Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stuff I Ate

Time again for a hodge-podge of random meals. Here goes.

I'll go ahead and get the obvious out of the way first. Because you know a few of these meals came from my favorite place, Imagine Vegan Cafe. This one here is pretty sweet. You see, they don't typically serve fried vegan fish there, but they special-ordered some Gardein Fishless Filets for a Fish Fry Friday! This plate has three filets, three hush puppies, tartar sauce, coleslaw, and fries, which Stephanie and I doused liberally with malt vinegar and ketchup, fish-and-chips style! Just like Captain D's!

Every Sunday for brunch, Stephanie bakes a quiche for Imagine to sell by the slice. I got a to-go slice of this Broccoli Tofu Quiche. So good!

Tonight, I got takeout from Imagine — Fried "Chicken" Sandwich and Broccoli with Vegan Cheese Sauce (not pictured). The sandwich may look pretty simple, and that's the point — just vegan fried chicken, mayo, and pickles. It reminds me of those Chicken Littles KFC used to sell when I was a kid. We used to stop there after school every day and pick up Chicken Littles for snacks. This is like a slightly larger vegan version right down to the fluffy white bread. Imagine has wheat bread by request, but I love how their sandwiches come on white by default. Sometimes, you need the comfort of white bread. I never buy it at home, but it's SO GOOD when eaten at a restaurant.

One day last week, I made the drive out to Bartlett, a Memphis suburb, for lunch at 2 Vegan Sistas. It's a totally vegan, mostly raw cafe, and their food is wonderful. But sadly, I rarely get out there because of the drive. I need to commit to eating there more and support other local vegan restaurants! Last week, I ordered the Raw Cashew Burger with cooked Collard Greens. The burger is seasoned quite well, and I love the ketchup, mustard, and onions. And the greens! Oh, the greens! They're delicious and loaded with tomatoes and mushrooms.

The burger comes raw-style on a lettuce leaf, but gluten-free bread is available by request. So of course, I requested it! This was heavily vegan-buttered, and that made it quite delectable. I'm not a huge fan of xgfx bread on its own, but it's perfect with a little added fat. I used this to sop up my greens juice.

2 Vegan Sistas has excellent raw desserts! My fave has always been the Un-Peanut Butter Pie. It's more of a pudding with a cashew crust, and the nut butter is actually almond. And there's carob mixed in and strawberries and more cashew crust on top. It tastes like a raw version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. It's much prettier when served at the restaurant, but I got mine to-go.

I also got an order of 2 Vegan Sistas Flax Crackers to-go. I have a dehydrator at home, but it's so much easier to buy the crackers already-made. These had sun-dried tomatoes in them and they were crispy. I ate them at home the next day with some Lilly's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

I also put that Lilly's hummus in some Veggie & Hummus Pita Sandwiches earlier this week — hummus, bell pepper, grated carrot, tomato, lettuce, and green olives. On the side, I had Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Kettle Chips.

Been doing whole wheat bagels for breakfast. Here's one with avocado, black salt, and chili flakes and another with vegan cream cheese and onion & garlic pepper jelly.

But out of all that deliciousness, nothing could top this bowl of awesomeness (well, maybe the fish fry)! I ordered several boxes of the new Earth Balance Vegan Mac & Cheese a few weeks back. And this was my first bowl — creamy, buttery, cheesy goodness, just like the boxed mac & cheese I lived off of in college. Ah!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bento Box Nicoise Salad!

When a new cookbook by Terry Hope Romero or Isa Chandra Moskowitz (or both of them together) hits the stands, I scoop it up asap. Everything they write is vegan gold, and I knew Terry's new Salad Samurai would be no exception. I purchased the book a few weeks back, and I've been perusing it's pages like a novel ever since.

Here's the thing: I love salads. I eat salads (typically as a side dish, sometimes as a main) at least three to four days a week. Salads make me feel better about eating chips and ice cream and vegan fried chicken. It's all about the balance. But honestly, my side salads have been pretty lame lately — bagged lettuce, carrot, radish, maybe a cucumber, and some low-fat dressing. Uninspired.

But Salad Samurai is changing all of that! For one, I'm much more excited about dinner salads when I see her full-color masterpieces on every page. And the salads are arranged by season, which allows me to eat with the cycles of the Earth, which is really important to me for hippie-dippie spiritual reasons. Each salad is masterfully composed. And most importantly, the book lives up to it's tagline promise of "cutting-edge, ultra-hearty, easy to make salads you don't have to be a vegan to love." I mean, Pepperoni Pizza Tempeh Salad? Deviled Kale Caesar Salad? Almond Falafel Crunch Bowl? Does it get more cutting-edge than that?

