Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Svelte Sustained Protein Energy Drinks

After seeing Calnatural's sleek looking Svelte drinks at Lifethyme recently, I realized that I'd never posted my review of the assorted, four-pack sampler I'd won from Bohemian Vegan.  I'd been anxious to receive them- not at all so much because I require "sustained energy" for my "active and busy day" (I'm not, it's not), but because they reminded my of a cross between mini soy milkboxes and those non-vegan, Starbucks' to-go Frappuccinos that I never liked, but whose packaging I always find appealing.  Shallow, but true.

Unfortunately, the flavor I had been most looking forward to trying, the enjoy your self. cappuccino, was rendered undrinkable by the fact that for some reason, although the actual, sturdy spout was uncompromised, the entire seal had for some reason come away from the box in transit.  Bummer.

So, I started my taste-test with the just your style. spiced chai.  Not sure how I feel about the self-affirming flavor titles, but the marketing did appeal to me on some level, so who am I to judge?  No, wait; that's what I'm doing.  Never mind.

The boxes are aseptic and surprisingly large.  Refrigerated overnight, the density of the liquid is not thick enough to be a shake, not nearly as thin as soy milk; it most closely mimicked the consistency of eggnog (shudder).  And did I detect a hint of grit?  Hmm.

I consider myself a bit of a chai aficianado- preferring sweet chais to spicy.  This taste was a spice blend (listed simply as "organic spices" in the ingredient list) that I didn't automatically recognize as chai, and was lightly sweet in a most non-cloying way.  I wasn't initially sure I liked it, but the more I drank it the more it grew on me.  It only took half of it as lunch in the middle of my sedentary day to fill me up.  Minutes after finishing it, though, it had left a thick, milky aftertaste that required a big drink of water to flush; I was on the fence. 

In order to maximize the possibility of being won over, next I tried the hello beautiful. chocolate flavor.  I like all things chocolate- soymilk and soyshakes being no exception.  So, I decided to approach this flavor as dessert.  Although a co-worker told me it looked like I was drinking mud, it actually had the same consistency as the chai- without any grit whatsoever.  Not overly chocolatey, it was still nice.

Finally, the looking good. french vanilla.  Even though I'm not a vanilla person at heart, I can especially appreciate a French vanilla.  Unfortunately, this was not a vanilla I could especially appreciate.  The consistency, coupled with the seemingly artificial vanilla flavor, was what I would expect of buttermilk.  When even a fancy glass can't make it go down any easier, you know you're in trouble.

Perhaps these drinks are not intended for me.  After all, they are marketed to people with active and busy days; perhaps if I were busier and more active I would have been more likely to have enjoyed them.  If you're a fan, feel free to let me know what I'm missing.  Until then, these won't be on my shopping list.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pure City Healthy Vegetarian (Vegan) Restaurant

On the way home from Catskill Animal Sanctuary, we decided to try out the all-vegan, Asian, Pure City Healthy Vegetarian Restaurant in Pine Bush, New York.  According to their menu, "We only use 100% natural, vegetarian soybean ingredients, no saturated fat, low sodium, no cholesterol and MSG free.  A healthy nutritious balanced diet, suitable for all."

After a bit of a drive on considerably windy roads, we were happy to finally find ourselves in a town, on a literal Main Street, and see this:

We didn't have any idea what to expect, but the dining room was startlingly pretty- with stained glass light fixtures over each table.  The restaurant seems family-run, as a young man and a young boy- presumably brothers, serve as waiters.  They both hustled, with the latter trying to spend the down-time reading at an unoccupied table.

Unfortunately for him there wasn't much downtime and the table didn't remain unoccupied for long; we must have arrived just before the dinner rush because soon after every table was full and people were waiting.

We quickly ordered something to drink: VM root beer and, for myself, iced plum tea.  The tea was syrupy and cloyingly sweet, which is saying a lot coming from me.  It also must have been brewed immediately prior to being iced, so it was served at a temperature that ranged somewhere between boiling and chilled.

The spring rolls were nothing special; in fact, they were curiously similar to the forgettable ones we'd had at Loving Hut.  They were inexplicably served with soy sauce, but we were given sweet and sour sauce upon request.

The fried veggie dumplings were a bit better, but nothing special.

Ordering the hot and sour soup was my mistake; I always forget that I don't like the mucousy texture. 

The menu is heavy on soy protein and something called "veggie nuggets", which our waiter explained differs depending on the dish.  Neither of us were feeling adventurous.

