Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cherrybrook Kitchen Brownies

I don't bake very often, and when I do I like to keep it as simple as possible. This is especially true when I'm baking with kids. Such was the case about a week ago, and I decided to try out a boxed brownie mix. Generally speaking, I've been none-too-pleased with the vegan mixes on the market, but this one blew me away. Want moist, super-rich, fudgey brownies that happen to be free of most allergens (and cruelty of course) to boot? Look no further than Cherrybrook Kitchen. I went ahead and topped these with the leftover mint chocolate discs I had from my trip to Economy Candy, but they would have been better than fine on their own. I haven't had brownies this good in a very, very long time. Next time you or your others are craving some chocolatey decadent squares of goodness, get yourself a box of this mix, the requisite margarine and oil you have to add, and dig in. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vital Ital Calabash

One of the best things about food, in my opinion, is its ability to transport you to another time or place. For example, it was cold and overcast in the Bay Area on Sunday, but a simple trip to Vital Ital Calabash in Berkeley made it seem sunny and tropical... while I was eating, anyway.

For those of you not familiar with Ital Cuisine, it's Rastafarian vegan food. 'Ital' itself translates to 'pure' and this means unprocessed food from the earth. It also means the use of some damn good Jamaican spices and sauces resulting in flavors beyond compare, at least at Vital Ital. For my lunch, I had their 'Osho's Bliss' sandwich, which is a tofu patty with an incredibly flavorful sauce on a toasted bun with tomato, lettuce, and sprouts. Honestly, I don't have the words. It was so yummy - bright and fresh, with just the right amount of 'kick.' To compliment the heat in the sandwich, I also ordered some fantastic fried plantains with a sweet and savory sauce. These were so rich and delicious I could barely stand it:

Those of you who know me know how much I loathe trips over the bridge, but it is worth it to have these flavors. Plus, it's right across the street from the Ashby BART station, so there's not even any need to drive. Get thee to Vital Ital now. It's sure to brighten up any day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Heaven's Dog

Last night we were lucky enough to snag a reservation to new restaurant, Heaven's Dog, with some friends. Charles Phan's other restaurant, The Slanted Door, is a favorite of mine, so I was eager to taste his Chinese dishes. All far exceeded my expectations and I'm already trying to figure out when I can get back there. But let's start at the beginning....

Right off the bat, I noticed that it was smaller than I thought it would be. The Slanted Door is such a large space, and this is much more intimate, with a great bar, and a hip vibe that would be over the top if it weren't for the huge paintings of dogs on all the walls. Which beings us to the name: I had to know where "Heaven's Dog" came from, so I asked our server. He claims the story is that Charlie was tossing around names with his Cantonese chef de cuisine and one idea was Heaven's Nine, after a Chinese card game. Well, the word for nine and the word for dog sound very much alike, and though Charlie botched the pronunciation, he loved the result. And, no, there is no dog on the menu, thank you very much. There are, however, some of the most delicious vegan dishes to be had in the city.

We ordered almost every veggie dish on the menu (avoiding the one or two that weren't vegan) to split among the four of us, and all were outstanding. Of particular note were the Tofu Skin "Pork Belly" clam shells and the edamame salad:

These came out first and complimented each other perfectly - the first being savory, fried, and decadent bites, accompanied by a sweet and tangy sauce which one of my companions threatened to drink straight, and the second being light, crisp, and refreshing.

We were then brought all the greens. The kale with fermented bean paste and the spicy string beans were my favorites (and are pictured above), but the pea shoots with caramelized shallots were also great. You'll just have to see those for yourself.

The non-green dishes, and my two favorites for the evening (which is saying something because you know how I love my greens) were the Kung Pao Tofu with Cashews and the cauliflower side dish. Both were seasoned and cooked perfectly. Not too spicy, but not shy on flavor either. Everyone at the table loved them. In fact, it was agreed that the veggie dishes were far superior to the meat dishes (my friends ordered the duck, the shrimp, and the squid).

