Thursday, March 31, 2011

I like what others don’t like–or do I?

I know I’ve been writing about eating out lately, but I have been cooking at home. It’s just not as exciting! I’ve made some real flops (keep reading), but I did make one recipe that was unexpectedly delicious.

I’ve been trying to use up things in my pantry and freezer. In this recipe, I used some lentils I’ve had for a while, as well as some frozen artichoke hearts. I found the recipe on the Whole Foods Market recipe app, and you can view it here.


The recipe is Linguine with Spinach, Artichokes, and Red Lentil Sauce. I ate a heaping helping on a salad plate, and I even finished the leftovers for breakfast. This was delicious, and one of my favorite new discoveries. The sauce starts with mustard seeds, onion, garilc, and lentils, and finishes with lightly cooked spinach and artichoke hearts. Add some lemon juice, salt and pepper and whole wheat pasta, and you’re good to go. 

I was surprised to look up the recipe online and see that it only got 2 of 5 stars. I mean, people who wouldn’t like the ingredients wouldn’t choose to make this, right? To state the obvious, I used spaghetti, not linguine. Maybe that’s why I liked it better – no, that’s a stretch.

I really started to question my taste (or, the rating system) when I checked out another recipe I tried, Quinoa Loaf with Mushrooms and Peas. That recipe earned 4 of 5 stars.


This was not great, but I took lots of photos, so I’ll share. This is how you know I don’t lie to you: this looks good, so I could rave about this and trick you all! Don’t worry, I would never do that. Plus, even though the star rating is high, most of the comments agree with me. And I didn’t write them all. Actually, I didn’t write any. Maybe 4 of 5 stars is a poor rating, and 2 of 5 is a good rating?

Alex and I both thought it was bland, which is strange because it’s packed with flavorful ingredients, including quinoa, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and red onion. These goodies were bound with a paste of pureed chickpeas and oats, plus some green peas and parsley.


After baking for a long while in a loaf pan, this sliced pretty easily. Alex enjoyed his with ketchup, and I doused mine with sweet onion mustard (not pictured). This looks good, served with a baked potato and brocolette, so trust me when I say it was bland.


In eating this, I was really puzzled about why my preferences were nearly opposite the online ratings. I guess I’m glad I didn’t see them ahead of time! How about you out there – do you like what everyone else does? Do online ratings inform your choices?

Monday, March 28, 2011

You liked it, and I do too.

So, it goes without saying that I find many recipes, techniques, and new foods by reading blogs. But I also love finding new restaurants – even if it’s just to hear what people are enjoying. Of course, it’s better when I can try the food for myself.

I haven’t been to Philadelphia since the beginning of January, but I have some photos I never got around to sharing. These are from Blackbird Pizzeria, the new-ish, all-vegan sandwich and pizza shop near 6th and South.


I know, it all looks brown, but it sure was delicious. Both photos across the top are the Philly Cheezesteak, made of thinly sliced seitan and packed with fresh peppers and mushrooms. In the lower right is the Tofu Cubano, which was my favorite of the two sandwiches. This was sweet and spicy with tangy slaw. And, I can’t neglect the fries. These were exceptional. I would go back just for the fries. Yes.

Another restaurant I went to during that trip was The Belgian Café. I’d read reviews raving about their vegan hot wings. And it’s also no secret that I love Belgian beer. (Normally in Philly, I go to Eulogy at least once. I consider it my “happy place” in the city I otherwise despise.)

Anyway, the wings were good. I don’t know that I’ve ever had chicken hot wings, but these weren’t like what I imagine wings would be, based on the chicken bones littering the streets. These were battered seitan, and I think the batter included cornmeal. They were firm, almost tough, and just hot enough. The vegan aioli was pretty good, too, and I liked getting some lettuce and celery on the side.


The rest of the food at The Belgian Café wasn’t too impressive. Sorry to be a downer, but I would go back for the wings. Maybe we just ordered the wrong items – thankfully, there were plenty of selections there!

And, this brings me to the most recent out-of-town restaurant I tried: Nashville’s Wild Cow. I went last weekend. It was wonderful. It was beyond my expectations. Not only was the food delicious, but they served sandwiches and vegetables! Imagine that! I can try a cheesesteak and get a side of spicy kale! And if you’re wondering, the spicy kale is as good as everyone says it is.


