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. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Football Lunch: Quorn Vegan Burger and Alexia Organic Crinkle Cut Fries

I've written before about my favorite vegetarian and vegan football eats, and I thought it would be fun to see what I eat on game days throughout the 2012 season.

Last week, I went to Rhino, which is DC's Eagles fan HQ.  They've changed up their menu (though the website doesn't reflect it), and added a veggie burger that's made with grains veggies and black beans.  It's a bit dry and was lacking garnish, so if I order it again, I'll remember to ask for some fixins and douse it in ketchup. 

Today, since the Eagles are televised and we're headed to Erev Rosh Hashanah services right after the game, I'm at home and thus able to prepare my own football food.  Since last week's burger was lackluster, I decided to prepare my own.

Quorn now has a vegan burger.  It's soy free and the texture isn't bad.  Husband was in the kitchen and helped prepared my lunch (it is unwise for me to be near hot ovens and sharp knives unsupervised during an Eagles game), and he thought that it smelled like barbeque.  I topped the burger with daiya, and garnished it with raw kale, grape tomatoes, red onion and german mustard.  Since our local market didn't have good vegan whole grain bun options, I ate it on Spring Mill Bread Company whole grain bread.

For a side, I tried Alexia Organics Salt and Pepper Crinkle Fries.  I was happy with the seasoning level and didn't feel the need to add any additional salt.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Happy Rosh Hashanah: Pecan Rugelach

I have a love-hate relationship with rugelach.  I love to eat them, but I hate that they're traditionally made with walnuts.  So, that means if I want them, I'd need to bake them.  Fortunately, I'd like to bake!

Before we get there, you may ask, what is rugelach?   It's a rolled cookie of deliciousness.  Flavors you often see are chocolate, raspberry or apricot.

I've never attempted rugelach, but this Made Just Right Vegan Rugelach recipe inspired me.  It uses Earth Balance, vegan cream cheese and whole-wheat pastry flour for the dough.  The recipe gives the option to make apricot or chocolate rugelach.  When I asked my husband which one he wanted me to make for dinner at his grandmother's, he said both, so that's what I did.  He also said "You're not going to tell my family that they're vegan, right?"   I said "I don't have to . . ." which in me speak may end up being "I will wait until they tell me how delicious they are and then tell them!  Bwahahahaha!" 

The recipe suggests chilling the dough for two hours overnight, so I made the dough in my food processor last night and set my alarm to get up early this morning to bake them.  "You're getting up early, like a professional baker!" said husband.  Somewhere, my mother is reading this and asking "Who are you and what have you done with my hibernating daughter?"  A morning person I am not.  But, rugelach calls!  I even got up happily before the alarm went off. 

This morning, I made the filling, again using my food processor, halving the recipe amounts for each option.  For the apricot versions, I used Clearbrook Farms Apricot Preserves and pecans.  For the chocolate, I used Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Mini Chocolate Chips, pecans, cinnamon and Truvia, using the handy dandy Truvia conversion chart (Truvia being much sweeter than sugar, you don't need as much).

Rugelach, pre-baking
The dough is very sticky, so I used lots and lots of flour when rolling it out.  I realized that one of the reasons pie crust has been my nemesis is that I've been skimping on the flour.  So, let me paraphrase my mother, who, when I wrap gifts, often says "Don't skimp on the scotch tape!"  Don't skimp on the flour! (Hi, Mom - you're getting lots of shout outs today!  Want me to overnight you some rugelach?)

The apricot rugelach rolled easily enough, as the preserves acted like a glue.  The chocolate ones were a little more delicate, as the ingredients were entirely dry.  Have your baking sheet right next to your work area to minimize spills.

The recipe called for baking the rugelach for 20 minutes at 350, but our oven, for lack of a better word, sucks, so we went a little longer (three minutes or so).  I put them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes or so, and then sliced them and let them cool for longer.  The chocolate sliced more easily than the apricot.

We did a quick taste test - both came out yummy, but I think I prefer the chocolate cinnamon.  We'll see what the family thinks tonight!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spice Cabinet Organization

Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or a conventional cook, seasonings and spices will add wonderful dimensions to your cooking.   I admit to being somewhat of a spice and seasoning junkie.  When I see a recipe that I want to try that has an obscure spice, I tend to go out and buy it, even if I can't think of a second use for it.  Yes, that may seem totally impractical, but I figure it's a small indulgence given how much I enjoy cooking and baking.