VM chose the crispy golden mushroom, "Black mushroom squeeze excess moisture dredge in cornstarch and deep-fry the mushroom strips until crisp with sesame sauce", in the hopes that it would be similar to Hangawi's crispy mushrooms in sweet and sour sauce; it wasn't.  I found the texture so unappealingly rubbery, in fact, that I'm not sure how she ate as much of it as she did- which was about half.  The presentation was dire.

I really didn't know what to order until a neighboring table was served the impressive looking mixed diced vegetable in taro, "A remarkable dish!  Finely diced zucchini, veggie ham, veggie protein, mushroom, red pepper, sauteed in our special light brown sauce, topped with cashew nuts and served in a taro bowl".  I'm a sucker for those crispy bowls; remarkably, this wasn't crispy at all.  I enjoyed the veggies, nuts, sauce, and especially the unadvertised cooked celery.  The veggie protein was surprisingly quite flavorful and I didn't mind having to pick out the veggie ham; unfortunately, though, the stale (?) bowl was a huge disappointment and hard to overlook.

As a side, we ordered the vegetable fried rice, thinking it would be done up right at an all veg establishment.  Unfortunately, it was almost identical to the boring one from Veggie Heaven; we mixed in the remaining sauces from our appetizers to give it some flavor.

While I can really appreciate an all vegan restaurant- especially far from the city, I was surprised that the prices- particularly for the entrees- were so high and the portions so small.  All in all, it was a ho-hum, anti-climactic meal.  Then, when I finished my tea, I noticed that what I'd originally assumed were tiny, encased tea-bags were actually some kind of shrivelly pits.

Any ideas, or don't I want to know?  Use your discretion.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vegan Frozen Hot Chocolate

About a hundred years ago I spotted Frozen Hot Chocolate for the first time, in the dessert section of a chain restaurant menu.  When I asked the waitress about it, she said only that it was like hot chocolate- but cold.  I ordered it despite the lackluster description, and it turned out to be one of the best drinks ever.  I managed to have it twice before becoming vegan, although they've long since taken it off the menu.

Having had the original, I can best describe it as the coldest, thickest, most chocolatey shake you can imagine.  Fast forward decades years later and a co-worker to whom I'd been describing the drink gifted me the Sweet Serendipity cookbook, containing Serendipity 3's famous recipe for frrrozen hot chocolate.  If you've been to Serendipity 3, chances are you didn't eat anything; it's not exactly vegan friendly and neither is the cookbook.  But I thought I could change that by adapting the frrrozen hot chocolate recipe with vegan ingredients.  I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say it didn't work. 

And then one day it occurred to me why; the soy milk I'd been using wasn't mimicking the fat content of the full-fat cow's milk.  So, I substituted coconut milk and voila: the coveted and authentic frozen hot chocolate- cruelty-free!

Vegan Frozen Hot Chocolate (adapted from Sweet Serendipity, p. 107)
(serves 1- trust me)

1/2-3/4 cup chocolate chips (depends how chocolatey you want it)
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cups coconut milk, divided
1 1/2 cups crushed ice

Magic Bullet* (MB- henceforth, both noun & verb)

  • Microwave the chips in a small bowl for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the chips are melty enough to whisk smooth.
  • Add the cocoa and sugar and whisk until mixed- a couple of seconds.
  • Pour 1/2 the milk into an MB mug, add the chocolate mixture, and immediately MB until well blended. 
  • Add remaining milk and ice, MB until no ice bits remain.
Tip: once your chips are melted, remember to move quickly through the remaining steps.  If you're too slow, the melted chocolate will sieze.


* If for some reason you don't have a Magic Bullet, you can certainly use a blender.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Starbucks' Accidentally Vegan Bistro Box- Surprisingly Good

I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks.  I love their soy cinnamon dolce lattes, but I hate their apathy regarding vegan product information.  I also hate their leather chairs and the fact that even though they are currently running a promotion that requires your receipt for participation, they don't give it to you unless you ask for it.  But I digress.

As far as vegan food at Starbucks, a few items have made appearances...and disappearances.  There was the oatmeal prepared with water, the Lucy's cookies, the multigrain bagel, and, well, I think that's it.  A few years ago, some sort of oat/blueberry muffin appeared in my local SB's bakery case labeled "vegan".  It was horrible, just the type of thing non-vegans would use as an example to confirm that vegan food is bad.  Not surprisingly, I never saw it again. I assume the company decided vegan food doesn't sell.  In reality, bad food doesn't sell: vegan or not.  I expected the worst of the new, accidentally vegan Sesame Noodles Bistro Box.

