Monday, May 30, 2011

Quinoa Cakes with Tomato "Meat" Sauce

One of the ways I like to use leftover quinoa is to make quinoa cakes.    To make the cakes, I mixed about two cups of cooked quinoa with two beaten eggs.  Normally, I'd like there to be less egg and more quinoa, but one egg wasn't quite enough.  I formed the quinoa into four cakes and put the cakes back into the fridge to chill.

While the cakes were chilling, I made a sauce with a can of Muir Glen tomatoes, Quorn beef-style grounds, garlic, green onion, fresh thyme, salt, pepper and oregano.

Once the sauce was ready, I heated up a flat grill pan and put on the quinoa cakes.  Once they were browned on the bottom, I flipped them over so they could cook on the reverse side.  We served them topped with the sauce, with daiya on mine and parmesan on the fiance's, and both of us had a side of leftover roasted Brussel sprouts.

Potluck Side Dish: Corn and Black Bean Salad

Fiance' and I were invited to a barbeque yesterday where all guests were asked to bring a side or a dessert.  One of my favorite side dishes to make for a summer barbeque is Corn and Black Bean Salad.  You can find umpteen versions of it on the internet, but here's the one I put together yesterday:

In advance, strip the kernels off of four ears of fresh sweet corn.  You can either use a sharp knife or a corn stripper.  I then toss the corn in olive oil and bit of salt and roast it in a very hot oven - 475.  Putting the corn on a single layer on a baking sheet and stirring it frequently helps.  It took me 20 minutes or so to get the corn slightly browned, but watch yours closely - some ovens may perform better and thus your cooking time will be decreased.  You ideally want your corn to be slightly browned - this will add a nice roasty/smoky flavor to your dish.

After the corn has cooled (I refrigerated mine overnight), dice 4-5 firm tomatoes.  The firmer the tomato, the better the texture of your salad will be.  Also, make sure to remove the seeds and accompanying goo - this will prevent your salad from being soggy.

Next, open a can of black beans and rinse them in a colander.  This will reduce the sodium content and "canned taste of your salad."  Mix tomatoes, corn and beans in large bowl.

Now, it's time to add some color to your salad - I went with greens.  I finely chopped four green onions (also known as scallions), both the white and green parts, along with some fresh cilantro.  Make sure to use fresh cilantro if you're adding it.  You can also use minced red onion instead of the green onion.

For my "kick," I deseeded and minced two fresh jalapenos (I used a chopper - you do not want to get jalapeno juice in your eye!).  If you want even more heat, you can leave the seeds in or use serranos.

For the dressing, I juiced two limes and added a healthy amount of fresh ground pepper, 1/2 tsp or so of sea salt, about a 1/2 tsp of cumin and a little garlic powder.  I then whisked in a few glugs of olive oil and combined the whole deal with the salad.  Taste it and decide if it needs more seasoning - mine needed a little more salt.

Ideally, you want this to sit for an hour or so for the flavors to combine, and serve at room temperature.   This also makes for a good filling for burritos or veggie tacos, as well as on a taco salad.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Love the Grocery Store

Hooray!  It's Rainier Cherry Season!
For me, going to the grocery store is like taking a six year old to Kay-Bee (well, when Kay-Bee actually was still in business).  I don't see grocery shopping as a chore, but, rather a place to discover new things and get myself a treat.

I tend to gravitate towards stores that put a lot of care into their produce sections, as well as offer whole grain breads, pastas and sides.  Also, stores that offer soy-free vegetarian products and packaged foods that don't have a ton of additives are a plus.

Thus I tend to spend a lot of my quality shopping time at the following places:

Empanadas, mango salsa and vegan crackers!
Grosvenor Market: This is located right next door to us, so bonus points for convenience.  They also have a decent produce section, a great prepared food and deli counter, lots of whole grain products and very helpful staff.  They carry Wild Harvest Organic and Culinary Circle products, both of which are high quality brands.  The downsides - due to its size, selection can be limited, especially when it comes to some of the specialty produce items I like to play with.  Also, they put their grape tomatoes on the wet rack, which is a no-no (never refrigerate whole tomatoes).