The number of vegan offerings and the high caliber of preparation make Heaven's Dog a clear winner. While all dogs go to heaven, your taste buds can experience a little slice over on Mission Street any time. Make yourself, and your others, a reservation today!

Saturday, May 23, 2009


*Before this post officially begins, I just want to say to Jennifer that if you want the cookies you won, please contact me (see Winners post below). I'll give you a few more days and then I'll do another drawing. The ginger cookies need a happy home! Now, moving on....*

Always on the lookout for new vegan-friendly places to take my others, I happily stumbled upon Specchio's website a while back. It took some time, but I finally got around to going to the real deal.

Before making the trek, I had read a bunch of reviews, and most people felt the need to weigh in on Specchio's decor. Personally, I liked the combination of modern and antique, as though it were San Francisco's version of Italy. Honestly though, I'm really all about the food at restaurants. Ambiance is nice, but feed me good food and all decorating nightmares shall be forgiven.

You know I love when bread and olive oil is brought to the table before the ordering even happens. Score one for Spechhio. Sadly, I was distracted by this offering, and I think I just plain ordered wrong. The chef (owner?) talked to us and was happy to make a special vegan entree just for me. However, I was seriously in the mood for pizza, so I got the Margherita Con La Rucola, or regular old pizza topped with Arugula for the non-Italians (myself included). I simply had them remove the cheese.

Don't get me wrong, this was really delicious and hit the spot - I've just had the same thing done way better at other places. Next time, I'll let the chef have at it, or try any of the conveniently vegan salads which sounded super yummy (fennel, orange, and black olives, anyone?). For the record, my partner-in-crime really loved her orecchiette pasta with pistachio pesto. This was one of the things the chef offered to make for me without dairy, and it might have been better than the pizza. Only one way to find out I guess.... I'll have to go back! You should get there too. It's a great little spot on Mission Street serving up yummy food in a unique atmosphere. Just don't order a cheese-less pizza. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Thanks to all who entered my little contest - it was great to read your comments. So, without further ado, the winners of the Liz Lovely Giveaway are.....(drum roll, please).....

Yes, those are the actual scraps of paper which I pulled out of a hat. Okay, I used a shoe box instead of a hat, but whatever. If you are among those winners, please email me at with your physical address and the cookies shall be forthcoming. You are some lucky folks. Enjoy - and please leave a comment once you eat them and let me and the readers know what you think!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In the Mood For Food

Reminder: You, yes you!, have one more day to enter the Liz Lovely Contest. Good luck. Now, on with the show...

Last Saturday night, the husband and I had one of the best dining experiences we've ever had, and we weren't even in a restaurant! We were served a gourmet vegan meal in the company of lovely strangers and enjoyed an amazing concert all in the same locale, and while I can't tell you exactly where we were, I can tell you that the Underground Restaurant Concert Series is not to be missed! Hosted by chef Philip Gelb and his company, In the Mood for Food, these unique events take place about once a month. I have wanted to attend one of Phil's cooking classes or dinners, so when I realized I was free for one of the latter that happens to also come with entertainment, I was thrilled. Not only is Phil a magician in the kitchen, he is also a world-class musician and brings in some of the best instrumentalists around to play in between the entree and dessert courses. It just doesn't get much better than this, my friends.

Having heard and read great things, I had very high expectations, but Phil's food was above and beyond. The feeling of community among the diners grew over the course of the evening as we all shared in the culinary and musical delights offered up. Speaking of which, the table was first adorned by a series of pickles - radishes, cucumbers, and carrots - all of which were perfectly salty and went well with the cold jasmine tea being poured.Did I mention it was about a billion degrees that night? Kudos to Phil for suiting the menu to the temperature that day. This cooling trend continued in our crazy good first course: Cold homemade noodles with a sesame sauce that had exactly the right amount of spice. These were some of the best noodles I've ever eaten, and I could have continued to do so all night and been happy.Yes, I was sad when the noodles were all gone, but it was worth finishing in order to get to course number 2, a salad of greens, grilled peaches, and parsnip chips with a peach miso dressing. Yes, it was as flavorful and fresh as it sounds. Amazing.

