Sunday, January 31, 2010

Birthday Dinner: Honey in Northside

If I haven’t explicitly said this before, I will now, as this sentiment is always on my mind. When I want to have a nice dinner, I’m always torn between trying something new or going with something tried and true. This is especially true here in the Midwest, where there are some real vegetarian gems – especially with the abundance of nearby farms – as well as some big misses as there is a huge focus on meat. For my birthday, Alex offered to take me to either a really nice steakhouse (really -- they have great fresh made pasta) or our favorite Mexican place. Instead, I asked to try Honey.

We went on Saturday night and the place was packed, but we were lucky enough to grab two stools at the bar after standing for only a short time. From our corner seat, we were able to watch the solitary bartender handle requests from people at the bar as well as make drinks to go to tables. I was also impressed watching her professionalism as she ignored the awkward and inappropriate jokes of an older not-gentleman leaning over me to talk to her.

We sat at the bar for a while and shared the nearly-famous Honey fries. I’ve heard so much about the fries, and they did live up to the hype, although some of them were a little greasy for my taste and a few were burned to a black crisp. What makes the fries so special? Three types of potatoes are used: Yukon, russet, and sweet potatoes. These are cut shoestring-thin and fried, served with a sweet and hot chili-lime honey dipping sauce.

Honey 003Honey fries, $5

We moved to a table shortly after finishing our fries, and our waiter announced the specials like a high school drama student. Normally I don’t bother with specials as they’re typically not vegetarian; indeed, he mentioned a mushroom soup that piqued my interest until he revealed it’s made with veal stock. (Is that a fancy way of saying beef stock? Why specify that you’re using baby cows? I need to find a tactful way to tell the wait staff they don’t have to waste their breath.) Thankfully, by the time he got to the end of the specials, he told us about a vegan special with tofu. All I can say is – wow! What luck.

We had already had plenty of time to talk about what to order, but we decided to swap the vegetarian entree on the menu (aubergine, tomato, and bitter chocolate compote atop roasted root vegetable puree, local wilted greens, and roasted garlic brioche) for the vegan special. This also started with the roasted root vegetable puree, but it was topped with haricot vert, tofu, roasted sweet red pepper, and greens. The puree was very good, and it went perfectly with the tofu. The tofu was served in the largest pieces I have ever seen put onto a plate – there were two pieces and they were nearly two inches wide, two inches long, and at least four inches long. This made for an impressive presentation, but they were cool in the middle. Alex said that he didn’t mind this, so I ate a few warm bites from the end and passed it back to him. I did like the fresh greens on top and enjoyed this dish overall. It was unlike anything I’ve had before. You would think this tofu with a vegetable puree would be too mushy, but the texture was just fine.

Left, vegan special, $16; Right, Polenta and mozzarella over spinach, $9
Apologies for the ISO-grainy photos. I didn’t want to disturb the pleasant atmosphere with a flash.

I ordered a soup and a salad-type polenta dish. The waiter verified for me that there was no animal stock (although there is cream) in the smoky, spicy tomato soup. The soup was pleasantly spicy and brothy, which made it not quite like other tomato soups I’ve had. We shared the soup, as it came out first, along with bread and sweet butter that was perfectly spreadable and infused with sweet shallot.

The final dish we shared was the crisp honey laced polenta topped with fresh and smoked mozzarella cheeses, sautéed baby spinach, Sallie’s butternut squash, and Rouster’s apples. Rouster’s is an apple orchard in Milford, and I’m guessing Sallie is either the name of the farm or the inventor of the squash recipe. The squash and apples were identically diced and sweet, not overpowered with seasonings but rather well complimented. The polenta was cut in triangles and formed a three-tier sandwich with melted mozzarella holding them together. These were placed on top of tender baby spinach and topped with greens like the other dish. There was also a balsamic reduction on the plate which served as a perfect sweet and tangy sauce for the polenta.

We both enjoyed all the food we tried. Unfortunately, there are only two dishes we’d be willing to eat that we haven’t already tried. Well – dessert. The desserts all sounded incredible but we were both full, plus we’d been there nearly four hours already. I can see us coming back for dessert and a drink at the bar. Honey advertises itself as seasonal and local, so I’ll be happy to go back when there are new vegetarian offerings as new vegetables come into season. We both had a wonderful time.

If you go, keep in mind that they do take reservations. I should also mention that this dinner was a bargain. Alex paid, but I think we spent as much on drinks as we did on the food.