We tried quite a selection just because everything looked so good. Even their daily specials looked good, so I could go back every day. We went with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, and I think everyone enjoyed it. We introduced my cousin to quinoa and my aunt to tempeh. Here’s what we got, clockwise from top left:

  • The Prince Fielder with tempeh, avocado, sprouts, cucumber, carrots, and Vegenaise and spicy mustard. They had a note on their board that the tomatoes weren’t good, so they were left off. Good call.
  • Buffalo Grinder with tofu, ranch, and carrots. They’re not kidding when they say the buffalo sauce is zesty!
  • Chips & Queso – this was good, it also came with a cup of their tomatillo salsa. I couldn’t resist ordering the vegan queso!
  • Beans & Greens, “buffalo style” – this was my favorite, and something I’m going to want to recreate at home. Start with brown rice, greens (I think they were mustard greens that day), pinto beans, and top it with buffalo-sauced tofu cubes, shredded carrot, and ranch dressing. Yum!

So, I don’t know where I will be visiting next, but I hope to find some trustworthy suggestions and enjoy what everyone else is eating.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I ate quinoa because he doesn’t like it either

I recently cooked a pretty awesome meal, if I do say so myself. I borrowed a cookbook from the library, Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, and actually ended up making two recipes from the cookbook.

I’ve made several versions of homemade veggie burgers or patties, and I’m still looking for my favorite. This one was pretty good. I tried the Quinoa, Red Bean, and Walnut burgers. I was flipping through the book and the author, Lukas Volger, said something that really hit home with me (sorry, quinoa lovers!) – he said he often finds quinoa a little too grassy for his taste.


These patties are made with quinoa, red beans, walnuts, and a steamed potato. The steamed potato is his binder in many of his vegan recipes. They’re flavoried with ginger, scallions, and cilantro. (I used cilantro because I had some, the recipe calls for parsley.) True – the ginger does cut through some of the grassiness of the quinoa.


The other recipe I made from the cookbook was the red cabbage slaw. Actually, I started with the recipe and kept going. This is simply shredded red cabbage and dressed it with rice vinegar, a little toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, scallions, and brown rice syrup. This was a sweet and sour cole slaw, and it was delicious, and the leftovers were great as the vinegar kept wilting the cabbage.

Round out this meal with roasted sweet potato wedges, tied together with more grated ginger. All of this was a little time consuming, but in the end it was worth it. Actually, it was most worth it when I had the leftovers for lunch and the work was already done!

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way has been returned to the library, and I might check it out again if I’m in the mood to try a different kind of patty.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cincinnati Chili

Twice in the last week, I’ve done something I’ve never done before. Well, I’ve done it at home, on my own, but I’ve never had anyone else’s.

I ate Cincinnati chili, the famous chili-spaghetti.


Both of the major local chains have a vegetarian selection year-round, but one has been advertising their veg option pretty intensely during Lent. Last Thursday, I got takeout from the Gold Star Chili drive-thru and brought it home. I was a little too scared to go inside.


If I’m being completely honest, I willl admit that the chili was okay. Their website tells me the chili is vegan, and it’s full of beans and corn in a thick, dark, tomato-y sauce. I even think there were lima beans in the chili. I enjoyed it, and not everyone would say they like lima beans in their chili! The spaghetti, though, was awful. It was mushy. Yuck.

So, that’s try #1 at Cincinnati chili. Alex and I agreed we probably won’t be back. But over the weekend, I got an email from our local Loving Hut, announcing their version of Cincinnati 5-way as a menu special. I really wanted to give it a try.


This was pretty cool to try, because it really had that smoky, hot, almost bitter flavor of what I imagine to be the real deal. The email disclosed the ingredients: organic spaghetti, organic tomatoes paste, Gardien crumbles, vegan cheese, sweet onion, and organic beans. They didn’t give away the spices, but there sure were some good ones in there.


This spaghetti was good, and plentiful. I wonder if “real” Cincinnati chili is as much spaghetti as chili –- that’s the idea I got from both restaurants, and it surprises me.

Am I converted to Cincinnati chili? No, but I’m glad I tried it. Here’s to preserving local delicacies! (And understanding why they are apparently immune to globalization.) Who knows, after twice in one week, I may find myself craving this stuff.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tofutti-less dessert and (almost) rice-less Fried Rice

Let’s start with the good stuff. Oh, it’s all good tonight. Sometimes, I eat dessert first. Especially if I have a lot of cooking to do and need a snack.