It took a few attempts for me to actually purchase a bistro box.  I'm not sure what the shelf life is, but I kept finding congealed noodles and browning snap peas in boxes dated with a day or two left before expiration.  It also doesn't help matters that the containers are displayed vertically: causing all of the noodle dressing to drip and unappetizingly collect in the bottom edge of the lid.  But one day I reached into the back of the refrigerated case and found one none the worse for wear; it was time to give it a try...and let the woman next to me wonder why I was photo-documenting my lunch.

I have to point out that the overall seal on the package freaks me out a little.  The back is sealed all fine and good,

but the front is closed with only a 1/2" piece of adhesive that, more often than not, seems partially tampered with to my un-trusting brain.  I don't really think people are infiltrating my bistro box (much), but SB should really rethink the the closure; my box seemed fresh and new and yet already the seal was halfway loosened.

Nothing to speak of in the way of aroma, but I dug in: first to the little baggie of sesame peanuts.  YUM!  It's a good thing these are portion controlled they only give you a few, because these are exactly the type of crunchy things you could eat 100 of without realizing.  I decided to save these for dessert.

Next up I tried the individual container of unassuming tofu cubes.  Ok, the baked tofu with lightly spiced lime glaze.  Wow!  These were awesome; why can't I cook tofu like this?  Pressed, extra firm tofu with a substantial chew: moist without being mushy, solid without being dry.  Excellent.

I had extremely high hopes for the cucumber carrot salad, but I have to admit that it was outshined by the tofu.  Still crisp and good in it's own right; it had the added bonus of being housed in my absolute favorite mini, reusable, takeout container.

The main event, the sesame noodles, are described as "Sesame noodle salad tossed with broccoli florets, carrots, red peppers, sugar snap peas and a creamy peanut dressing"; I think I would have given them higher marks had they not built them up so much.  Don't get me wrong, it's good, it's fine; there's nothing wrong with it.  Well, okay, the broccoli florets are minimal and most of the broccoli taste actually comes from the bitter stems they think they've hidden within through the magic of julienne.  Creamy peanut dressing?  It tasted like a light and mild sesame.  The bed of greens underneath were bitter as all get out.  Overall?  Quite okay.  And the sugar snap peas atop were still crisp; how do they do that?  (Speaking of, a friend recently pointed out the mystery of how they keep the apple slices in the non-vegan boxes from browning.   Things that make you go hmmm, indeed.)

Once finished, I revisited the sesame peanuts as a segue into my dessert: a tiny piece of dark, "premium Starbucks chocolate".  I can be a bit of a chocolate snob of late, but this was really good.  If they can accomplish this level of vegan chocolate goodness, why is it that all of their dark chocolate items for individual sale contain milk? 

I would say that this meal was a success: for Starbucks, for vegans, for me on this particular day.  For the same price as a Chipotle meal, you can enjoy this Sesame Noodles Bistro Box whenever there's a Starbucks in sight.  And really, when isn't there?  I urge you to give it a try; it will probably surprise you.  From the first sesame peanut...right up to the part where you realize your friend was right; the box won't fit into the regulation, Starbucks' garbage.

And forget happy meal toys;

this is a the gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Caravan of Dreams: First Impressions

Recently, in honor of a friend's birthday, a group of us went to Caravan of Dreams.  The honoree and his companion are both big fans, another diner had been there once before and hadn't been impressed, and the rest of us were newbies. 

Per usual, I perused the menu beforehand.  Having always assumed Caravan was a casual, longstanding throwback veg restaurant, I was surprised that the the prices were in line with Blossom and John's, as opposed to what I'd assumed were its contemporaries- Sacred Chow and Angelica Kitchen.  Knowing the pretense of the price point going in, I was prepared to hold the restaurant to a proportionate standard in every other respect.

photo courtesy of alz (could the chef have removed the big brown splotch from the otherwise beatific avo!?)

The decor of the back dining room is what may have passed for exotic in the nineties, but twenty years later the red walls and dim lighting are not only bad for blog photos, but are simply unappealing and obviously more likely intended to hide the decorative imperfections than an effort to create atmosphere.  The tiles of the dropped ceiling are torn and seemingly chewed upon in many places, the vinyl diner chairs horrific on their own and made only more atrocious by the exposed stuffing attempting escape from just about every seat.  The worn edges of the veneer-covered, particle board tables are begging to be camouflaged by tablecloths; the napkins are paper.  I will note that Caravan has earned an A rating from the health department, so these shortcomings are all, presumably, aesthetic.