Honey on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kidney Bean Stew with Cauliflower and Coconut Milk

I was hungry for some good, real, food. Lately I’ve eaten an embarrassing amount of frozen pasta and had several dinners out that I’ll be telling you about soon enough. Sorry for the lack of posting lately; I haven't been in the mood for much interesting food.

I wanted to make good stew or soup, and I adapted this recipe from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. I put it together after work, so naturally I did not use a slow cooker – instead I cooked it on the stovetop.

I started by putting several ingredients in the food processor: onion, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger. It turned into a green slushy mess. I’ll have to say, though, that this was a nice alternative to having chunks of translucent onion like I normally do in the soups I make. I’ll also say that I was worried about the soup being too spicy with the jalapeno and cayenne, but it was not too hot. It was great. The potatoes and coconut milk really mellow it out.

soup 003soup 013

Yes, this stew is spiced with cayenne, as well as mustard, turmeric, allspice, fennel, and cumin.

To this, I added diced gold potatoes, cauliflower, kidney beans, diced tomato, and broth. I simmered on the stovetop while the potatoes and cauliflower cooked. A few minutes before serving (just long enough to warm it through) I added canned, unsweetened, ccoconut milk.

soup 044

NaanWhile it cooked, I made naan. I wanted to buy some at the grocery store, but the store I went to only had a mix. This turned out really, really well, though. This was seriously yummy.

I found this Golden Temple mix (it’s actually made or distributed by Smuckers) that includes the flour mix and a yeast packet. It calls for milk, oil, and some water. I actually used soymilk and it came together perfectly.

I mixed everything together, kneaded it, then after it rose I rolled it into eight pieces. Then Alex cooked them in a skillet like pancakes. We spread some melted Earth Balance on them and sprinkled with salt.

soup 026 soup 039

I don’t know that I can call this “Indian food”, but it was certainly different from my usual fare. I think we’ll be doing something like this again, though!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Comfort Food, Cornbread Casserole

This dish is something I tossed together for a quick and hearty dinner. It’s not something I invented, but I didn’t follow a recipe either. I was hungry for this kind of food, so the best way for me to get it is to make it myself. It was go-oo-od. I think that's a new level in the tasty scale of yumminess.


Cornbread (from a mix, or homemade)
8 oz. Frozen corn, divided
1 bag Morningstar Crumbles, or your favorite variety
1 cup Black beans (rinsed and drained from a can, or dried and cooked)
Canned tomatoes with diced chiles
Shredded cheddar cheese

restaurant 030

Begin by cleaning and quartering the mushrooms. Cook in a skillet 3-4 minutes, then add the crumbles (I defrost first for a minute or two), black beans, half the corn, and the tomatoes. Stir together and season with salt and pepper. Add shredded cheese. I used about 1/2 cup because I was trying not to go overboard. This would be good with more cheese if you like, or no cheese if you like.

Separately, make the cornbread according to your favorite directions. I also add the other half of the frozen corn to the cornbread mix. This addition was Alex's special request. I used the Little Crow Miracle Maize brand and made it with soymilk and Ener-G egg replacer.

Transfer the crumble mixture to a casserole dish. I used a 13x9 after I saw how much food I’d made. Dollop the cornbread mix on top, carefully spreading it without stirring it into the first layer. Sprinkle with additional cheddar, if desired.

Bake according to cornbread directions, keeping in mind that if the cornbread is thinner than the recipe calls for, it will take less time to bake. Mine was bubbly and done in about two-thirds of the required time. Test with a toothpick or cake tester for doneness.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Restaurant: Melt

Let me put this out there early: Melt is one of my favorite places in town. I especially love Sunday brunch, but their sandwiches and salads are incredible, too. Once before, I mentioned that I’ve been there. The last time we went, we didn’t check their hours and arrived at 8:01 p.m., just after they closed. Thankfully, they took our order anyway and we ate next door at the Northside Tavern. (Yes, beer is great with the Yeehaw Barbecue Seitan sandwich!)

I really appreciate all the vegan offerings at Melt. A brunch menu can easily be considered vegetarian because it’s full of eggs, cheese, white-flour pancakes or waffles and high-fructose corn “maple” syrup with few if any eggless options (oatmeal, anyone?) and few healthy or vegan choices. Especially after watching Food, Inc., I don’t know when I’m going to want to eat eggs again. At Melt, there are copious options and everything I’ve had has been super-tasty. They also serve what they call “clean” meats.