Balducci's: We have a Balducci's that's a mile away on foot or about five minutes in the car.  Since I'm vehicularly impaired (read: I don't like to drive), I enjoy walking down there.  Their produce section is incredible - a huge variety of lettuces, greens, and cut and whole fruit.  There are also hard to find tropicals (dragon fruit, mangosteen), as well as golden raspberries.  Their sandwich bar offers a variety of options, and they also have a nice selection of prepared foods, pastas and grains, spices and cheeses.  It's bigger than the Market, but some might consider it to be to small still (I don't personally).  The biggest downside for me is the price - think $9.99 for Cava Grill Crazy Feta Spread, $5.99 for those golden raspberries I love so much.  But, I think it's worth it for an occasional culinary indulgence and for hard to find items.

Whole Foods: We are fortunate to have multiple Whole Foods Markets' in our area, a number of which are metro accessible.  I alternate between the Friendship Heights store (metro accessible) and the brand new Rockville store, with an occasional stop at Dupont or the Kentlands.  Whole Foods carries a number of staples in my kitchen that I can't find elsewhere in my mostly pedestrian state - Westsoy seitan strips, Daiya cheese, Quorn products, Sunshine Burgers, Field Roast Grain Meat Company sausages, Earth Balance soy-free spreads, Vegenaise soy-free mayo, etc. Their produce department is also outstanding, and even bigger than the one at Balducci's.  The Rockville store also a has a neat area where you can buy spices in bulk, so if you only need a few spoonfuls of say, Zatar, you can get as much as you need.  You will pay a premium to shop there versus Safeway or Giant, but given the access to the vegetarian options, it's well worth it to me.

On that note, I did get a few treats last night at Balducci's that I wanted to share:

Rainier Cherries: Rainier Cherries are here!  They are yellow cherries with a blush of red.  I find them to have a lighter and more pleasant flavor than a Bing.  Also, they're super pretty to look at.

Panas Tamal EmapanadasPanas is an emapanadas shop on P Street in Dupont.  They are also available in the prepared foods section at Balducci's.  I tried the Tamal flavor, which has corn, onions, farmer cheese, scallions, and roasted jalapenos.  After five minutes in the toaster, they were ready to eat.  They have a nice kick and the ingredients were very fresh.

Mango Salsa: I'm a sucker for mango anything, so naturally, I couldn't resist Balducci's mango fruit salsa, which has fresh mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, onions and jalapenos.  It had a nice kick and paired well with Mary's Gone Crackers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yet Another Concoction

It was time to use up what was in the fridge yet again, so dinner was a concoction.  Tonight's experiment involved roasted brussel sprouts (30 minutes at 425 - make sure to coat them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper).  In a saute pan, I worked some shallots, sliced mushrooms and garlic in olive oil.  After that was done, I stirred in leftover wild rice, the brussel sprouts and some parmesan cheese.

A Vegetarian Walks Into a Deli

When you think "deli," vegetarian rarely, if ever, comes to mind.  But, given I was raised Jewish and the Northeast, deli is as close to a sacred eating experience as I can get.  When I was more pescetarian than vegetarian, deli was easy - lox & cream cheese on a bagel. But now that I have eliminated seafood from my diet, and that I'm also cutting back on dairy, would I still be able to enjoy a good Deli meal?