I did realize earlier this week, however, that our "spice cabinet" (aka, two shelves in the cabinet above our toaster), had gone somewhat awry.  Because we just kind of shoved everything in there, it was very difficult to find anything when we needed it.

So, today, I decided to tackle a quick kitchen organization project.  Earlier this week, we ordered a cabinet organizer so we could stack our spices in tiers, and it arrived yesterday.  Today, we took all of the seasoning and spice bottles out of the cabinet and wiped them down the shelves.

Since husband and I lived on our own for quite awhile before we co-habitated, we ended up with duplicate seasonings, so we consolidated those.  I then organized the remaining bottles by brand so that they'd look visually nice when we put them back in the cabinet- kind of like how closet organizers suggest organizing your clothes by color.

I assumed that I would be able to read the labels of each bottle when I put them on the shelf organizer, but we quickly realized that wasn't going to be the case.  So, after we got all the bottles how we wanted them, I made a quick map like you might see in a box of chocolates, and taped it to the inside of the cabinet.

The map has two benefits.  Not only will we know exactly where each spice is located, but we'll also now have a quick inventory of what spices and seasonings we already have.  So, when I find a recipe I want to try, we can consult the map before we go shopping.  And, I also said we could use the map like a game - close our eyes, point to the map and whichever seasoning we touch can inspire a cooking experiment.

Yes, we have more seasonings that don't fit on the organizer, but I feel like our spice cabinet has come a long way! 
What spices and seasonings are your favorites to cook with?  Cumin tends to be my go to, and I've also enjoyed playing with za'atar.  We also put crushed red pepper flakes in dishes to add heat.

What other tips do you have for keeping your kitchen organized?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Vegan Hot Dogs at Bold Bite

When I was looking up vegan options near our place in Maryland, I came across Bold Bite Dogs & Fries, a new hot dog place in downtown Bethesda.  Hot dogs and vegan normally don't mix, but Bold Bite offers a Veggie Sausage option for all their menu items.

To be safe on the allergy and vegan side, I emailed Bold Bite over the weekend to ask what the ingredients were in the veggie sausage.  I got a nice response from Alonso with the ingredients: Eggplant, fennel, red wine, garlic, sweet peppers and gluten.

Tonight after work, I met my husband for dinner.  When I went to the counter, I asked about the ingredients in the arugula pesto, as sometimes pesto is made with walnuts and that would be an allergy debacle.  The gentleman at the counter asked if I was vegan, and shared that the pesto didn't have nuts, but it did have mayonnaise.  He then asked if I was the person who sent the email over the weekend.  When I told him that that was indeed me, he proceeded to show me how different menu options could be veganized, mentioning specifically that their Cajun Ketchup is a great option for vegans.

I went with the Veg-Out Show Dog: Veggie Sausage, diced tomato, red onions, lettuce, topped with crispy shallots.  It normally comes with the argula pesto, but I omitted that due to the mayo.  It was really good - the texture of the sausage was nice and meaty and seasoned well, and the toppings were fresh.  The fries were also delicious.

I really like it when conventional restaurants go above and beyond to make vegans feel welcome, and Bold Bite certainly delivered.  What restaurants do you feel go the extra mile for vegans?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Objects in This Mirror May Not Be as Vegan As They Appear

I don't know what your Facebook feed looked like on Tuesday, but mine definitely had a trend - the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.  The fervor was so strong that I think there may have been an unofficial parade for it.

Even before I went fully vegan, it had been awhile since I had a milk based drink at Starbucks.  I am a big fan of their Zen teas and their snacks, especially when I'm traveling for work, but Frappucinos and lattes never really sat well in my stomach. And, for the longest time, I didn't think I could have soy milk. But, today, when I went in with my co-workers today to grab a bag of roasted almonds, I saw that that their soy milk is organic (and thus GMO-free).  So, I thought I'd try the Pumpkin Spice Latte with soy milk and no whipped cream.

I tried it and I liked it.  I was all set to blog about it.  But, then a voice in the back of my head said "Before you blog about this yummy vegan drink you had, maybe you should confirm that it's actually vegan."

My first stop was the Starbucks website.  They have a handy dandy nutrition calculator, but I couldn't easily find ingredients on their site.  So, I googled.

My answer?  Vegan?  Not so muchNope.

Rather than hem and haw about this, I'd like to pass on a few thoughts that you can apply in general to your own vegan journey.