I found a number of salads I wanted to try in the summer chapter. But I had a bag of dry chickpeas that I was dying to use (more on that in a few), so Salade Nicoise Bento Box it was!

Isn't that gorgeous?! It's a vegan version of the French seaside salad served in a bento box! And that makes it perfect for taking to work for lunch, which I have been doing. In the big compartment, there are steamed baby red potatoes, steamed green beans, and fancy olives (from the fancy olive bar) over butter lettuce. In the medium compartment, there's a Sea Chickpea salad made with chickpeas, vegan mayo, and lots of dulse. And in the smallest compartment, there's a crazy awesome Basil "Egg" Avocado over butter lettuce. You actually toss avocado with black salt, basil, and lime juice, and it makes the avocado taste like eggs!! Crazy. The whole thing is drizzled with Shallot Mustard Chia Vinaigrette and homemade Coconut Bacony Bits. The coconut bacon bits are INSANE!

One day earlier this week, I decided to forgo the bento and serve the salad in a more traditional style with each ingredient served in a wedge. Such a fun salad to eat because you can really focus on one ingredient at a time.

The salad was super-easy to make, even though there are several different recipes within one recipe. The Sea Chickpeas were especially impressive. I'm not always the biggest fan of dulse, but it works here. For my chickpeas, I used these Pereg Jumbo Chickpeas. They sent me several bags of their legumes and grains to try, and this was the first I've sampled.

You might say a chickpea is a chickpea is a chickpea, but not so. These were different. Because they were cooked from scratch, I could control the texture. I left them a little al dente, so they'd have more of a bite. They were slightly larger than your average chickpea. And they just tasted so fresh! Also, I subbed Vegenaise Grapeseed Oil mayo instead of the homemade cashew-based ranch dressing Terry calls for. It just seemed easier, and the deeper flavor of the grapeseed oil (versus, say, regular Vegenaise) really added something special to this dish. The Sea Chickpeas would also be a great tuna substitute on a sandwich or crackers.

I have so many more recipes bookmarked in Salad Samurai! Some, like the winter Seitan Steak Salad with Green Peppercorn Dressing, will have to wait until they are in season. But I'm certain that before summer ends, I'll be whipping up the Avocado Amaranth Bhel Puri Chaat because I love Indian street food and popped amaranth!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Come See Me Cook Brinner at the Memphis Plant-Based Food Fest!

This weekend, I'll be doing a food demo at the third annual Memphis Plant-Based Food Fest, along with my friend/fellow blogger/future restaurateur Cassi, legendary Memphis raw foodist Balewa, my friend Amy from Whole Foods, and other awesome Memphis vegans.

Plus, there will be speakers on everything from herbology to natural birthing to organic gardening to juicing. And there will be yoga classes, meditation, musical performances, and vendors selling all kinds of hippie soaps and stuff. This will be my third year doing a food demo at the fest, and I can attest that it's always a great time. And it gets bigger every year. Here are recaps I wrote in 2012 (okay, there were two posts in 2012) and 2013.

If you're in Memphis or the surrounding area, come on down! It's at Audubon Park on Saturday, August 23rd from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. My demo will be at 11:30 a.m., and Cassi goes on at 1 p.m.  Here's the full schedule. And yes, there will be free samples of my dishes and plenty of others. If nothing else, come for the FREE FOOD!

I'll be cooking up brinner this year! I'm making my Tofu Scramble and my Sweet Potato Hash from Cookin' Crunk. I always do a run-through about a week prior to a demo, so I can make sure I've got a good list of equipment and ingredients. So that's what I had for dinner tonight, along with some Ezekiel bread spread with Earth Balance and orange marmalade.

I love breakfast at breakfast time, but somehow, it tastes even better at dinner! By the way, if you can't make it to the fest, you can find my scramble recipe here (and in my book, of course!).

Unfortunately, my Sweet Potato Hash recipe isn't online. But it is in Cookin' Crunk. It's a fun spin on Southern hash with grated sweet potato, homemade TVP "beef," onions, and a touch of parsley.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Vegan Fun in Little Rock!

My best friend Sheridan's birthday was August 8th, but she and her partner Drew traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas on her birthday weekend. So we planned a celebration for the weekend after her birthday, which was last weekend. On Saturday morning, I got up early and made the two-and-a-half hour (but really three hours with construction traffic) drive to Little Rock, where they live.

We had a super-fun time, and as always, everything centered around eating (and drinking). Because isn't that all that really matters? I arrived just a little after lunch, so we had a late lunch at Little Rock's new totally vegan restaurant, The Veg LLC.