On Sunday, we went for brunch. We arrived around 11:20 or so. The line to order at the counter was out the door and it remained busy the entire time we were there. The friendly staff was unfazed, calmly taking orders, answering questions, and cutting through the line to deliver plates to hungry customers.

We started by sharing a vegan donut. After waiting our turn in line for a few minutes watching them sitting in the display case just looking so yummy, we couldn’t resist. I’ve never had a vegan donut and was curious to taste. They come from Sweet Water Bakehouse, a place that seems to be most known for making wedding cakes. This donut was really good, and I think I liked it a lot more than Alex did. He also likes typical donuts much more than I do. It was cakey and flavorful and not overpoweringly sweet.

The brunch menu has some new offerings since the last time we were there, and I tried the vegan sausage biscuits and gravy. I seriously considered the huevos rancheros, as well as my old standby -- the rosemary redskin mess made with tofu scramble. We both remembered how good the biscuits at Melt are, and I was excited to try a vegan version of gravy and sausage. The biscuits were huge, and the gravy was poured over them, filling the bowl. There were chopped chives on top and chunks of vegan sausage in the gravy. I really, really liked this. Probably the best vegan gravy I’ve had. It was peppery and thick and the perfect compliment to the biscuits. I also got to choose a side, and I went for the tofu scramble. I’ve never had tofu scramble anywhere but Melt, but man – it’s good! This is a also a little spicy and certainly firmer than eating chicken eggs. I think the side portion was much more food than was necessary, but since when do we complain about being served too much food?

restaurant 018 restaurant 024 Vegan Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy, $8.75

Alex ordered the veggie bacon and eggs melt, which is scrambled cage-free eggs, veggie bacon, and mozzarella cheese melted between sliced ciabatta. We didn’t read the menu carefully, because Alex really wanted a biscuit. Twice previously he’d ordered this and it came not as a melt, but in a biscuit sandwich. Of course he liked it – the ciabatta is really good, it comes from Shadeau Breads, and the veggie bacon is what makes this sandwich so special. It’s crisp, and although it’s not quite like pork bacon (not that I’d want it to be), it’s got a good, smoky flavor and it’s not greasy. It’s worth asking, next time, if they can serve it on the biscuit. I doubt they’ll say no. His side? Rosemary redskins. These days, they’re leaving the curry catsup on the tables.

restaurant 023 Veggie Bacon & Eggs Melt with side Rosemary Redskins, $8.75

Aaah. I know food is good when I want it again after looking at the photographs. I hope this proves that Melt is a great brunch spot. My only complaint is that they only serve this yummy menu on Sunday from 11-2. For someone like me, waiting until 11 is the hardest part.

Melt on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Apple-Banana Bread

I was craving some good banana bread in a really serious way lately, and I searched for more recipes online for another vegan version. The one I made before was delicious, and as I see the photo again it looks better than this attempt, but I was ready to give a different recipe a shot. I tried this recipe for vegan apple-banana bread, and as you can see in the comments, people say this was actually copied from The Post Punk Kitchen and apples were added. These are the reasons I have stopped posting other people’s recipes in full (even when I give them credit).

Soup 018

I was drawn to this recipe because of the chopped fresh apples, and they truly were an incredible addition to the bread. In all honestly, I didn’t follow this recipe exactly, partially intentionally and partially not. Alex wanted to use my computer, so I quickly copied the recipe on a junk mail envelope and somehow omitted two important ingredients – the melted soy margarine and baking soda! The bread was a little dry and chewy straight from the oven, but the piece I ate today reheated in the microwave was delicious. The intentional changes I made were simple and things I usually do: substitute whole wheat flour for half the white flour, and add pecans.

I’ve gotten my fill of banana bread for now, but the when I’m ready for more, I think I’ll try this recipe again – the way it was written!

Soup 017

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Not Quite Grandma’s Chicken and Rice Bake

StouffersI saw something in my grocer’s freezer that I really wanted. I don’t know if it was some craving for comfort food at the tail end of my cold or what, but I saw this Stouffer’s frozen meal and really wanted it. I couldn’t find a bigger photo on the web, but as I walked by it really caught my eye, as well as my appetite.

No, I didn’t buy it, but I did start thinking of how I could make something similar at home. Since I didn’t follow a recipe, I’ll tell you exactly what I did. I did start in the frozen foods section, using Morningstar Farms frozen meal-starter chick’n strips.


