Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blossoming Lotus- Portland, Oregon

Anyone that is vegan is acutely aware that Portland, Oregon is considered something of a vegan Mecca.  I have not been to Portland since going vegan in 2009.  When a business trip presented the opportunity to go to Portland I figured I should maximize my time to frequent at least one vegan restaurant.



After inquiring with the Twitterverse and checking out the dinner menu I decided on Blossoming Lotus.  How could I not? The very first item listed on the menu was Baked Brie.  Vegan baked brie?  Oh my, I have not ever even dared to imagine such a thing!

As soon as I arrived in Portland I dropped my things at the hotel and headed out in a cab to Blossoming Lotus. While for most of Portland it was lunchtime, my East Coast stomach was telling me it was dinner time. One small problem-- when I arrived they were serving lunch and the lunch menu did not include the Baked Brie.



After letting my server know that I had traveled 2400 miles to come to the restaurant and that I had my heart set on the Baked Brie she inquired with the chef and they agreed to make it for me! And, let me tell you- It. Was. Awesome.  So creamy and smooth and topped with a fig jam; truly heavenly.  I ate the WHOLE thing!



As if that were not enough I went on to order a Trio of Tacos- Thai, Black Bean and Kimchi and Jamaican Jerk Tempeh.  Wow, they were good. Complex flavors, nicely seasoned and a bit of heat. I ate all three!



At this point you could have rolled me out of the restaurant. But, I spied on a blackboard at the counter that the Soft Serve of the day was Almond Butter.  Soft Serve? Vegan Soft Serve?  I have never had such a thing and it really did not matter how full I was I was going to try it. Oh my. So creamy and delicious. Just as good as any dairy alternative.



I have one more night left in Portland. Please let me know if you have a recommendation for another great vegan place!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market- St. Paul, MN

First things first. Chef Lenny Russo- what will it take to bring you to Philadelphia?  As a born and bred Philly gal, I am of the firm believe Philly has the best restaurant scene, bar none. And Chef Lenny, the Executive Chef and proprietor of the Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St Paul, belongs with the best.



While traveling in St, Paul, a quick Internet search to look for a good vegan restaurant revealed that they don't really have one. And for once, I am thankful for that, as I might not have found the Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market. After coming up short on the vegan restaurant search, I simply Googled "Best Restaurant in St. Paul" and up popped Heartland.



After a glance at the menu I figured I would give it a try. When I tell you this is the BEST vegan meal I have had in a restaurant (including both vegan and non vegan).  I have had some really great meals in some really great vegan places- and I have to say, this may be better than any of them.



The ingredients are all locally sourced, and other than the cheese, everything is made on site. The meal far surpassed any expectations I had.  From the architecture of the building, the attentive and friendly nature of the staff and the culinary excellence I was totally blown away.



Everything was flavorfully complex and delicious. The pickled carrot and pepper with a creamy hummus to start was divine.  The chilled summer squash soup was a delicious balance of sweet and spicy with the addition of chili oil. The cilantro and fried squash blossom were the perfect finishing touch.  The gnocchi were little pillows of heaven on a silky smooth and smoky eggplant puree.  And, the surrounding vegetables were cooked and seasoned to sheer perfection.



Tonight I am going to sleep with a belly full of some of the best food I have ever eaten.



If you find yourself in St. Paul, this is a MUST. It was good enough to plan an entire trip back around. Unless, Chef Lenny decides to come to Philly- (not so subtle) hint, hint.....

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tuscan Lemon Cake

Apparently Betty Crocker has gone vegan. No, I am not talking about me. If you have ever read my blog you know that I don't really enjoy baking, mostly because I am not good at it. It seems following directions is not inherent to my nature. Case in point- I had to redo the flour mixture three times before I got it right.



First try, I added the egg replacer to the flour. Incorrect! Second try, I used baking POWDER instead of baking SODA. Incorrect! Third times a charm, as they say!

I did make one adjustment to the recipe as written. The batter did not taste lemony enough to me so I added a teaspoon of lemon extract.  Taste your batter and decide if you think it needs it before adding it.

This cake is super moist.  The glaze recipe is very sweet; you can adjust the sweetness by adjusting the lemon, sugar and vegan butter to your liking.