The waitstaff was pleasant enough, but certainly not of the service caliber of other restaurants- both in the same price range and under.  Our waiter chose to remain stationary at one end of the 8-person table so that those on the opposite end had to call their order across the length of diners.  Then, because he remained there, everyone was beholden to pass their menus down to him rather than have them collected.  When the entrees were delivered, the dishes were called out because no effort had been made to track who had placed which order.  Worse, plates were purposefully handed to the wrong recipient with the explicit expectation that our party would distribute the plates amongst ourselves.  Again, not really befitting the price point.

The dishes themselves didn't offer much in the way of presentation; plating didn't seem to have been given more than a glancing thought.  And then it was time for the real test: the taste of the food.

It began poorly with what I fear was their idea of an amuse bouche: two, thin slices of apple drizzled with olive oil.  Uninspired and unnecessary, the oil wasn't even anything special.

The Seitan Nachos appetizer: "Black beans, guacamole and salsa" was, overall, very good.  Everyone at the table- myself included- enjoyed, but I was nonetheless disappointed in what seemed to be store-bought chips, and unimpressed by the the prepackaged seitan chunks.  When an omnivorous restaurant such as John's can make their own seitan, a wholly vegan establishment has a lot to live up to.

photo courtesy of alz

The Almond Hummus (LIVE): "Crudités and chia chips" was a creamy and unexpectedly light hummus.  I was the only person who didn't love the chia chips, but the dip was rather excellent.

photo courtesy of alz

At this point there was another service demerit: replacement silverware was not provided between courses.

For dinner I decided to order the tempeh reuben: "Caramelized onions, Russian dressing, tomato, rye toast, house sauerkraut and pickle".  As expected, the Bread Alone rye was outstanding.  The combination of the Russian dressing and house sauerkraut was superb, but in insignificant quantity; I would have liked to have enjoyed it in more than only the center few bites.  The sandwich also contained one each of a grilled onion and fresh tomato slice- also relegated to the middle of the sandwich.  The main component, the tempeh, was an unfortunately uninspired slice.  This is not to say the sandwich wasn't good overall, but I expected more than good.  

The sandwiches are served with salad or soup; a friend and I who ordered the same meal each chose the opposite accompaniment. My salad was fresh but tiny, and I would have liked to have been able to choose the dressing. 

The soup of the day, butternut squash, was the better choice: sweet and thin.

photo courtesy of My Vegan Gut

Per usual, we decided to forgo the dessert menu and instead hit up Lula's- thus putting an end to my disappointing introduction to Caravan of Dreams. I don't expect to return any time soon.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Poundcake and Some History

Even though I've always loved chocolate desserts and avoided fruit variations, there has always been a special place in my tastebuds for my grandmother's lemon pound cake.  VM would serve the mildly lemony cake chilled, each slice cut into 4 dense, moist, "sticks" of cake: the perfect treat for small fingers.

When I became interested in cooking I asked VM about the recipe.  She waffled between claiming a mysterious memory lapse and cryptically promising to get the ingredients one day.  VM doesn't cook much, but when she does- look out.  So, I imagined all kinds of secrets involved and waited impatiently- for years.   But when the day finally came it wasn't as momentous as I had expected.  Actually, it went something like this:

Me: Why is there a box of Duncan Hines cake mix in the pantry?
VM: It's for the cake.
Me: What cake?
VM: Grandma's cake.
Me: That's the secret?  That's not an "ingredient".
VM: No, the ingredient is the box of pudding mix next to it.

Yes, sad but true.  Apparently this deified dessert was actually the lemon pound cake recipe that has been printed on the back of every Duncan Hines lemon cake mix box for, by my calculations, at least the last 3 decades.   So, what's a vegan to do?  I got to veganizing.  Both the box of cake mix and pudding were accidentally vegan, so all I really had to do was replace the eggs.  Easy?  Yes?  Successful?  No.  Not exactly the cake of my memory. 

To start, the hue was unpleasantly radioactive, so perhaps my tastebuds couldn't rationalize with my eyeballs.  Either way, I found it inedible.  I really don't think the egg replacer is all to blame; perhaps my memory is faulty or my palate has evolved.  It has also crossed my mind that VM is simply hoarding the real recipe for reveal when she starts her own blog.

Whatever the problem, I was still on the hunt for the perfect lemon poundcake.  Enter Vegan Diner.  After the success of the strawberry double chocolate pie, I was anxious to try another dessert from the same tome.

I'd recently read a tip that if you want to prevent your fruit from sinking to the bottom of your baked goods, simply coat them with flour.  It worked!

Lemon zest was conspicuously absent from the Duncan Hines recipe; perhaps part of the problem?



