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?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Restaurant Roundup: Fresh Pizzeria, Au Bon Pain, Black Market Bistro and Chipotle

A busy week prepping for one of my office's major events meant a lot of eating out this week.  I feel like the times when people are pressed for time and on the go are the times when it's easy to fall off the vegan wagon.  Fortunately, there are a ton of options available to make eating out as a vegan easy.

After a late work night Thursday, my husband and I decided to try Fresh Pizzeria on Rockville Pike.  I was disappointed when Z Pizza closed, since it was a reliable source of vegan pizza.  When Fresh Pizzeria took over the space, fortunately, they decided to keep the vegan pizza options open, offering daiya cheese and vegan burger crumbles, and a variety of vegan pies to choose from.

I tried the Vegan Garden Pizza. without olives.  The crust was good and the veggie toppings were fresh.  Additional vegan menu options include the Vegan Fiesta, which has black beans and guacamole, and the Vegan Burger.  You can also make your own vegan pizza.  Also, if you're gluten free, any pizza can be made with a gluten free crust.

Friday, I had to grab a quick lunch before running back to my desk, so I hit up Au Bon Pain.  There are at least five Au Bon Pain locations in walking distance to my office, so it's incredibly convenient.  They seem to have moved away from the "make your own sandwich" slips to more of a set menu, but they will still happily make an off menu sandwich for you.  I chose multigrain bread, avocado, arugula, tomato, onion and cucumbers.  The woman making my sandwich couldn't believe that I didn't want mayo, but I assured her the avocado made an excellent condiment.

I also had a chance to peruse the soups, which are clearly labeled with their ingredients, including milk, so it's easy to choose a vegan soup.  I went with the Barley & Creamy Lentil ,which I found to be hearty and flavorful.

I wish Au Bon Pain had a vegan sandwich on its set menu, but since they offer a variety of veggies, it's easy to make your own sandwich.  Most of the breads are vegan, but note that some include dairy, including the Ciabatta and the Cornbread.  The soup menu includes a plethora of vegan options, including the 12 Veggie, Black Bean, Tomato Lentil, Gazpacho, Tuscan White Bean and Vegetarian Chili.  Not all soups are available every day, but there should be at least one vegan option.

Friday night, we took my parents to Black Market Bistro in Garrett Park.  Black Market Bistro is located in a historic post office, and tucked away in a residential neighborhood, over by the Garrett Park MARC  station.  One of my favorite things about Black Market Bistro are the quality of their salads.  Last night, I had the Black Market Salad, which was a variety of lettuces, orange wedges and almonds with a citrus vinaigrette.  The salad normally comes with goat cheese, but the kitchen was happy to leave it off.

For dinner, I opted for the Black Market Vegetable Plate.  When I asked the server if it was appropriate for a vegan, she shared that the chef normally finishes the dish with butter, but that they could easily omit it.

The veggie plate changes regularly, based on what fresh vegetables are available.  My plate included eggplant, yellow squash, broad beans, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots and wax beans.  It was beautifully seasoned with a variety of fresh herbs and sea salt. As you can see, the portion is enormous, but I easily got three meals out of the plate above, which helps soften the $22 price tag.

Today, my husband and I were running a bunch of errands, and we ended up grabbing a quick lunch at Chipotle.  Chipotle is a fantastic choice for vegans.  Choosing a black bean burrito or bowl with a peppers and onions, any of a variety of salsas and guacamole will make a hearty, satisfying meal.  As it's clearly stated on the Chipotle website and on signage, the pinto beans are cooked with pork, so stick with the black beans if you want to stay vegan. 

My preferred meal is a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, peppers and onions, fresh tomato salsa, chili corn salsa, guacamole and lettuce.

I know living in the DC area means I have a ton of food options, but, no matter where you live, vegan options can be plentiful.  What are some of your favorite vegan menu options?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Making Breakfast More Interesting: Sprouted Grain Bagels, Arugula and Fresh Figs

I've written many a time about how I tend to get into a rut with breakfast.  This week, I'm going to make an effort to get out of that rut, but still do something quick and easy.

I've been eating traditional bagels lately, but I wanted to try something a little healthier and a little easier on my stomach.  So, I decided to try Alvarado Street Bakery's Sprouted Wheat Onion Poppy Seed Bagels.  You've probably heard a lot about sprouted grains recently - they've gotten a ton of press (well, at least in the veg-friendly media I read).  According to the Whole Grains Council, "Sprouting grains increases many of the grains' key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and essential amino acids often lacking in grains, such as lysine. Sprouted grains may also be less allergenic to those with grain protein sensitivities." Some folks also claim that sprouted grains are easier to digest, which I was definitely willing to try.

