Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vegan Italian Cooking with "Mama Tried" and Cecilia Granata

One of the benefits I have enjoyed over the years of writing this blog is that occasionally people will send my cookbooks to try, and anyone who knows me knows how much I LOOOOVVVE vegan cookbooks. Reading cookbooks and daydreaming about what to make is so enjoyable and relaxing. When I am able to set aside some free time to just sit and unwind, nothing is better than leisurely flipping through a cookbook and letting myself be inspired by all of the wonderful ideas other people have had and shared.

Some months ago, I was sent a fabulous little cookbook and I feel I must apologize for taking so long to write about it. There is this wonderful independent press out of Portland called Microcosm Publishing, and over the years I have enjoyed a number of  their DIY and vegan cookbooks. I really love the kinds of books they publish, as well as their fresh, creative style.This particular cookbook is by Cecilia Granata and is called Mama Tried - Italian Cooking for the Screwed, Crude, Vegan, and Tattooed. It is chock-full of fabulous tattoo art illustrations and really great recipes for making delicious Italian meals.

I am including a video of the author talking about her book and her cooking so you can see for yourself how amazingly lovely, adorable, and utterly charming she is. And how appetizing her food looks! If you are anything like me, you will find yourself wishing you could eat everything she is making in the video! Don't be surprised if you find yourself very, very hungry after watching this clip.

As I mentioned, the book is filled with great recipes to help you make some truly delicious meals, and I know I will return to it for inspiration time and time again. I recently made a fantastic pasta dish served with a side of  her "Seitan Scallops in Lemon Sauce," and it was quite tasty.  It got me thinking that I should try that same recipe again with the scallops from Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Scallops and I think it would be quite wonderful.

Today's post is a shout out both to the company I really love,  Microcosm Publishing, and to Cecilia Granata, for her unique and tasty book of vegan Italian recipes. I hope you will give Mama Tried a try and that you will enjoy it as much as I do!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Vegan Quiche with 'Follow Your Heart' Vegan Egg

The long-awaited Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg is finally in Bellingham, thanks to the Community Food Co-op! Today I will share with you my own quiche recipe using this wonderful, entirely-plant-based, soy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan egg.

I will confess, for a time-saver I did not make my own pie crust, but rather I bought one of the pre-made Wholly Wholesome Organic Pie Crusts  at Safeway, and I thought it was actually quite good.

Begin by pre-heating the oven to 350.  (Note: If you are using a store-bought pie crust, bake it at 350 for 10 minutes by itself  before you add the quiche filling for best results.)

Vegan Quiche with Spinach and Mushrooms
1 large (or 2 small) yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage sausages, sliced (optional)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon parsley
sprinkle of smokey paprika
salt and pepper

Saute this first list of ingredients in a pan, beginning with the onions, followed by the mushrooms after a couple of minutes, then sausage--(Note: if you are using the vegan sausage, stagger your cooking so that the onions and mushrooms have a chance to soften and some of the water from the mushroom cooks off before adding the Field Roast.) You can cook this pan over low heat, stirring occasionally, while you get the rest of the quiche ingredients ready.

Mix together enough "eggs" for 3 and a half eggs. (Note: Make sure the water is ice cold.) Whisk the eggs with a whisk and then add:

1 cup cashew milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon kala namak (aka "black salt")
1/2 tablespoon tahini
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon smokey paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper

I started out whisking by hand  all of these ingredients in with the eggs, but then ended up using my immersion blender and it was much easier--(Note: you might consider using electric egg beaters or an immersion blender if you have access to those tools.)

Place your cooked onions, mushrooms and sausage in a mixing bowl, add 2 and 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach, 1/3 cup grated Follow Your Heart Garden Herb Cheese (optional), and the egg mixture.

Stir everything together, and then pour into your pie crust. Garnish the top with sliced tomato wedges and chopped green onions (optional), and then bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes until cooked through.

Once your quiche is finished baking, let it sit for a couple of minutes on the counter before cutting, then serve, eat, and enjoy! (And, if you are really in the mood for a savory brunch, you might consider making some yummy oven-roasted red potatoes to serve on the side.)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Vegan Breakfast Options @the Downtown Co-op Hot Bar!

If you haven't yet checked out the vegan breakfast options at the downtown Community Food Co-op Hot Bar, you really should! They have a vegan potato casserole that is FANTASTIC (whether you are vegan or not--this dish is very popular and always goes FAST), and the tofu scramble is also delicious.

I am also a fan of their vegan raspberry banana muffin (over in the baked goods section of the store), and they of course have wonderful coffee and can make a mean Americano. That combo has become my Saturday morning breakfast of choice this past month, and I hope the Co-op decides to keep these options going through the month of March. The menu changes depending on the day of the week, and from what I can gather, the schedule is set on a monthly basis.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Co-op has not yet published their Hot Bar menu beyond today's date, so we'll have to check back and see what's in store for next month, I hope hope hope they keep the vegan breakfast options going for Saturday mornings! It's so great to have another place downtown to go out for breakfast on the weekends.

