Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Matchy-Matchy Meal

I grew up watching lots of Food Network (way back when it called the "TV Food Network"), and if there's one thing I learned, it's that meals should have "gorgeous color." When I was home alone in the summer, I'd concoct crazy meals in my mama's kitchen with way too much spice. And I'd say to my pretend audience, "Just look how the color of these green beans pops against the yellow corn." Sometimes, when I'm alone, I still pretend like I'm on a cooking show when I'm prepping meals (yes, I just admitted that). And I still brag about the lovely colors in my saute pan.

I also know that one's plate should contain lots of colors for the full nutritional spectrum (beta carotene, flavanoids, and all that mess). But tonight's two dishes violated that rule. My entree and my side veggie turned out almost the exact same color. I didn't even think about that when planning this very orange and tan meal.

My main dish were these Chickpeas with Carrots and Onion from The Natural Vegan Kitchen:

This is the sort of dish that doesn't need a recipe, but it has one magical ingredient that I wouldn't have thought to include without some direction from cookbook author/macrobiotic guru Christine Waltermyer — kombu! The flat, dark green sea veggie is simmered with the dry chickpeas, carrots, and onion, and after it sits a spell, the juice gets all thick from the gelatin-like effect of the kombu. Not like Jello-thick, though. More like cornstarch-thick, but without the gravy-like consistency.

My other orange and tan dish was this serving of Steamed Sweet Potato Melt, also from The Natural Vegan Kitchen:

It might look similar to melted cheese, but that gooey stuff on top is actually melted mochi! If you've never had mochi and love chewy food, this stuff is a must-try. It's a pressed rice cake that melts when heated and puffs up when baked in the oven. It's super chewy and delicious.

I must say though, this sweet tater dish may be one of the weirdest things I've ever cooked. Delicious, but weird. The potatoes are steamed in orange juice and then topped with a tahini-dill sauce and melted mochi. Strange as hell, right? But I think that's why I was drawn to it. I'm always attracted to dishes with weird-ass flavor profiles.

Anyway, I'm sure I got plenty of beta carotene from this meal, considering all that orange. Despite it's color-sameness, the two dishes complemented one another quite well.

Do you strive to get as many colors onto your plate as possible? Or do you also secretly have pretend cooking shows in your kitchen (I know I'm not the only one!)?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Extra, Extra!! Vegan Cafe Opening in April!!

As I've lamented over and over again, Memphis doesn't have one single, totally-vegan restaurant with a full menu. Cosmic Coconut, a vegan/raw juice and smoothie bar, is opening soon, and there is Belawa's tasty little raw vegan burger stand inside Smooth Moves cafe (which is also home to a Middle Eastern food counter that serves meat). But where does a vegan go for "junk" food?

We do have some guilty pleasure options (BBQ tofu nachos at R.P. Tracks, the best vegan burger ever at Fuel) at veg-friendly places around town, but Memphis will soon be home to a totally-vegan comfort food eatery called Imagine Vegan Cafe. It'll be in the old Casa Grill location at 2156 Young Avenue, and they're opening on April 18th.

Co-owner Kristie Jeffrey (who's opening the cafe with her partner Adam, both pictured here with their kids) took some time out of prepping the new space to answer a few questions about Imagine Vegan Cafe:

1) What inspired you to open a vegan cafe in Memphis?

Feeling like a weirdo. Our daughter Savannah loves to eat out, but 90% of the times we do, our order is messed up, and we get some sort of animal product on our food. This can be hard on many adults, but it is much harder on a child. She winds up feeling like a weirdo and we all wind up feeling bad for being so complicated.

So, after numerous experiences of getting our food wrong, not knowing in detail how they make certain items, and sometimes just bad service from people who don't understand the vegan lifestyle, I was bound and determined to open a place that was different. A place where you never have to question what is in your food, a place where you will never accidentally wind up with some sort of animal product in your food, and where you never feel out of place for eating vegan!

2) What kind of entrees, appetizers, and sides will you be offering?

We are so excited about the menu! It is very extensive. Appetizers range from cheese sticks to spinach dip, pigs-in-blankets to chicken drumsticks. Entrees include items such as mahi mahi, flank steak, tacos, beef tips and even country fried steak.

We will also offer close to 15 sandwiches including Memphis BBQ and Philly cheesesteaks. Sides will primarily consist of southern comfort foods such as hush puppies, mac 'n' cheese, black-eyed peas, cole slaw, etc.

We are also very excited about the build-your-own menu items of pizza and chili dogs. You can keep them simple or order them as messy as possible!!! We will also offer gumbo year-round, which is one of our favorite items!!!

3) Any desserts?

YES!!! This is Adam's favorite part of the menu. =) We will offer a lot of ice cream desserts, such as brownie sundaes, banana splits, and milkshakes. We will also have homemade chocolate chip cookies, killer chocolate cake, and pecan pie.

4) Will you be serving alcohol?

LOTS of Beer!!! As soon as we are approved with our beer license, we will sell a range of odd beers. The more unique the better!

5) What hours will you be open?