I also thought I'd up the oomph on the toppings. Yesterday, when I was picking up my provisions for football Sunday, I was happy to see that fresh figs were still available, so I jumped at the chance to buy some.  I'm pretty sure the ones I bought were kadota figs - a yellow-green skin with a bright pink interior.  So, rather than just topping the bagel with my new favorite thing, vegan cream cheese, I took some inspiration from the yummy treat I had last week at the PIGS benefit and added some arugula and fresh figs.

It was a cool flavor combination - the sweetness of the figs and the creaminess of the vegan crea cheese contrasted nicely with the onion flavored bagel & peppery arugula.  I think I'll have it again tomorrow!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Vegan Football Sunday: Potato Skins, "Wings," and Guacamole

The Eagles were televised yet again, so I thought it would be fun to have a few friends over to watch the game.  I decided to do a number of vegan friendly and football friendly finger foods for the occasion: "wings," loaded potato skins and guacamole.

The wing recipe is from the October 2011 Vegetarian Times.   I used Upton's Naturals original seitan, Cholula hot sauce, Whole Foods maple syrup, Original Vegenaise and the smoked paprika we had handy in the spice cabinet.  The wings needed to marinate for two hours before being breaded and cooked, so I did that step first and then popped them in the fridge.

Next, I started the prep for the potato skins.  My husband had picked up a five pound bag of medium potatoes for me earlier in the week, so I baked those in the oven for 45 minutes at 425, and sent them on a wire rack to cool.

While the potatoes were cooking, I made tempeh bacon crumbles.  The October 2012 Vegetarian Times had a recipe for Warm German Potato Salad that included directions for the "bacon" crumbles, so I decided to try those for my skins.  The recipe's not online yet, but it includes tempeh, low-sodium soy sauce (I used Bragg's Liquid Aminos), blackstrap molasses, ketchup or tomato paste, and liquid smoke.  I ended up using both ketchup and tomato paste to get the crumbles to a more "bacony" color, and also cooked them in the pan a bit longer than the recipe called for to get them to crisp up more.  There is a TON of "bacon" left over, so I'll likely sneak it into recipes throughout the week.

To finish the potato skins, I used this CHOW recipe as a guideline, but veganized the ingredients. Instead of butter, I used Earth Balance, and I stuffed the potatoes with the vegan bacon crumbles and daiya cheddar cheese, then topped them with freshly chopped chives.  The potato skins were definitely the hit of the party - my non-vegan friends couldn't believe they were vegan, and especially that I didn't use real cheese.  When I explained what daiya was, my friend Greg joked that I have "gone to the dark side."

To make the guac, I used four ripe avocados,three roma tomatoes (diced), two serrano peppers (seeds removed, minced), half a red onion (minced), four cloves of garlic (minced), the juice from one fresh lime, fresh cilantro (chopped), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper,  I set out the guac with some Garden of Eatin' Multigrain Blue Corn Chips for my friends to eat while I finished the skins and wings.  I also had a tray with carrots, celery and hummus.

After the potato skins were out, I finished up the wings, using whole wheat panko for the breading.  The breading really didn't stick as well as I would have liked, but they had a nice golden exterior.

For dessert, thanks to my friend Carol, we had Football Shaped Oreos.  Did you know Oreos are vegan?  (My friend Valerie describes them as "accidentally vegan.")  That's yet another example of an everyday food that non-vegans eat that's vegan friendly.  I'd put them in the same category of pasta with marinara sauce, PB & J, rice and beans and the guac I made today.

Are you a vegan football fan?  How do you veganize your favorite football snacks?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

DC VegFest 2012

My walk from work to yoga is about 20 minutes or so, and I usually chat with my parents en route.  On Thursday, when I was talking to my mother, she asked me "Are you going to DC VegFest this weekend?"  My initial response was "How do you know about DC VegFest?"  Count me impressed.

But, to answer her question, yes, Mom, I went to DC VegFest, and it was like Hannukah for the Vegans.

This year's VegFest was held at Yards Park, a beautiful area overlooking the Anacostia River.  After a short walk from the metro, I encountered hundreds, if not a thousand or more vegans, vegetarians, or people curious about being a vegan waiting in line to get this goody bag (more on that later!)

