Thursday, September 29, 2011

Grilled Romaine with Chick'n and Homemade Caesar Dressing

Again, this was inspired by my new grill pan. I made this dressing a while back for my Dishes Men Like posts (which I should really make another 1950's vegan dish, right?!). It is really, really good! I did change what type of mayonnaise I used, though. I have been trying the new Earth Balance vegan mayo while that original Caesar dressing recipe was made with Vegenaise. If you haven't noticed, I'm a huge fan of Gardein. These chick'n strips are pretty good. One could have opted to grill one of their scallopini's and slice it too.
 Grilled Romaine with Chick'n and Homemade Caesar Dressing

* Prep Time: 5 minutes
* Cook Time: 10 minutes
* Ingredients:
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, washed, cut in half
  • 1/2 package Gardein chick'n strips
  • VM's Caesar dressing
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • vegan Parmesan, to taste*

* Recipe:
  1. In a grill pan on medium heat, cook Gardein and romaine. Toss the chick'n strips here and there to cook each side and flip the romaine after 5 minutes. Cook for a total of 10 minutes.
  2. Place romaine on a plate with chick'n strips. Top with dressing, salt, pepper, and vegan Parmesan.
* Note: For vegan Parmesan, I used Galaxy brand.

This recipe will make two servings or a large serving for one. Also, in the picture to the right of the recipe, there is quite a bit of Gardein. I only used half a head of romaine when I made this and then decided that with that much chick'n, it would be best with a full head.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Vegan Chicago: Restaurant Review of Native Foods Cafe (Wicker Park)

Vegan and non-vegan Chicagoans alike were excited for the grand opening of the first installment of the Native Foods Cafe chain in our windy city. The one my friends and I visited is the cafe in Wicker Park (replaced by what used to house Burger King - oh, the irony). There are two more restaurants open: one in the Belmont area (not far from the Chicago Diner and Pick-Me-Up Cafe) and coming soon in the Loop. At first, I was surprised to hear that not one but three were opening all within a short time frame. When I went to the Wicker Park location, I realized why this was possible. A close friend of mine has been to one of the restaurants in California and she had described to me that it was a sit-down restaurant. The locations in Chicago are cafeteria-style where one goes up to a counter to order then waiters bring your food out by the number sign given to you. This doesn't leave for the best customer service, but it does mean less of a wait staff which is the theory I have going as to why Native Foods could open so many restaurants at once. 

Chicken Wings
The first time my friends and I went, we all got different things (menu) in order to get a good array. We shared the Native chicken wings to begin. I would describe these more like chicken strips. Perhaps it is because the cafe is in the location of an old Burger King, but they reminded me a bit of those BK chicken fries (if you know what I'm talking about from commercials). They were breaded well and overall were not bad, but the title of the dish should really be changed as they weren't like wings. The ranch was tasty and complimented the chicken wings well. The buffalo sauce has a kick, be warned!

Portobello & Sausage Burger
Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger
For sandwiches, we got the portobello & sausage burger, chicken run ranch burger, and the Oklahoma bacon cheeseburger. Before I start, my only issue with the sandwiches is that you have to pay for a side (unless that sandwich is the special of the day). Most restaurants give you the side with your meal, so I found this rather odd. The side choices include a lemon-dill potato salad, garden salad, sweet potato fries, etc. My friend really enjoyed the portobello & sausage burger, although they practically gave him a salad for his topping. The sweet potato fries were delicious too. My other friend had the chicken run ranch burger. It came with the ranch that was with the chicken wings for the appetizer. Overall, it was a bit like a larger version of the chicken wings, but more appropriate as it was meant to be a patty (not wings). He had the lemon-dill potato salad as you can see in the picture (which was very good too). Lastly, I had the Oklahoma bacon cheeseburger. I really enjoyed this and was looking forward to it. The cheese is homemade by Native Foods and I really appreciate that kind of culinary forwardness in a restaurant. In the last few years, places like the Chicago Diner have been using local non-dairy cheese and seitan companies for their meals which is great that they are supporting local small businesses, but it lacks the oomph that was once so special to the restaurant. The bacon on the burger is also made by Native Foods which wasn't quite "bacony" but it gave it a more meaty texture overall. The sandwich came topped with fried pickles which were a nice added touch. The bbq sauce and ranch went well with everything, but I must admit, I was surprised that it wasn't a "burger" patty. It was thinly sliced seitan which reminded me more of a sandwich rather than a burger. Again, dish names that I think throw people off for what they are expecting. Otherwise, I really enjoyed my sandwich (which I had a garden salad with)!
Chicken Run Ranch Burger

