Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wisconsin Trip

As you can tell, I've returned from my family trip to Wisconsin! It was a wonderful, quick road trip and we were able to visit my mom's side of the family who we rarely see because they do live so far away. Our first stop was Madison where, after a quick bite at Noodles & Co., we met up with my older cousin who is student at University of Madison and he was so glad to show us around.

We only saw a very small portion of the university campus since we were doing so much walking that day, but the part that we saw was gorgeous! I believe that this is a picture of the outside of the dean's office.

There actually was a statue of Humpty Dumpty in downtown Madison! My cousin (right), sister (middle), and I (left) were so excited to pose with it!

I'm not sure which lake this is since the city is an isthmus and has two similarly named lakes on each side, but the water in both lakes was beautiful and perfectly calm.

This picture doesn't even show how huge the Madison Capitol really is. The inside of the building is equally as stunning as the outside and it was great to be able to see it from the view of our hotel room.

Thankfully, we arrived in Madison on Saturday in time to see the farmer's market, which was less than a block from our hotel. My older cousin (a chef) felt right at home here and I loved seeing all of the fresh produce the city had to offer. I even saw a man carrying a VegNews bag at one of the stands! Too bad I couldn't get a picture of him quick enough...

Our dinner that night was really exciting. My cousin used to work at a seafood restaurant called Ocean Grill when he first moved to this town, so he planned on taking us there. My mom reminded him last week that I may have a trouble finding something to eat at a seafood restaurant, but he told me not to worry because he knows the head chef and would ask him to make me a special vegan dish- yay! The chef didn't tell me or my cousin what my dish would be until we arrived at dinner, so I was looking forward to this dinner all day and I'm glad to say that I was very impressed! My dish consisted of grilled tofu with a sesame ginger sauce served over a salad of pickled vegetables (I'm not exactly sure which vegetables- maybe some cucumber and fennel?) with sliced apples and dried cranberries and topped with micro greens. Not only was the presentation gorgeous (the chef even decorated the plate with edible flowers!), but it tasted great and this chef obviously knows how to cook tofu- he pressed it and everything! I never thought I'd be saying that, as a vegan, I really enjoyed eating at a seafood restaurant!

Mint chocolate chip and strawberry soy ice cream from The Chocolate Shoppe on State St. (right by our hotel!) was the perfect dessert to enjoy the night, especially since it was still about 70 degrees after sunset. It was so hot out that my ice cream started melting within minutes! The ice cream was smooth and creamy and, while both delicious, the strawberry was my favorite because it had big chunks of strawberries throughout the ice cream.

The next morning while my cousin, brother, and sister were still sleeping, my mom and I woke up nice and early to walk a few miles to breakfast at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, where all of the baked goods are vegan. My mom chose a small cappuccino for her morning dose of caffeine along with a mixed berry bar, while I got a blueberry muffin. My muffin was nice and crumbly, but still moist, and not too sweet for first thing in the morning. I also tried my mom's bar and it was great as well and I think my mom agreed since she ate every last bite!

That afternoon, we all said goodbye to my older cousin and packed into the car for another long drive to Winneconne to visit my aunt and uncle. My grandparents own the house across the street from my aunt and uncle's house, so we stayed there for our stay. The house is right on the lake and it was wonderful to be able to relax looking out into the lake (not that I could stay outside for too long- it was so hot during our stay!).

My aunt has an amazing garden in her yard, so I was in heaven eating and cooking with all of the fresh produce! My aunt roasted some of her peppers and tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt and brought them to dinner one night and they were so good! I also used her vegetables to make a few salads, like the corn salad above which had corn, cherry tomatoes, green bell pepper, salsa, olive oil, lime juice, salt and garlic chives. I had never heard of garlic chives before seeing them in the garden, but they are so cool! Garlic chives are long plants than look like a really large blade of grass, but they smell and taste just like garlic!