I met up with my friend Valerie (who has a wonderful blog, City Life Eats) and her friend Rachel, and we set off to explore the festival.

Here are some of my highlights:

Puree Juice Bar - Our first stop of the day was to grab some green juice from Puree, which is located in downtown Bethesda.  Since it was a warm day, we wanted to hydrate with some fresh juice.  My juice had kale, apple, cucumber and lemon.  While I've had fresh juice before, this was my first green juice and I was really happy with it (hence the big smiles below!).

Vaute Couture - Our next stop was Vaute Couture, which makes high-fashion, high quality vegan-friendly coats and and other clothing items.  I couldn't resist this gorgeous, snuggly green coat, especially given that it was 50% off!  Funny story - the Vaute Couture folks held it for me after I bought it, but, in a mix-up over how many they brought to DC, accidentally sold it to someone else before I could pick it up.  So, they are sending me one from inventory, free shipping.

Pete's APizza - I've written before on how much I love Pete's vegan pizza, so I was excited to see they had a stand.  They weren't serving pizza, but instead had a yummy vegan pasta with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and daiya cheese.   The eggplant was cooked to that perfect creamy texture that I love, and I could have eaten this pasta all day long!  For my gluten-free friends, Pete's also has gluten-free pasta.

Daiya Cheese - Speaking of Daiya, they were right around the corner from Pete's.  Valerie and I finally got to try the elusive Jalapeno Garlic Havarti Wedge, which we haven't seen anywhere in the DC area.  Apparently it's at Mom's Organic Market, so I'll be looking for it at the Rockville Mom's very soon.  I definitely preferred it to the other Daiya wedges.  I can see me eating it on crackers.

Roots Market - We've driven by the Roots Market in Olney a number of times, and I definitely hope to stop in there for a visit soon!  At the Roots booth, I was able to try Beyond Meat, a vegan chicken substitute that has gotten a ton of press lately.  Roots has in their prepared foods section, and hopes to carry it at retail soon.  I was so thrilled with the texture and flavor - it's super hearty.  I know you can get Beyond Meat in Whole Foods on the West Coast, so hopefully it will make it out here soon so I can play with it in some dishes. 

The Vegg - The Vegg makes a vegan egg yolk.  We tried it with some vegan french toast and I was bowled over on how authentic it tastes.  It's made with nutritional yeast and black salt.  It's thinner than an egg yolk might be, but the people working the booth said it can be bulked up with silken tofu.  Do you know what that means, friends?  Vegan fruit tart!  Stay tuned for that experiment.

Way Better Snacks - Way Better Snacks makes a variety of sprouted tortilla chips.  Sprouted foods are hot right now, there was a massive crowd at this booth.  All of the flavors were good, but I really enjoyed the Sweet Chili flavor (and got a larger sample to take home).  They tasted like Cool Ranch Doritos, except they're healthy.  We're talking protein, fiber, omega 3s and very little sodium given the flavor, and all natural whole grains and flavors.  Do you know what this means, people?  Step away from the Doritos.  Now, you can get all the flavor and none of the chemistry experiment.

Primal Strips - My friend Caren recently reviewed Primal Strips on her blog, Voodie Girl.  Caren was very happy with Primal Strips, so when I saw Pangea had them for sale at their booth, I decided to pick one up for a test run.  Primal Strips are meatless vegan jerky, and high in protein for a snack.  I haven't tried mine yet, but I'll post a review soon.  If I like them, I'll stock up.  I can see them as an awesome thing to have on hand when I travel.

Bold Organics Pizza - I'm always on the lookout for a good frozen vegan pizza, because I like to have at least one in the freezer in case I'm too lazy to cook.  Bold's pizzas are not only vegan, they're also gluten-free.  The crust was surprisingly chewy and the flavor was good.  They're available at Mom's, and, if you've got a Food Lion near you, you can get them there too.

Lotus Foods - Lotus Foods makes a variety of interesting bagged rice (rices?  reese?  What is the plural of rice?).  I got to sample the black forbidden rice, and I really liked the nutty flavor.  We're almost out of our rice blend, so I think I'll try Lotus next.

I also got to visit some of my favorite companies and tell them how much I enjoy their products and try some of their newest foods.  Earth Balance had a yummy chocolate soy milk I'd like to try more of, and I also got to check out Upton's Naturals new Hickory Seitan. 

Also, while I didn't buy anything from Amsterdam Falafel, I did snap this pic of their fixin's bar.  Note to self - make field trip to Adams Morgan soon so I can get some falafel!