For dessert, we all shared a cardamon rose cupcake. It was really perfume-y from the rose (rose water, I assume). But the cardamon and rose together was a pleasant taste and the frosting was really divine. Major props to their baking team on this. I was really impressed with how great of a vegan cupcake this was.

Two weeks later, I returned back to this Wicker Park Native Foods location to have another go with the friend who has been to the California locations. She was also surprised by the cafeteria-style setup. We shared the Native nachos to begin with in order to have a better taste test of this homemade cheese. It had a really sweet aftertaste which I'm not sure if that is because of the cheese or Native crema. I'm going to assume it was the crema. If you like a bit of sweetness, go for it, but if not, I would suggest asking for the crema on the side. The nachos could have been a meal in and of itself, so kudos to Native Foods for ample portions. 

For entree's, I had the Chicago dip au jus and my friend had the super Italian meatball sub. The Italian beef sandwich (I'm assuming this is what the Chicago dip au jus was trying to be) was really excellent. I would definitely get this again. Much better than the Oklahoma bacon cheeseburger I had previously by comparison. The dip was tasty and the giardinera had a great kick to it. I'm always a fan of places with homemade giardiniera (like Revolution Brewing). The seitan was sliced seitan which is what it should have been for this sandwich (unlike the cheeseburger). My friend enjoyed her Italian meatball sub, but she was lacking enough marinara sauce for all the meatballs. She really enjoyed the pumpkin seed pesto that was on it, though. She had a chocolate cupcake for dessert and that was also great just like the cupcake I had had before.

Cardamon Rose Cupcake
Native Foods has a card member discount system. If you sign up for the card, you earn points for free drinks or cupcakes, etc. Be sure to sign up! The beer and wine selection is great, but no hard alcohol which I was surprised to find. They have a wide outdoor seating arrangement, so I think a mimosa or bloody mary would be lovely for a Sunday brunch. 

Overall, I give the restaurant a 3.75/5 stars. I'm hesitant to give them a full 4 stars mostly because it wasn't what I was expecting at all. The service was okay and the food was pretty good, but not extraordinary (as I was expecting from all the hype). If you want something really special, I would still say go to the Chicago Diner instead. Of course, I would come back to Native Foods, but it wouldn't be my top contender. I would probably go if it were nearby. Honestly, I am a huge fan of Handlebar, so I would probably walk over to them first. For non-vegans, I could see how Native Foods is a bit of a stretch as I suppose one would be comparing it to "real" meat and cheese. I would take non-vegans here to try it though and support an all-vegan establishment. Congratulations to Native Foods for their expansion outside of California and into the Midwest land of meat and potatoes. I hope that many hearts and minds are changed by the power of one's food choices (and their forks) at this all vegan cafe. 

Photo Credit: Louis McGill

Friday, September 23, 2011

Product Review: Starbucks Sesame Noodle Bistro Box

A few months ago, Starbucks released a new line of lunch options including an all vegan sesame noodle bistro box. Until a few years ago, us vegans only had a latte with soy milk as an option at this coffee chain. Since then, Starbucks has added dried fruit, nuts, vegan cookies, sweet potato chips, and vegan frappaccino's (my favorite). But, if you wanted something substantial to eat, vegans were out of luck (if you are a vegetarian, they have had a protein plate of an egg, cheese, and fruit). From Starbucks description online:  

"Sesame noodle salad tossed with broccoli florets, carrots, red peppers, sugar snap peas and a creamy peanut dressing is served with a cucumber carrot salad, crunchy sesame peanuts and baked tofu with lightly spiced lime glaze. For dessert, a premium Starbucks dark chocolate."