We are not entirely certain of this yet, but we think Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.

6) Will the restaurant have table service or counter service?

You will order at the counter but all food and most drinks will be brought to you. Iced tea will be self service.

7) Yours will be the only totally-vegan cafe with a full menu in Memphis, and it will surely go over well with the vegetarian population. But how you plan to attract omnis?

1) By offering items they never even thought could be vegan. Many of our family and friends have tried items such as the corn dogs and beef tips and enjoy them just as much, if not better than the original. There's nothing better than enjoying great foods like these without biting into a piece of fat, gristle, or that thing you bite into sometimes not knowing what it is but you swallow really fast before you gag. =)

2) Live music. We want to get local bands in to play on the weekends. Not only because we are actually musicians ourselves but to have a place musicians can come show off their talent.

3) GOOD cheap beer! This always attracts people. We hope they might actually try a new item while they are enjoying a brew!

8) You've said you're not going for the "healthy vegan" approach, but rather you'll be catering to vegans who want junk food options (like me!!). Why are you taking that approach?

This is really important to us because sometimes you just want to eat what society calls "normal" without having to ask someone to give up their life in the process. You don't want to HAVE TO eat salad or tofu. Although these items are great, they are the standard option anywhere you go.
Our children want to go out and get chicken nuggets or pizza just like every other kid in America. They just want to do it without harming their animal friends in the process. For us, being vegan is about respecting all life that surrounds us. Being healthy is the added bonus.

Stay tuned to Vegan Crunk for further updates on Imagine Vegan Cafe's opening. This place is so right up my alley — comfort food, good beer, vegan cheese sticks, dairy-free milkshakes. I don't think I'll ever leave this place once it opens.

In other vegan news, Midtown Yolo (a local yogurt joint with a few dairy-free options) will feature the top five winners from their Project Green Fork Flavor Creation gelato contest on Friday, April 1st from 2 to 6 p.m. I have the inside scoop (no pun intended) that one or more of the winners will be dairy-free! The address is 6 S. Cooper St.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taco Tuesday!

I'm sure this isn't the first time I've labeled a post "Taco Tuesday," but hey, I'm a sucker for alliteration. Although I made these tacos today (and it's still Tuesday here), the recipe for these Fun & Tasty Tacos came from my weekly Farm Animal Reform Movement "Meatout Mondays" email:

Now, these were indeed "fun" and "tasty," but if this were my recipe, I would have called it something a little more delicious ... like "Beefy" Mushroom Tacos with Avocado Verde Salsa. Because that's exactly what they are. You can find the recipe here.

I didn't realize it until after buying groceries, but the recipe says to use Gardein Beefless Tips OR 3 large portabello mushroom caps. I must have skipped right over the "or" because I thought I needed both for the recipe. After I realized my error, I decided to go ahead and use a combination of marinated mushrooms and Gardein. And I'm glad I did!

This was my first time trying the Gardein Beefless Tips, and all I can say is, "Wow!" These really do have the same taste and texture as real beef tips. Granted, I haven't eaten a beef tip since at least 1994, but I'm certain this is what they taste like. The mushrooms were marinated in verde salsa, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice. And then both were sauteed with frozen corn.

Then it's all topped with a salsa made from more verde sauce, diced avocado, cilantro, garlic, and lime juice. I served my tacos with a side of my Dirty (South) Rice, a recipe from my upcoming cookbook. The rice is a fusion of traditional Southern dirty rice and Spanish rice.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Jasmine Thai & Vegetarian Restaurant

Most Thai places in Memphis offer a few vegan options, but the curries typically contain nasty fish sauce. Eww! Thankfully, we have loads of very vegetarian-friendly Thai options at Jasmine Thai & Vegetarian Restaurant in the Cooper-Young neighborhood.

For years, I've ordered the same thing at Jasmine — Thai Chesnut Tofu:

Fried tofu cubes, baby corn, peppers, bamboo shoots, and cashews top a crispy potato basket. A potato basket, by the way, is a crispy bed of fried hash browns. Oh yes, this is amazing! You can see why I've ordered it over and over.

But on Sunday, my friend Rachel, her daughter Acadia, my boyfriend Paul, and I went to Jasmine and I was feeling all adventurous. So I ordered a dish I'd always wanted to try — Crispy Orange Bean Curd:

It may not look like much, but OMG, y'all. Giant deep-fried balls made with tofu and assorted veggies are coated in a sweet-n-savory citrus sauce flecked with jalepenos, carrots, and celery. I think I may have a new fave Thai dish.

I've yet to try any of Jasmine's curries, but there are plenty of vegan options. In fact, there are so many veg dishes offered at Jasmine, it's nearly impossible to choose one. That's why I've stuck with same Thai Chesnut Tofu for years. As a vegan, I'm easily overwhelmed by options. Now I think the Crispy Orange Bean Curd will be my new standard. BTW, even though "vegetarian" is part of Jasmine's title, they do also serve meat. But the veg menu is as large (maybe even larger) than the meat menu.