1 cup rice, cooked (my favorite instructions for basic white rice here)
2 stalks celery, roughly cut
1 cup carrots, roughly cut
1 cup frozen peas
1 can vegetarian cream of mushroom soup
Shredded cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper

Start by cooking the frozen chick’n in a bit of oil (I used Earth Balance as I was looking for a buttery taste) in a skillet. It will brown if you use some oil or margarine and patiently turn it from side to side. Once I started cooking these strips, it smelled like a KFC with the eleven herbs and spices. Set those aside, then cook the veggies in the same skillet.

chicken and rice 004

Add the cream of mushrooms soup to the veggie skillet and thin it with half a can of water. Add a bit more salt and pepper if you like. I was careful not to add too much because the strips seemed so well seasoned and I knew the condensed soup tends to be salty, even though I used the reduced sodium kind. Finally, mix in the rice and transfer to a casserole dish. Bake at 325F for half an hour. Some recipes include some cheese, so I tossed on some leftover shredded Swiss. We both really liked our cheesy bites.

chicken and rice 016

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cauliflower and Leek Soup

One thing I’ve been trying to do better is to waste less, which means cooking portions that are suited to what we want to eat and eliminating leftovers (except good leftovers, like lasange or taco crumbles). So the other day I roasted half a head of cauliflower and saved the rest for soup. I actually got the idea for this soup from an interview I heard on The Splendid Table, but I couldn't find the recipe on that website, so I improvised and combined what I liked from several recipes online.

I’d never cooked with leeks before. Every tip I read said to use the white and light green parts only, which seems vague until I looked at my leeks. I had three organic leeks which I cut in half, then quartered, and placed in a bowl of water and stirred to remove the sand and grit. I lifted the leeks out of the water and squeezed them dry with a towel.

Soup 001

I cooked the cauliflower and leeks in a large skillet with a few cloves of garlic and some oil. I put the lid on to hold in the heat and help them soften. Then I added four cups of a simple broth, which I made with water, nutritional yeast, and nama shoyu (unfermented soy sauce).

I simmered the soup for another ten minutes or so, until the vegetables were soft, and then I transferred it in two batches to the blender to puree. Normally I’d use my immersion blender, but I had used a shallow cooking pot, so I opted for the upright blender. It did fine, even with those leeks which were almost two inches long. I was worried that I should have cut them smaller, but it turned out fine.

I returned the pureed soup to the pot and added some cashew milk for creaminess, because many recipes I consulted called for milk or cream. I think this was a good substitution. Alex told me he could taste the cashews, but I couldn’t discern them and didn’t find the flavor obtrusive. I seasoned only with salt and pepper.

Soup 009

One recipe I found on the Food Network website while searching for cauliflower soup included Parmesan crisps, so I was eager to try this as we have a block of Parmesan in the fridge, and Alex especially loves that cheese. He loves it so much, in fact, that he took charge of this part of the meal. He grated two piles of Parmesan onto foil over a cookie sheet and baked about ten minutes at 350F. After cooling for a few minutes, they easily peeled away from the foil and were a nice, crisp addition the soup. I put mine right on top of the hot soup, though, and it melted. Not really what was supposed to happen, but still yummy.

Soup 006

Monday, January 18, 2010

Restaurant: It’s Just Crepes

Over the weekend, I was really eager to get out of the house. Alex had mentioned hearing about a crepes place he wanted to try, and I didn’t need any convincing. Typically in this town, restaurants downtown cater to the working lunch, so whenever we go downtown on the weekends or at night, a lot of things are closed. (But there is plentiful street parking and cheap meters! Yay!)

crepes 005 39 East Court Street

I was pleasantly surprised to see that It’s Just Crepes was open for lunch on the weekends (they are open 9-7 on Saturday and 9-3 on Sunday). We were there at almost 2 on Saturday and they were pretty busy. Busy, but also efficient and friendly.

There are four hot plates up front, and on my visit there were two crepe makers attending them, each making up to two crepes at once. We ordered, saw our crepes get started, then paid and sat down and waited for our lunches to be brought to us. There were no numbers – the friendly girl who took our money remembered who ordered what. She did better than most waiters do; she brought my crepe to me and Alex’s to him without having to “auction” it off by name to see who wanted which. Impressive.

crepes 002 Mediterranean, $4.99 daily special

I ordered the Mediterranean, which happened to the be the daily special, so it was 50-cents off. This was a crepe stuffed with feta crumbles, green bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The crepes are folded in half, then in half again, making a sort of sandwich wrapped in paper and with its end in a paper water cup (or sno-cone cup). They have a sign to warn you, and, indeed, the crepes come out hot! Fresh and delicious.

crepes 004 Vegetarian, $5.49

They have several vegetarian options, plus a full slate of dessert crepes, and they are willing to make substitutions. Alex ordered the creped called the Vegetarian, which includes cheddar, green bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions.