Enter Bubby's, a new deli on Cordell Avenue in Downtown Bethesda.  At first glance, Bubby's is your traditional deli - luncheon meats, rye bread and lots and lots of pickles.  I figured I'd be able to get a cheese sandwich or a salad, or perhaps some tabouleh.  But, this morning, when I checked out the menu on Bubby's website, I found some pleasant surprises.  Not only were there vegetarian options, but a number of vegan options!  These include:
  • Southwestern Quinoa Salad: Mixed baby greens, quinoa, avocado, black beans, corn and toasted pepitas with orange vinaigrette (Vegan)
  • Roasted Garden Vegetable Sandwich: Eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, pickled red onion, spinach, chickpea puree and balsamic glaze on ciabatta (Vegan)
  • Powerhouse Sandwich: House-made hummus, sprouts, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, pickled red onion and tomato piled high on ciabatta roll (Vegan)
  • Crispy Eggplant Sandwich: Eggplant, black olive tapenade, roasted tomato and provolone on ciabatta (Vegetarian)
  • The Vegan Burger: Housemade vegan mushroom grain burger with lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion and "Bubby's Vegan Sauce" (Vegan)
  • Crispy Eggplant Stack: Eggplant slices, layered with sauteed spinach over Ratatouille (Vegan) 
 For my meal, I opted to try The Vegan Burger.  It was good, though, in retrospect, I'd recommend the following tweaks - cut down on the spicy Vegan sauce, which was a bit overwhelming, and switch to a ciabatta or whole grain roll versus the overwhelming Kaiser.  But the "burger" had a nice flavor, and it paired well with the crisp lettuce and juicy tomato garnish.

The owner, Jeff Manas (who I recognized from his picture in the entryway), stopped by my table to ask how my meal was.  He then said, "You ordered The Vegan Burger, right?  We make that from scratch in house!"  I told him that I had and that I enjoyed it.  He then told me his son came up with the recipe.  When I said I was pleasantly surprised to see so many vegan and vegetarian options available, he explained that his son and his daughter-in-law were vegans and thus they decided to make multiple vegan options available.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vegan Comfort Food: Loaded Baked Potato

When I was a kid, we used go to the Cherry Hill Mall Food Court for dinner.  The Food Court had all sorts of delights for an elementary school aged child  - Bain's Deli, Taco Bell, Haagen Dazs, etc.  But, my ultimate favorite was the Potato Pub, where you could get a ginormous baked potato stuffed with pretty much anything.  My favorite was "The Big Cheese."  The Big Cheese was a potato about the size of my ten year old head, a cup of butter and likely a pound of cheese.

I've been making a healthier version of "The Big Cheese" for years now - cutting down drastically on the butter and cheese and adding veggies, either spinach or broccoli.  It's a great dinner option if you want something hearty, but don't want to engage in active cooking time.  Tonight, I decided to see if I could successfully make my already healthier remake as a vegan version.

Yes, this really and truly is vegan!
First, you need to bake your potato. I use a russet potato - it hold up better to the stuffing to come.  I microwave mine.  You can bake it in the oven if you so desire, but it takes 9-10 minutes in the microwave versus, say, half an hour or so in the oven.  Just make sure you stab the potato all over with a fork so that steam can escape.

Carefully remove the potato from the oven and cut it open with a knife.  Fluff the baked part of the potato with a fork.  I added a little bit of Soy-Free Earth Balance.  You can use a bit of butter (if you're not going vegan), or a touch of olive oil, or omit this step.  However, a little bit of Earth Balance or butter/oil will help keep the potato moist.

Next, top with your veggie of choice.  My go to is broccoli.  I usually go with a chopped fresh broccoli, but we already had a mess of steamed broccoli in the fridge, so I used that. But, feel free to use any veggie that suits your fancy! I then topped the whole thing with two kinds of Daiya - cheddar style and mozzarella style.  You can use regular cheese or another vegan cheese alternative, but Daiya does melt quite nicely.

I am giving a thumbs up to the vegan version - it has the same deliciousness as the non-vegan version, but without the heaviness of the dairy.

