Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blind Faith Cafe Baked Goods (and they sure were good!)

Since I didn't have school for three day last week due to junior testing and my mom and I were home alone and getting bored after a few days, we went to Blind faith Cafe in Evanston for lunch on Friday. I love Blind Faith Cafe because, since I live in the suburbs, it's closer to me than other vegetarian/vegan restaurants and my mom is usually more willing to go here. Our lunch was great- my mom had a Mexican egg and vegetable scramble with a side of fresh tortillas and black beans. She loved it and, while I cannot have my input on how the eggs were, I know the black beans and tortillas were excellent because I had the seitan fajitas (which were very good), which also came with those sides, when I went to Blind Faith Cafe for lunch last year with my grandmother. This time around I opted for the Macrobiotic Plate which came with a shitload of food! It started off with a large bowl of miso soup, which was nice but the tofu pieces were a little big for my preference. The main dish consisted of two HUGE piles of brown rice topped with a shiitake gravy, some butternut squash puree, steamed kale, beans (I think pinto beans...?), a small dish of some sort of yummy lemon sauce, and a side of sea vegetable salad- see what I mean when I say it was a lot of food?! All of it was delicious- I ate a lot, but I didn't leave unpleasantly stuffed and felt like I had just eaten a super healthy meal (and I did!). The kale was a little disappointing, though, just because I prefer my greens cooked a little more. My favorite part of the dish was probably the lemon sauce it came with; I poured it all over the rice, beans and squash. The flavor was very clean simple but not one-dimensional at all.

Okay, so no pictures of lunch (my rule- I wanted to spend a nice lunch with my mom and hate fussing with pictures when trying to enjoy the company) but, as you can see above, I brought home two desserts from the bakery side of the restaurant and got pictures of those before they rapidly were gobbled up! The bakery is probably my favorite part of the restaurant because about 70% of all the baked goods and prepared foods are vegan and clearly labeled (I think they recently started labeling things more clearly within the past few months- I love it!) Okay anyways, back to my desserts. The top one is a Cappuccino Brownie and OH MY GOODNESS, was it sinful! The brownie itself was a perfect blend of fudgey and cakey and was studded with bug chunks of walnuts and chocolate chips. The brownie was then topped with a layer of cappuccino creme and then a layer of chocolate ganache! This was one of the best brownies I've ever had! The second treat I brought home was a small Maple Spice Cake which didn't take very maple-y, but the spices were spot on; neither the cinnamon nor nutmeg were overpowering at all. The cake may have been a bit dry, but the smooth, creamy, vanilla frosting balanced this out. I would have loved to get a slice of their famous Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake to get a picture for all of you, but I was in the mood for something different so that's for next time!

Haha- every time I do a post about my trip to a restaurant, I intend on making it a quick post. It never does seem to work out that way, does it?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dad's Birthday

Now I know you're probably expecting a nice, pretty birthday cake because of the title post, right? Well, my dad's never one to be hung up on tradition, so he asked me to make him red velvet cupcakes instead! His birthday was on Friday, but he had something to do that night with my brother, so we really celebrated on Saturday night. My aunt, uncle and their children came over along with one of my dad's friends and his kids for a barbecue, but the weather wasn't great so we sort of spent most of the evening inside....oh well, that's spring weather for ya! The only vegan dish for dinner was a fruit salad, so I just whipped up some black beans and quinoa myself (I forgot to take a picture of my plate, though). For the birthday desert, I made two dozen of the Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes from VCTOTW and frosted one half with the vegan cream cheese frosting (also from VCTOTW, of course!), which is what you see above. The other half was frosted with a non-vegan cream cheese frosting (meaning no picture since they're not vegan) since I know how much my dad loves one particular recipe, and he was the birthday boy after all! The cupcakes are super moist and the flavor is perfect. I'll admit, I wasn't sure how they would turn out because I had never worked with chocolate extract before, but I definitely suggest trying to find this ingredient when making these cupcakes- it makes them perfectly chocolaty! While the adults preferred the non-vegan frosting, the vegan frosting went over really well with the little kids and my little brother actually ate two cupcakes last night and had another one this morning- I think they past the test! Oh- and of course, my dad was very pleased with his birthday cake(s).