We both enjoyed our crepes and even talked about getting a dessert one to share, but we were both too stuffed. The crepe itself was different than what I’ve had before. My guess is that they use the same batter for both savory and sweet crepes and don’t use the buckwheat batter I’ve had at Beau Monde. These were wheaty and chewy and towards the bottom where the folds meet, thick.

We’ll be back, I’m certain. Not only did we start a crepes card (buy nine, get one free), but the restaurant is two blocks from the library and we have books due in three weeks. Sounds like a perfect time for more crepes!

It's Just Crepes on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Return to Food: Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower

brussels 010

After almost a week of takeout, a trip to Quiznos, and a batch of chili, I was finally feeling better and ready to have some fresh, home-cooked food. I tackled Brussels sprouts again, along with half a cauliflower, and also made some tofu and millet, which was tasty in my previous Brussels sprouts dish.

I started by parboiling the sprouts: I boiled them for about 5 minutes, then placed them in a strainer set in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them thoroughly so they won’t become soggy. I was somewhat following a recipe that instructed me to do this, but I’m not entirely sure it was necessary. Other sources I’ve consulted say that if you immediately finish cooking the veggies there’s no need for the ice bath. Oh well, it was a fun middle step. I took some time while they drained to do a few other things anyway. This way they got a head start at cooking and were fully drained before I put them in the oven. I tossed my sprouts and cauliflower florets in a little olive oil and salt, then baked for about an hour at 350F.

Served with tofu, which I also oven-baked, but then finished in a skillet to brown it a bit. I marinated it in red wine vinegar (hence the reddish tone), oil, soy sauce, and garlic. Just a mishmash of stuff that came together well enough. The tofu had the tang of the vinegar and the oil helped crisp the outside a bit. I should mention that I followed a tip to try Trader Joe’s tofu, and I have been really impressed. As I eat more tofu, I can now understand that there really is a difference between different brands of tofu, and this Trader Joe’s stuff is good!

This meal looks kind of bland and white, but it was so refreshing for me. Alex now like Brussels sprouts, which is awesome. I planned this dinner to use half the cauliflower and also have some home cooked tofu, which is very different from anything I’d had all week. Not only does it feel good to be getting over that nasty cold, but it feels good to eat good food and cook at home again. I’m back, y’all!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Restaurant: Green Papaya (takeout)

snow 002

I am sick. I think I brought it upon myself, between the sadness of taking down our Christmas tree, the frustration of having to work an extra six hours last week and this week, and the snow that was so pretty to watch fall is now dirty and melting to reveal brown earth beneath. Today's high of 34 degrees feels like a heat wave, and I wonder if I'm feverish or if it feels balmy since this is the first time the outside air has been above freezing in two weeks.* This might be my least favorite time of the year, and to top it off, I have a cold.

I know I’m just whining. I’m fine. One thing that’s funny about this cold is that it has not affected my appetite at all. If anything, I’m hungrier! Maybe that’s due to me not taking in my beer calories. Maybe.

takeout 016

I haven’t felt like cooking, or grocery shopping, or going out. So, we are getting take out. I was hungry for – no, craving – the pineapple fried rice from Green Papaya.

I’ve been to Green Papaya several times, often eating there and sometimes bringing it home. I can see that many patrons go to Green Papaya for sushi, and I’ve tried it although there are few vegetarian options. I’ve ordered several dishes there, from the Crazy Noodles to Pad Thai, various Thai Curries, and the “Cheese of Asia” fried tofu appetizer. My favorite, though, is the pineapple fried rice.

takeout 021

Chunks of tofu, pineapple, baby corn, corn kernels, carrots, red bell pepper, mushroom, onion, snow peas, and cashews are all lightly fried with egg, rice, and curry powder. This is delicious and so unlike what I considered fried rice from the Number One Chinese Kitchen down the street when I was a kid. This fried rice isn’t greasy, or doused in a brown sauce, or scattered with limp frozen peas and cube-cut carrots. This dish is loaded with fresh, tasty goodness. For me, it’s not that I wanted to go to Green Papaya – it’s that I wanted this dish and that’s where I get my pineapple fried rice.