At this point, the night had cooled bit, and we were all ready for something a bit warmer. Out came the entree: Fresh-made tofu steaks fried with mushrooms, burdock, lotus, and rice.

Perfectly seasoned and cooked, this was truly an illustration of how great food can be when you use a few simple ingredients and really showcase them. I was in heaven.... and very full. Luckily it was time for a break, and the concert! Solo flutist Jane Rigler took the stage and blew our minds with her thoughtful and gorgeous improvisations. She even convinced the chef to step out of the kitchen for a duet or two. Such a treat:

For another treat, dessert was green tea cake and peach ice "cream" with fresh strawberry sauce. This was absolutely to perfect way to end this meal, and the hot day. It was refreshing, light, and sweet without laying it on too thick. Yummmmmm....

Bay Area folks, I highly suggest you and your others enjoy one of Philip Gelb's events sometime soon, or hire him to cater your next event. We've already reserved our spots for the August 9th event - Oud and Violin players with a Turkish/Arabic/Japanese fusion menu??? Yes, please!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Souley Vegan

Yes, the Liz Lovely Contest is still going on, but there has been a lot of good eating going on around here. Lest I fall behind, I best keep on blogging....

So, I was quite unhappy the other day when I learned that, yet again, Millennium Restaurant would be holding it's "Southern Comfort" dinner on a night I can not attend. It seems like I've always got other plans the one night a year that they hold this feast of bbq, beer, and belly-busting desserts. So distraught was I that I needed comfort, stat! Enter Souley Vegan. It had been on my list of places to go for a long while, so when I heard they had closed their doors, I sadly thought I had missed my chance to try what many have called the best vegan sould food around. I also mistakingly thought I could not possibly love Rainbow any more that I already do, but I was wrong on both counts: Rainbow now carries Souley Vegan food. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

While I'm sure Millennium's dinner will be off-the-charts amazing, this was some of the best down-home, finger-lickin', endlessly comforting food I've had in a long time. That potato salad in the back there was the best potato salad I've ever had, hands down. It's neighbor, the mac-and-cheese, was scarily close to the real deal and had just the right amount of mustard kick. The collards were tender and savory, and the BBQ Tofu, which I chopped up and put on an Alvarado St. bun, was ooey, gooey, goodness. Comfort accomplished.

Of course that didn't stop me from wanting something sweet. At Millennium's dinner they supposedly do a dessert bar, and while I coudln't top that, this Liz Lovely Chocolate Moose Dragon topped with a scoop of Coconut Milk Ice Cream was a little peice of heaven.

Get yourself to Rainbow (or the Grand Lake Farmer's Market in Oakland) and eat some Souley Vegan food immediately. Your tongue, belly, and yes, your soul, will thank you.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Liz Lovely For Everyone!

The awesome (AWESOME!) folks over at Liz Lovely make the best vegan cookies.... err, strike that.... the best dang cookies on the planet, vegan or not. They also run a coolio little fan page over on Facebook where they often give away these circles of yum to overjoyed fans. Recently, I was one such lucky winner, and just yesterday I received the most wonderful present on my doorstep:

Opened, it revealed a package of every one of the rich and decadent flavors LL makes. That's 8 packages of two huge cookies each, for those of you keeping track. Check 'em out:

For the record, you're looking at Macaroonies Sock-it-to-Me, Peanut Butter Classics, Ginger Snapdragons, Cowboy Cookies, Cowgirl Cookies, Goats a' Grazin, Chocolate Moose Dragons, and Snicker Dudes. It's enough to make my head spin... and my waistline grow!