Jasmine Thai & Vegetarian Restaurant is located at 916 S. Cooper. Call 901-725-0223.

Do you have a regular dish at a restaurant that you order over and over again?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fun with Fake Meat!

Take a close look at this picture:

If this wasn't a vegan blog, you'd probably guess this was a photo of chicken covered with dairy cheese. Right? But since y'all know I haven't turned to the dark side, I'm sure you assume it's fake meat and vegan cheeze. In fact, it's a Gardein Tuscan Breast covered in Daiya Cheddar Shreds served over brown rice with a side of sauteed cabbage. But isn't it crazy how meaty this meal looks?

I've professed my love for Gardein on this blog before, so I won't go and on. But I'm slowly discovering more flavors and textures of this magical meat substitute. Why couldn't this have been around back in my early veg days in the mid-90s? Veg meat has come so far! And so has vegan cheeze for that matter.

What's your favorite faux meat? If it's Gardein, which flavor/style do you love the most?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Yolo

Frozen yogurt is all the rage in the Memphis foodie circles these days, but I've not paid much mind to the trend seeing as how yogurt is not vegan. When a new Yolo, a local chain of frozen yogurt shops, opened in Midtown, I thought nothing of it. What could they possibly have for me?

Well, turns out Yolo not only sells yogurt, but they also make their own gelato. And where there's gelato, there's usually also sorbetto (a fancy word for dairy-free sorbet). A co-worker told me Yolo carried a few fruit sorbettos, so I checked it out for myself. When I was there yesterday, Yolo Midtown had two options — Orange Sorbet (in the self-serve yogurt machine) or Lemon Sorbetto (from the gelato case). Always a fan of anything lemony, I opted for the latter:

This was a small scoop, really the perfect size for one person. The lemon sorbetto is creamy and tangy with just the right sweet-to-pucker ratio. Far tastier than my usual Ciao Bella Lemon Sorbet from Whole Foods.

Now for the bonus. The new Midtown Yolo shop is also home to Lady Bugg Bakery, a local producer of made-fresh-daily sweet treats. Turns out Lady Bugg Bakery always keeps at least one vegan dessert in stock. Today, they were offering these Vegan Chocolate Spice Muffins:

Imagine Mexican hot chocolate in moist muffin form. That's what these muffins taste like. They're also flecked with chocolate chips because you can never have too much chocolate.

I'm so proud of Yolo and Lady Bugg for offering up delicious vegan desserts. Unless you make 'em in your own kitchen, vegan sweets in Memphis can be hard to come by.

Yolo/Lady Bugg Bakery is located at 6 S. Cooper St. Call 901-343-0438.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

She Sells Sanctuary Salad

Okay, first things first. The winner of the Speed Vegan cookbook giveaway is Lacey of Lacey Loves Food! Congrats, Lacey! She was lucky random number 18!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled post:
For a food addict like myself, a delicious meal serves as sanctuary. Food is safe place where all the troubles in the world melt away, at least until my plate is licked clean (and yes, I have been known to lick a plate). Maybe that's not the healthiest attitude to have toward food, but it's the one I've got and I've learned to live with it. When I'm not eating, I'm thinking about my next meal or reading a food blog or perusing a cookbook. Yes, I live to eat.

And nothing says "sanctuary" like great big ole dinner salad topped with all sorts of veggies, baked tofu, and vegan ranch dressing. Naturally, I had to make Isa's Sanctuary Salad from Appetite for Reduction:

This was the first recipe that caught my eye when browsing the salad chapter. It's got all kinds of goodness — romaine, herbed roasted cauliflower, eggplant bacon, baked tofu, carrots, radishes, sprouts, and a homemade vegan ranch made with silk tofu, Vegenaise, and spices.

Let's talk more about that eggplant bacon. OMG. This is from another recipe in Isa's book. It's smoky and crispy, and it's freakin' eggplant. By the way, I learned the hard way that eggplant is way out of season. I looked at three stores before I found one and then paid $5 for it. Yes, $5 for one eggplant. But I really, really wanted to make eggplant bacon.

What's your food attitude? Do you live to eat? Or just eat to live?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tofu Scramble: The Remix

I've had my fair share of tofu scrambles, and though they typically all have a unique taste, the concept is the same. Crumble a block of tofu into a skillet with veggies, saute until heated through, season, eat.

But like most of Jenn "Shaggy" Shagrin's recipes in Veganize This!, her Vegan Scrambled Eggs are totally off the beaten path:

These actually have more of a scrambled eggy texture than plain ole crumbled tofu. Rather than crumble firm tofu directly into a pan, Jenn's recipe calls for processing firm tofu with silk tofu and some spices much like if you were making a vegan omelet. Black salt and Jenn's homemade egg mix (a mixture of finely ground nuts, nutritional yeast, and toasted sesame seeds) give the scramble an authentic flavor.

The processed tofu mixture is poured into a pan with veggies or other add-ins (I used carrots, spinach, and onion), and then you just wait for it to firm up and brown on one side like a tofu omelet. But instead of flipping, you mix the stuff all up to achieve a scrambled texture. So different and so tasty. I enjoyed my "eggs" this morning with a slice of whole grain toast spread with Megan's homemade blueberry preserves (from a care package she sent me last year).