If you are skeptical that a potato can be good for you, keep in mind that how a potato is prepared is what makes it healthy or unhealthy.  Think about it - what makes french fries and potato chips unhealthy is the oil they're cooked in, rather than the starting product.   Using a large potato like the one I used for this main course dish meant 278 calories.  Figure the other elements added another 150-200 and it's still very reasonable for a main course dinner.  Plus, I got 7 grams of fiber (and even more from the broccoli and Daiya) ,7 grams of protein and a healthy dose of Vitamin C and Iron.  Yes, I eat the entire skin - you should too!  No matter how you're preparing your potato - roasting, baking, etc., keep that skin on to up the fiber count and keep those nutrients in your food.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Adventures in Faux Chicken

Even in my pre-vegetarian days, I was not a big chicken fan.  I actually disliked chicken so much, that, if legend is to be believed, I even made it inedible for my mother when she was pregnant with me.  Sure, I ate it when it was served to me, but I never really liked it.  And if you tried to reheat leftover chicken and serve it to me again, just forget it.

My one exception to my feelings about chicken was what I call the fried chicken object.  Not actual fried chicken.  I'm talking the frankenfood extruded kind that, knowing all the additives and chemicals and gobbledly gook involved in making them, I'd run screaming from today.  Things like chicken nuggets, Weaver chicken tenders, Crispy Chicken sandwiches, etc.  Basically, something far removed from the actual animal, with breading to further disguise it's natural chickenness.

So, if I haven't completely grossed you out yet, my childhood fondness for the fried chicken object led me to try the Quorn Chik'n Patty as a treat.  Compared to a traditional breaded chicken patty, the Quorn product is not a bad choice.  It has 150 calories, compared to 250 for the actual chicken kind.  The overall fat, saturated fat and cholesterol content is lower, and the protein is essentially equivalent.  And, it has the "taste" I remember enjoying when I was a kid as well.

I heated my patty in the toaster and ate it on a whole-wheat pita with baby spinach, grape tomatoes and soy-free vegan mayonnaise, with some pineapple wedges on the side.  I have a second sandwich for lunch tomorrow as well.  I'll still try to eat more "whole" foods as a regular routine, but this is nice to have in a pinch (or when I am weirdly craving the fried chicken object).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spinach & Artichoke Dip Pasta

This dish was either a stroke of culinary genius, further evidence of my growing kitchen laziness or a desire to appease the fiance' who often kindly reminds me that sometimes leftovers tend to linger in our fridge (Yes, we have lots of mystery vegetable objects wrapped in foil . . . I really need to invest in a good sharpie).

As you might recall, I made the "Cleaned-Up" Spinach & Artichoke dip from the June 2011 Clean Eating Magazine for our Saturday supper.  We ended up having half a pyrex of dip left.  Rather than dive into it with more pita chips (tempting as that would be), I thought it might make a neat pasta sauce.

After putting just shy of three cups of orecchiette (aka, "little ears") up for a boil. I sauteed some finely chopped shallots in olive oil until they were translucent.  Then, I added two large handfuls halved grape tomatoes and let them cook for five minutes or so, until they started to get soft.  With three minutes to go on the pasta, I stirred in several serving scoops of the leftover spin dip. Once that was heated through, I stirred in the pasta.

The result was better than I expected - creamy, but with a good veggie taste.  Next time, I might add more tomatoes to add more color contrast.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Quinoa Two Vegan Ways: Sweet for Breakfast, Savory for Dinner

Breakfast Quinoa with Fruit & Almonds
In trying to break out of my breakfast rut (aka, toast), I decided to try a hot cereal of quinoa and fruit.  I had some leftover pear, blueberry and almond mixture leftover for Saturday's dessert, so I mixed that up with the quinoa.  I don't normally rinse my quinoa before I cook it, because I don't mind the bitter coating in savory dishes.  But, the slight bitterness was enhanced a bit against the sweet fruit.  I'll continue to tinker.

Dinner Quinoa with Vegan Sausage
Since I had made a week's worth of quinoa last night in anticipation of today's breakfast experiment, I decided to have it for dinner as well.  I had some Grain Meat Co. Italian "sausage," which I sauteed in olive oil with onion, pepper, tomatoes and spinach.  I stirred in 2/3 cup of quinoa and some mozzarella daiya, and, voila, dinner tonight and lunch for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Night Supper: Vegetable Cannelloni

My parents were in town this weekend for assorted wedding chozerai, so we decided to have my fiance's parents and grandmother over for a Saturday supper. 