Given the sweetness of the glaze, fresh raspberries served as a nice addition for garnish on the cake.

Nice job veganizing a classic lemon cake, Betty!

Lemon Pound Cake

For the cake:
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegan butter such as Earth Balance; softened
1 tablespoon applesauce
1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer (do not mix with water)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 can full fat coconut milk (or 1 package So Delicious Culinary Coconut Milk)
2 tbsp lemon zest
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon extract
Baking spray

For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup vegan butter
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a bowl using a hand mixer cream the sugar and vegan butter together at a high speed until smooth and creamy.  Add the applesauce and egg replacer and blend until incorporated.

In a second bowl add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Whisk until ingredients are combined.

Add a small amount of flour to the butter/sugar mixture and continue to mix with the hand mixer. When blended add a small amount of the coconut milk and continue to beat with the hand mixer. Continue the aternating the flour mixture and coconut milk until they are gone and you have a smooth batter. Add the lemon zest, juice and extract (if using) and beat quickly until combined.

Spray a bundt pan or other cake pan with baking spray.  Add the cake batter and smooth the top to ensure the batter is evenly distributed.

Bake at 325 degrees for 40- 50 minutes or until a bamboo skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and poke about fifteen shallow holes with a bamboo skewer (about the depth a using a fork would create).  Allow the cake to cool entirely before removing it from the pan.

Turn the cake upside down to remove and place on a cake plate or other platter.

To make the glaze, heat the vegan butter until it is melted.  Whisk in the powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until the mixture is very smooth.  Drizzle over the cake before serving.

Garnish with raspberries if desired.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mexican Style Bean Soup

No excuses. I have been absent from my blog and also from creative cooking in my kitchen.  Business travel and kids have taken precedence over culinary exploration lately. As they say, it is what it is....



I know it is the middle of summer, but yesterday I was in the mood for soup and so I decided to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work to see what looked good.  The Mexican flavors were calling my name so I went with it.

This is a hearty, flavorful soup, perhaps a borderline chili- if cooked down enough I think it would thicken up enough to be considered chili.

My version was not overly spicy, but you could easily kick it up with some cayenne or tabasco (or any other spicy pepper of choice).

Mexican Style Bean Soup

1 green pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1/2 pound beef style crumbles (I used Boca)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can Southwest red beans (I used Wegman's brand)*
1 can sweet corn rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with:
Green onions, cut into small rounds
Jalapeno slices
Vegan cheddar (I used Daiya slices cut into very small pieces)
Sour cream

In a large stock pot over medium heat add one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the green pepper, onion and jalapeno pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until starting to get tender. Add the crumbles and saute until warmed through.  Add the diced tomatoes, black beans, Southwest Beans and corn. Stir well and add the vegetable stock and garlic powder.  Reduce the heat, cover and simer for about 45 minutes or until soup reaches the desired consistency.

Garnish with desired toppings before serving.

*Do not rinse or drain the spiced beans or their flavor will be diluted

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Charlie was a sinner.

I have not blogged in some time, mostly because I have not had time to get creative in the kitchen lately. Lame, I know.  Today I find myself with something to write about even though I did not cook. I had a lateish flight into Philly. Couple that with a very early start in the morning and I figured it reason enough to stay in the city and not  fight morning rush hour traffic.



The hotel I am in has no restaurant facilities. Since it is a nice night I took the short walk to Charlie was a sinner, a new vegan place on South 13th Street instead of finding somewhere to deliver. And, oh thank goodness I did!

Their menu consists of three chapters: To Quench, To Savor and To Sin. I did not indulge in chapters 1 or 3 but did savor two of their small plates from chapter 2 while having a nice conversation with my server J. Christie (who just celebrated her one year veganniversary)!

I started with the Little Hot Dogs and followed that with the Maryland Style Crab Cakes.  Both soy based and great tasting.

The Little Hot Dogs reminded me of the pigs in a blanket many of us grew up with, though not overly "hot dog" spiced like some of the store-bought vegan hot dogs.  Wrapped in a flaky puff pastry and served with a spicy brown mustard they were quite good!



The crab cakes had a consistency that is similar to what I remember of crabcakes. Along with the tofu base they contain zucchini and are nicely spiced with a bit of a kick of heat.  I would have them again.