As you can imagine, I was very excited to try this. Sadly, I was incredibly disappointed. It has a odd taste of preserves. I understand it has to stay good for a bit, but the whole taste was off. The veggies were far from fresh which is I suppose is to be expected. The best part was probably the sesame crackers and chocolate, honestly. I would only buy this again (especially for how much they are asking for it - around $7) if I was desperate. I would recommend trying this for the sake of trying it, but otherwise, don't buy it. Not worth it, tastes average to below average, and overpriced. Shame. Get a vegan frappaccino instead!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bangers and Mash with Mushy Peas & Onion Gravy

Last year, I went back to London and dined at a newer restaurant, Zilli. I had bangers and mash there as well as at manna restaurant. I preferred manna's to Zilli's, but either way, I was inspired to make my own. The mushy peas are not traditional as they should be soaked overnight. This is a quick version.

Bangers and Mash with Mushy Peas & Onion Gravy
* Prep Time: 15 minutes
* Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
* Ingredients (for bangers and mash):
* Ingredients (for mushy peas):
  • 8 oz frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • pinch sugar*
  • 2 tbsp soy butter*
* Ingredients (for onion gravy):
  • 1/4 small yellow onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp whole wheat flour*
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup white wine*
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with water

* Recipe (for bangers and mash):
  1. In a grill pan on medium heat, place the vegan sausages and cook each side turning over every few minutes. Cook for a total of about 10-15 minutes. 
* Recipe (for mushy peas):
  1. In a small pot, add peas and water. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the salt, pepper, sugar, and butter. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Mash the peas when done cooking.
* Recipe (for onion gravy):
  1. Add olive oil to a small sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent.
  2. Next, add the flour and combine well with the onions. Put in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick.
* Note: For vegan sausages, I used Field Roast brand. I would say the Smoked Apple Sage would be the best to use for this recipe. Of course, one could always use Tofurky or others. Make sure your sugar is vegan! For soy butter, I like the olive oil based Earth Balance. I used whole wheat flour because I was out of all-purpose flour. Feel free to use whatever you wish. Lastly, make sure your wine is vegan. Frey and Bonterra (their whites are vegan, but their red wine is not, to note) are vegan. 

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Product Review: Candle Cafe Frozen Meals

    Candle Cafe is a well-known vegan restaurant chain in NYC. I've been hearing rave reviews about this place for years, but I've only been to NYC very briefly. When I first heard they were releasing their new line of vegan frozen meals, I was pretty excited. Amy's, Kashi, and other brands only go so far after you've had them a few times. As a student, I live off a lot of frozen food (hellloo Gardein and Boca). My local Whole Foods had all 4 types they have released: Seitan Piccata with Lemon Caper Suace, Macaroni & Vegan Cheese, Tofu Spinach Ravioli, and Ginger Miso Stir-Fry. 

    The first meal I tried was the Ginger Miso Stir-Fry. It was just kind of your average frozen stir-fry. I wouldn't call it anything terribly special. I enjoyed the tofu that was added to it so it wasn't just all vegetables and rice. The portion is rather small, so I would say if you are having this for dinner, to eat something else with it or have it as a light lunch.

    Next, I tried the Seitan Piccata with Lemon Caper Sauce. I really enjoyed this one. The lemon caper sauce is fantastic with a great lemony, tang taste. It compliments the rice and seitan very well. The seitan reminded me a lot of Match Meats, though. If you've ever had their chick'n or crab and you try this frozen meal, you'll see what I mean. That would be my only complaint for this one.

