Sunday, February 26, 2012

Vegan Adventures in Boston: Friendly Toast and Kam Man Asian Market

Today I went up to Boston to see a friend of mine from college that I haven't seen in YEARS. It was really nice to see her, and we ended up having a lovely meal at a cute little breakfast place called "A Friendly Toast" in Kendall Square. The restaurant has has a nice youthful atmosphere, quirky decorations, and a lime green wall so bright I'm pretty sure gives you vitamin C by looking at it. I also love the fact that "A Friendly Toast" has kind of a double meaning, in that the establishment sells both actual breakfast toast, and brunch cocktails. So you really can get brunch and get crunk at the same time.

The restaurant is definitely not all vegan, or even all vegetarian, but it has enough of a selection that omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans should all find something satisfying. The staff was really nice, so I am sure that reasonable substitutions would be accommodated easily as well. However, I went with a straight menu item called the "Vegan Valhalla"* wrap (how much do you love that?!). And, in all seriousness, I was not disappointed. The wrap was a savory nutritional powerhouse consisting of a flour tortilla filled with portobello mushrooms, sesame-baked tofu (yum!), brown rice, baby spinach, olive oil, green onions, and tahini dressing. Don't you just feel like you got a good meal reading that? It also came with some really good spicy sliced potato home fries. The olive oil in the wrap was admittedly a little excessive, and my hands got kinda greased up while I ate. But it was totally worth it. I think I understand the word "umami" better now that I've eaten this sandwich.

*Is it insanely ironic that the word Valhalla was taken from the old Norse Valhöll meaning "hall of the slain"? I mean, vegans are a pretty anti-slay sort of group right? Friendly Toast has lots of creative names for their food and cocktails, but this one was a real "thinker"...

After some well-enjoyed catch-up time with my friend, I headed for home and she headed for the airport. Almost by accident, I took a turn off the road on my way back to the highway, and ended up in the Back Bay Shopping Center. I drove toward the back of the center's parking lot and got very excited to discover the Kam Man Farmer's Market. It isn't really a farmer's market per se, but it was a really nice semi-diverse (though largely asian-focused) grocery store. I wandered around the sizable square-footage for a couple of hours looking at everything. There were many items you'd find at a large chain grocery store (Oreo's, Pringles, etc), but there was also a nice hispanic foods section, and even a few Caribbean food offerings. I was excited to find some fruit and vegetable offerings (as well as lots of other items) that I've never heard of. Grass jelly, anyone? FYI pictures on the packaging make it look like black jello...

Anyway, one of the best surprises at the Kam Man market was the pretty huge selection of vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes in the frozen section. There were all sorts of imitation seafood, chicken, pork, beef, and other assorted offerings, including sizable cylinders of vegetarian "ham" and bean curd molded to look like fish, complete with seaweed "skin" and "scales." Some of the more processed items like the faux fish made into battered and fried "filets" were kind of on the pricey side, but might make a really nice special occasion purchase for those who miss their seafood. Word to the wise though, definitely still scour your nutrition labels, because many of these items, while truly meat-free, still contained dairy ingredients. Some items like the faux "lamb chunks" were specifically labeled as vegan, but I can't help but read labels at all times, because you never know what someone else's definitions of "vegan" might be. There was some "100% meatless" imitation shark fin on another aisle that was made entirely of animal gelatin.

Anyway, I came home with a number of goodies, including oyster-free oyster sauce, canned jackfruit (because the Veganize This book has some recipes calling for it), some glutinous rice balls filled with peanut-butter, egg-free wonton wrappers, matcha powder, and a really great-looking selection of teas. The plain faux fish also made the trip back to RI. It actually had religious symbols on the package which I assume to be the Buddhist version of kosher certification. I was told once that wearing Buddhist beads in an asian country will help you to communicate your cruelty-free preferences at a restaurant. Has anyone experienced success with this method?

But all-told, it was a wonderful day, and I look forward to cooking up lots of new flavors in the near future. Score 1 for veganism today in the Northeast!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend all!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Best kale chip recipe ever

Hi all!

I hope you have been having a lovely spring! It's rainy here in RI today, but here's hoping the weekend weather clears up...