Anyhow, I promised some details on the goody bag,  In addition to bazillions of coupons and tons of interesting vegan and animal rights literature, it included a bonanza of product samples:
Clearly, I will have no shortage of things to write about in the near future, so stay tuned for lots of product reviews.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More Time with Victoria Moran and Easy Vegan Takeout

I wrote yesterday about hearing from Victoria Moran and her inspiring words about what it means to live a vegan lifestyle.  Tonight, I got to hear more from Victoria when she led a workshop at Tranquil Space where she again talked about the vegan lifestyle and her formula for healthy living - M.E.N.D.  This stands for Meditation, Exercise, Nourishment and Detoxification.  I don't think I can describe it as eloquently as Victoria did, and I fortunately found a video on YouTube where she talks about M.E.N.D.

My fellow workshop participants were a mixed bag when it came to their vegan journeys. There were folks who have been vegan for years, folks who have been vegan for days and folks who were vegetarians or flexetarians and curious about being a vegan.

During the workshop and in our conversations afterwards, we talked about the common perception that being vegan equals feeling deprived and how, when you're starting out down the vegan road, you might not be sure what to eat, especially if you're "too busy to cook."

I've had a pretty hectic few weeks, but I have managed to do really well with finding quick vegan meals.  Here's a few things I've picked up recently for lunch and dinner.  Now, I don't advocate eating out for every meal, but I want to show how easy it can be to find vegan options, even when you're busy.

Today, I went to a "lunch and learn" professional development event.  When I registered, I requested a vegan lunch.  Today, when I picked up my badge, I was also handed this "Pan-Asian Vegan Salad," courtesy of Lawson's Catering.  The ingredients included Red Peppers, Carrot, Eggplant, Jicama, Cucumbers, and Crispy Fried Wonton Noodles on a bed of Field Greens.

Tonight, on my way to the workshop, I hit up Marvelous Market for this yummy bean and wheat berry salad, as well as the most delicious fresh pineapple.  I need to eat more fresh pineapple - I felt so energized.

This was my lunch yesterday, a Falafel and Hummus whole wheat sandwich from Perfect Pita.  The sandwich typically comes with provolone and feta, but since they are made to order, it was easy to get mine without any cheese.  Check out their vegan menu for more ideas.

This was my lunch from last Friday, the Farmer's Market salad from Pret-A-Manger.  Look at that avocado!  It also had garbanzo beans, lentil salad, pine nuts, shredded beets, shredded carrot, spinach, cherry tomatoes and roasted red peppers.  

I could go on and on - soups, salads, wraps, stir-frys . . . YUM!  What's some of your favorite easy vegan takeout?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

PIGS Celebration and Vegan Cocktail Food

Tonight, I attended a cocktail party in celebration of PIGS Animal Sanctuary's 20th Anniversary.  PIGS is a home to many rescued animals, and I one day hope to visit there.  In the meantime, I am happy to support PIGS from here in DC!

Tonight's keynote speaker was Victoria Moran, who is such an inspiration for anyone interested in becoming a vegan.  I'm midway through reading Main Street Vegan and am so moved by how Victoria has shared her personal vegan journey and how she encourages compassion not only for the animals and for the earth, but also for ourselves as we transition from the standard American diet to a plant-based, vegan one.  Tomorrow, I'm attending her workshop at Tranquil Space, and I look forward to learning more from her!

My favorite part of Victoria's remarks was her vegan acronym, which she shares on her blog:

- Validate your choice by learning all you can.
- Enjoy the adventure: have fun with this; we’re lucky to know about it!
- Get to know other vegans, thru conferences, MeetUps, making online friends.
A – Add more than you subtract: new foods, new dishes, new activities, new places to shop — Going veg should make you happier every day.
- Never forget the animals: If you’re doing this for your health, good for you — but there are lots of opinions on health. Reverence for life, on the other hand, isn’t an opinion based on one study that could be invalidated by the next; it’s a living ethic, a way of being that will enrich your life and cultivate your soul.

Tonight was a perfect example of living the acronym for me!  V - I learned a ton about making compassionate choices.  E - I definitely had fun and enjoyed myself!  G - I hung out with some current veg-friendly friends and met some new ones.  A - I tried some delicious food (see below) and N -  Hooray for PIGS! 