1.  If it matters, do the research.  Just because something looks like it's animal product free, doesn't mean it is.  And if you feel strongly enough about eating any animal products, or if you have food sensitivities, it's worth the time to ask.  Read Don't Kill the Birthday Girl to learn more about where milk and caesin can lurk, especially if you have food sensitivities (plus - it's a great book!).  Thanks to social media and websites, it's usually easy to get that information.  And if an eating establishment won't respond to your customer concerns, do you really want to eat there?  Although I wish Starbucks had a truly vegan coffee option, I do credit them for being forthright and responsive about customer ingredients.  

2.  It's not the end of the world as we know it.   So, I had some condensed milk.  While I'm not happy about it, I'll move on.  Just like if you decide to go vegan and have a little bit of cheese or bacon or what have you, either inadvertently or by choice, don't beat yourself up about it.  I fully commend folks that have the commitment to be fully vegan, lifestyle and all.  But, like any eating plan, going "off plan" once doesn't mean you're "off plan" forever.   From just going Meatless Monday to cutting back on animal product consumption, you are making a big difference.  I'll quote Gene Bauer again - "Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good."  Chalk it up to a learning experience.  If you ate it with intention, allow yourself to meditate on why you made the decision, how you felt afterwards and be at peace with it.  If you ate it inadvertently, see #1 and be at peace with it.

3.  Conversations Matter.  One of the comments on the Your Daily Vegan Post above essentially said "you had a little milk - get over it."  If you follow a vegan diet, you're going to run into this type of conversation at some point.  Use this as an opportunity to patiently explain why you've made the choices you've made, and how many great animal product free options there are out there.  Just like you don't want people to judge you for making vegan choices, don't judge those who aren't up for a vegan lifestyle, or aren't "vegan enough" for you.  Everyone's on a different journey.  Let's all make a vegan lifestyle as accessible as possible.

When it comes down to it, I won't be consuming another pumpkin spice latte in it's current form because a)It's too much sugar for me and b)I feel better when I'm 100% dairy free.  To get my pumpkin goodness, I may try this pumpkin spice breakfast shake.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Quinoa and Black Beans, Or Being Vegan Doesn't Need to Be Hard

I stayed at work later than I expected today, and, by the time I got home, I was most definitely not in the mood for doing much cooking.  My husband wasn't really up for making anything either, so I threw something together based on what I had in the fridge.

Fortunately, we have a well stocked pantry.  When you're busy, making grains in bulk really helps.  As I mentioned on Monday, I made a big pot of quinoa this week.  Last week, we had a big pot of farro.  The week before that, it was wild rice.  We buy our grains in bulk now as it's cheaper and cuts down on packaging.  If you vary your toppings and sauces, having the same grain several days in a row won't seem monotonous.

We also always have multiple cans of beans on hand.  Sure, they take up a lot of room, and they don't quite compare to the flavor of cooked dried beans, but you can put them in anything, and they're good in a hot dish or in a salad.  We rinse ours first to cut down on sodium and get rid of unappetizing "bean goo."

Finally, we always have tons of fresh vegetables on hand, and good knives to chop them with.  To save even more time, you can pre-chop your veggies over the weekend.  If you'd rather use frozen, that's fine, but we prefer fresh.

As a bonus, have tons of dried spices and seasonings, as well as shelf stable hot sauces and other liquid condiments.  As in two shelves full of them! (Perhaps we could consolidate, or get those spice stacker thingees.  Yep, just ordered one on Amazon.).  A little of those goes a long way and it's easy to add variety to your food.

With all this in our arsenal, I made a quinoa, black bean, green onion and kale saute seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin in about 15 minutes.  Husband had his as is, and I added a bit of mozzarella daiya.  Since it was a one pot meal, we also had minimal dishes - the pot, a cutting board, a knife, the container for the quinoa and our plates and forks (no knives needed!).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders

Tonight, I was in the mood for a quick dinner, so I decided to make Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders with a side salad.  The Gardein tenders took 15 minutes in the toaster, but, in retrospect, I should have left them in a bit longer, as the breading didn't crisp up as much as I would have liked.  I'll cook them for longer the next time, but, in the meantime, I prefer the Mandarin Chik'n.

