Sunday, January 30, 2011

Don't Judge a Lotus Root by its Cover

The first time I prepared a lotus root I sliced it too thickly and attempted to roast it in olive oil, salt & pepper like brussel sprouts.  It was not good.  Then a co-worker told me about a cold lotus root salad she was able to duplicate from her local Japanese restaurant.  She generously shared both the recipe and a lotus root and I was on my way.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, lotus roots look kind of potato-y, but they're much more fun looking inside.  They can usually be found in Asian markets.  Wash, peel, and slice thinly using a mandoline.  Be careful.  Bring water to a boil with a pinch of salt.  Drop in sliced lotus root, bring to a boil again, and cook for five minutes.  While it's cooking, combine all of the other ingredients in a bowl.

When the root slices are cooked but still crisp, drain in a colander, then rinse immediately with cold water.

Pour all ingredients into a ziploc bag and marinate in the fridge for at least two hours, squishing around every half hour or so.

For easy and immediate munching, arrange on a plate and serve with sriracha. 

With a little more effort, they would also be great served with rice or on a bed of salad greens.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

If You Tune in to Mexican Radio; Change the Station

A group of us decided to try out a newly recommended restaurant, Mexican Radio.  While not entirely vegan, they have many vegan offerings.  A few of us arrived early and decided to have a drink at the bar.  The average price is in the $10-12 range, but they do have a margarita special for checking in on Facebook or Foursquare.  I didn't hear any complaints about my friends' wine and margarita, and my Malibu lemonade was delicious (all were camera shy).  There were no complimentary chips offered at the bar.

Once our entire party arrived we relocated to a table, only to find that there are no complimentary chips offered with dinner either.  So, we decided to share an order of "Guacamole: served with a large plate of our homemade chips - it's just so good!"

Yes, it was good; but only because it was made of avocado.  Other than that there was absolutely nothing redeeming or special about it, unless you count the exorbitant price: inappropriate for such a lackluster dish.  It was basically, to paraphrase one of my dining companions, "an ice cream scoop worth" of mashed avocado.  There were a couple of diced tomatoes, but no discernible onion, jalapeno, or even lime juice.  And the "homemade" chips?  To quote that same friend, "I don’t think anything at MR was house made.  Those chips came out of a unnamed economy size bag that just reads, 'Salty Chips'."  Now perhaps we're wrong and the chips are, in fact, homemade: even more of a reason for MR not to brag about them. 

Moving on to the overpriced entrees.  Two of us decided to go with the enchiladas.  You get to choose two fillings but, instead of combining them in each of the 2 enchiladas, they oddly serve one in one, and one in the other.  The main problem with this is that it's the only thing in your enchilada.  So, a seitan enchilada consists of a tortilla with seitan inside: not very exciting.

See that spinach enchilada on the right?  It's cold.  The one on the left isn't much better.
Sure, they come with a "side" of beans and rice, but a) there is nothing exciting about them and b) the whole technique comes across as the spoils of an assembly line kitchen. 

The enchiladas also come with a choice of sauce; we both chose the "red - a spicy, roasted tomato-jalapeño sauce".  To clarify, this was basically a water-thinned tomato paste with no spice, no taste, no nothing to speak of; it's most redeeming quality was that it was wet.  This came in handy because the tortillas themselves were in dire need of any moisture they could get.  But, it was not enough to save them; after one bite of the thick, mealy texture I quickly removed the filling and pushed the inedible tortillas aside.

My peppers and onions came out disguised as portabello mushrooms.  My side order of sour cream was invisible.

The burritos were another story.  Ridiculously overpriced, they were smaller and considerably less stuffed than those you'd find at Chipotle (which I <3).  Both burrito-orderers agreed that there was nothing special about these.

This burrito was ordered without cheese.
As for the vegan options, I do give them credit for trying.  But I couldn't help but to get the distinct impression that the words vegan and vegetarian were somewhat interchangeable in the Mexican Radio universe.  Perhaps I'm wrong?  At least the cheese is definitely vegan, but... Well, we all know that Daiya is ruling the vegan cheese universe right now, and the new, improved Teese is trying to reclaim their piece of the pie.  Yet Mexican Radio offers Follow Your Heart.



1987 called; they want their vegan cheese back.  I mean, really.  No offense to Follow Your Heart (I happen to love Veganaise), but really?  Cheese?  Bottom line: when you have an omni place like John's knocking it out of the park, any old half-hearted attempt just doesn't cut it. 

But, obviously, Mexican Radio's problems go way beyond their vegan options.  The one cool thing is that the entire place is filled with various bottles of hot sauce: here, there, and everywhere.  Some are good, some aren't, but what they have in common is that they are all encrusted with dried hot sauce because no one ever cleans them.  BUT, hungry times call for desperate measures.  I bucked up threw germ caution to the wind when I spied the intriguing grapefruit habanero nearby.  It wasn't something I'd go out of my way to purchase, but at least it rescued my meal from being completely tasteless.

