destination spots, so the service and atmosphere are just as important to the experience as the goods. 

On this visit, the cupcakes looked just as delectable, but my wariness prevented me from choosing more than two.  Because the welcome vibe was practically non-existent and the seating area was even less inviting than it had been upon our first visit, we decided to take our booty to-go (granted some didn't make it past the pink bench outside the store). 

Despite it being mainly a cupcake shop, to my surprise the cookies looked incredibly appetizing; I couldn't resist choosing one of each.  The chocolate chip cookie was big, soft, and filled with chocolate chips: can't go wrong with that.

The white chocolate macadamia cookie was generously filled with macadamias, but extremely light on the chips-- maybe because white chocolate chips can be kind of sucky?  There was an unexpected flavor (coconut?) that made it inauthentic, but it was still a tasty cookie.

Finally, I couldn't resist trying the chocolate peanut butter cookie.  I know that as a result of my insatiable appetite for peanut butter I'm often disappointed by the minimal peanut butteryness of such items, but it's cookies like these that make the arduous taste-testing worthwhile.  Super chocolate-y, dotted with chips, and swirled with surefire peanut-butteryness; this was my absolute favorite of the three. Unfortunately VM isn't a fan of the chocolate/peanut-butter combo (I know; it's horrifying), so I had this one ALL to myself.

Somehow, VM managed to spy a small case of giant mixed berry crumb muffins off to the side of the shop and she added one to the haul.  I'm not a huge muffin fan- especially in a cupcake shop, so I wasn't at all interested.  Imagine my surprise to find that the muffin was literally my favorite thing and perhaps the most delicious muffin/crumbcake hybrid ever!? 

The muffin part was perfectly textured, ridiculously moist, and filled with assorted berries.  The top was coated with the absolute most authentic crumbcake crumb-age I have encountered in any vegan baked good.  I would literally go back just for one of these muffins.

And finally, the cupcakes.  First was a s'mores cupcake: chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting, marshmallow filling, and topped with a graham cracker.

The plain chocolate cake was topped with gratuitously super-sweet frosting that was not specifically marshmallow tasting at all.  I was further disappointed that the marshmallow "filling" was simply more of the same frosting, but at least there was a decent amount of it.  The best part about this cupcake was the choco-dipped graham; the rest of it did not impress.

Next was the cupcake of the day, pecan pie: butter pecan cake filled with pecan pie filling, topped with brown sugar frosting.  This cupcake was outstanding.

Unlike every other cupcake I've tried at Sweet Avenue besides the Old Skool, this specimen boasted inventive flavor rather than boring, nothing special, totally basic cupcake ingredients; this was what I'd been expecting of the specialty cupcake shop.  The cake was moist, buttery, and flavorful; the icing was sweet without being cloying; and the pecan filling and topper was perfectly prepared and proportionate to the cupcake.  Everything worked together in a delicious, autumnal specimen of cupcake goodness.

I suppose the bottom line is, when you visit a sweet shop and don't like what you order: try, try, again.  As a result of the atmosphere I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to frequent this place often, but it's nice to know that there are goodies to be had when I do.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jersey's Rutherford Pancake House Serving Up All Kinds of Vegan Grub

Headed into Paramus for a day of bargain shopping, we decided to detour slightly in order to visit the vegan-friendly Rutherford Pancake House.  The rumors were true; it gives off a homey, diner vibe, and the menu is sprinkled throughout with bonafide vegan offerings of every ilk (the offerings have been expanded beyond what is listed online).  It was my duty to While I really expected to appropriately order the pancakes with chocolate chips and toasted coconut thankyouverymuch, at the last minute I switched things up and went for the Vegan Popeye: a tofu scrambler bursting with spinach, avocado, mushrooms...and the Daiya I requested.

check out the awesome mood-lighting

The presentation and quality of the food I was served was really surprising given the totally casual vibe of the restaurant.  My scramble was light on softly prepared tofu, stuffed with shockingly fresh veggies (spinach & mushrooms), loaded up with Daiya, and generously topped with picture-perfect avocado slices.  The accompanying roasted potatoes were deliciously seasoned and the two slices of toast were hearty, filled with seeds, and served with both jelly and vegan butter.  I also splurged for the fresh-squeezed o.j. and it was divine.

VM went with her usual black coffee and chose the decidedly un-vegan challah French toast.  It looked great and she loved it; as an added bonus, the thick slices were actually french toasted all the way through- unlike some places...okay, most places.   But it wasn't vegan so who really cares?

Our waitress was friendly, bubbly, conscientious, and a total asset to the establishment.  The meals were extremely fairly priced and high quality.  We would not hesitate to return (pancakes, I'm coming for ya), and wish there were more like-minded establishments in New Jersey to follow their lead.  The RPH has consistently increased their vegan offerings in line with the demand, so why aren't other restaurants taking the cue?  I know there are hungry vegans all over the Garden State!

One thing we would suggest, though, is for the RPH to start carrying diner-y baked goods at the counter.  Specifically, I'd like to see some Sweet Avenue cookies and muffins available.  After all, they are just right down the street...