My original plan was to make stuffed shells from a cookbook my mother had gotten for me, Women's Day Wednesday Night is Vegetarian.  But, when we made our shopping trip to Whole Foods, there were no stuffed shells available, so I decided to make veggie Cannelloni instead.

Cannelloni is a tube shaped pasta that is often stuffed and then baked with a sauce.  I used the Rustichella d'Abruzzo brand, which didn't need to be pre-boiled.  The filling was pretty much the same as what would have been in the stuffed shells - broccoli, carrots, onion, basil, ricotta and parmesan.  I made the sauce from scratch using two containers of mini red and yellow tomatoes, onions, garlic, dried oregano and thyme and fresh basil.  After stuffing the cannelloni (which I had to do with my fingers due to how narrow they were), we mixed the leftover filling with the sauce to thicken it, covered the pasta with sauce, topped it with mozzarella and put it in the oven to bake.

While the pasta was baking, I made the "cleaned-up" version of spinach & artichoke dip from this month's Clean Eating magazine.  This version of the dip had 84 calories per serving, compared to 350+ calories for traditional spinach & artichoke dip.  The secret is using pureed cauliflower and low-fat cream cheese (I did sub neufchatel) to sub for sour cream.  The resulting version was lighter and "greener."  We served it with toasted whole wheat pita seasoned with olive oil, garlic powder and salt and pepper.

For a side salad, I chopped up romaine lettuce and stirred in pomegranate arils, mandarin oranges and slivered almonds.  We added a great dressing, TessaMae's All Natural, which was a mix of lemon, garlic and olive oil.

We barely have any leftovers, so I am considering this one a success!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fast Casual Assembly Line Eating: Vegetarian Edition

As a vegetarian who loves to eat, I am loving the increasing availability of "The Chipotle Concept": Now, I'm no expert on restaurants, so I can't say for certain that Chipotle pioneered the fast-casual assembly line.  But, I can say from a consumer perspective that most people I know think of Chipotle first for this sort of set-up.  Regardless of who did it first, I am really enjoying seeing the assembly line concept applied to other cuisines.  You get a quick, fairly healthy meal with lots of variety, and, odds are, you're going to get a vegetarian option.

Two I've tried recently in the DC area are Cava Meze Grill and Merzi

Cava Meze Grill, located on Bethesda Avenue in downtown Bethesda, is Mediterranean style assembly line fast casual.  You start with a rice bowl, pitas or mini pitas or salad, and can layer on sauces, meat or falafel and a variety of fresh veggies.  My vegetarian version was the rice bowl with falafel, crazy feta and harissa spreads and all the veggies - tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, feta and lettuce.  I also had some pita chips on the side to scoop up the sauce.  It had a nice kick and was a satisfying meal.  Bonus points for their sustainable serveware, which is all compostable!

Cava Mezze Grill has a nutrition calculator if you're keeping an eye on calories, fat, carbs, etc.   You can also consult their allergens list to see which items are gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan.

Merzi, located at 7th & D Streets in Gallery Place/Penn Quarter, is Indian style assembly line fast casual.  Similar to Cava, you start with a base.  The options at Merzi are naan (Indian flatbread), basmati rice, salad or chaat (at Merzi, beans and other vegetables topped off with yogurt and a tamarind-date chutney).  You then have the option of adding different kinds of meat, chicken or shrimp, or skipping it if you prefer a vegetarian option.  You then can choose from a variety of fresh vegetables, chutneys and hot sauces to finish off your meal.

My dinner last night consisted of a basmati rice bowl with chaat, garbanzo beans, all of the fresh veggies available and the medium sauce, which was a Tikka Masala.  All of the veggies were delicious, and the sauce had a good amount of heat.  If this was medium, I'm downright terrified of the hot!

Merzi has an allergens list that is helpful to vegans, as it lists milk and dairy.