I'm sure my fellow diners will agree with me when I say we will never return to Mexican Radio.  Rather than recap the reasons in a concise list, I'll leave you with the simple observation that besides all of the other shortcomings (price, service- you got me, I couldn't help it), the crux of the problem is that Mexican Radio's food has no taste; it's wholly lacking seasoning of any kind.  I'm no Mexican chef, but the food is possibly less authentically Mexican than Taco Bell.  And, though I've not dined there in a decade, if my recollection serves, not nearly as tasty.

[2-4-11 UPDATE: As if all of this wasn't bad enough, it turns out the restaurant double charged my friend's credit card.] 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vegucating Robin Spaghetti (Squash) with Pesto

Since cooking classes are out of the budget of late, I've been somewhat hooked on Vegucating Robin, the relatively new, online, vegan cooking show hosted by Robin Quivers and Gavan Murphy.  Their recipes all seem appealing, hearty, and do-able, and I finally attacked the spaghetti squash It Looks Like Pasta recipe, accompanied by It's Not Pesto Without Pine Nuts (with slight variation).

First off was the spaghetti squash.  Be forewarned that halving it is a very dangerous feat for all fingers involved, but after that it's pretty much smooth sailing.  However, it bears repeating; halve your squash with extreme caution.

Yes, that's the floor.  I needed leverage!

Once divided, enjoy the aroma that reminds you that this is going to be no more fun to de-seed than a pumpkin.

Because I was really out of my element roasting squash I was hesitant to deviate from the recipe.  So, the only variation that occurred was that I didn't use fresh herbs on the pan.  And guess what?  The dried worked fine.

The oil & herbs on top serve no purpose; it was just transferred when I flipped 'em.
The great thing about spaghetti squash is that it requires no special skill or equipment.  All you need is a fork and nature does the work for you.

Remember to scrape all the way down to the skin.  Much like an avocado, you'll know when you've gone to far.

Eventually you'll wind up with a great big mound of vegetable spaghetti.

Unexpectedly, my basil plant has been flourishing since I brought it indoors from the sunroom for the winter and I had just enough of its giant leaves to make a nice batch of pesto using the VR recipe.

If you look closely you can see the surrender flag leftover from when I thought it was a goner.

I was all zested out, so I substituted 1/4 cup of lemon juice for the lemon zest.  I also added 2 tsp minced garlic and cut the oil by 1/3.  It was good, but I prefer my pesto creamier, i.e. even less oil and more nuts.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of pesto; so, I don't make it often.  But with the spaghetti squash it was infinitely superior than on traditional pasta.  Serving it on a vegetable rather than macaroni really cuts the richness to a tolerable and more healthful level.

For leftovers I tossed in some tomatoes and it was even better.

Tip: For whatever reason, it's much easier to navigate and print recipes from Gavan's site than directly from Vegucating Robin.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gourmet Waffle Brunch: Even Adults Love Animal Shaped Edibles

I love breakfast for lots of reasons: Fruity Pebbles, Tofutti cream cheese, tofu scramble...but the main reason I love breakfast is, simply, maple syrup.  Pancakes, French Toast, if you can put maple syrup on it: I'm in.  So when The Discerning Brute reminded me of the Sunday waffle brunch, Petit Dejeuner, at the West Cafe, I went asap.

Apparently I am not the only person who loves syrup, because the place was packed; it took a little while for our group of six to get a table.  The menu varies week to week, but there are always plenty of options.  On this day: Le Classic, Pumpkin Spice, Orange Chocolate Marble, The West Mocha, and gluten-free (which came highly recommended).  I chose The West Mocha waffles and imagine my delight when they were served in awesome animal shapes!?  At that point it didn't matter what they tasted like.

cow waffle

But, luckily, they were delicious: there was a hint of coffee and it was just chocolatey enough.  I tend to make myself nauseous (in the best possible way) by cooking pancakes with more chips than batter; now I've seen the light.  Well, not really; but, these were still great!  And, in addition to the delicious flavor, the waffle texture was the perfect proportion of crisp to soft.

chicken waffle

My only complaint is that there was some confusion as to which toppings came with which flavors.  And, by confusion, I mean that I unfortunately did not get any of the chocolate sauce or whipped cream I spied at the cooking station!  I will definitely inquire next time, and/or make a special request.  If there is chocolate sauce and whipped cream to be had, you know I'll have it.

barn waffle (admittedly lower on the coolness scale)

I also tasted a friend's pumpkin spice waffle and it was very good.  But, let's face it; as much as I like pumpkin, chocolate beats pumpkin in my book any day of the week.  Also, the pumpkin waffle was square!  How can that compete?  It can't. 

where the magic happens

Now let's talk about the Mac & Yease.  I generally don't like to mix sweet & savory, but I decided to give it a go and I'm so glad I did.  As it turned out, the chef, Ayinde Howell, was so busy that my mac came out early enough that I was able to enjoy it apart from my waffles; in other words, perfect timing.  I love Daiya, so I understand if you're not convinced that Nutritional Yeast, when used in recipes to replicate cheese, can work.  Well, let me assure you that it does.  Besides the cheesy, creamy/crispy, very mac 'n' cheese like texture of the dish, it was also phenomenally seasoned.  Do not pass this up.  Really.  A friend ate two servings in one sitting and another was day-dreaming about it days later. 