Alex got Pad Thai, which he likes with about 70% of the enthusiasm I show for the pineapple fried rice. The Pad Thai is made of noodles, tofu, peanuts, and a few bean sprouts. I much prefer the variety of veggies in the rice dish. On top of that, the Pad Thai is like most other examples in the city here: it’s sweet. Really, really, sweet. Perhaps if he ordered it spicier, the sweetness would be less overpowering. (By the way, in other cities do they ask you how spicy you want your food, on a scale of 1-10? I’ve only encountered that in Cincinnati, and people seem to be upset if you order and aren’t asked!)

Green Papaya on Urbanspoon

*Disclaimer: I wrote this without checking my meteorological data, but then I decided to do some fact-checking at Today is the first day in 12 days that it's been above freezing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Restaurant: Green Dog Cafe

It seems inevitable: for someone like me, who prefers to cook at home and have control over what I eat, I’m likely to fall into a rut with where I eat out. The more infrequently I eat out, the more frequently I want to dine in the same old favorite spots. So when I’d heard mixed reviews of an enticing new restaurant, I took my sweet time finally trying it.

For Sunday brunch, we went to the Green Dog Cafe in Columbia Tusculum. The food was tasty, but it was a really weird experience. We walked in and reviewed paper menus from a brochure holder, which seems almost contradictory to their desire to be seen as environmentally conscious. Standing there over a sheet of paper was also somehow more awkward than looking at a blackboard. I placed my paper back and proceeded to order the Chihuahua Bowl.

Alex and I were both drawn to the veggie patty Green Dog Burger, but we agreed to sample two entrees. (I know I mentioned this was brunch, but we arrived after 1:00 p.m. and weren’t interested in egg dishes anyway.) Alex asked if he could upgrade his side to the Green Dog fries, and the kid behind the counter said no. Then he asked if we wanted the fries to come out first, and we told him to bring everything together. Well, the fries came out before the rest of the food. Kind of unnecessary to ask if he’s not going to listen. Although we didn’t know until later that our fry preference wasn’t heard, that was the first of many problems communicating with this order-taker. The details aren’t really relevant, and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was hungover. That explains why he was mumbling and whispering to us, and looking at me like I was paining him when I spoke in a normal voice.

Green Dog Fries, $5

Let’s get into the happy talk for a bit. The fries were good. We were both surprised to see them brought out to our table before our meals, but whatever. Looking back, I’m glad I had a chance to munch on fries as that probably toned down my (then unknown) upcoming disappointment with my Chihuahua Bowl. The fries come with two dipping sauces: banana tomato ketchup and honey curry mayonnaise. I much preferred the mayo and might have to try something like that at home. Alex says he enjoyed both.

Green Dog Burger, $11

That burger was delicious. It’s made with garbanzos, mushrooms, and some kind of grains, topped with finely shredded white cheddar, arugula, and sweet tomato jam. The patty fell apart so it was more like eating a sloppy joe, and the jam was obtrusive in its sweetness, but the bread and patty were very good. Alex kept looking across the street to Allyn’s, home of his favorite veggie burger and, coincidentally and tauntingly, visible from the front windows of Green Dog. He didn’t like the burger as much as I did. He let me eat most of it. We both enjoyed the light vinaigrette over the small side salad of tender greens.

Chihuahua Bowl, $10

My dish was not impressive. I like brown rice, and this Chihuahua Bowl had a lot of it. Plus corn chips. The black beans were pretty flavorless, and there just wasn’t enough corn salsa. There was enough manchego cheese topping the rice and beans, but the dish overall was a disappointment. This bowl was large, and it was full, but the food was bland.

Would I go back? Sure. But I’m not in a hurry.