    I split the Macaroni & Vegan Cheese with a friend one night as a snack. I was very surprised to see what looked like to me as Daiya on it. I checked the ingredients and then read the ingredients on my bag of mozzarella Daiya and found they were the same. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it is Daiya. This was really disappointing for me because I was excited to try a "new" product. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it melted kind of the way Daiya does too - not in a "creamy" fashion, but more of a lumpy fashion when you just pour some shreds over whatever you are cooking. This really isn't the most desired effect you want for mac 'n cheese. My opinion is just go for Amy's vegan mac 'n cheese if you are going to buy a frozen variety. For me, Amy's has a more creamy taste and despite it also has Daiya in it, it works better. If you are concerned about calories, though, Amy's does have more so opt for Candle Cafe.

    Lastly, there is the Tofu Spinach Ravioli. I loved this one too. It also has what looks like to be Daiya on it, but that's okay as it is not meant to be creamy like a mac 'n cheese. The ravioli's were tasty and the marinara with cheese complimented them very well. I would definitely pick this one up again for a light dinner.

    Overall, I enjoyed the Seitan Piccata and the Tofu Spinach Ravioli the most. I would buy these guys again. The other two, I was not that impressed by. Also, all three are pretty low in calorie content (200-300 calories) so they do make for a good lunch or small dinner.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Homemade Grilled Potato, Onion, & Cheeze Pierogies with Kielbasa

    Well, I finally broke down and bought myself a grill pan. I've been meaning to add this item to my kitchen for a long time. Naturally, I am now obsessed with it. The next few posts may all involve a grill pan, be warned!

    I ran out of all-purpose flour as I was making this, thus the added whole wheat flour. Please make with whichever flour you choose, though. This recipe is rather involved as one should really freeze the pierogies overnight before you cook them. Luckily, this recipe makes a lot and you'll have plenty pierogies left over in the freezer for a later date to bake, boil, or fry up! They would go wonderfully with a combination of some vegan sour cream, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and minced chive.

    Homemade Grilled Potato, Onion, & Cheeze Pierogies with Kielbasa

    * Prep Time: 2 hours to make pierogies, then freeze overnight
    * Cook Time: 20 minutes
    * Ingredients (for pierogi dough):
    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
    • 2 tbsp soy butter*
    • 2 "eggs", prepared via box instructions*
    • 1/8 cup vegan sour cream*
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/4 cup water
    * Ingredients (for rest of pierogi filling):
    • 1/2 recipe of VM's "My Mom's Mashed Potatoes" sans rosemary
    • 1/2 cup Daiya Cheddar Cheeze*
    • 1/2 small yellow onion, diced
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    * Ingredients (for rest of recipe):
    • 2 vegan kielbasa sausages*
    • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
    • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely sliced
    • 1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    • salt and pepper, to taste

    * Recipe (for pierogies):
    1. In a mixer, combine all ingredients for pierogi dough.
    2. Form dough into disk and wrap in saran wrap. Refrigerate for one hour.
    3. Just before your hour wait is up, in a medium skillet on medium-low heat, add the olive oil. Sautee the onions until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes.
    4. Take out of fridge, dust counter with flour, and roll out dough with a rolling pin.
    5. Roll out dough to about a quarter of an inch thick and cut into four pieces. Roll each piece out until it is just a couple millimeters thick. Cut circle with cookie cutter that is about two inches wide.
    6. When done making mashed potatoes, add the cheeze. and cooked onions. Mix well.
    7. Place about a tsp of mashed potato mixture in the center of circle.
    8. Dip finger in cold water and wipe more than half around of the edge of the circle.
    9. Fold over and press all the air out sealing the edges. Use a fork to crimp the edges.
    10. Freeze overnight. Freeze on a wax paper on a baking sheet so they do not stick. Once frozen, one can place them in a freezer ziplock bag. The recipe makes about four dozen pierogies.
    * Recipe (for rest of recipe):
    1. Heat grill pan on medium heat. Add the kielbasa and cook for about 10 minutes, turning each side every few minutes.
    2. While the kielbasa are cooking, combine one tbsp olive oil with the onion in a medium bowl. Coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
    3. When the kielbasa are done, set aside. Add the onions onto the grill pan. Cook until translucent, about 10 minutes.
    4. Coat about a dozen frozen pierogies in one tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper.
    5. Take the onions off the grill pan and add the pierogies. Cook each side for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.
    6. While pierogies are cooking, slice the kielbasa and dice the onions.
    7. Combine the mustard, vinegar, remaining olive oil, and parsley in the medium bowl. Add the kielbasa and onions. When the pierogies are done on the grill, toss them into the bowl. Mix well.
    8. Serve and enjoy.
    * Note: For soy butter, I prefer the olive oil based Earth Balance. For egg replacer, I use Ener-G. The vegan sour cream I used was Tofutti. One can find Daiya at most health food stores now or online. Lastly, the vegan kielbasa I used was Tofurky brand. Personally, I find them rather dry but with the dressing they were not that bad.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    Vegan Kaua'i, Hawaii: Part Two