Good?  Yes.  Grandma's?  No.

yes, I technically over-blueberried (force of chocolate chip habit)

I'll keep trying...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant

I finally had the opportunity to try Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant not too long ago and then, while I was in the midst of writing the blogpost, happened to visit again.  Let that be an indication of how delicious it is.

The decor is typical for an Ethiopian restaurant- boasting a mixture of traditional mesobs and western tables.  There are paper napkins and no tablecloths; the atmosphere in general is mediocre.  Both times the service was extremely slow, but pleasant and accommodating.  Rest assured, though; the food will make up for any perceived shortcomings.

For starters, the injera.  Now I know that I am one of the few people who genuinely likes injera, but Queen of Sheba's is the best I've ever tasted; you can even eat it plain.  But why would you?  There are eight vegetarian options on the menu (the fish DOES NOT count); the waitress confirmed that all of them were dairy/ghee free.  You may order 1 item, which will come with two other vegetarian sides, OR if you're smart, you can order the Sheba Vegetarian Combination Sampler Dish, which comes with- interestingly enough- seven of the eight vegetarian options.  On both visits I was allowed to substitute the butecha for the shimbra asa without hesitation; I recommend following my lead. 


  • Ater Kik Alecha: "split peas are cooked in onions, garlic and olive oil, mild yellow dish with a touch of turmeric and subtle blend of herbs and spices".
  • Shiro: "split peas are milled together with a perfect blend of berbere, herbs and onions, slow-cooked into a creamy dip for your injera."
  • Cabbage Wot: "cabbage, potato, and carrot cooked with onion and garlic, with a touch of turmeric."
  • Gomen Wot: "finely chopped collard greens are cooked in their own steam with mild seasonings and olive oil."
  • Atakilt Wot: "fresh string beans and long cut carrot [don't be fooled; they're baby carrots] are cooked in tomato sauce with our rich blend of seasonings."
  • Misir Wot: "split lentils are stewed with onion, garlic, and a blend of Ethiopian herbs"
The food is outstanding and you will continue eating long after you are ful (Ethiopian humor). 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mirror Image Meals at Blossom

Blossom in Chelsea is our favorite of the group.  Why?  Mainly, pea cakes.  And by "pea cakes", I of course refer to the delectable and infamous black-eyed pea cakes appetizer for which my stomach knows no limit.

"Crispy cake of yukon gold potatoes and black eyed peas, served with chipotle aioli."

Then there is the incomparable phyllo roulade entree.  Yes, yes; I know.  Sue us; we both order the exact same thing every time.  It's just that good.

"French lentils and root vegetables baked in a phyllo crust, served over a carrot-cream sauce. Caramelized onions and swiss chard complement."

Another thing that makes Blossom divine is the chilled bilberry juice; I love it when restaurants offer a non-alcoholic beverage alternative to soda.  So, while VM always orders wine, I unfailingly choose the mild but extraordinarily tasty bilberry juice.

Blossom only carries beer and wine, but I'd venture to guess that the bilberry juice would also be fantastic mixed with vodka on the rocks.  Just saying.

So there you have it: one of our favorite meals.  Try it; you'll like it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Freezy Freeze LIQUID NITROGEN Ice Cream

Just when we were about to leave the Red Bank farmer's market with tummies full of delicious grub from the Cinnamon Snail, I got a glimpse of this:

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream?

It seemed too kitschy to be vegan, but I decided to investigate the process just out of curiosity.

It would seem, though, that I'd missed the "Yo..." in the corner above. Luckily, there was this sign to answer the unasked question:

Well then.  Problem was that I was full.  But it was hot.  And, besides; it's my duty as a blogger to thoroughly explore all vegan options that come my way.  At least that's what I tell myself think. 

I approached the "Mad Scientists" (for real, that's what it says on their business card) and was told that the vegan version was made with soy and coconut milk, dairy-free Valrhona chocolate, and the option of Oreos.  Say no more, Freezy Freeze; let's do this.

First the milk mixes up with the chocolate powder.

Then the exciting part: filling the metal pitcher with the liquid nitrogen.  Check out the frost:

After that the liquid nitro goes into the chocolate/milk mixture and instantly freezes the contents.

It doesn't take much time, but it does take some strength to chop up the super-frozen contents of the mixing bowl and quickly mix in the toppings (they have an assortment to choose from). 

And then, in addition to the demonstration, I received my very own bowl of liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Now normally I eschew all kinds of magic science and math, but how could I resist when the end product is ice cream?  Plus, you gotta love the juxtaposition of the space-age ice cream with the old school wooden spoons.  Get some for your very own at the Red Bank Farmer's Market!