So yes, let's talk about the food.  There was a lovely array of small bites to choose from, from white bean and broccoli raab bruschettas to cheeseless pizzas to hummus and fresh pita chips to a gorgeous veggie plate.  But, my favorite had to be the arugula and fresh fig flatbread.  I adore arugula and fresh figs on their own, but never thought of combining them, and now I think I'll have that combination as often as possible, which won't be much longer as the window for fresh figs is slowly coming to a close.

Here's the delicious veggie plate we noshed on!

Also, I got to sample a Pig-Tini, which helped raise money for PIGS.

Carol and I really enjoyed our Pig-Tinis!

Oh, and I won two items in the silent auction -  an autographed copy of Neal Barnard's Breaking the Food Seduction and original artwork by fellow yogini Mary Catherine Starr:

All in all, a great night!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cornmeal-Crusted Tempeh from The Conscious Cook

L'Shanah Tovah!  Today marks the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  It is a time to reflect on the past year, as well as to reflect on life's blessings - friends, family and community.

Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with a meal with family.  Growing up, I remember eating brisket, roasted potatoes and apple cake with my parents and grandparents.  Now that I follow a vegan diet, I wanted to capture the same sort of celebratory meal for my husband and me.  The exact elements of the meal don't matter as much as the intangible ingredients - care and love.  And, as our rabbi's remarks spoke about the importance of compassion, I find a vegan meal to be very appropriate for this holiday!  Philosophy aside, I also knew that getting home from services mid-day would give me plenty of time to whip up something special for us for dinner.

With all that in mind, I decided to crack open Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook.  In his introductory chapter, Chef Ronnen notes that his goal has been "creating vegan food that was just as mouthwatering and delicious as anything I'd ever had as a meat eater" and that "if you like hollandaise sauce, rich wine reductions and meat-like textures, you'll love these recipes."

I let my husband flip through the book to select what I was going to make.  I thought he would go for the Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets with Yellow Tomato Bearnaise and Mashed Potatoes, but, to my surprise, he suggested the Cornmeal-Crusted Tempeh with Smoked Tomato Sauce, Green Chile Relish, Black Bean Puree and Braised Kale.

This recipe has multiple steps and involves a lot of pots and timing, so I'll walk through some ways I multi-tasked throughout the two-hour (yes, you read that correctly) prep and cooking time.  If you're a beginner cook, you may want to pair up with a friend and use multiple kitchen timers.

Simmering the tempeh
The recipe has seven parts: pre-cooking the tempeh, making the smoky tomato sauce, making the black bean puree, making the green chile relish and breading, braising the kale and pan frying the tempeh.  The recipe is very clearly written out, so if you follow the steps as they're written, it won't be stressful.  Note that you'll have a lot of idle time while the tempeh and sauce are simmering, so I suggest doing a good amount of prep then, as the final minutes of the recipe will go by quickly.  For me, this included chopping the kale, chopping the onions and the garlic for the bean puree and green chile relish, and roasting the chile pepper for the relish. 

Since I was only cooking for the two of us, I halved the entire recipe, except the black bean puree (which I thought I'd use in a burrito or another dish).  I prepared the tempeh according to the recipe directions.  The broth, which included soy sauce, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, dried ancho and chipotle peppers and bay leaf, smelled fantastic.  While the broth was coming to a boil, I made sure to start chopping the veggies for the sauce.

The recipe said to reserve the cooking liquid from the tempeh, but I read through the recipe multiple times and couldn't figure out why it needed to be reserved, so I rinsed out that pot and used it for the black bean puree.

Another time saver was using an immersion blender.  Rather than putting the tomato sauce in the blender and putting the black beans in a food processor, I used the immersion blender to puree them.  I had better luck with the beans than the sauce (my guess, not enough liquid), but both came out fine, and this saved some dishwashing for us later.

Since we don't have a gas range, I roasted my pepper in the toaster oven, rotating it with tongs so it would blacken on all sides.

The recipe for the braised kale is in another part of the book.  I found it made sense to make the kale in one pan and fry the tempeh in the other concurrently, as the timing on both of them is similar.

Unlike some of the other recipes in the book, there's no accompanying photo, so I'm not sure what Chef Ronnen intended for plating.  I decided to do three "zones" - the tomato sauce, the bean puree and the kale, then layered the tempeh over the "zones" and sprinkled the top with the chile relish.

The tomato sauce definitely has a smoky flavor, and the black beans were surprisingly and pleasingly sweet.  Simmering the tempeh in broth very much improves the flavor and texture, and for once, I managed to pan fry something without the breading falling off.  If you want to simplify this recipe further, I think you can omit the chile relish.  I don't think it will make or break the dish.