Don't forget to enter my Speed Vegan cookbook giveaway!!

What's in your ideal tofu scramble?

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Woodlands Indian Cuisine

Indian food was one of the driving factors in my decision to go vegetarian in 1994. My best friend Purvi moved to my small Arkansas town from India in the 8th grade, and she was vegetarian. When her family moved to Oklahoma the next year, I spent a week visiting them. While I was there, I only ate vegetarian food since her family is veg. Her mom didn't make much Indian food for us at home (mostly grilled cheese sandwiches), but on my last night, we ate at an Indian restaurant. One bite of a samosa and I was hooked for life. I'd wanted to go veg since the moment I realized meat came from animals, but it wasn't until that experience with Indian food at age 14 that I knew I could do it. I gave up meat and never looked back.

Fast forward to now: I still love, love, love Indian food. And I especially love South Indian food thanks to all the fried goodness and dosa. Woodlands Indian Cuisine is, hands-down, the best South Indian joint in Memphis. They don't use ghee in many of their veg dishes, and their dosa is to die for. Woodlands used to be a totally-veg establishment when they opened, but they added meat to the menu a year later because Memphis is a dumb, meat town that can't sustain a totally-veg restaurant. Thankfully, the menu is still ripe with veg options.

Last Thursday, I met PPK-er Jody, her friend Julia (both from Boston), Stephanie (Poopie Bitch on the PPK), her husband Richard and their Poopie Baby Peter at Woodlands:

I strayed from my usual Gobi Manchurian for this delicious Mysore Masala Dosa. Look how big that dosa is!

The dosa was stuffed with hot sauce, potatoes, onions, and spices and served with coconut chutney and sambar soup. I rolled it up burrito-style and gobbled the entire thing:

And if that wasn't enough fried food for me, I also ordered this appetizer of Vada Sambar (fried savory lentil donuts with sambar soup):

I was totally stuffed after all of that, but Stephanie brought a tester apple pie from Isa and Terry's upcoming pie book (the completion of the cupcake/cookie/pie trilogy):

Nothing says multicultural like Indian food and apple pie, right?

Woodlands Indian Cuisine is located at 4205 Hacks Cross. Call 901-737-9914.

And don't forget to enter my Speed Vegan cookbook giveaway!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Speed Vegan Spring Giveaway!

So spring has finally sprung! It was 81 degrees in Memphis today, and I suddenly noticed my yard is in major need of mowing. I hate, hate, hate winter, so I'm super-duper excited for spring. I celebrated the equinox with some serious spring cleaning (baseboards, closets, dusting in hidden places I've never even thought to dust). And I also enjoyed this light spring meal of Navy Bean & Swiss Chard Soup from Speed Vegan:

Nothing says "early growing season" like fresh greens, and Swiss chard is one of my faves. I'm also a big fan of white beans, so this soup was the perfect combination. As with all the recipes in Alan Roettinger's Speed Vegan, this dish came together in a matter of minutes.

Lucky for one of y'all, the Book Publishing Company (publisher of Speed Vegan) is letting me give away a copy of Speed Vegan to one lucky reader! See the bottom of this post for details on how to enter. Read my review of Speed Vegan here.

You can't have soup without bread! So this was the perfect opportunity to make Sarah Kramer's Sassy Sandwich Bread, the March recipe in her Go Vegan! 2011 Wall Calendar:

The recipe is accompanied by an adorable parody album cover of the Beastie Boys' "Check Your Head." Instead of Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA, the picture features three gansta Sarah Kramer's in toboggans, sneakers, and shades with the words "Yeastie Boys" and "Check Your Bread." Cute, right? The bread, by the way, is absolutely delish! Soft and chewy and perfect topped with a little melted Daiya vegan cheese.

Ok, now for the giveaway details. Leave me a comment about your favorite quick, gourmet-ish meal ideas.

For an extra chance to win, tweet about the giveaway and leave an additional comment letting me know you did. For an extra, extra chance, link back to the contest from Facebook and leave yet another comment to let me know. And finally, for a fourth chance, link back to this contest on your blog (if you have one), and leave yet another comment to fill me in. That's four chances to win!

If you don't have a Blogger account with a listed email, please leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. Good luck! I'll randomly select one winner on Wednesday night (March 23rd).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Luck o' the Irish!

Yes, I know St. Patrick's Day is officially over. But I just got home from Dublin House Irish pub, and it's nearly 1 a.m. Since I have to work at 9 a.m., I'll just quickly show y'all my St. Patty's Day Luscious Lime Pie from Sweet Utopia:

I wanted to bring a green dessert to work today, and this pie was so simple. And green! The filling is made from silken tofu, vegan cream cheese, sugar, lime juice (not key lime, just regular), and vanilla extract. The graham cracker crust is storebought — Kroger had 'em marked down for 50 cents a piece a few weeks back. Also, I added some green food coloring for festiveness, and I topped with a little Soy Whip.