    One of the best hotels on the island is the Grand Hyatt Kaua'i. That being said, it has some of the best restaurants on the island too. Tidepools is located on the pools of the resort with cute thatched hut-style roofs. Their menu has vegetable samosa and the garden isle salad for starters. For your main meal, they have tofu hiryozu which is quite tasty. It is like tofu crab cakes almost. Also located at the hotel is Yum Cha, an asian eatery. To begin, one can get their wok seared edamame. Their miso soup has fish broth in it, but they made me a vegan version special when I asked if it did have it in it. They also made me tofu summer rolls. For dinner, we had stir fried wild rice and stir fried seasonal vegetables. Overall, it was an excellent meal and the service was incredible. They went above and beyond to please us and had very generous portions for the price. 

    Another south shore favorite is Keoki's Paradise. While this is primarily a fish place, they do have some veggie options. For starters, one can have their house salad and for dinner, they have a teriyaki stir fry with vegetables and rice. For lunch, they have grilled veggie sandwich (get it without cheese and aioli). 

    A classic plantation in Kaua'i is Kilohana. It is a must see for its rustic beauty. The restaurant at the plantation used to be called Gaylord's but in the last year and a half they have changed it to 22 North. They pride themselves on farm raised food and local vegetables. Their menu changes from week to week. 22 North was very accommodating to vegetarians and vegans. I had herb roasted macadamia nuts, the estate salad (garden salad), a couscous stuffed tomato with crispy kale and zucchini, and ended it all with coconut sorbet. The restaurant is located facing out over the plantation with a lovely Hawaiian atmosphere.

    Roy's is a world famous Hawaiian fusion restaurant with many Japanese influences. They even have a location here in Chicago. The one in Poipu had a small separate vegetarian menu. To begin, I had a tofu and mushroom appetizer and a garden salad. For my dinner, I had a vegetable stir fry with rice and then for dessert, fruit sorbet. They also serve sesame oil edamame instead of bread. Overall, Roy's is a fun place to go for a nice dinner.

    On the east side in Kapa'a, there is a small lunch and dinner spot called Mermaid's Cafe. They have a really vegan-friendly menu and it's cheap. They serve a tofu satay plate, tofu curry plate, tofu stir fry noodle plate, tofu satay wrap, organic salad, and a black bean burrito (no cheese). Basically, the whole menu can be made vegan. Also in Kapa'a is Sukhothai Restaurant, a great Thai restaurant that is very good. Another Thai place in Kapa'a is Mema Thai. Other Asian restaurants in this city are Sushi Bushido and Shivalik Indian restaurant. A great kaiten sushi (sushi served on a conveyor belt) joint in Lihue is Genki Sushi. It's cheap and tasty!

    Lastly, I went to Merriman's Restaurant which is located in Poipu. The waitress there was also vegan and helped me out with their menu. If you are reading this, thank you! I really appreciated it. She also has a vegan baking business called Hippie Cafe Kaua'i. Check it out! She recommended a restaurant called Caffe Coco in Wailua which is vegan-friendly. At Merriman's I had the petite lettuce salad to start and for dinner, I had the veggie platter. The veggie platter had lovely moist taro cakes and fresh crunchy green beans. Just don't get the honey sour cream on it. 