These peanut butter cups have big chunks of graham crackers in them, and they’re topped with rich dark chocolate. I didn’t have nuts to add in, but as much as I liked the graham cracker crunch, I know I’ll add nuts (or pretzels!) next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time.


I saw these peanut butter cups via The Shenandoah Vegan and the recipe looked like something I could try. I’ve been enjoying these cups for the past week or so, all the while amazing myself that both Alex and I have exercised enough self-control that we even still have some left.

Yes, I made more than are pictured. I had about 30. Still impressed? Those are mini-cups. I’m also proud of myself for making a dessert that didn’t center on Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese.


I have a tendency to let my stir-fries get out of hand. I throw in a little of this, a little of that, and the next thing I know, my wok is overflowing and I have leftovers for days.

This wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was delicious. But I don’t know whether it’s the pineapple fried rice I intended it to be. I had what I thought was a lot of leftover cooked rice, and I added broccoli, red bell pepper, green peas, mushrooms, baby corn, scallions, cashews, tofu, and pineapple. I used canned pineapple after a bad experience with my most recent fresh pineapple, and the juice along with red pepper flakes and curry powder made for a wonderful sauce.

The rice? Who needs it?—not me!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Restaurant: Poco a Poco

I’ve been wanting to try Poco a Poco, which has been open for a while now in Hyde Park Square. It sounds fun, it looks cool, and it’s in a prime location.


This “Latin cuisine tapas-style” restaurant has a handful of vegetarian choices, but many are queso or creama-based. Plus, there is only one vegetarian entrée. When Alex and I go out, it’s usually a disappointment when we have to get the same entrée or adapt others beyond recognition.

The good news is, at least we can always get different drinks. Below, on the left, is my white sangria, which tasted like pear (as advertised). Alex got a mango margarita. Both were fresh and delicious.


When I heard they were having a special vegan menu one night, I couldn’t wait. I found out via facebook, of course, which eerily knows more and more about me, even when I don’t put much personal information out there.

The special menu featured three appetizers, three entrees, and four sides. It was wonderful, and very different, to have to choose what to order and not try everything. We shared two starters, the chickpea salad and the sope.

The chickpea salad was simple, but delicious, and topped with addictive fried tortilla strips. The menu said it was a mint, lettuce, and chickpea salad with a vinaigrette of espresso and lime. You can see the tomato, and I swear there was cilantro in there, too. This bowl was a generous, filling portion.

The sope looked small in contrast, but it was also delicious and filling. This was a just-heavy-enough masa crust, filled with refried beans and topped with roasted vegetables (zucchini and sweet potatoes, I think, or maybe squash) and topped with radish matchsticks. This may have been my favorite dish of the night.


The appetizer we did not order was tofu ceviche (onions, chilies, lime, tomato, mint). I’m sure it was also good – but what a treat not to order every vegan option on the menu!

For entrées, Alex selected the tacos, which were three simple corn tortillas topped with thinly sliced roasted red and green bell peppers, avocado, and poblano tomatillo salsa.


I ordered the motelenos, a sandwich of fried corn tortilla filled with red beans and mushrooms and topped with guacamole and fried artichokes. These fried artichokes were super tasty – they were thin and papery like flower petals and just salty enough. This was an overload of fried for me, though. Thankfully Alex and I shared both dishes.  The entrée we did not select sounded great – enchiladas (eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, red sauce).


We got chips and salsa, and the chips were fresh and perfect and the salsa was hot and smoky. Both were excellent. We also got a side of charred corn, which was sweet and smoky, with onion and cilantro, and another favorite dish of the night. We also got fluffy citrus-sofrtio-rice, which also rounded out the meal really well. The only side we didn’t try was refried beans, which I know would have been delicious as we tasted them in both the sope and the motelenos.


Our waitress let us know that they will be incorporating some of these vegan selections into their new spring menu that will be coming out soon. I hope it includes the sopes and charred corn!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sign a waiver for your history and beer

Sometimes I wonder how I present myself on my blog, and how I present the way Alex and I are together. Let me be direct: he and I are very, very different.

Since we’ve been together, I’ve done many things I wouldn’t normally do on my own. Many of these are physical. I would NOT take the physical challenge. Many of things we’ve done have required us to sign waivers. And actually, all of these were my suggestion.

The Pink Jeep ride in Sonoma, Arizona.