It's actually a booth inside the Rivermarket Food Pavilion. There are all these booths, many with vegan options, and communal seating in the center. Look at their adorable MC Hammer doll!

I was super excited to finally try an all-vegan place in Little Rock! The menu rotates daily, but on Saturday, they were offering BBQ Nacho Bowls. But rather than traditional nacho chips, this was a burrito bowl stuffed with BBQ lentils, sweet potatoes, lettuce, and Tofutti sour cream. The combo of lentils and sweet potatoes with BBQ was really lovely. And it was fun eating an open-faced burrito.

I also ordered the Peach-Ginger-Cayenne Punch, a naturally sweet and spicy juice with a hint of rosemary. It was perfect for the scorching afternoon.

Drew ordered some Pink Spring Rolls for us to share (the pinkness made me think of my friend Cassi and her upcoming Pink Noodle vegan restaurant in Memphis!). These were fresh and crispy and were served with a yummy sauce. The pinkness came from red cabbage tucked inside these rolls.

And they gave us free Chocolate Chip Cookies! These were chewy and cakey. Yum!

After lunch, we headed back to Sheridan's for birthday cupcake time!

Stephanie (aka Poopie Bitch) baked cupcakes as her birthday gift to Sheridan. She sent me to Little Rock with Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes and Vegan Maple Bacon Cupcakes, and Kristie from Imagine threw in some Fauxstess Cupcakes (also baked by Stephanie) just for fun. I had the chocolate strawberry and the maple bacon and OMG! Cupcake coma. For realz.

After eating cake, it was time to eat again! This time, we headed to the Arkansas Alehouse, home of Little Rock's Diamond Bear microbrewery.

I started with a Paradise Porter. Love a good dark beer, no matter what time of year.

I followed that with Diamond Bear's Pale Ale, definitely my fave beer of the night. It seemed less hoppy than most pale ales, and I liked that.

Our friend Dana of Vanishing Veggie had raved about the Veggie Sandwich here on her blog. And while I don't typically get excited about a veggie sandwich, we knew that if Dana loved it, it had to be good. This wasn't your usual veggie sandwich, folks.

BEST DAMN VEGGIE SANDWICH I'VE EVER HAD. And I mean that. Like ALL CAPS mean that. And here's why: The roasted squash and tomatoes and other veggies are topped with oniony fig preserves. See the figs!

Wow. Just wow. I will be recreating this at home.

After dinner, we went back to Sheridan and Drew's apartment and swam in their pool for a bit. Then we crashed so we could get up early and eat more food. On Sunday, Solfood Catering was hosting a special vegan brunch at the Veg LLC. There were two options — Banana Pancakes with Blueberry-Pear Compote and Apple-Sage Sausage or Buddha's Delight Vegetable Fried Rice with Potstickers. 

Pancakes sounded awfully good, and Sheridan got those. I took a couple bites, and they were fantastic. Love the compote, and the sausage was homemade and delicious. Pancakes don't really photograph well (and my pic is out of focus), but I promise they were delicious.

But I couldn't resist fried rice for breakfast. This was perfect fried rice chock full of veggies and with just the right amount of oil for a Sunday morning hangover. And the potstickers were pan-fried, which I prefer over streaming. And they had a lovely pear sauce.

While were stuffing our faces, Dana of Vanishing Veggie came in for brunch too. She had a big group of friends to entertain, but she stopped by to chat and get a picture.

After brunch, it was pretty much time to drive back to Memphis. I had a maple bacon cupcake before I hit the road though because maple bacon cupcakes.

Happy birthday, best friend!!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Curry Bowl

There are few things I'll drive out east for. I'm a Midtowner with a fair amount of Midtown pretentiousness. If you're not from around here, that just means I live in a hip, kinda edgy neighborhood in the city core, and I avoid the suburbs like the plague. If it involves the interstate, it's probably not worth it. But sadly, the best Indian food in Memphis is way, way out in the 'burbs. Midtown has a few Indian restaurants, but they're all North Indian places. And I'm into the fried dosa goodness of South Indian cuisine.

So I'll drive 20 minutes or more to get decent South Indian food. And last week, I discovered perhaps the most authentic, most delicious South Indian restaurant in town. It's called Curry Bowl, and they offer a large number of vegetarian dishes on their dinner menu and a veg-heavy lunch buffet. I met my friend Leslie there on Friday for lunch, and we both polished off two plates from the buffet.