So, that's what I was up to these past few days! It was great seeing Madison for the first time and visiting my family but I'm happy to be home, especially after all of that driving and traffic. I'm actually leaving again Thursday to stay with my sister and mom in the city (it's funny how "the city" automatically refers to Chicago in the suburbs) for two days while my mom has some business thing during the day. We'll be staying right on Michigan Ave., so I'm hoping to grab lunch one day at Karyn's Cooked. We'll just have to see how my plans go and I'll be back soon!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Homemade BBQ Seitan and TOSTADAS!

The cold, crunchy coleslaw atop the hot, sweet, saucy BBQ seitan makes this sandwich from Vcon a real winner! Because I had made the seitan and Backyard BBQ Sauce ahead of time this meal came together very quickly, which was good because the smell of the BBQ sauce had my mouth watering. Unfortunately, it started raining when I was making this sandwich, so the "summer BBQ" feeling was sort of ruined. But that really doesn't matter since it was so good! I'll just be sure to make sure it's nice and sunny next time I make this.

The only thing close to a tostada I've ever had was some sort of Mexican pizza I remember eating a lot as a kid, but after seeing a few posts featuring tostadas on the PPK boards a few weeks ago, I couldn't wait to make some! I baked some all natural blue corn tortillas that I found at the store and topped them with Amy's Refried Beans with Green Chiles, chopped lettuce and tomato, guacamole, FYH sour cream (this stuff is great! I've never tried Tofutti's sour cream, but I don't think I'll need to know that I have this!), and some chopped scallions. What a perfect lunch- I can't believe I haven't discovered how delicious tostadas are before now!

P.S.- I won't be able to post for a few days because I'm leaving for Wisconsin tomorrow. My cousin has been staying with my family for a few weeks now, so we decided to drive her home and make a road trip out of it! My family and I will be staying in Madison for (only :( ) a day because I've always wanted to go there and my cousin's older brother goes to school there so we can visit him as well. I've already got a few places I want to eat at picked out, so I'll try to squeeze them all in the short time I'll be in Madison and take lots of pictures! From there we'll be going to Winneconne, which is in the Oshkosh area, and we'll spend a few nights at my cousin's house. There aren't any vegan-friendly restaurants in that area, unfortunately, but I'll be fine since I'll have my cousin's kitchen there so I can cook some meals. I'll be home Tuesday, so I hope to post about my trip as soon as I can!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tempeh Mango Salad and Sunny Muffins

The Curried Tempeh Mango Salad from VWAV sure does make the perfect summer lunch! This salad is truly excellent and I have been eating it nonstop. I had imagined that it would be a strange combination of flavors and that it would taste strongly of curry, but it doesn't at all and every flavor comes through equally and in harmony with one another. In a sandwich or wraooed a whole grain tortilla, this salad is the perfect meal after my yoga class!

Another great summer recipe is the Sunny Corn Blueberry Muffins (also from VWAV- I've been going back to this cookbook a lot to try so many of the recipes that I haven't gotten to yet!). They got the "thumbs up" from my family, even my picky sister! I had to freeze a few so I would be able to try one since my sister ate about five in one day and I was afraid that they would be gone too soon! I only wish that I had made these with blueberries from the farmer's market since the blueberries I got from the store weren't very sweet or flavorful and I can only imagine how delicious these muffins would be with great berries!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Surprise Inside

On the outside it may appear to be an ordinary pretzel, but take a look inside and you will see that it really is....

....a pizza-stuffed pretzel!

It's difficult to see in the picture, but these pretzels are stuffed with pizza sauce and basil tofu ricotta (both from VWAV) which used some of the fresh basil my brother is growing in our garden. I veganized Alton Brown's recipe for the pretzel dough since Alton Brown has never steered me wrong, but I changed the procedures up a bit. After letting the dough rise, I rolled it out into a long rectangle and cut it into 8 strips and then rolled out each strip until it was about 2 ft. long and 3 in. wide. I put the pizza sauce in a plastic bag and cut a very small hole in the corner and then did the same with the ricotta mixture in a separate bag so piping the two fillings would be much easier. I piped a line of each mixture along the pretzel strips, folded the dough over the sauce and ricotta, sealed it, folded the rope into a pretzel shape, and then proceed with the rest of the recipe! All these need is some extra pizza sauce on the side for dipping and you have the perfect pretzel! Sure, making these was really time consuming and got kinda messy, but it was really fun and the end result was great. I actually only got to try half of a pretzel because my family had eaten them all by the next day! Yep, these are a winner :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