This recipe is great rain or shine though, so we're covered either way :-)

Many of you may have heard of the greatness that is "kale chips," but I'm not sure if you guys have tried it my favorite way. It's really simple and versatile, and largely a hands-off process.

Best Kale Chips Ever (according to me)

  • 1 bag pre-washed and chopped kale
  • Freshly-ground salt (preferably iodized)
  • 1-2 Tbsp neutral oil like my fave canola
  • 1-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (preferably the vegetarian support formula with B12)

Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Place a single layer of chopped kale onto a jelly roll pan. Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp of your oil over the kale, distributing as much as possible. You don't want to drown the kale in oil, so start with less and see if you need more.

Now you'll have to get your hands in the kale and "massage" it a little, picking up the kale and doing your best to coat each leaf with a thin layer of the oil you just sprinkled on.

Next, freshly grind some salt over the kale, just a little. The nutritional yeast will be pretty flavorful, so keep the salt to a minimum. Next, sprinkle a bit of nutritional yeast over the kale, trying to coat all the leaves with a fine layer. Try to go for about as much powder per leaf as you see on an individual Dorito chip.

Next, bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until crispy. If you don't need all of your chips to be crispy, you can probably crowd more kale into the pan, but your best bet for krispy kale is giving them some space.

Note: If you have to watch your sodium, you can definitely leave out the salt. And also, Bragg's nutritional yeast is completely sodium-free. The Red Star brand of yeast I tend to prefer has a little sodium, but not very much. Nevertheless, these chips are way better for you than bagged potato chips, due to an abundance of vitamins A, C, and K, B vitamins, as well as some calcium, iron, folate, potassium, and even omega 3s and antioxidants. And really, they are a pretty satisfying snack. I'd be happy to grab a bowl of these and watch some tv. They've got kind of that savory, salty, Dorito-esque flavor.

However, if nutritional yeast isn't your thing, I've tried these with Spike seasoning and kelp seasoning also, and they're still good. I bet there are lots of spice blends and flavorings that'd be great.

Anyway, enjoy all, and eat in good health!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yummy yummy yummy I've got love in my tummy...

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

I hope that all of you are having a lovely day today, whether you have plans with your special someone or not. As the old saying goes, the way to a person's heart is through his or her stomach, and I think everyone deserves to have lovingly-prepared meal today.

Even if you're cooking for yourself, or for a friend or family, maybe try something a little special or out of the ordinary. Maybe even something...heart-shaped? :-)

Today's recipe of heart-shaped ravioli has a special ingredient...Red wine!!! I think it adds a special touch to a classic dish. It actually reminds me of a delicious meal that I had once in Florence, Italy. It was a pasta dish called spaghetti all'ubriaco, which is a pasta dish cooked in red wine so that it turns purple. It sort of translates to "drunken pasta." And heck, red wine is kind of a Valentine's Day stand-by...

Prepare to spend a little time making this special dish, though you can cut down a little of the time using a pasta roller, which I did not have available. You can make just enough for a few servings if you're in a hurry though. I know it's the big day already!

Enjoy folks!

Red-wine-infused heart-shaped ravioli with dairy-free ricotta filling

Pasta dough
Revised from original recipe found on Instructables

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup red wine (see here for info on good vegan wines unless you already have some)
1 tsp oil (I like canola or sunflower, but you can use your favorite)
1/2 tsp salt

Ricotta filling
Taken from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch

1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp oil (olive or other)
2 cloves garlic (chopped will help)
1 pound crumbled firm tofu
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp salt


2 cloves garlic
a few Tbsp of oil
A few shakes of dried parsley, maybe 1/2 tsp?
Tomato sauce of choice

Mix all of the ingredients for the pasta dough in a bowl (using a fork helps), and then turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. Let the dough rest on the counter for 10 mins.

Blend all of the ingredients for the ricotta (except the tofu) in a food processor or blender. Add the tofu and process until smooth. Or, throw everything in at once like I did. No biggie. I had no problems.