Green Dog  on Urbanspoon

Here’s a public service announcement in case anyone in the Cincinnati area doesn’t already have a Best of Cincinnati card. Get one this month, for free, by using the code BOC4FREE. Use it at Green Dog or any of the other twenty or so restaurants that take it. I had been considering getting this card, which essentially gives you a 40% discount at certain local restaurants, but I hadn’t wanted to shell out the $25 administrative fee for joining. However, until the end of the month, you can get the card for free! I got mine on the same promotion in December, and they’ve extended it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Homemade Pasta: My first attempt

I almost laughed when I read an article about pasta makers in the 1980s – yes, we had one, but it was probably in the 1990s. My mom loves gadgets, and we’d make our own pasta. I remember those dinners fondly, though, even though whoever wrote that article is poking fun at the home pasta extruder machine. My first adult attempt, however, did not go so well, even though I used a roller.

stuff 012

We were given the ever-popular pasta roller and cutter attachment set for our Kitchen-Aid mixer as a Christmas gift. These seem to be most coveted among the newlywed, registry-hungry, I-don’t-care-because-it’s-a-gift-and-I-need-it crowd. Not that I belong to them, ahem. This was not on our registry. After using it, I agree that a hand-cranked one would provide much better results, be easier to use, and on top of that – cheaper.

I followed the recipe in the manual for the Kitchen-Aid roller, hoping that by abiding by the manufacturer’s instructions, I would be less likely to fail. (I deliberately did not link to the aforementioned article because it’s full of junky ads, but I found it by searching for vegan pasta recipes. In the end, I used semolina and egg as directed. Maybe next time I’ll make her eggless pasta dough.) In addition to the dough not coming out right, the biggest problem was that the roller pulled the thinnest dough through first, leaving the rest to crumble. I think the manual control of a hand-crank would help correct this defect. But then again, I’ve never used one.

Oh, and yes, you heard me say next time. As promised, I will not abandon my failed recipes. The good news is that this time we made enough pasta to have a little serving each. The rest of the dough got too dry and overworked in our experimentation, and I think the dough was too dry and not pliable enough to start with. The pasta we ate was okay, if a bit thick due to inexperience in rolling it thinly enough. We topped the pasta with grated Parmesan and jarred sauce, served with grilled eggplant and mushrooms.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Carrot & Raisin Salad

Part of what draws me to certain cookbooks or blogs (I’m looking at you, Vegan Crunk) is familiar recipes, made in a new way that aligns with my health goals and values. Perhaps I should learn to make these adjustments myself, and maybe one day I will. For now, I’m doing things as the recipes suggest. I’ve tried a lot of new foods and even grown to love some new favorites, but nothing can really replace those long-time favorites, whether it’s a chewy oatmeal cookie or this carrot and raisin salad.

stuff 013

My grandmother would make carrot and raisin salad, a great side dish or snack that could be made with a little or as much carrot as you like and just tossed together on the spot. Grate the carrot, add a dollop of mayonnaise and a generous sprinkle of sugar, and some raisins. The carrots are sweet and the raisins swell with the juices, making this is a good, crunchy sweet salad. Distinctively Southern, Chick-Fil-A offers something like this.

I found a recipe for this salad in a new cookbook I’d been drooling over, The Vegan Soul Kitchen. In his recipe, Bryant Terry replaces the raisins with cranberries (which I did not do) and adds toasted walnuts (which I did add). He fancies it up by calling it “Carrot-Cranberry-Walnut Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette.” The vinaigrette in the recipe calls for walnut oil, which I did not have and did not buy.

What was most helpful? Replacing the mayo! Duh. I did need a recipe for this as I’ve never used silken tofu and never replaced mayo. Mayo is one of those secret pleasure, but icky-when-I-think-about-it foods for me. So I blended soft silken tofu with some cider vinegar, oil, and Dijon mustard to pour over my grated carrots, raisins, and toasted walnuts.

The dressing was really good – although I did later toss in some sugar – and I’m proud to say that I grated all the carrots by hand without injuring myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Slow-Cooker Mushroom and Hoisin Stuffed Onions

This is yet another recipe from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, perfect for winter ingredients. I kept giving this cookbook a chance even after a few 'meh' recipes. I thought this would be an instant favorite as it puts together three of our favorite things: onions, mushrooms, and hoisin. Sweet and earthy! I think this would have been better with a little less hoisin. A little bit goes a long way.

I actually had some dried shiitake mushrooms I reconstituted for this recipe, along with some cremini. Lately I've been buying mushrooms from the bulk bins so I can choose the 'shrooms I want and not wind up with a carton of bad looking ones. Sometimes, this also means skipping the variety I want in favor of what's available.

I hollowed out three sweet onions. I could have used some direction from the cookbook, as this was a really difficult activity! I cut circles straight down with my knife, but that was only a partial solution because I wanted to scoop out onion layers spreading out in an ellipse, not just a circle. I did a good enough job, although I was worried the knife might slip and cut me. I didn't hurt myself, although I did get onion all over my hands.