I have not yet explored much in the way of their other vegan Hot Bar options, so if there is something you have tried that you think is work noting, please don't hesitate to let me know.  Always feel free to leave a comment or send me an email--I am always grateful for your tips!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bayou on Bay: 1300 Bay Street

Vegan Options at Bayou

I last wrote about Bayou on Bay back in 2011. At that time, they offered a rather bland vegan gumbo that sometimes came with okra and sometimes did not, served with a side of non-vegan cornbread. And that was it for us vegans. I later unpublished the post because it was out-of-date and I had no plans to go back, so I figured my review was no longer useful. Recently, however, Bayou announced online that their new menu would be veggie-friendly with more vegan and vegetarian options! And this was enough to make me want to try again.

Last night I had plans for dinner with my husband and his family and I suggested we check out Bayou. I was pleased to see one vegan option on the menu (the vegan jamba) and two additional options that could also be made vegan: the sweet potato sandwich and the veggie cheesesteak sandwich. I noticed that the jamba had corn in it, (which made it a no-go for me due to a corn allergy), so I decided to go with one of the sandwich options. The sweet potato was calling my name and I was eager to try it.

The menu clearly states that the sandwiches come with 2 sides: coleslaw and sweet potato fries. Since the sweet potato fries are cooked in the same fryer as the meat and the coleslaw has dairy in the dressing, I asked our server if she could recommend a vegan side to go with the sandwich. She said they could sub in a vegan salad with a vegan vinaigrette, and that was good enough for me.

The Good Points

I love the atmosphere at Bayou and I think it's a very fun place. I still have fond memories of back-in-the-day when it was Stuart's coffeehouse, and so it makes it even more fun to eat there now. One thing to note is that the few times I have ever been to Bayou, the service has always been great and the staff has always been friendly. Last night was no different, and when I asked about suggesting a vegan side or if she could make sure the bun was vegan, our server didn't hesitate to find out what I needed and she was very nice about it. (And in case you are wondering, she verified the bun is vegan, so no worries you will be served a "vegan" patty in a non-vegan bun, as has been known to happen at Aslan Brewing Company...)

When my sandwich first came out, our wonderful server immediately noticed there was a mistake and that my sandwich had not been made vegan after all. She promptly sent it back and apologized and was very sorry about the mistake--I appreciated her catching it before it had gotten all the way to me, and was impressed with how careful she was on my behalf. I understand mistakes can happen and I am very happy when they are caught by a restaurant staff member rather than by me!

The menu described the sandwich as coming with a crystal aioli, and so I assumed this may have been the mistake. I was curious what kind of condiment or sauce would be added to the sandwich instead of the aioli, and unfortunately, the answer was none. The bread was dry and the sweet potato, while cooked well in terms of being cooked-through, had no added seasoning. The onions were cooked in some kind of vegetable oil, but they had not been seasoned either. My salad, on the other hand, was over-dressed, but luckily the greens themselves were fresh and very good, so I decided to try and spruce up my sandwich by adding some of the over-dressed lettuce leaves to the sandwich. I then added some of one of the hot sauces that happened to be vegan to the sweet potato pieces, which also helped a little.

My Recommendations and Wishes

Overall, while definitely not bad, this $11.00 sandwich was nothing spectacular. While I genuinely appreciate Bayou trying to expand their vegan options, I wish my sandwich had had more flavor and wasn't so dry. (Even just adding some chipotle JustMayo would have done wonders!) The good news is all of my dinner companions enjoyed their non-vegan dishes very much and talked about how the food was well-seasoned and very flavorful. So perhaps it is just a matter of figuring out how to jazz up the vegan-ized options a bit...

I think the reason people sometimes mistakenly think vegans eat bland or boring food is because they are used to relying on meat and dairy-based ingredients for flavor. What they don't realize is that most vegans LOVE rich and flavorful foods just as much as omnivores do, and often create dishes with incredibly complex flavor profiles, but you have to find ways of bringing those flavors out and using well-seasoned ingredients is key. For example, one way to bring out the flavor of root vegetables is by roasting them with a little sherry and olive oil, adding some spices like thyme, salt and pepper. Or you could go in a different direction and throw in some smokey paprika. There are a lot of possibilities! The point is, if cooked well, the sherry and olive oil combo can make the vegetables caramelize, bringing out their natural sugars and thereby causing both the texture and flavors to become rich and buttery. Add some herbs and spices, salt and pepper, and then you've really got something.

Likewise, if this isn't something that interests a restaurant that mainly caters to omnivores, just having some vegan condiments on hand to sub in when they cut out the dairy-based ones would help tremendously!

Anyway... as I have said before, I really really appreciate it when a restaurant tries to expand its vegan options, and I always want to praise that and thank the restaurant for their consideration and their efforts. It really does mean a lot! But at the same time, I do want to be honest about those vegan options and while I appreciate having a vegan choice, I am even happier when my vegan meal is as delicious and enjoyable as the non-vegan meals of my companions. As always, I remain both appreciative of what's out there and optimistic that things will get better and better!