I admit that the price is a bit steep for breakfast at a counter-service cafe, however gourmet it may be; so, make sure to print out your free waffle coupon.  The brunch includes two, so with the coupon it will be three!  Who doesn't need an extra waffle?  I know I do.

Monday, January 17, 2011

V (sometimes hits, sometimes misses the) Spot

Anxious to finally visit The V-Spot, we didn't have any idea what to expect.  The dining room and vibe were considerably more casual than I had anticipated, but I was immediately won over by the "No Fur" stickers strategically placed over the coat hooks. 

Unfortunately, though, our welcome acknowledgment was half-hearted and the service was a bit disjointed from the start.  It took asking three separate people just to find out if the sangria was red or white.  While it wasn't an unusual inquiry, the first person shrugged and ultimately ignored us.  The second looked at us quizzically, walked away as though he was going to ask, but never returned.  Finally, the third was able to "find out" that it is red.  It wound up being delicious, but the lackadaisical response had me concerned for how the rest of the evening would play out.

RED sangria for VM & soda for moi
Although most of the menu is Latin-inspired, I was surprised by how many random vegan standards there are as well: edamame, chicken parmesan...even pad Thai.  We decided to keep a Latin theme to our meal and, after having tried one at the Veggie Pride Parade, I knew we had to start with an order of the delicious empanadas.

The two fried flour tortillas packed with potato, carrot, onion, cilantro, corn, and Latin-seasoned seitan were even better than I remembered and we devoured them.  So good, in fact, that I didn't even notice the dreaded cilantro!

Since we both love raw kale, we also chose the kale tostadas: two toasted crunchy corn tortillas topped with raw kale, black beans, avocado, hot sauce, and sprinkled with vegan parm; they were absolutely out of this world.  As with the empanadas, these are a must order. 

After ordering our appetizers we had asked to keep our menus so that we could take more time to decide on our entrees.  We weren't in a rush, but we did find it odd that no one ever returned to ask us what we had decided, to offer suggestions, or even to simply check in to see how we were doing.  Eventually I realized I was going to have to be pro-active, so, sometime after our appetizer plates were cleared, I flagged someone down to place our dinner order. 

Since you can never have enough kale, we ordered a side of the curried kale with chick peas; it was a delicious and hearty portion.

In keeping with the theme of our meal, we also chose a side order of tostones.  Crisp and salty, these were served with an extremely rich and buttery garlic sauce; we both preferred the salsa for dipping.

For dinner I chose the portabello spinach tacos: three soft tortillas filled with mushroom, spinach, potato, chipotle spiced refried beans and avocado.  The tacos had more of a smoky taste than I expected, and were not particularly spicy.  What surprised me most, though, was the fact that rather than containing cubed potatoes, the tacos were instead shmeared with standard mashed potatoes.  Not only didn't this seem authentic, but it gave the whole taco a disappointingly mealy, mushy consistency. 

Served with sweet plantain and salad, I assumed that "sweet plantain" referred to maduros: traditional sweet and extremely soft plantains.  However, these were instead simply half-prepared tostones (after the first fry, but before the smash, second fry, and salt).  Total sad face.

Per usual, VM chose the tastier meal: the spinach burrito: garlic sauteed spinach wrapped with guacamole, black beans, vegan sour cream, salsa, and Daiya cheddar cheese.  The spinach was super-garlicky and everything worked really well together: especially the Daiya (swoon) and the cool & creamy sour cream.  The salad was forgettable and under-dressed.

As we neared the end of our meal we began to notice that the diners around us all seemed to be ordering the same small bowl of something with chips.  We assumed that this was a popular specialty of the house that we were unaware of, but it turned out that it was actually complimentary chips and salsa that we hadn't received.  We were too full to even consider inquiring, but the omission didn't leave us feeling particularly welcome.

Especially amongst my friends, V-Spot is a popular and much-loved restaurant.  That, coupled with the fact that I will require more of their outstanding tostadas and empanadas in the future, has me hoping that the less than stellar parts of our experience were the exception and not the rule.  I'm happy to keep an open mind and check back; I recommend you do too.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Glazed Orange Scones and Maple Cinnamon Raisin Toasted Walnut Scones

I've always been a fan of VWAV scones because they're super easy to make and they seem much fancier than cookies.  Even though there are still some chocolate chip ones in the freezer, when I found myself with some excess creamer in the house I knew it was time to make some more.