Just to throw in some more food I've been making, I finally tried the Penna Vodka from Vcon. My family liked it a lot, and I did as well, but I'm not sure it was worth the effort. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious- the spices were great and the sauce was just smooth enough from the almonds. I guess I just don't really miss vodka sauce as much as I thought I did. If you do want vodka sauce for your pasta, I suggest you try this recipe. Personally, I think I'll only be making this again if I want to make a fancier sauce.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

Well, to start- happy Earth Day everyone! As much as I love the idea behind a holiday dedicated to respecting one's planet, I find it a little ridiculous. Our planet, the source of all which keeps us alive, certainly deserves more attention than one day's worth. I do applaud the media for attempting to promote "greenness" more than in the past, but I don't think enough changes are being made. Celebrities are becoming spokespeople for "going green," but I don't think even this is encouraging others to start caring about the environment. I admit that my family is not always the most environmentally-friendly we can be, but I'm always aware of my decisions and make a conscious effort to do the best I can. Oh gosh, I sound so terribly negative! Okay, it's a holiday- time to be positive!

Though I have no idea what it has to do with Earth Day (well, I suppose a vegan diet is environmentally-friendly everyday, so it works!), I made the Pomegranate BBQ Tofu from VWAV along with some sauteed kale (olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, crushed red pepper- perfecto!) for a nice, healthy dinner. This is definitely one of my new favorite tofu recipes! The sauce is sweet, slightly tangy, but the flavor is so smooth and complex. My mom tasted the sauce and was so shocked by how great it was! She convinced my sister (who constantly insults veganism, even though she likes a lot of food that I have made) and her friend to try some of the sauce and I convinced them to try it along with the tofu- they loved it too! The recipe for the sauce makes A LOT- I probably could have even tripled the tofu. But I just kept the leftover sauce and will be putting it on everything. This may sound odd, but I tried some sun-dried tomatoes (not the marinated kind) dipped in the BBQ sauce tonight and I already know that I will snacking on that all day tomorrow. I don't think I will ever buy bottled barbecue sauce ever again- this recipe inspired me to make my own and keep some on hand all the time! And it just so happens there are the Apricot and Backyard BBQ Sauce recipes in Vcon. I'll be trying those soon, but I'm still enjoying the Pomegranate BBQ Sauce for now!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I've Almost Got It.....

....recreating the tofu scramble from the Chicago Diner, that is. I realized that the trick is to mix up the tofu, soy sauce and tahini until it forms almost a paste. I even added a little water to the mixture to do this and it ended up working WAY better than my previous attempts. Also, you have to just let it chill out for a few minutes while cooking in your skillet/ griddle to get the outside browned. It actually would have been perfect if I was better at flipping stuff with got all crispy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. So overall, I'm pleased with how I did! I know I'll probably never be able to make this scramble as well as it is at the Diner since they do everything so magically, but that's alright. To go with the scramble, I made grilled zucchini and asparagus, along with cornbread muffins (also from the Chicago Diner cookbook, of course!) and froze the remaining 11 muffins (ha! I love making an entire batch of something just for one freaking muffin). These muffins are pretty crappy, though. They're very dry and flavorless- I think they really need some maple syrup added to the mix or something...... I have no idea why though, since the muffins at the restaurant were very good actually. Hm.......I'm clueless. Oh well, I really want to try the skillet cornbread from Vcon, so that will definitely be the recipe I go with next time!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just a Chickpea Kinda Day

This lunch has been one of my favorites lately because it's so simple, refreshing, and surprisingly filling, not to mention outstandingly delicious! I just grill up some pita bread, asparagus and zucchini on my panini press (that's right- it's also a grill!) and serve it along with some baby carrots and a big dollop of red pepper hummus. I've been rather obsessed with red pepper hummus lately- it's a nice change for the class (but still equally yummy) garlic or plain hummus.

To add on to all of the chickpea-y goodness, I also reheated a chickpea stew I made a few months ago and froze the leftovers since it made so much! I actually adapted a recipe from Rachael Ray to make this. That's right, I actually found one of her recipes that doesn't involve tons of meat and cheese! I remember I was sick in bed and incredibly bored one day waaaaaaay back in the fall and began watching the Rachael Ray show (you can imagine how bored I was!). I guess I picked the right day to watch it though, because she was making a vegetarian stew! It seemed pretty good and was actually vegan! I actually recommend making this stew a week or so before you plan on actually serving it, because the leftovers that I froze, defrosted, and reheated had a much better texture and flavor then when I originally had made it. So, here's my version of Rachael Ray's Curried Winter Vegetable Stoup:

