Monday, October 15, 2012

Vegan Options at Science Club

Awhile back, I went to a friend's birthday celebration at Science Club on 19th Street.  While we were there, his wife pointed out to me that it wasn't just a bar, but it was a vegetarian restaurant.  I knew the Washington Post is a big fan of their veggie burger, but I didn't realize the entire menu was vegetarian.

Today, my co-worker and I had a chance to try Science Club for lunch.  I checked out the menu on-line before we went.  The website design is a little funky, but it's easy enough to see the menu as long as your computer has flash.  It's located on the bottom corner of the website.

Vegan items are clearly marked with a "V."  When we arrived at the restaurant, it was pretty empty, but I'll chalk that up to a rainy day and the fact that most people, like I did, think of it as more than a bar. 

I was pleased to see that the full restaurant menu included a number of vegan options not listed on the website.  In addition to the full menu, we were offered lunch menu pictured to the right.  There were so many vegan options that I had a hard time choosing what I wanted - a kale salad, a vegan burger that could be topped with daiya and vegan aioli, tofu skewers, a gardein "chick'n" sandwich, vegan quesdillas made with daiya, and more!

My co-worker and I opted to start out with the maison frites.

The fries came with a side of ketchup and vegan aioli.  The vegan aioli was a little bland, but since the fries were well seasoned, it worked well, especially since it had such a nice texture.

For my lunch, I opted for a vegan quesadilla - spinach, mushrooms and pepper jack daiya cheese.

The quesadilla was very good.  Normally, I'm not a fan of the pepper jack daiya, but it worked well here and was excellently melted.  I also liked the salsa they served on the side. 

I will definitely go back to Science Club - it's awesome to have a restaurant with so many vegan options so close to my office.  I can't wait to make my way through the menu!

For our vegetarian friends, what's a hidden vegan or vegetarian restaurant gem that's under the restaurant radar?  For our omnivore friends, does knowing a restaurant is "vegetarian" make you less likely to want to try it?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vegan Options at Fuel Pizza and Red Velvet Cupcakes

Last week, I bought a Living Social Deal for Fuel Pizza.  Fuel started out with one store in Charlotte, NC, has since expanded to eight stores in that area.  Recently, they opened two locations in DC, one on K and one on F Street.

The DC locations offer daiya cheese (the NC locations' menus do not appear to have daiya as an option - let me know if you spot it there!) so the DC Fuel locations are an option for vegans.  You won't be able to get pizza by the slice, but you can easily order a custom pie and have leftovers.

On Friday, before seeing a movie, my friend and I visited the K Street location.  I opted for a 12" multigrain crust topped with daiya, spinach, mushrooms and red onions.  While Fuel isn't as generous with the daiya as Pete's, District of Pi, or Fresh Pizzeria are, the sauce was good, the toppings were fresh and I liked the multigrain crust.  Also, the staff were extremely friendly and made us feel very welcome.

My friend was able to order pizza by the slice and enjoyed two vegetarian slices - a spinach-ricotta and a mushroom.  She said that the spinach-ricotta was perfect and that she would get it again, and that the mushroom was good, but could have used more mushrooms.

For those of you who are gluten free, Fuel offers gluten free pizza, and even gluten free beer!  Note that the gluten free pizza is only available in the 12" pie, so no slices and no larger pizzas.  It would be great if more pizza places offered vegan and gluten-free pizza options by the slice.  I know you can get vegan pizza by the slice at Whole Foods and Washington Deli (where they use soy cheese rather than daiya).  Any other leads out there?  In the meantime, let's thank local pizzerias who have vegan options and let them know there is a demand out there for vegan slices.

We had some time to kill before the movie and were craving something sweet, so my friend and I hit Red Velvet, a small cupcake store in Chinatown which I knew would have at least one vegan option on the menu.  Turns out they have two vegan options on the DC menu - the black velvet, which is a chocolate cake with a vegan chocolate "buttercream," and the white velvet, which is vanilla cake with vegan vanilla "buttercream."  The vegan cupcakes are also gluten-free.

I opted for the black velvet and liked it.  The cake on its own doesn't have a strong flavor, but paired with the icing, it was very good.  I prefer my cupcakes not to be overly sweet, and these definitely fit that bill.  If you want to bring vegan cupcakes to your next staff meeting or social gathering, you can special order a dozen for $36.  You can also get vegan cupcakes at Red Velvet's Clarendon location and Reston location.