Unexpectedly, I decided to go for the glazed orange scones (p. 44-45) and guess what?  I followed the recipe exactly.  Ok, I didn't cut them as advised: choosing, instead, to simply plop them on the baking sheet lazy traditional like (I like them to look like that, so there).  But other than that I went by the book, literally.

Okay, you caught me; I did double the glaze recipe.  I did this because, well, you can never have enough icing (is that news?). And boy was I right to do so.  The icing will dribble off the sides before it hardens (which will take a while), so I advise you to be at the ready with your mini-spatula: scooping and reapplying so as not to waste a drop.  You'll thank me later.

Since I still had creamer left over was on a roll, I decided to whip up a crazy (not really) variation of the traditional scones (p. 42):

Maple Cinnamon Raisin Toasted Walnut Scones
(catchy, isn't it?)

To do so, I used the original recipe and added:

3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp maple syrup
6 packets of sugar in the raw for sprinkling

Because I thought I was out of AP flour should make them healthier, I used whole wheat flour.

Despite the sugar sprinkle on top, these scones might have been the most crunchy granola thing I've ever created.  So much so that I didn't really like them until the 4th one I tried (if at first you don't succeed).  However, everyone else seemed to adore them and, because of that, I'll forgive the fact that they were referred to as both muffins (scones!) and rolls (scones!), and were even eaten on at least one occasion...with butter

Nevertheless, get your scone on!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is there a Future for Middle Class Carrots?

I shop predominantly at farmer's markets during the spring and summer, cooking and freezing enough meals to last me through the cold, dry months of winter.  I recently received a coupon (!) for 20% off my produce purchase at a large supermarket chain and decided to try to stock up on some roasting veggies and perhaps even pick up enough for a fresh stir-fry.  While I was wary of the ginormous store boasting aisles upon aisles of pre-packaged junk food and non-supermarkety items like dvds and tchochkes, I never expected to find barely stocked vegetables rubbery and decrepit with age.

As a member of the hard-working, un-indebted middle-class, I identify with these carrots.  Why?  Because no one is standing up for them* as they wither away into oblivion.  And, lest you think these were an anomaly, here are their neglected, decaying brethren.

Responsible members of the middle class are being forced to bear the fiscal brunt of the country's current financial woes, suffering consequences that have stemmed from other people's irresponsibility.  My fellow veggies seem to be in the same boat.

Between skyrocketing prices, minimal availability, and vile representation, for many people fresh produce is being squeezed out of the daily food pyramid just as the middle class is being obliterated from the American landscape.

The meat and dairy industries have the money to finance television commercials and print ads to keep themselves flush amidst gross misconduct, but who is standing up for the venerable carrot?

* I did contact the offending supermarket, Stop & Shop, to complain, but I have received no response.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Delicious Dr. Cow

Maybe it's because I only treat myself to it infrequently, but every time I try Dr. Cow it's better than the last. This time around I chose two previous favorites and two flavors I'd yet to try.

Yes, the servings are somewhat small and the price is a bit steep, but this artisanal, vegan cheese is a fine and delectable treat for your palate.  Plus, it's robust, hearty, and never disappoints.  I know of no other "cheese and crackers" cheese like it in the vegan world; it's so dimensional that you can even enjoy it plain.  Really.

top row: cashew nuts & kale, macadamia
bottom row: cashew and blue green algae, cashew & Brazil nuts

I started out with the Aged Cashew and Brazil Nuts cheese.  Mild and slightly nutty, this is a previous favorite that continues to satiate.

Then I tasted a new flavor, Aged Cashew Nut and Kale cheese.  Sweeter and slightly pungent, this olive green wheel tempted my taste buds in a much different way.

The most expensive variety that Dr. Cow offers, I had to finally try the Aged Macadamia Nut cheese.  It is unlike any of the other flavors I have tasted: softly textured to the point of being practically spreadable, this cheese dissolves on your tongue with a mouth feel similar to shredded coconut.  Decadent.

Finally, the Aged Cashew and Blue Green Algae cheese.  I'd had this one before and, once getting past the unusual teal color, really enjoyed it.  But for some reason this time I was completely blown away.  Tangy and vinegary, it's the cheese lover's equivalent of salt and vinegar chips (although not terribly salty).

If you have been meaning to try Dr. Cow cheese and haven't, for whatever reason, I recommend that you do.  It's not an everyday cheese; unlike Daiya, there's no reason to keep in on hand for regular use.  But to impress your friends, celebrate a special occasion, or just to treat yourself: do yourself the favor.