How I Messed up Cobbler

Alright...so I didn't ruin it as much as I could have, but I definitely messed up the Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler from Everyday Dish. Everything was going well; the fruit filling was super easy to make, the sweet biscuit topping was simple, and the cobbler had already been in the oven for about 6 minutes when I looked in and realized that the biscuits weren't spreading at all. Hm.....that was odd. Then I realized it- there was no leavening in the recipe! I knew that this couldn't be correct, so I double-checked the ingredients list and, sure enough, the biscuit dough was supposed to have 2 t. baking soda added. I couldn't believed that I missed that step in the directions, so I reread the recipe and it turns out that, while baking soda is in the ingredient list, there is no mention of it in the instructions! Actually, the recipe posted on The Urban Housewife does mention when to add the baking soda, but the Everyday Dish recipe does not.

So now I had a decision to make: do I let the cobbler continue baking and hope that the biscuits turn out okay? Or do I try to salvage any of the topping that I can, scoop it off of the fruit filling, mix in the baking soda, and then dollop it back onto the cobbler? Well....I chose the second option. Thankfully, the dough wasn't very cooked when I decided to scrape it off, so the baking soda mixed in easily. However, some of the strawberry rhubarb mixture stuck to the biscuits and was mixed into the dough, making the topping get random black spots from the fruit sugars caramelizing as the cobbler baked. Also, I'm sure the topping is not as flaky and tender as it is supposed to be due to the extra mixing.

So how did it taste? While not the most attractive cobbler (at all....), it was really good. Good, that is, until I bit into a giant clump of baking soda- ewwwwwwwww. Because the baking soda wasn't mixed in well, some clumps were still in the topping and made it taste really salty (who knew that baking soda tastes like salt?). My mom also noticed this and we came to the conclusion that this cobbler was just not meant to be, but then my mom mentioned, "Why waste all of this delicious fruit in the filling? Save it and we'll eat it over vanilla ice cream!" And that's why I love my mom- always there to save the day :) While I'm upset that I messed up this cobbler because I know that it is a good recipe that I just screwed up, I'm glad that I was able to save the filling so my family and I can still enjoy part of this recipe.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Greek and Curry (seperately, I assure you...)

I knew that making the Spanakopita from VWAV for my family could be a little risky because I remember my mother making the non-vegan version of this dish when I was little and I knew that this would have to live up to her recipe. This got mixed reviews from my family- my mom and I thought that it was pretty good, my sister wasn't fond of the filling but loved the crunchy phyllo on the outside, my dad wasn't crazy about the dish altogether but ate it anyway without much complaining, and my little brother refused to even touch the spanakopita. Oh well...I kinda saw this coming, but at least I tried! I'm sure that these would have been a much bigger hit in my house if my family really liked Greek food, but I think my mom is the only big Greek food fan in my household. I can't say that I will be making this dish again any time in the near future, but I can say that this recipe is really good and tasted exactly like I remember the traditional spanakopita tasting.

My brother was away to camp for a week (his longest time away from home!) and returned last week, so to spend some time with him and sort of welcome him home I took him to downtown Evanston for the day. We had a great time walking around, doing some shopping (my brother decided to take some pictures of some places that we went to, but I can't seem to get them onto my computer...) and, of course, eating. I took my brother to some pizza place and I decided to try Wild Tree Cafe down the street for lunch. I can't believe that I've been to Evanston so many times and hadn't tried this place until now- I love it! Wild Tree Cafe is a great, casual spot that uses local ingredients and they have a different soup everyday that is always vegan, so even though it was over 80 degrees out, I got their Thai red lentil soup (I can't remember the exact name- it was something really cute). The soup had a really nice and mellow curry flavor and was filled with lentils and potatoes- it was so delicious! My little brother insisted that I take a picture of him with my cup of soup, so here he is!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Treats From WF