3 T. olive oil
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets

2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into about one-inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 1/2 c. vegetable stock
3-4 T. curry paste, hot or mild depending on your preference
1/2 c. mango chutney
3 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes

Heat oil in a large pot over medium. Add the cauliflower and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the red bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt and pepper, adding a little more oil if necessary the mixture seems dry. Continue to cook for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 1/2 c. stock and bring up to a simmer. While the stoup is coming up to a simmer, combine 1 cup of the stock with the curry paste and the mango chutney in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the curry mixture to the pot along with the chickpeas and tomatoes. Season with some salt and pepper, bring the mixture up to a bubble and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes and veggies are nice and tender and the flavors have melded together. Serve with pita bread or pita chips.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Right to be Snobby

(I apologize in advance for the awful artificial lighting....)

What you see above is the recipe that made me KNOW I had to get the cookbook, Veganomicon. I first made the Snobby Joe's from Vcon before the book came out and the recipe was posted on The PPK website. Wow- I was blown away! The chili powder, maple syrup, mustard- everything! Snobby Joe's are so amazing that I believe they are completed justified in being complete snobs. I don't even think they should be in the same category as "Sloppy Joe's." Hell, they kick Sloppy Joe's ass! The flavors in this recipe are so much more complex and satisfying, not to mention how insanely healthy these are (lentils and all other legumes are truly amazing)! I have made them several times since I first made them (especially since I got the book and no longer felt like I was "cheating" by using the recipe) and decided to make this recipe again tonight. In case you didn't know, the leftovers freeze wonderfully. I'm able to get six or seven extra portions to freeze just from about 15-20 minutes cooking- I love it! I know the recipe suggests serving these open-faced, but I can't help it. I love nothing more than a nice, soft, and rather sloppy filling in between a lightly toasted and crunchy bun. Paired with some broiled asparagus and steamed broccoli (not pictured), this meal was immensely satisfying and FILLING. But not at all in the way-too-rich-I'm-going-to-explode way; it's more of the full-of-awesome-fiber-and-protein-man-I'm-healthy kind of full.

Before you jump to conclusions, I DID NOT already give into temptation and make a batch of cupcakes. Well.... I did, but not for me! My mother works at a store where her jewelry is sold (my mother designs and makes jewelry) several days a week and has mentioned to the other women she works with that I'm a vegan and love to bake. Well, one of the women loves baking but has not really been introduced to vegan cooking/baking and another woman she works with is not a veg*n, but eats out at vegetarian and vegan restaurants very often and is not "scared" of it at all. So....out of the blue I got a call on Saturday from my mom asking if I was planning on baking anything that day. She explained that the two women at work have been asking to try something that I've baked and would appreciate it if I could make something to bring over to the store. I could never pass up an opportunity to make cupcakes for people who actually requested that they be vegan! I whipped out VCTOTW and, seeing that I had some Newman-O's, decided to make some Cookies and Creme cupcakes! I didn't try one before packing them up and driving them over to my mom's work, but I did allow my dad, brother, sister (along with some of her friends) to split two cupcakes that I left behind for them (since I'm sure 10 cupcakes would be more than enough for three women!) and tried a small bite- but that small bite was plenty for me! The cupcakes are super moist and bring out the chocolate cookies in the frosting even more. Yummy! Now wait, this isn't even the best part! Well, on the way home from dropping the cupcakes off, the older women who works with my mother (who bakes a lot but doesn't know much about veganism) called me and told me how much she loved them and how surprised she was, and even asked all about the recipe and where it was from. When my mom came home she told me that the women called Borders right after getting off the phone with me, asked if they had a copy of VCTOTW, and went and bought it! I feel so wonderful that I was able to help introduce someone to veganism and make their first experience positive! See- vegan cupcakes really are taking over the world!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

And This Was Gonna be a Short Post....