My non-vegan co-workers — many of whom did not wear green!! — couldn't even tell the pie was made with tofu.

How do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day? I ALWAYS wear green clothes, make green food, and spend the evening drinking Irish beer (no un-vegan Guinness though!) with friends.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vegan Alfredo for the Vegan Munchies

I've made plenty of vegan fettucine alfredo recipes over the past few years, and I've been impressed by all of them. Lindsay's low-fat tofu-based alfredo sauce from Happy Herbivore is fantabulous, and the vegan parm-heavy version in Skinny Bitch has long been a favorite. But when I saw Jenn "Shaggy" Shagrin's Roasted White Eggplant Fettucine Alfredo with Fresh Fennel and Spinach from Veganize This!, I knew I had to give it a go:

Rather than rely on tofu or faux vegan parm, Jenn's recipe uses pureed, roasted eggplant and MimicCreme to create a creamy, rich sauce that packs a nutritional punch. I love the idea of hiding veggies in my sauce! Also, this was my second time using fennel (notice the fancy-ass fennel frond for garnish), and I really do like it. Last time, I ate it raw in a red quinoa salad, but in this recipe, the fennel is sauteed with onion in olive oil with herbs and white wine. I'm pretty sure I like fennel best when cooked.

This is the first recipe I've made from Jenn's book, but at a glance, the book seems as awesome as the Shaggy lady herself. If you've never been to Jenn's blog, Veganize It ... Don't Criticize It, you're totally missing out. Jenn uses her blog to share her gourmet vegan recipes and hilarious stories. She's definitely the funniest food blogger I've ever had the pleasure of following.

As for the book, the recipes are generally pretty fancy (think coconut vinegar-cured tofu scallops or lemon-thyme-agave-braised vegan short ribs), but in true Shaggy style, the recipes are filed under chapter headings like "Recipes Guaranteed to Get You Laid" or "Satisfying the Vegan Munchies." And also in Shaggy style, the gourmet recipes are interspersed with veganized versions of junk food fit for a vegan stoner (think homemade vegan Doritos and vegan Twinkies!). Yes, I said "vegan Twinkies." You need this book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard

I love healthy smoothies, sure. But you know what I like even better? Milkshakes. Creamy, dessert-y milkshakes. When I read the ingredients for the Cake Batter Milkshake on Chocolate-Covered Katie's blog last week, I thought it sounded more like a smoothie. As usual for Katie, her recipe was ultra-healthy. But something about calling a smoothie a milkshake made it seem oh-so-much more appealing. Oh, and the sprinkles didn't hurt either:

This decadent milkshake is made from frozen banana, extra-virgin coconut oil, soymilk, vanilla extract, and sprinkles. Other than the sprinkles, it's the stuff I'd normally include in my pre-workout smoothie. But it tasted magical, just like dessert.

To up the milkshake's junk foodiness, I added a giant blob of Soy Whip. I realize the above blob doesn't look giant, but I added way more after the shot. Guilty! Anyway, you must try Katie's recipe. It's super-easy, healthy, and it was the perfect dose of energy before hitting the gym after work.

Confession: The Soy Whip — from the whippable box — expired in May 2010. The box had been sitting in my fridge for a long while! But it was unopened, and it didn't smell funny or look weird. So I ate it anyway. I typically eat food way past the expiration date so long as it looks normal.

What's your policy on eating expired food?

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's All Gravy

Everything tastes better with gravy on it. When I see "gravy" in a recipe title, the dish immediately gets pushed to the top of my very, very long to-make wish list.

But gravy doesn't have to be your typical white, Southern country gravy. I'm intrigued by unique gravies, like the masa-based sauce in this Seitan In Mexican Gravy recipe from The Natural Vegan Kitchen:

I reviewed The Natural Vegan Kitchen in yesterday's post, but in case you missed it, this new cookbook by Natural Foods Cooking School founder Christine Waltermyer features a nice mix of macrobiotic and regular vegan meals. I'm not sure where this dish fits in, but it's delicious.

From the picture, it's hard to tell what's going on in that bowl, so let me explain — tender chunks of homemade seitan are simmered with cabbage, carrots, onions, and garlic and then it's all enveloped in a thick, creamy masa-flour based gravy. Masa is typically used to make tamales, so just imagine a gravy that tastes just like tamales. Yea, it's super-yummy. I served the gravy dish over brown rice and topped it with a little cilantro and sriracha. Oh, and I had a little green salad with Annie's Goddess dressing on the side.

By the way, if you'd like to win a copy of The Natural Vegan Kitchen, head over to the Book Publishing Company's website to enter their giveaway. Click here to enter.

What food do you like to smother in gravy?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Natural Vegan Kitchen

I've run into a handful of totally macrobiotic folks in my day, and I always ask, "How can you live without tomatoes or potatoes?" I'm sure its the macrobiotic equivalent to the annoying, age-old vegan question, "Where do you get your protein?" But I can't help but ask. I'm down with brown rice and mochi and all that, but I need nightshades in my life.