I think it's also funny that the "serving size" is two tenders.  Does anyone eat two little tenders?  And the five tenders I had aren't really even that scary from a nutrition standpoint: 250 calories, 12 grams of fat, 20 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.  The sodium would clock in at 600mg.  Maybe they thought the fat to calorie ratio was a little scary?  Also, after 75 minutes of vinyasa yoga, I am still hungry.

My side salad was baby spinach, raw mushrooms, grape tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  We've had half a lemon in the fridge for awhile.  I've wrapped it tightly in foil, and I've been squeezing the lemon on my salads over the past few days.  Much better than bottled lemon juice!

"Eggs" and potatoes for breakfast

Now that I know I can tolerate Non-GMO soy, I decided to take a stab at tofu scramble.  I always enjoyed scrambled eggs in the mornings, and tofu scramble is as close as vegans can get.

When I picked out my tofu at the store on Monday, I decided to go with Mori-Nu brand silken extra-firm tofu, rather than regular tofu.  My only reason was that the package size was smaller, and since I'm currently the only tofu-eater in my house, it seems less wasteful.

The difference between silken tofu and regular tofu is mainly in texture.  I feel like I see silken tofu more often in dessert recipes - it's allegedly more creamy than regular tofu.  When I opened the package, it definitely looked like a block of cream cheese - less little pockets than regular tofu.  When I handled it, I felt like the texture resembled hard-boiled eggs, which, to me, was perfect for this tofu scramble experiment.  My guess is that silken tofu might also make an excellent "egg salad."

Since I tend to oversleep in the mornings, I need a breakfast which doesn't take a lot of time to prepare (aka, why I usually default to toast).  So I decided to prep my tofu-scramble and some roasted potatoes Monday late afternoon to reheat for today's breakfast.  First, I pressed the tofu for 15 minutes.  While the tofu was pressing, I chopped a small amount of red onion finely.

I heated a little under a tablespoon of olive oil for a minute or so, and then sauteed the onion.  I then crumbled the tofu into the pan, breaking it up further with a wooden spatula.  A number of blogs I've read have suggested adding tumeric to the tofu to give it an "eggy" color, so I stirred in a teaspoon of tumeric, along with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.  I let the mix cook for about minutes, stirring it frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of my pan.  When the tofu was lightly browned, I took it off the heat and stirred in some dried parsley, and then put it in a glass container. This morning, I reheated it in the microwave with a touch of mozzarella daiya, along with some leftover cooked broccoli.  I think next time I will need to be more aggressive with the seasoning, but it was tasty.

What goes nicely with "scrambled eggs"?  Breakfast potatoes!  I had some leftover mini red, purple and gold mini-potatoes, so I chopped them up small and tossed them in olive oil, dried minced onion, sea salt and pepper.  I let them roast in a single layer in a pyrex dish at 425 for 30 minutes, stirring them at one point so they wouldn't stick.  I reheated them this morning in the toaster, rather than microwaving them, so they'd stay crispy.

What are your favorite vegan breakfast treats?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Quinoa Stir-Fry

My goal tonight was to use up some leftover broccoli, carrots and green onions so I decided to make a quick stir-fry. 

Rather than use rice, I used some of the quinoa we inherited from friends of ours who were moving overseas and looking to liquidate their kitchen.  For some reason, I always find myself googling the cooking directions for quinoa even though its ridiculously simple.  For each cup of quinoa, add two cups liquid (water or broth).  Pour it all together into a pot, bring to a boil, and let simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or so until the liquid is absorbed.

While the quinoa was cooking, I prepped my veggies: green onion, mushrooms, garlic, carrots and broccoli.  The sliced mushrooms at Giant were the same price as the whole mushrooms, so I grabbed those. Less prep time is always good!  I made sure to chop everything smaller than I normally do, as the quinoa is small and I wanted an even veggie/quinoa distribution.

Using olive oil, I sauteed the green onions and mushrooms first for a few minutes, seasoning them with salt and pepper. Then, I added the garlic and stirred it until I smelled a nice garlic aroma, and then added the broccoli and carrots.  I then reduced the heat to medium and covered my stir-fry pan with a lid.  When there was about two minutes left on my quinoa, I removed the lid and seasoned the veggies with sesame oil, cumin, some Bragg's liquid aminos and toasted sesame seeds.  I poured the veggie mix over the quinoa, and, voila, dinner.

We had the quinoa mix with a side salad of spring mix, cucumber and raw mushrooms, dressed lightly with lemon juice, a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  I am really digging raw mushrooms in salads lately. 