Cut the pasta dough into eighths, then roll each of the pieces out on a floured surface using a rolling pin. Keep the pieces you are not currently working with under an overturned mixing bowl, or at least under a slightly dampened towel so that they don't dry out. You'll want to roll out the dough a little, then flip it over, and roll a little more, and continue this process until the dough is about as thin as a tortilla, maybe a little thinner.

Use a cookie cutter to cut out heart shapes (or another shape of your choosing) from the pasta dough. Try to cut the shapes out as closely as possible to each other because that way you won't have to re-roll the dough too often. If you have a pasta roller, you might save yourself some time here in the re-rolling.

Press a small dollop of the ricotta filling onto half of the heart shapes. Think of maybe the volume of a cooked kidney bean. That's about the amount of ricotta you'll want to put in your ravioli. Use your finger or a small brush and some water to wet the edges of the ravioli hearts with the ricotta on them. Press a cheese-free heart shape on top, taking care to press around the edges a little, and press out excess air that could become trapped around the "cheese". Extra air could make your raviolis pop open when they are cooked. Lastly, use a fork to make little crimp marks around the edges of your ravioli to seal them and to make them look nice.

Place all of your finished raviolis on a plate with some waxed paper on it. Before you add a new layer of ravioli to the plate, remember to put another layer of waxed paper down first so the raviolis won't stick.

When you're done, put some water on to boil. Boil the raviolis until they float to the surface of the water, and then drain them. You'll want to stir a little just after you drop the pasta in the water, just to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. Remember, fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than the dried stuff, so keep an eye on your pasta pot. It will probably take 5 minutes or less for the raviolis to cook.

While the raviolis are boiling, put a few tablespoons of oil in a small pan and turn the heat on medium. Mince 2 cloves of garlic (or use a garlic press) and add the garlic to the oil. Cook for a few minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic. Mix in your dried parsley towards the end of this process.

Once the raviolis have been drained, put them back in the pot, add a few spoonfuls of the garlic oil (to your preference of course) and coat the raviolis with the oil by carefully stirring with a plastic or wooden spoon.

Serve your raviolis with the sauce of your choice, preferably on some pretty plates.

I hope that you have a wonderful meal and wonderful company this Valentine's Day, and happy cooking!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Touchdown! Vegan Bourbon Buffalo "Chicken Wings"

All I can say is that Jenn "Shaggy" Shagrin, author of the amazing book Veganize This! must be some kind of sorceress. I made her Bourbon Buffalo "Chicken Wings" with Vegan Bleu Cheese Aioli today in honor of the Super Bowl, being that wings are a pretty traditional game-time treat.

I usually get all excited about the Super Bowl every year, not because I'm a football fan (at all), but because I think "ooh, snacks!"

But you should definitely buy Ms. Shagrin's book on Amazon. It's got some seriously delicious recipes in it (I've only made a few so far and I've been a fan of every one, especially the faux seafood offerings), but also, it costs less than $8 on Amazon right now!!! Quick, buy immediately!!!

Seriously, just look how delicious these "wings" look! I must admit that they were a little chewier in texture than the "real" thing, but they're made from seitan, so they're not going to be exactly the same. And they're plenty satisfying as they are. Plus, no chickens were harmed in the making of these delicious snacks, which is way more important!

I'd be proud to bring these to any get-together, or to serve these to guests at my home. When I tasted the sauce I think I heard angels singing. The shallots, barbecue sauce, chili powder, and brown sugar blended together marvelously, and the cocoa powder and cinnamon in the mole sauce really put these flightless "wings" over the top.

I kind of "winged it" (pun intended) with the book's "bleu cheese" dipping sauce recipe, because I didn't have all of the ingredients, and I was antsy and hungry, so measuring was not to happen. But it, too, was a delicious taste sensation with veganaise, some vegan feta, vegan sour cream, garlic, and dill. I bet people wouldn't even know there was no real cheese or dairy in it!

So, in conclusion, shock your taste buds and your family vegan ninja style with some Bourbon Buffalo Mole "Chicken Wings," and feel free to substitute ingredients here and there rather than making another trip to the store. This is a very versatile recipe, and it's worth making these NOW, trust me.

Hope you have a snacktastic Super Bowl event!