My mom usually is in charge of Sunday dinners since she likes to cook a pretty big dinner for our family on this day (I have no idea why, she just started this a few years ago...) so I'm usually left with a weekday to cook dinner. Well, a couple weeks ago, this changed! I really wanted to make the the Eggplant and Spinach Rollatini for my family since I thought they would like, as well as for myself because I have never had eggplant. Now, don't think I've been scared to try it or anything. It's just that my mom never cooks with it and I've usually only seen it in Eggplant Parmesan at restaurants (definitely not vegan!). I figured I should make this on Sunday since it took about 2 hours for me to make, and I wouldn't have enough time to make this dish after school. I'd say it was worth the time, though! The fried eggplant got soooo flavorful and crispy and the tofu ricotta was the perfect match for this. Unfortunately, I chose to leave out the spinach since it tends to scare away my dad and brother (I'm going to try and change that one day. Any ideas how?) My mom and I loved this, but my dad forgot to tell me that he hates eggplant. Like, he can't even get a bite down because of the texture. So he didn't really like this but said it was not at all due to the recipe, just his personal tastes. My sister and brother wouldn't touch this , but I expected that- they're not big on trying "new" foods. I would definitely make this again, but probably only a half batch for my family since I ate almost all of the leftovers, and I really don't want to know how fattening this dish was! (I used about half of a LARGE bottle of olive oil to fry the eggplant! eek!)

Last week's dinner was definitely a little more daring for my family of omni's- Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from VWAV. I was especially nervous since it was described as "bland," which will not due in my household. I added some extra spices (garlic, lemon juice, oregano, and basil) just to be sure that this would be flavorful. Oh, and I topped it with some breadcrumbs to add a little more texture. family didn't really like this. My mom said it was just "okay, but I wouldn't eat it again" and my dad and I thought the dish had potential, but needed quite a bit of work. It was just so.....chickpea-y. I like chickpeas (a lot, actually), but it was just too much. Maybe I'll experiment with this one day, maybe not.

To honor the end of spring break, my mom took my brother and I to the CHICAGO DINER for lunch!!! I loooooove this place, but I don't get to go often since my parents aren't big on driving all the way to the city for a meal, so you can imagine how happy I was when my mom finally agreed to take me there! My brother enjoyed the Diner last time we went in November for my birthday (wow, that's actually awhile ago), so he wanted to join us. Now, you know I have a rule about brining my camera to restaurants (basically, I don't do it. I just want to eat and enjoy the food and not worry about trying to get a good shot), but I did manage to get a picture of the desserts we brought home! But I'll get to those later. As for the lunch, both my brother and I were in the mood for brunch, so he got some vegan pancakes (he and my mom were very impressed by these!), non-vegan quesadillas, and a vanilla milkshake. I tried his milkshake, made with Temptation Vegan Ice Cream by the way, and it was soooooooooooo smooth and creamy. It tasted sort of like liquid frosting, but I promise it was way better than it sounds. I had their Tofu Scramble Delight which came with some brown rice and vegetables. Man, were those vegetables great! I don't know why I was so impressed but the kale and zucchini (maybe some other veggies, I don't remember) were garlicky and perfectly cooked. I was eager to try the tofu scramble at the Diner since it's one of the many things it is famous for. Also, I tried making it from their cookbook once and it just didn't turn out right, so I needed to taste it made the right way to know how to replicate it. Trust me, their tofu scramble really is worth trying! The tahini makes it really creamy and the sunflowers seeds add a great crunch. I think I figured out what I did wrong, so I'll be working on that..... Oh! I almost forgot my mom! She wasn't very hungry due to allergies (I know how she feels, they finally hit me this morning and my appetite is almost nonexistent), so she just got the Santa Fe Salad and had absolutely nothing to complain about. Okay- dessert time! I really wanted their special dessert of the week, a strawberry cake, but they were all out since we got there so late in the week... :( That's alright though, I love their Carrot Cake, so I just got that instead! My brother chose the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake since he said it looked really good, but I was skeptical about him liking it since he doesn't like cheesecake- at all! He actually didn't mind the first few bites of it, but then said it got way too sweet. I completely disagreed and happily finished it (I've gotten this many times from my local Whole foods, so I knew how much I loved it already)! But I'm glad my brother didn't completely disapprove of vegan cheesecake, because now I know he will at least try the next time I make one!

Okay- I have decided I am going to eat a little lighter for the next months or two. Of course I will indulge occasioanlly, but I've just been having way too much sugar lately. I just don't feel as great about my body as I did a few months ago, but don't have to make many changes. Just expect to see a lot more pictures of smoothies and light ice "cream" I'll be making this weekend for dessert instead of cake and bread pudding (mmmmm.......NO! I must resist....) as well as not a lot of fried food (*cough* fried eggplant *cough*). Good thing it's spring time, since that only means one thing- a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables!!!