Chop the onion pieces along with mushrooms and a few garlic cloves. I figure for this the measurements are pretty arbitrary and are mostly determined by the size of your onions. I had too much stuffing mix and wish I'd used less onion, or less breadcrumbs. Or less of both. Which brings me to the rest of the ingredients: some hoisin, sesame oil, and salt.

Stuff each of the onions, place in the slow cooker, and add a cup of water and more hoisin. I actually used the water I used to rehydrate those mushrooms.

I served with quinoa, just cooked plain, and that provided a great mellow flavor to balance my over-sweetened stuffed onion.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mac and No Cheese

When I saw a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese Florentine in the slow cooker cookbook I just got, I was eager to try it. Of course, upon closer inspection, it's a no-cheese version of mac and cheese. I made something akin to this, but with canellini beans pureed in the sauce as well. I combined the two recipes. So the macaroni had a sauce of sautéed onions and garlic, cashew milk, nutritional yeast, spices, and beans.

The amount of work involved in this is contrary to the spirit of the slow cooker, in my opinion, and when I try this again, I may use that web recipe instead. The macaroni was boiled ahead of time, the spinach was cooked, the onions were cooked in a skillet, and the no-cheese sauce was edible straight from the blender. Putting the combination in the Crock Pot was overkill.

That said, this was a pretty tasty macaroni casserole recipe. I don't think it could replace macaroni and cheese when I want that (right now my favorite is the frozen Trader Joe's variety), but it's certainly healthier, and I like me some spinach.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Top 5 for 2010. Another Year of Food

Wow, it seems like every blog post I read about New Year resolutions is prefaced them with a disclaimer that resolutions are doomed for failure and therefore not worth making. This statement is then unnaturally followed by a handful of achievable goals. A friend got it just right putting out some promises to himself that he will keep, and I intend to do something similar here. Some of my goals are rather vague, and others are things I want to try, or even things I'm currently trying and want to place more importance on them. Getting that head start is also giving me a little preview of possible failure to come. Ugh. So, what will I try to do in my food life in 2010?

1. Give it a second chance: As I continue to try new recipes, I want to revisit some of the flops or near-flops a second time and try to improve them. This winter, I'd like to try another shepherd's pie, as my last one was heavy with grains. I love mashed potatoes, so I just need something better to go beneath them. Also up for improvement: Senegalese Tofu, which I made before I knew how to cook tofu to my satisfaction, and sushi.

Of course, I also need to recognize when to drop things that just aren't working...

2. Eating fewer processed foods: This is something I've been wanting to do for a while, especially since my freezer is stocked with frozen pizzas and Morningstar products. I've tried three times to make my own seitan and it never came out quite right. This last time was such a flop that we threw it away after cooking it, so I won't be telling you about it as promised. Alex said I can try a couple more times and then he prefers sticking to the store-bought stuff. I figure making my own sauces and marinades is a good step, though, and will certainly reduce the amount of high fructose corn syrup sneaking in as well as help me learn about spices and flavors, not just bottle labels.

3. Generally eating healthier: For me, this would mean eating less cheese, fewer fried foods, and not so much beer. Mmm... three of my favorite things. Eating less cheese will certainly be a challenge, but it's been on my mind for a while to start taking this more seriously since I've seen first-hand cows piled on top of each other in dairy farms.

I started this goal by making "Macaroni and No Cheese" a few nights ago. I'll tell you about it soon. Plus, I've already been doing better eating more fresh veggies, and I want to continue to do so and buy more organic and local. Another good trend to continue is eating out less, so that I have more control over what I put in my body. This goes hand-in-hand with eating fewer processed foods; I've already tried to make the switch from Coffemate to Silk creamer, which (I noticed after I purchased it) proclaims its superiority over Coffeemate right on the carton.

4. Try new recipes and new ingredients: In the past month, I have tried quinoa and millet; I've also recently started cooking with kale and sweet potatoes. I have found new cookbooks and blogs to get trusted recipes, and I think this kind of measured experimentation is the best way to make cooking at home interesting. I've been doing a pretty good job with this sine July, but I intend to keep it up actively and indefinitely.

5. Be more careful in the kitchen: Since I've started cooking more, I've cut myself, burned myself, grated my finger, and broken numerous dishes. I don't think I'm a klutz, but all evidence points to the contrary. (Okay, this was just thrown in to make a fifth resolution, but it's probably a good idea nonetheless.)