Thankfully for not-so-diehard macrobiotic food fans like me, there's Christine Waltermyer's new book, The Natural Vegan Kitchen. Much like Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, Christine's book combines the foods of a macrobiotic diet (whole grains, sea veggies, miso, etc.) with some regular vegan recipes made with whole foods. For example, Christine has recipes for the very macrobiotic-sounding Magical Miso Soup (think wakame, daikon, and shitake mushrooms) and the not-so-macro Mom's Potato Salad (taters, vegan mayo, the works).

As the founder of the Natural Foods Cooking School, Christine know a thing or two about delicious, healthy eatin'. She managed to cure her own health problems (recurring fibroids in her breasts) by switching to a vegan diet in 1992. I've tried a few recipes from The Natural Vegan Kitchen so far, and I'm really loving it!

Last week, I made her Tempeh Mock Tuna Salad and served it on pita bread with green leaf lettuce:

I've made tempeh tuna salad before, but Christine's recipe was very different from any other I've tried. It called for cooking the steamed tempeh with mustard and miso to season, and then mixing it with vegan mayo, pickle relish, and the other stuff typically found in tuna salad. So creamy and delicious.

Normally, I'd eat chips with a mock tuna sandwich. But after flipping through this book, I was in the mood for a healthier side. So I went with the very macrobiotic Stewed Nishime Vegetables:

This may not look all that appetizing, but OMG! So delicious! "Nishime" is a Japanese term for waterless cooking, and these veggies — cabbage, onions, daikon, carrots — are essentially steamed in a teensy amount of water with a strip of kombu. Then they're seasoned with miso paste. The result is a soft, sweet 'n' salty side that tastes like something someone's Japanese grandma made. I loved daikon before trying this dish, but now I'm gonna have to marry it.

I'll be featuring another Natural Vegan Kitchen recipe in tomorrow's post. But if you'd like a copy of the book for yourself, click here to enter the Book Publishing Company's cookbook giveaway. They're giving away quite a few vegan titles this month: Speed Vegan, The Natural Vegan Kitchen, Vegan In 30 Days, The 4-Ingredient Vegan, Becoming Vegan, and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Clean Start for Spring!

I didn't think twice before saying yes when the publisher of Terry Walters' new cookbook, Clean Start, asked me to review the full-color, hardcover tome. I'd once borrowed (and delighted in) a co-worker's copy of Terry's first book, Clean Food, so I knew her second work would be equally awesome. And I was right.

Terry emphasizes eating whole, plant foods based on what's in season. As far as I can tell, she never uses the word "vegan" in her books, but there's no animal products in her food. It's a clever way to reel in the locavore omnis. Even totally un-vegan Chef Mario Batali offers this praise for Clean Food on the book's jacket: "Clean Food is the most exciting book based on fresh produce and simple recipes I have used in years. Yum!" Haha! I love that Mario Batali ends that statement with "yum."

Anyway, Terry's recipes are super-simple and rely solely on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and the occasional protein (like beans or tempeh). My only complaint is the book can be a little too gourmet for my budget. For example, I spent about $20 to make this Festive Quinoa with Apricots and Orange Zest from Clean Start's Spring chapter:

The only brand of red quinoa at Whole Foods was fair-trade and cost $7 a bag! The pine nuts were $5 for 1/2 cup (the recipe called for a whole cup, but I don't have that kind of money). The dried apricots cost $5 for a container, and I could only find organic fennel for $3.49. Honestly, when I glanced at the recipe, I knew it'd be sort of costly, but damn. I didn't expect all of that. I was just eager to cook with red quinoa and try fennel for the first time. Turns out, I don't hate fennel after all.

Would I make this quinoa dish again? It's doubtful. But it was tasty. Just way too expensive. A much cheaper option from the Spring chapter was this soothing bowl of Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup:

Oh my gawd, y'all. This soup stole my heart. I adore roasted garlic and roasted cauliflower, and this soup relies on both to bring a rich, almost-caramelized taste that I just adored. I wish I had, like, five more bowls of it. And since it only called for a few pantry items, plus fresh garlic and cauliflower, it was more economical to make.

My very favorite recipe so far from the Spring chapter has been this Polenta Pizza with Chard and Parsley-Walnut Pesto:

Doesn't that just look fancy as all hell? The crust is made from herbed corn grits that have been cooked up polenta-style, cooled in a pie pan, and then baked in the oven. The topping is a parsley pesto made with walnuts (better than those expensive-ass pine nuts) and sauteed Swiss chard and red onions. I topped each slice with sriracha (of course!) and Parma and served with a green salad.

I can't wait until summer gets here, so I can move on to the Summer chapter. There's a Peach Gazpacho with Heirloom Tomatoes and a Chilled Chickpea, Tomatillo, and Avocado Soup that are just calling my name.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cosmic Coconut

Memphis is FINALLY getting an all-vegan food establishment!!! As of right now, there is no restaurant or cafe serving only vegan foods. But that won't be the case when the Cosmic Coconut vegan juice bar opens in April in the empty storefront next to Muddy's Bake Shop on Sanderlin in East Memphis.