Now I know that many people have issues with Whole Foods for several different reasons and while I would much rather support smaller, more local businesses, Whole Foods is a great place to go when I need certain things that I can't find at other stores. Also, every once in awhile I just don't feel like cooking or don't have much at home to work with and love heading over to Whole Foods to grab a quick lunch because it is one of the only grocery stores in my area that offers vegan prepared food options. I usually head over to the salad bar right away, but last week I decided to see what else WF had to offer. There were quite a few vegan dishes that looked good (tofu noodles bowls, spring rolls, roasted vegetables), but the Vegan Curry Chicken Salad really caught my eye. I only bought a small container of it since I had never tried it before, but I sure wish I bought more! This salad uses Gardein Chicken, which I had heard of but never tried before, and it was delicious! The texture and taste weren't "real" enough to make me worry or be disgusted, but it was firm enough to hold up in the curry sauce. The raisins and creamy dressing lent a nice sweetness to this dish, but it wasn't at all too sweet. I know that I won't be able to resist buying more of this every time I go to Whole Foods.

It is not secret that I have a (LARGE) sweet tooth, so it should be no surprise that another reason why I like WF is the dessert case. I'm usually pretty good about not buying tons of desserts every time I go there, but this time I couldn't help myself and bought two treats. The first was a parfait with moist vanilla cake crumbs, a silken tofu mixture, and fresh berries. This desserts is actually really special to me because, back when I first became a vegetarian, my dad bought this for my birthday since I didn't want a cake. I was shocked to see that this was vegan back then and this parfait was one of the first things that sparked my interest in veganism. I used to buy it all the time, but haven't been able to find it at WF until recently, so I was so glad that they finally had it! The cake crumbs and berries make up a lot of the sweetness of this parfait because the tofu mixture isn't very sweet and you can definitely tell it's tofu, but I really like that and I'm not sure why (I think I have an issue with overly sweet things and this is a nice change of pace).

The second and more decadent dessert that I found was a Blueberry Cheesecake from the Chicago Diner. As always, the cheesecake mixture and crust were fabulous! The blueberry topping was not quite what I was expecting- the blueberry topping on cheesecakes that I'm used to is more of a loose sauce thickened with cornstarch. The Chicago Diner's topping, however, seemed to be thickened with agar and was more jelly-like. The flavor was still great, though, and it was an excellent summer treat!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Super Melty Pizza (and no, I did not use Teese!)

I have mentioned before that I have never loved cheese, even before going vegan. However, everyone craves pizza once in awhile, right? I really enjoy a pizza with a nice crispy, chewy crust piled high with vegetables, but "cheese" pizza is the ultimate comfort food for me. Wait...I take that back- "cheese" pizza with veggie pepperoni and sliced green peppers and onions is the best! I thought about using the pound of Teese that I have in my freezer, but I realized that I also had some Follow Your Heart Mozzarella that needed to be used up, so I decided that I'll save the Teese for something really special. I have used FYH cheese in the past and found that grating it really doesn't help it melt at all, so I decided to freeze half of the package, let it thaw overnight, sliced it super thin, and then placed it over other toppings. After about 12 minutes in the oven at 475 degrees, I broiled it for another 3-4 minutes, and I was amazed! I pulled out my pizza to find that this:

...had become this:

Wow! I would have never believed that this pizza wasn't topped with (nasty) dairy cheese upon looking at it! The FYH Mozzarella still did have a "soy" taste to it, but only slightly, and I didn't mind at all with all of the other toppings on the pizza as well.

Feeling the need for a quick meal that is much healthier than cheese pizza, I searched through my copy of ED&BV, and the Sweet and Sour Chipotle Tempeh with Sweet Potatoes caught my eye. I thankfully had all of the ingredients on hand, so all I had to do was mix together the sauce, toss it with the other ingredients and wait an hour for it all to bake while I steamed some brown rice. The sauce became super thick, sweet and tangy and the chopped cashews on top were an excellent touch. Yet another winner from this cookbook!