To make up for the subpar picture I took of the cupcake, I'm sharing a picture of the cute box it came in. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Off The Menu Vegan Plate at Johnny's Half Shell

Last week, after our conference and board meetings wrapped, my colleagues and I went out to lunch.  Normally, when I know I'm going out to eat somewhere where I'm not extremely familiar with the menu, I call ahead to ask about vegan options so that the chef has a heads up and time to prepare.  But, since we chose a restaurant on the fly this time, I didn't have that option.

The restaurant we went to was Johnny's Half Shell on Capitol Hill.  The restaurant is known for its seafood, so I wasn't sure what my vegan options might be.  We arrived as the restaurant was setting up for lunch, so I was able to ask the hostess if there would be a vegan option available.  She said that it wouldn't be a problem, but she would confirm with the chef to make sure.

I started with a house salad, which was modified with a dressing that was vegan friendly.  For my entree, I was presented the following beautiful vegetable plate:

It had two different varieties of green beans, grilled zucchini and spinach.  Also, while I'm not normally a fan of white rice, whatever this rice was seasoned with was delectable.

I thought it was terrific that Johnny's Half Shell was so accommodating to my last minute vegan request, and I'd definitely recommend it as a destination if you're out with mixed eating company of vegans and omnivores.

What restaurants in your area are accommodating to vegans and vegetarians?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cassoulet Forestiere

November's Vegetarian Times has a story this month called "Bulk Buying 101," which includes a number of delicious looking recipes.  One that caught my eye was "Cassoulet Forestiere," a vegan version of a traditional French cassoulet. 

Cassoulet, according to Wikipedia, is "a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans."  The Vegetarian Times version of course doesn't include meat, subbing a variety of meaty, wild mushrooms (hence the "Forestiere") and vegetables, but retaining the traditional while beans.

This recipe takes several hours, so it's a perfect one for a chilly weekend day or day off from work like today.  Yesterday, I picked up some dried cannellini beans.  Early this morning, I put the beans up to soak, and then headed to the Rockville Whole Foods to pick up the rest of my ingredients.  This particular Whole Foods, as you can see in the linked blog, has an amazing bulk section. In addition to dried beans and nuts, you can get a variety of grains, spices, seasonings and dried mushrooms and peppers.  So, in other words, it was the perfect place to shop for ingredients for recipes celebrating the bulk aisle.  In addition to grabbing some lentils, split peas and mung beans for another recipe in the issue, "Mixed Dal with Tomato Tarka," I also bought dried chanterelles and morels there.  Note that dried morels will give you sticker shock ($228 a pound!) but that you won't need very many to make this recipe.  You can easily sub less expensive dried mushrooms if you prefer.

Dried Wild Mushrooms Pre-Soaking (Chanterelles left, Morels right)
While the mushrooms were soaking, I cleaned and chopped the leeks, and then the carrots and garlic.  When the mushrooms were done soaking, I chopped those, and sauteed everything in my Le Creuset French Oven.  Following the recipe directions, I added in the mushroom soaking water, a can of tomatoes and the soaked beans, and immediately wished that we had registered for a slightly larger French Oven.  That said, I managed to squeeze everything in to simmer for two hours.

Leeks, carrots, mushrooms and garlic cooking
I wish the recipe was clearer on a few points here.  First, there are no pictures (perhaps by the time the recipe is posted on-line, there will be) so I wasn't sure what the final consistency should look like.  The only direction is that, after the two hour simmering period, that the mixture should be "a little soupy."  The recipe noted to bring the mixture to a boil covered, but not whether it should have been simmered covered or uncovered.  I went with covered.  I think it also would have helped to mention that you needed your most enormous cooking receptacle, since I think my layer of breadcrumbs (I used panko since that's what we have in the house) may have been too thick - another reason a picture would have been helpful.

Topped with breadcrumbs and ready to bake.

That griping aside, it tasted very hearty and was a great chilly, damp fall day dish.  I did salt it a little bit at the table, but otherwise, it's seasoned nicely.  I think it will reheat well, but I'm worried the breadcrumbs may get soggy.  If I make it again, I may add a little something green to it to give it some more color.  I sprinkled some dried parsley on there, but fresh would have been better.

Now that Fall is coming, what's your favorite seasonal vegetarian or vegan dish?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Product Reviews: Bold Organics Cheese Pizza and Boom Chicka Pop Popcorn

After an excellent time at DC Veg Fest (full recap here), I set to tracking down a few of the new products I tried and enjoyed.  The first one I was able to track down was Bold Organics Pizza.