On Tuesday, Cosmic Coconut proprietor Ashley Dunn welcomed a few vegetarians and vegans over to sample her offerings. She'll mostly serve freshly-made vegetable and fruit juices, as well as smoothies made with fruit and plant milk (no dairy allowed!). And she'll be selling a few raw vegan sweet treats too.

When I walked into Ashley's guest house on Tuesday, she was busy making wheat grass shots to get us started:

Next up were samples of three of her juices — Green Lemonade (lemon, ginger, chard), a beet juice with carrots, ginger, chard, and some other tasty stuff I can't remember, and a refreshing cucumber-apple juice. Here's my co-worker and fellow vegan Hannah enjoying her cucumber-apple beverage:

After the energizing juices, Ashley switched to smoothies. We tried two kinds — her namesake Cosmic Coconut (fresh young Thai coconut meat, banana, pineapple, and coconut milk) and a fruity goji berry smoothie. I LOVED the Cosmic Coconut the most, but I'm a sucker for anything with coconut:

Ashley warned us to save plenty of room for dessert. She made three samples of raw vegan desserts she plans to offer in the store. My very, very favorite were these Coco Nuttys — a cookie made with raw nuts, cacao, and coconut. These were melt-in-your-mouth fantastic!

And then we tried the lemon-coconut thumbprint cookies made from cashews, coconut butter, and lemon juice. After coconut, lemon's probably my second favorite fruit. So of course I loved these!

I failed to take a photograph of our last dessert — a chocolate avocado pudding with rice whip! — but trust me when I say that it was dream-tastic.

Margot McNeeley of Project Green Fork joined us for samples, and she had a little fun with the wheat grass "poop." Here's she is modeling wheat grass dreads:

By the way, Project Green Fork is a local certification system for restaurants who practice sustainability through recycling, composting, and using green cleaners and earth-friendly packaging.

Anyway, I'll keep y'all posted on Cosmic Coconut's official opening date. But if you live in (or ever visit) Memphis, you must stop in and try Ashley's juices, smoothies, and desserts!

Let the Good Times Roll!

Well, it's technically already Ash Wednesday here, but I'm still up, so it's Fat Tuesday to me. In fact, every Tuesday might as well be Fat Tuesday since I don't really celebrate Lent or whatever. But regardless, I can't pass up an opportunity to snack on king cake and drink New Orleans-made beer.

Every Fat Tuesday, I bring a homemade King Cake to work, courtesy of a recipe I tested for Kittee years ago. I can't share it because I believe she's using it for a zine one day, but you can find another Kittee king cake recipe here. Here's this year's cake:

In year's past, I've always filled my cake with Kittee's suggested cinnamon-sugar filling, but this year, I tried using cherry pie filling instead. The gooey, sweet cherries made for one tasty (and gorgeous) filling:

Since I've not been able to find plastic babies for sale here to hide in the cake, I've always used Kittee's suggestion of hiding a dry white bean (with a smiley face drawn on in Sharpie!) inside the cake. The person who finds the bean in his or her slice is responsible for bringing the cake next year. And wouldn't you know it? I got the damn bean in my own slice! Of course, I always bring the cake anyway, so it's appropriate.

Later on in the night, I went to my friend Shara's house to play games on her new Xbox Kinect and drink Abita Turbodog. I always drink Abita on Fat Tuesday since it's made in New Orleans. That's Shara on the left and her cute-ass dog Doogie!

Even though I don't celebrate Lent or Easter in any kind of religious way, I've been considering giving up something for Lent this year just because. I was thinking about giving up cooking with oil and/or fried foods, but now I'm having second thoughts. Lent lasts a long time, and I'm not so sure I'm ready to give anything up so soon after my January cleanse.

Are you giving up anything for Lent this year?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Happy Cereal Day!!

According my Ultimate Holiday app for the iPhone (yes, it's free ... I'm an app whore), today (March 7th) is National Cereal Day. I didn't realize that last night when I made homemade Peanut Butter & Jam Granola from 500 Vegan Recipes:

But how freakin' appropriate, right? The Kellogg brothers — John and Will — invented breakfast cereal in the late 19th century as a vegetarian alternative to traditional breakfast meats like bacon and sausage. You see, the Kelloggs were vegetarians because they were Seventh-Day Adventists. But their first attempts at cereal weren't all that well-received.

It wasn't until they developed granola that folks caught on. That's because granola is the bomb. Especially Celine and Joni's magical PB & Jam granola. It doesn't get much better than all-natural peanut butter, strawberry preserves, and whole gain oats. Plus, homemade granola is so much cheaper than shelling out $5 for a box of Kellogg's or some overpriced all-natural brand.

I served my granola over plain FarmSoy yogurt, which I purchased at the Farm in Summertown last weekend, along with fresh strawberries, walnuts, raisins, and a drizzle of agave nectar. Delish!

What's your favorite vegan cereal or granola?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Fast and the Delicious

Throughout the month of March, the Book Publishing Company at the Farm (the same folks who are publishing my cookbook!) is giving away copies of several recently-released vegan cookbooks as part of the "Live Delicious, Eat Vegan" campaign.