Here's my first plate - Masala Dosa (seasoned potatoes inside a crepe-like dosa), Mirchi Pakora (fried jalapeno), onion pakora (fried onions), Duros (crunchy pinwheels), Sambar (veggie soup), Lemon Pickle, and Mint and Ginger Chutneys.

And here's my second - Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower fritters), Lentil Dal, Basmati Rice, Vegetable Biryani (veggie rice), Eggplant Masala Curry, Tamarind Chutney, and Coconut Chutney. Also, I think those fried balls were Vada Doughnut Holes, but I could be wrong. And I also had one of those hamburger bun/chickpea half-sandwiches commonly eaten as chaat (street food snacks), but I don't know what that's called.

A note on my dining philosophy: I don't ask lots of questions when I eat out, especially in places where there's already a language barrier. So I use my eyes to try and determine what's vegan and what isn't. Sometimes, I'm wrong. I'm not sure if ghee (clarified butter) was used in any of the dishes I ate on Friday. I hope not, but you never can tell. Anyway, just putting that out there as a disclaimer. Should you choose to dine at Curry Bowl, keep that in mind.

By the way, I'm hosting a class at Vida Vegan Con 2015 in Austin on the ethics of vegan dining and drinking. And we'll be delving into these very issues!

Curry Bowl is located at 4141 Hacks Cross. Call 901-207-6051.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vegan Beignets! And BFFs!

Quick post tonight. I just got home from Jonesboro, Arkansas, where my parents live and where I grew up. And I must get in bed ASAP so I can wake up at 5 a.m. to run six miles! But before I do, I need to share this.

Vegan Beignets!!! My mom made these tonight upon my request. She uses the Meet the Shannons recipe, and she's made them several times before for she and my dad. But for some reason, she'd never made them when I was visiting. Instead, they would eat vegan beignets without me and pretend they were at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Without me! The nerve, right?

Anyway, she finally made vegan beignets when I was home, and they were delicious! Look at that pile of fried sugary topped dough. I enjoyed about five of these with a nice cup of black coffee.

But the real reason I was home wasn't for vegan doughnuts. My third grade BFF Amy was in town visiting her family. Amy has moved all over the country since marrying Allen (whom we also went to school with) because he's in the military. So I haven't seen her in about 15 years! Here we are at her parents' house, where I stopped by to say hi.

We had a quick visit, but it was nice seeing her again! And I got to meet her oldest daughter Allynah, whom I've been Facebook friends with for several years. She reminds me of a younger version of myself! She likes to dye her hair and wants piercings, and she just got back from Warped Tour. Here they are at my parents' house, where they stopped by to say hi!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Breakfast Pita Pizzas by Mark Bittman

I have mixed feelings about Mark Bittman, the New York Times columnist, food journalist, and author of VB6 (Vegan Before 6). If you're not familiar, Bittman, who often writes about the over-consumption of meat in America, is the leading proponent of this "vegan before 6 p.m." diet. He recommends eating vegan meals for breakfast and lunch but says it's okay to eat whatever you want for dinner.

On the one hand, skipping meat for even one meal a day does help some animals. And the diet might help people ease into full-on veganism. But on the other hand, VB6 gives potential health vegans an excuse to continue eating animals, thinking it's okay for their health, so why not? Well, I'll tell ya why not. Because eating any animals (even occasionally) is contributing to cruelty, no matter if those animals are factory-farmed or "humanely raised" (a term that is virtually meaningless, btw). Only worrying about your own health and not the lives of innocent animals seems quite selfish, if you ask me.

But regardless of how I feel about Bittman or his VB6 diet, I appreciate that he's one of the few big-time food journalists out there writing about vegan food. And he's certainly helped bring veganism to the mainstream, which must happen for us to make the greatest impact. So I was pleasantly surprised to find one of his recipes in the June 2014 issue of Runner's World. It was for a Breakfast Pita Pizza with strawberry puree, pistachios, and olive oil.

Runner's World does a decent job of nodding to veganism and occasionally printing vegan recipes. But not every month. When I saw this one, I immediately cut it out and hung it on my workout vision board (yes, I know how nerdy that sounds).

I finally got around to trying it this week, and hot damn! Bittman says the recipe was inspired by toaster pastries, and I don't really see the connection there. But no matter because it's delicious! Fresh strawberries are cooked down with a pinch of natural cane sugar. And then those are spread over a slice of pita bread spread with olive oil (I used a blood orange olive oil). Pistachios are sprinkled on top, and it's baked in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

The result is a fruity, salty (from the nuts), sweet, crispy delight. I washed this down with a glass of unsweetened almond-coconut milk. You can find the recipe on the Runner's World site here.