The place was pretty crowded for a Tuesday night. Great to see people coming out and supporting local, vegan establishments. I am excited to go back and test out the rest of the menu.

Since this was a bit of an impromptu decision the only camera I had was my iPhone. Next time I will bring my "real"camera so the pictures do the food justice!

Check out Charlie was a sinner on Instagram @charlie_was.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vegetable Dumplings

This weekend my sister and family came to visit. It was a fun filled weekend. I love when our kids are together, there really are  no better friends growing up, than your cousins.



The highlight of the weekend was taking my daughter (11) and her son (9) to an indoor skate park in Philadelphia.  They had such a good time and my sister, and I had fun watching them, catching up and even getting a little shopping in (yes, the skate park is in the mall!).

A close second to the skate park adventure was being up early on Sunday morning to make dumplings with my sister.  She had requested we make them for the kids (her kids love them) and it has been a while since I have made them so we had a bit of a cooking adventure.

The result was some very tasty dumplings. And what a great way to get some extra veggies into the kids!

We served them with a soy/agave dipping sauce (not pictured) that was the perfect compliment. The recipe made about forty dumplings so there was some leftover to freeze, too. Bonus.

Vegetable Dumplings

For the dumplings:
1 package vegan wonton wrappers (read ingredients carefully, many contain egg)
2 cups finely minced shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups fresh spinach, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper finely chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper finely chopped
1 baby bok choy, steamed and finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp sesame seeds
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
Small bowl of water

For the dipping sauce: (Note: quantities are approximations as I did not measure)
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 chopped green onion
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 small squirt sriracha sauce

In a saute pan over medium heat add the olive oil.  Saute the garlic and mushrooms until tender, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Put the chopped spinach in a large bowl and add the sauteed mushrooms and garlic while still hot (this will allow the spinach to wilt slightly.  Add all the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the wonton wrappers and mix until well incorporated.

To assemble the wontons, Place one wonton wrapper on a clean work surface and place about one teaspoon full of the filling in the center of the wrapper.  Wet the outer edges of the wonton wrapper with water, using either a small pastry brush or your finger.

Bring the sides of the wonton wrapper toward the center forming a pouch. Pinch closed around the filling and ensure air is removed from the dumpling. Alternatively, you can fold the wrappers in half over the filling forming a triangle or semi circle, depending on the shape of your wonton wrappers.

To cook, steam the dumplings for four to five minutes.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients and serve alongside the dumplings.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cinnamon Roll Apple Pie

I have been seeing lots of posts suggesting the use of canned cinnamon rolls as the basis for an apple pie of late. What a great idea!  Super simple to do, and as far as I am concerned the more cinnamon the better!



But what's a vegan to do? Those canned cinnamon rolls in the blue tube? Nope, not gonna cut it.  Luckily, I recently discovered canned cinnamon rolls in a red tube.  They are made by the Immaculate Baking Company and they are just awesome.  The whole family loves them, we have them on Sunday mornings for breakfast on occasion and they are sticky, sweet, cinnamony goodness.  Far better than those that come in the blue tube in my opinion.

I made my pie with a premade apple pie filling. Even though most of what I read said not to use a premade filling I decided to give it a try. It worked out just fine.  I am sure it would be great with a home made filling, too. Perhaps if I am feeling a little more ambitious next time I will do that. And there will definitely be a next time!

Cinnamon Roll Apple Pie

Crumb Topping:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)

Crust:
1 package vegan canned cinnamon rolls

Filling:
1 jar vegan apple pie filling (I used Baker Naturals)
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put the flour, brown sugar and butter into a bowl. Using a pastry cutter mix the ingredients until large clumps form.  Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface roll each of the cinnamon buns until they are about 1/4 inch thick. Place in a 9 or 10 inch pie plate pressing the rolls together and up the sides of the pie plate to form a crust.  You may wish to cut some of the cinnamon rolls in half prior to rolling and placing in the pie pan.

Mix the apple pie filling and cinnamon and place on top of crust. Top with the crumble mixture and bake at 375 for about one hour until the top is golden brown. Cool for at least one hour.

Prior to serving, place the cinnamon roll icing in a microwave safe dish and heat for 15 seconds or so. Drizzle over slices of pie and enjoy.