I think we'll be seeing even more fast casual assembly line food concepts soon, especially with DC set to be the first location of Shophouse, Chipotle's new Southeast Asian Concept.  It's set to open in Dupont Circle this summer, and will surely have options for vegans and vegetarians alike!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Busy Week? Make a Dinner That Stretches

It's been a busy few weeks for me and it will only get busier.  Now that I'm back from my office's annual convention, I find myself in the final gauntlet (read: less than two months to go) of preparing for our wedding.  So, between random wedding tasks, work and yoga, I find myself with limited time in the evenings to cook.

Stretch Meal #1 - Beans & Veggies Over Brown Rice Blend.
In times like these, I need to balance my desire for nutritious, sustaining meals with some sense of variety with the desire to have said meal at hand quickly.  The best way I've found to accomplish all of this is a Stretch Meal.

What's a Stretch Meal, you may ask?  It's a series of meals that uses essentially the same ingredients, but takes on different forms.  One of the best ways I've found to do this is to make several servings of a bean and veggie mixture that can be repurposed in different formats.

I started my Stretch Meal on Monday by sauteing shallots, two yellow peppers (cut in very narrow strips), a cup or so of chopped mushrooms and several handfuls of spinach in olive oil, and stirring in a can of black beans.  I seasoned it with ground black pepper and oregano.  In hindsight, I should have added some cumin. 

I also had some Lundberg Jubilee Wild Rice going in the rice cooker.  This particular rice blend is a blend of Wehani, Black Japonica, short and medium grain red rice, short and long grain brown rice and sweet brown rice.  I find it has a more interesting flavor and texture than plain brown rice.

Once the rice and veggies were done, I plated about 1/3 of the veggie mix on top of the rice, and added some cheddar style Daiya for good measure.

Stretch Meal #2 - Black Bean and Veggie Burrito
Tonight, I used another 1/3 of the veg mixture to make a bean burrito.  I wrapped all the veggie goodness in a flour tortilla with (you guessed it!) more cheddar style daiya, and let it heat up in the microwave in two minutes.  Add in a side of steamed cauliflower and broccoli and my dinner was in front of me in five minutes.

I still have enough veg mixture left over for one more meal - I could do a spinach salad with it, make a quesadilla, or mix it with wholegrain pasta and tomatoes for a Southwestern style pasta dish.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sometimes You Don't Feel Like Cooking

My original plan for tonight was to make something with green lentils, but, given that I didn't walk into my apartment until 9:15 p.m., I couldn't bring myself to start making a dish that might take 45 minutes to prep & cook.

On nights like these, it's good to have something quick and easy, but also healthy, in your kitchen.  I am not a fan of "TV Dinners."  If I don't know what an ingredient is, I don't want to eat it.  There are exceptions to the frozen rule - Kashi, Amy's Kitchen, Evol Burritos, etc.

I do have some quick, non-frozen options available at my local market.  Sunneen Health Foods makes a number of fresh, ready to eat vegan meal options, including a Pesto Pasta with almonds.  They also make my favorite garlic hummus.

My other favorite quick meal is One Stop Naturals' Macro Vegan Dumplings.  They are good hot or cold.  I had mine tonight with a side of steamed broccoli.

I'd love to hear about your favorite quick and easy vegetarian foods!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Linguini with Eggplant, Tomato and Vegan Sausage

Ever on the lookout for soy free meat replacements, I was happy to stumble upon Field Roast Grain Meat Company's products in Whole Foods.  Field Roast takes Seitan and seasons it with European style flavors to make sausages, meatloaf, roasts, cutlets and other meat-style products, all vegan and soy free!

I picked up two flavors of the sausage on my latest shopping trip - the Italian flavor and the Smoked Apple Sage flavor. For tonight's concoction, I decided to cut two Italian sausages into half round slices.  I sauteed the sausage pieces in olive oil until they were browned, then set them aside.  Then, in the same pan, I sauteed shallots and cubed eggplant in more olive oil, then added fresh garlic, two cubed fresh tomatoes and a handful of halved grape tomatoes, freshly ground pepper and two large handfuls of fresh baby spinach.  While the sauce was still coming together, I stirred in linguine to finish.