Trip2 003

Zipline canopy tours in Hocking Hills, Ohio. Here I am about to zip between trees, and I’m freaking out. The guide finally stopped chiding me when I told him I disliked the movement on the rope, not the heights.


And most recently, rock climbing (that’s me at the top! – yes, freaking out!). Usually I have to wait on the 5-year-olds to clear this wall, as I can only really do the easy one. See all those holds? The only challenge is going up and coming down, no strength or strategy required.


But now, something more my speed: the Prohibition Resistance Tour here in Cincinnati. As a part of the annual Bockfest, the Over The Rhine Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Group offered tours of historic breweries and cellars around town. The tour was informative for the history buffs, and it was more of a treasure hunt than a thrill ride. Although, like each of the other waiver-requiring activities, I was initially put off by the high ticket prices, I’m glad we did it. Hey, at least this time, the ticket price included a beer!

On a dreary, drizzling Saturday, we walked through Over the Rhine and entered a dilapidated looking building on McMicken Street. Under this building, and under the street Alex is looking across, there are large lagering cellars. Before mechanical refrigeration, underground cellars kept beer cool while it was stored (lager means store).


Take a look behind our tour guide at the narrow tunnel. This is directly under the street, under the building with the garage door Alex is looking toward.


We came up the other side, heard some more history and beer buffs talk, and walked around to more breweries and viewed the exteriors, as most all of them were closed, and most were in serious disrepair. Some had architectural details that showed what industry was inside, like these hops.


All of these presenters were filled with pride in Cincinnati, and I was very impressed with everything I learned and saw. Even though the tour was titled Prohibition Resistance, the theme that struck me the most was that there really was very little resistance to Prohibition, and not much of it was successful. In addition to Prohibition, the anti-German sentiment during World War I and even some technological advances that made these underground cellars less necessary really stunted Cincinnati’s industry in brewing.


The tour ended in the largest cellars we saw, which were part of the Kauffman Brewery that closed in 1919 or 1920, depending on your source. These are now filled with debris. There were pipes, trash, and dirt shoved into a pile so that the tour groups could wander around.


We went directly from these cellars back up the building where we started: Bockfest Hall, which was originally a brewery, then a potato chip factory, and with new plans to be a Christian Moerlein brewery. The Christian Moerlein name has been reclaimed; Moerlein, said to have come from Bavaria with $7 in his pocket in 1841, is one of Cincinnati’s most famous brewers. Although his brewery didn’t live through Prohibition, the name was brought back in 1981.


After the tour, we enjoyed our cups of Bock with fried pickles and soft pretzels and mustard. I am hungry for some hot German potato salad, but I’ll have to make my own meatless version at home, and soon!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Enjoying the weekend


I used to love going out to brunch on Sundays.

Now, I much prefer staying home. There’s no need to get dressed, and I can still enjoy rosemary roasted potatoes, tofu scramble, fakin bacon, and collard greens.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Culturally Schizophrenic

I committed last time to share the results of my experimentation in the kitchen, and I’m tickled to announce that things turned out super tasty!


Behold, my Middle Eastern Inspired Taco.

I had some frozen baked falafel, and I made hummus with cilantro, garlic, and “taco” seasoning and wrapped it all up in a whole wheat tortilla. I use these spices in my taco seasoning: chili powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper.

Now, I didn’t have many frozen falafel. Alex admitted that he sometimes takes a ball from the freezer and eats it cold. I don’t know if that’s flattering or not. Anyway, we had more than enough food.


The reason there was so much food was because I made baba ghanoush, too. (When everyone spells things differently, how do you decide what to use? Just pick one and stick with it?)

Lately, I’ve had a hankering for baba ghanoush and decided to go for it when I saw a Food Network chef make it on television. Sometimes, that’s all it takes (thanks, Aarti Party!). I was tempted to buy some ready-made from the grocery store, but it was chock-full of mayo (really, Sabra?).


Instead of making regular baba ghanoush, I riffed from the Horizons cookbook recipe for Mexican baba ghanoush. The recipe included roasted eggplant, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno. It actually called for pumpkin seed butter, which sounds really good – but I didn’t buy (or even look for) any. Instead, I used tahini but tossed in some pepitas for good measure.

I’ve been enjoying this in pitas for lunch the past two days, stuffed with more cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and onion. I can tell you for sure I’ll be making more homemade baba ghanoush.