Titles include Speed Vegan, The Natural Vegan Kitchen, Vegan In 30 Days, The 4-Ingredient Vegan, Becoming Vegan, and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. Click here to enter.

I own most all of these book (except for Becoming Vegan), and I can attest that they're all amazing. I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Alan Roettinger, author of Speed Vegan, last weekend when we both led back-to-back cooking demos at the Farm's Sustainable Life Vegan Retreat. Here's Alan in action:

I reviewed Speed Vegan shortly after it came out last year. You can read the full review here, but in a nutshell, I'll just tell ya that this book is designed for vegans who'd love to eat and serve gourmet meals but are hindered by time constraints. Everything in Speed Vegan comes together quickly, yet boasts a complexity of flavor that hints at hours and hours spent working in the kitchen.

This weekend, I attended a dream workshop led by my friend Cindy, and guests were encouraged to bring finger foods. I wanted to show up with something fancy that took no longer than five minutes to whip up. Thankfully, Alan's Artichoke Sandwich Spread from Speed Vegan did just the trick:

Rather than serve it on sandwiches, I brought a bowl of the spread with some Back to Nature Stoneground Wheat Crackers. It literally took me less than five minutes to toss together canned artichoke hearts, vegan mayo, shallots, and few other ingredients to make this appetizer. The results? A creamy, dreamy spread with just the right mix of tanginess and a subtle hint of shallots. God, I love shallots.

Anyway, if you'd like to see Speed Vegan for yourself, hop over to the BPC's website and enter the giveaway!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tasty Bite Is Indeed Quite Tasty

Months and months and months ago, Tasty Bite sent me a few packs of their instant Indian meals for review. I blogged about two of those meals shortly after the package arrived, but the other two packs hung out in my pantry forever. I know, bad blogger!

Anyway, I've been really busy lately after work with meetings, social obligations, and such. And quick heat-and-eat Tasty Bite meals have really come in handy. I tried the Bengal Lentils a few weeks back, and they were pretty damn good for something cooked in the microwave for two minutes.

I really enjoyed the toothsome (yes, I used that word!) texture of the chickpeas in the dish, and the savory tomato-based sauce was perfect. Well, it did lack salt and heat, but that was easily remedied with a dash of sea salt and plenty of sriracha. I served the dish over some leftover brown rice.

Last night, I used the package of Tasty Bite Rogan Josh Simmer Sauce for a quick stovetop meal. Unlike the ready-to-eat packs, Tasty Bite's Simmer Sauces do require a little work. You chop a cup or two of veggies and tofu, saute until tender, and then add the simmer sauce. The veggies really soak up the rich flavor of tomatoes, chilies, ginger, and fennel in the hearty sauce. Beats the hell out of making a homemade sauce when you're in a hurry.

The package also promises "a daring fire dance," but I didn't detect even a hint of spiciness. So naturally, I added lots and lots of crushed red pepper. I like it when my tongue burns with every bite.

I used a combination of cauliflower, white potatoes, carrots, onions, and fried tofu for the Rogan Josh dish. I served the veggies and sauce over brown jasmine rice with whole wheat roti and tomato chutney. The roti (an Indian flatbread) and the chutney were from Passage To India, a local Indian food market.

It's safe to say Tasty Bite makes some of the best instant meals and meal starters, and they're made with simple whole-food ingredients. My only complaint is the lack of heat, but I can always add red pepper and hot sauce to taste.

Are you a spicy foods person? If so, what's your hot poison of choice?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pie Meets Stew

The weather in Memphis is all crazy right now. One day, it's 70 degrees, and hours later, the temps have fallen into the 50s. We've had tornado warnings and crazy storms. Spring is definitely on its way in, but there's still a chill in the air and that's a perfect excuse to make stew. Okay, honestly, I don't really need an excuse to make stew, but it sounded like a nice blog post set-up.

Anyway, when perusing my copy of Appetite for Reduction, the Veggie Pot Pie Stew grabbed my attention:

I think it was the addition of yellow split peas (the corn-lookin' bits in this bowl) that made me do a double-take. Also, who doesn't love pot pie filling? This chunky stew is just like the inside of a pot pie, sans the pie part.

In the book, Isa suggests serving the stew with her Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits:

I've always rolled and cut my biscuits, mainly because I've had one bad experience with dry drop biscuits. But I took a chance on these, and I'm glad I did. The mashed sweet taters make for a ridiculously-moist, melt-in-your-mouth biscuit free of shortening and butter! Well, there is a little oil, but these biscuits are still far lower in calories than what I'm used to. Only Isa can make low-cal taste this good.

On another note, the Farm's Book Publishing Company is hosting cookbook giveaways on their website throughout the month of March. Titles include Speed Vegan, The Natural Vegan Kitchen, Vegan In 30 Days, The 4-Ingredient Vegan, Becoming Vegan, and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. Click here to enter.

What "winter food" will you miss the most when spring finally arrives?