    Well, that is everything I have to say about vegan-friendly places in Kaua'i. I hope someone finds this helpful and enjoys this beautiful island as much as I do.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Vegan Kaua'i, Hawaii: Part One

    I've been to the island of Kaua'i many times in my life, but have never blogged about my vegan findings. This may be a bit extensive, fair warning, because of all the places I've been on the island. I've never been to another island, but this is the Garden Isle of Hawaii and it definitely doesn't live down its name. It is breathtakingly beautiful (maybe that's why all the celebrities go there?). It really is an amazing place to have a honeymoon and many do (or hell, you're wedding too!). My vegan findings are going to be mostly about south, west, and east shore. I rarely have gone to north shore (rains too much for me). So, if you are looking to go to Princeville or the Napali Coast, I don't have much information for you. But, I recommend going to south shore to visit to Poipu. It named year after year one of the best beaches in the world. One can often see the Hawaiian monk seals on the beach sunbathing as well as many tropical fish in the sea. For great snorkeling, I would recommend going to the beach in front of Lawaii Beach Resort and the Beach House restaurant. You find a lot of surfers going out here as well as divers. When I was just here, I saw three giant sea turtles at this spot almost every day. They are so close to you in the water, you could touch them. It is truly a magical experience to be surrounded by giant sea turtles munching away and tropical fish. Very peaceful and natural.

    To start, I visited a local favorite, Puka Dog, in Poipu Shopping Village. They have a veggie dog that is vegan. Puka Dog has a good FAQ section on their website for all dietary concerns. The garlic lemon secret sauce is not vegan, though, so opt to just get one of their relishes or other condiments. I tried it with the lilikoi mustard on my hot dog which is passion fruit mustard (amazing!). There is a lot of bread on this which is its only downfall. It's also kinda large, so you could definitely split one with somebody for lunch. Another vegan hot dog place in the south shore is Dude Dog located in the Kukui'ula Village (also there is Lappert's ice cream that has a variety of vegan sorbets). They use Yves veggie dogs. Dude Dog has a variety of condiments to put on the veggie dog. Personally, Puka Dog is more interesting in how they present their food and with their original relishes. But, if you are around and hungry, Dude Dog is certainly a pretty good place to go.

    Now, as I mentioned, there is a good beach in front of the Beach House restaurant. The Beach House has been named one of the most romantic restaurants in the world and it certainly is. With it located directly in front of the shoreline, it is a lovely place to have drinks and dinner at sunset. They an open floor plan so you get the ocean breeze and noises. They have two vegan options on their menu. To start, have their Omao, Kaua'i organic baby greens. For dinner, have their grilled portobello mushroom dish. Lastly, for dessert, us vegans can have their sorbetto trio. 

    Heading west are the little towns of Hanapepe and Eleele. In Hanapepe, there is the Hanapepe Bakery & Cafe. They have a vegetable sandwich as well as a garden salad with all locally grown vegetables (delicious!). Sometimes, the bakery carries vegan goodies. It quite a cute place located in this tiny town. I would recommend it for a quick lunch while driving around the west side of the island.

    If you have a place to make food, I recommend going to one of Kaua'i farmer's markets at least once. It is really a site! Such great fresh, local produce. The fruits and veggies are to die for. It is just like getting it out of your backyard. I have nothing but praise for the farmers in Kaua'i. For other vegan products on the south shore, there is a small market called Kukuiula Market. It has surprisingly a lot of vegan and green products. They have brands like Seventh Generation, Amy's, Boca, Follow Your Heart, Daiya, Morning Star, etc. It really is more like a health food store. Perfect! Another place near by is Living Foods Market which is a upscale, gourmet small grocery. It reminded me a bit of a small Whole Foods. They also carried many vegan brands too. On east shore in Kapa'a, there is Hoku Foods Natural Market. It was a bit like a combination of the other two markets. It had many gourmet items, but also was very much like a large health food store.
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