The fiance was willing to try vegan sausage after smelling it cooking, but he drew the line at vegan cheese.  So, I topped mine with mozzarella daiya, and he topped his with freshly grated parmesan.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Dessert: Pear and Cherry "Pocket Pies"

For family gatherings, I always like to bring dessert.  This Mother's Day, I was planning to make a fruit pie, but, while I was flipping through channels Saturday afternoon, I came across Dessert First on Food Network.  On that particular episode, the host was making "pocket pies" with almond, cherry and pear filling.  I've worked with puff pastry before, and I decided it would be a good treat.

Being a lazy pants, I didn't measure the pastry as carefully as Anne did, so, at first, I ended up with seven pocket pies for eight people.  Oops.  So, one got cut into two.  They ended up being so huge that everyone ended up having half of one.  I also added a little water to the egg wash, and upped the amount of cherries in the filling, since I was serving it to some cherry fans.

My mother has requested a pear and blueberry pocket pie when she's in the area next, so keep an eye out for it!

Puff pastry is actually quite easy to work with - look for it in your freezer section.  Whole Foods carries a brand without a lot of additives  - it's just butter and unbleached flour.  Keep it frozen until you want to use it, and you can either defrost it in the fridge or on your counter.  The counter was my preferred location, as I am impatient.

You can also use this for savory dishes - I bet it would be particularly good with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and feta.  It's not vegan, given how loaded down it is with butter, but vegetarians can enjoy it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Vegetarian on the Road

The Grilled Vegetable Plate at Muriel's Jackson Square

I spent this past week in New Orleans, aka, one of the major culinary destinations of the world.  When you think of New Orleans, you think of things like crawfish etoufee, shrimp gumbo, oyster po-boys, red beans and rice with sausage, muffaletta, etc.  None of these dishes are vegetarian, of course.  But, vegetarians aren't limited to salads and side dishes in New Orleans by any means!

Some of my highlights included:

Drago's: Our first stop for lunch off the plane.  Drago's is known for its grilled oysters, but I delighted in a portabello mushroom and spinach po'boy with sweet potato fries.  Whatever the restaurant marinated the mushrooms in is addictive.

Commander's Palace: I was here for a group dinner.  While most of my dining companions feasted on steak and seafood, I had a delightful grilled vegetable platter with portabello mushrooms, white and green asparagus, eggplant and tomatoes.

Oceana Grill: My colleagues and I grabbed dinner here after a long day of events.  Mainly known for its seafood platters, I was able to enjoy an appetizer of fried eggplant, and then a delicious cajun vegetable stir fry with one of the best red sauces I've ever tasted.

Muriel's Jackson Square: I was here for another group dinner.  My colleagues had the choice of shrimp, pork chops or filet.  When the waiter delivered my grilled vegetable platter, the entire table gasped.  It was literally a work of art.  The chef took a portabello mushroom and layered it with grilled vegetables, arugula and goat cheese.  Scattered around it were chunks of grilled beets, eggplant and squash.

In conclusion, here are some tips for vegetarians traveling for business or pleasure:

Plan Ahead: When you're traveling for business, you may not always be able to select the menu or where you're eating.  Check in with event organizers in advance to see if a vegetarian option will be available.  If you give organizers enough notice, they are bound to be able to help you out.  This goes for folks with any special diets as well.  And make sure to say thank you!

Use the Web: If you are going to be able to pick where you eat, do some googling before you go.  You're bound to turn up a few places with vegetarian options that you might not have otherwise found.  Zagat's online database allows you to search cities for various types of cuisines.

Get Advice from Experts: If you're staying in a hotel with a concierge, ask for their help.  Not only will they know the restaurants in the area, but they can help you get reservations at popular destinations.