I mentioned Bragg's Liquid Aminos above.  This product frequently show up in vegan recipes, and I see ads for the Bragg line all the time in Vegetarian Times and Yoga Journal.  The liquid aminos are a nice substitute for soy sauce, with the main benefit, in my mind, being that they are much lower in sodium.  Yes, they do have soy protein, but they're certified GMO-free and thus safe for my sensitivities.

The big selling point for Bragg's Liquid Aminos it that it claims to have 16 essential amino acids, which serve as building blocks for our body, and help our bodies properly make use of vitamins and minerals.  Call me a skeptic, but I'm not sure if a few teaspoons of Bragg's makes a huge difference in the amount of amino acids we need to stay healthy, but it adds a nice flavor to dishes and it's not bad for you, so it can't hurt to have a bottle in your pantry.  If you're concerned about getting enough amino acids in your vegan diet, look for "complete proteins" like buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and soy.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Vegan Pizza at District of Pi

Tonight, my friend and I went to Chinatown to catch a movie.  We had plenty of time for dinner beforehand, so we decided to go to District of Pi.  I had eaten some of the veggie thin crust and deep dish pizzas there before, and knew they had vegan options available.

District of Pi is very vegan friendly.  The thin crust pizza dough is vegan, and you can substitute daiya cheese and Match meats for the toppings.  I have heard of Match, but I wasn't sure if it was GMO-free soy,so I didn't try it.  The Match website doesn't list ingredients, and the internet was no help, so I may have to look for it in a store so I can look closely at the packaging.

You can also get vegan deep dish pizza at District of Pi, but since the regular deep dish dough has butter, you need to give them advance notice if you'll be ordering it so they can ensure to have the vegan dough available for you.

My pizza tonight had red sauce, daiya, arugula, artichokes and red onions.  The crust was super crispy and the vegetables were all very fresh.  The thin crust pizzas come out quickly, but if you are ordering the deep dish, make sure you budget 25-30 minutes to wait for it to bake.  If you're hungry, you can snack on some vegan friendly appetizers while you wait.  The server told me that they can do a vegan garlic bread, and you can also choose from cucumbers with thai chili, roasted mushrooms with garlic and rosemary, olives and orange or the pi hummus plate with pita, red peppers and olives.  There are also salads that you can easily order without dairy or meat ingredients.  And, if you're into beer, they've got a great rotating selection, including Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewing Co. (I went there on a work event earlier this year) and various beers from local brewery DC Brau

Stay tuned for when I try their vegan deep dish!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vegan Wine: Stellar Organic Pinotage

Last night, I participated in Tranquil Space's "Blue Moon: Vin, Yin and Zin" workshop, a mix of vinyasa yoga, yin yoga and a sampling of various wines (that would be the "Zin" part of the equation).

Participants were encouraged to bring their own wine, so I stopped by the P Street Whole Foods to grab a bottle.  When I got to the wine section, I ran into Keith, who oversees the department and is extremely knowledgeable.  While we were talking, more than one shopper came up to him to thank him for his previous recommendations.

Keith asked what occasion I was getting the wine for, and I let him know about the event.  I mentioned that the workshop description mentioned organic wines, and said I was curious about trying one of those.  Not surprisingly, Whole Foods had about 30, if not more bottles to choose from.  Keith recommended a Pinotage from Stellar Organic Winery, a South African winery.  He said he liked the flavor, but that it was light enough to enjoy if it wasn't paired with a full meal.

In addition to the wine being made from organic grapes and being fair trade certified, it was also labeled as vegan.  Now, I had heard a little bit about vegan wine, but it honestly confused me a little.  After all, it's not like wine is made from chickens.  So, what exactly makes a wine vegan?  Well, apparently, some winemakers use animal products as part of the filtration/"fining" process.  The animal products are filtered out before the wine is bottled, so you aren't technically consuming an animal product when you imbibe.  However, there are a number of vegans out there that feel strongly about consuming any food product that involved an animal ingredient at some point (like the debate over sugar).

So, if you know someone who feels strongly about only consuming vegan wines, or if you know someone who appreciates fair trade products (I have a number of close friends who are actively involved in fair trade), this might be a nice gift or treat to bring to a dinner party.  I admit that I don't know much about wine, but I enjoyed this.  While I normally gravitate towards citrusy whites, this red was indeed light and had a bit of a peppery finish.