Bold Organics Pizza is gluten free, milk free and lactose free.  The crust is made of brown rice flour, corn meal, yeast and potato starch.  In addition to a vegan "cheese" pizza, there are a few other options, including a vegan "veggie lovers" with mushrooms, peppers and onions.  Both the vegan options use Follow Your Heart brand cheese substitutes, which are made with non-GMO soy. The "meat lovers" and "deluxe" have real meat on them, but are also gluten and dairy free.  Here's hoping we'll see a some vegan versions these pies soon!  In the meantime, Tofurky makes a few vegan meat pies you can try.

The The Bold Organics line is carried locally at Food Lion and MOM's Organic Market.  (Check their website to locate a store near you that carries them.) Last weekend, we happened to be driving by a Food Lion, so I popped in to grab a pizza.  After spending a few confused minutes in the frozen pizza section, I tracked down a store employee, who in turn tracked down her manager.  Turns out the Bold Organics products are located in the gluten free freezer case, which is located adjacent to the produce section.

According to the package, the pizzas are best prepared in your oven or toaster.  The microwave is not recommended, so if you're in a hurry, this is not the pizza for you.  You'll need time for your oven or toaster to reach 450, 20-22 minutes for cooking, an additional two minutes for broiling and then two minutes for cooling (or, in my case, photographing the pizza for the blog).  I would recommend definitely doing the broiling, as it helps get the cheese nice and bubbly.

When we took the pizza out of the oven, it looked and smelled delicious!  My husband and I both remarked that we couldn't believe it was vegan.  He tasted it and concurred that it might fool him compared to a dairy frozen pizza.  The "cheese" was melty and the sauce had a nice, spicy kick.  The crust is flakier than a traditional pizza, but not unpleasantly so.  It crisps up well.

I will note that I was hungry an hour after I had the pizza, so I would suggest serving it with a big salad or a heaping plate of veggies.  Also, I know I've had this rant before, but let me say it again.  The nutrition serving size on the nutrition panel?  1/2 a pizza. This thing is about the size of a small dinner plate - no one is eating just half of it.  Figure a whole pizza will have 660 calories, 26 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 1340 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.  You'll also get 30% of your Vitamin A, 40% of your Vitamin C, 12% of your calcium and 30% of your iron.  So, while it's not an everyday food, it's definitely a better option than a traditional cheese and meat pizza, which will also wallop you with saturated fat, cholesterol and even more sodium.

*   *   *

Another subject I've written about multiple times before are the finds at our local market, Grosvenor Market.  This place is really a gem, especially when it comes to tracking down healthier snack alternatives.  This weekend, I picked up a bag of Boom Chicka Pop. This popcorn is super simple - popcorn, sunflower oil and sea salt.  Thus, it's great for vegans and our gluten free friends. 

I tend to prefer hot popcorn, but this was a great vegan alternative to microwave popcorn (and I didn't feel like I had to eat the entire bag at once).  It had just the right amount of salty goodness while only having 90 milligrams of sodium in a 3 2/3 cup serving (that, people, is a serving size!).

If you're interested in trying Boom Chicka Pop, you can use this map to find a retailer near you, or you can order it online.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

All Hail the Veggie Plate - Being Vegan at a Conference

I go to a lot of conferences - ones my office puts on for our members, ones in the industry and ones for my professional association.  While you may luck into a buffet where you can pick and choose your ingredients, conferences will almost always include plated meals, which means vegans like me need to be prepared.

Any hotel or conference facility can make you an amazing fruit plate, salad, veggie plate if you give them notice. Some organizations will ask you in advance if you have any dietary prefrences, in which case, happily tell them you're a vegan or a vegetarian.  If, when you register, there isn't a place to note this information, contact your conference organizer to ask if a special meal might be available, and be very clear if you are a vegan what that means. I've asked for vegan meals before and, because of confusion in the kitchen, ended up at first with eggs.

This past week, my office held a conference here in Washington, and our director of meetings was able to arrange for some amazing vegan meals for me! 

This is a plated breakfast - tofu scramble with grilled pineapple and roasted grape tomatoes:

Here's a lunch platter with butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower. green beans and grilled raddichio.

This is another lunch platter, including a grilled portabello mushrooms, carrots, sweet peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and spinach.

Here's a dinner platter of butternut squash, broccoli, snow peas and rice.

What are some of your favorite vegan dishes you've had at a conference?  What suggestions do have for vegans attending these types of events?