Regarding the latter, should you choose to read the nutritional info on these guys (and really, you might want to skip it), you could assume there's been a mistake. But, no, it's true that each one of these cookies has about 400 calories a pop. They are cholesterol and cruelty - free, of course, but there's been no skimping on fat, sugar, or chocolate here, and that makes for great taste! However, it also means that if a wee person like myself eats the two cookies that come in a package, I've eaten about half my caloric intake for the day. This knowledge will not keep me from eating through this whole box though, so I've come up with a win-win situation I think you'll like:

I'm giving them away! (Ok, well not all of them, but most. I gotta have my faves, and so does the husband). This way I don't eat my way to bigger jeans, and I get to share with you all some of the yummiest treats the world has to offer. How to win, you ask? Simply leave a comment on this posting stating why you'd like to try some vegan cookies between now and May 22. On said day, I will pick 5 people at random to each get a package of cookies. If you're picked, I'll have you send me your address, and off to the post office I'll go. A few days later you'll have super-moist, tooth-aching goodness to consume courtesy of your friendly vegan blogger.

So, go ahead and enter. Vegans, others, family, friends, strangers, lurkers - you're all encouraged. I can't wait for you to try these cookies!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Some More Please...

A few days ago I snagged some graham crackers from Real Food Company with the intention of making s'mores. I had forgotten how good graham crackers are! For the longest time I had assumed they must be made with dairy or eggs, but alas - they are (almost) vegan. I say almost because they contain honey. Personally, I don't buy the stuff, but I don't avoid it either. If you're a vegan with some real compelling reasons for me to give up honey, please comment. Meanwhile....

After a lovely, though unintentional (our original destination was closed) dinner at Herbivore last night, I was perusing the tempting dessert list when I remembered I had all the makings of s'mores at home. We quickly paid, rushed home, and threw these bad boys together. Check out the results:All I did was spread some grahams with the Wax Orchards fudge I already blogged about. Then I added some Dandies Candies 'mallows. Press and eat. Oh my god. So good. Even though this s'more wasn't melty and hot, it cured my craving for the campfire concoction (hello, alliteration) with gusto! I'm sure it would do the same for all vegans and others alike.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mezes, A Taste of Greece

File Mezes under Places I Should've Tried A Long Time Ago. It's close by, takes reservations via Opentable, and I adore this genre of food (Mediterranean small plates). Why we never made it here before I couldn't say, but I'm so glad we finally did. The food was fresh and delicious, the service friendly and attentive, and the ambiance warm and welcoming.

We were seated right in the window, which I loved because the foot traffic along Chestnut Street was fun to watch. However, once the food started arriving, my focus was definitely on the table. Our only issue was trying to decide what to order. Almost everything on the extensive vegetarian section of menu is also vegan, or can be easily made so by removing feta and/or yogurt, so narrowing it down was difficult. Eventually we went with 6 dishes which, with the complimentary bread and olive oil, was the perfect amount of food for us two gluttons.

First to arrive was the greek salad (sans feta) and the eggplant spread with pita. The salad had the perfect amount of oregeno and was refreshing and bright. In contrast, the eggplant spread was smokey and rich. Both were a wonderful start to the meal.

Next up we had these sweet and savory dolmas and perfectly grilled veggies. I was a little worried about the dolmas since they have raisins in them, but I have learned to trust the experts on this one. So good. The veggies came with a garlic tahini sauce, but we hardly touched it because they were so flavorful on their own.

Lastly, we got our gigantes beans and roasted beets. I absolutely love gigantes beans in almost any preparation, but this herbed tomato sauce was phenomenal. Definitely the highlight of a fantastic meal. Sadly, the beets were the one disappointment. Honestly, in a rush to get them to the table, I think the kitchen just forgot the salt and pepper. They were just plain under-seasoned, but I could see how they would be delicious, especially served atop wilted red chard as they were.

At the end of the meal, the older couple next to us leaned over and actually congratulated us on the accomplishment of cleaning our plates. We thanked them, and then proceeded to order dessert (him) and another glass of wine (me). Speaking of which, there was nothing but sorbet for us vegans on the dessert menu, but the wine list is great, and I really liked my choice: "The Offering" from Opine Vineyards.

Next time you're craving Greek food, I highly recommend grabbing your others and heading to Mezes. I know for a fact that we'll be back soon. Hope you had a great weekend, y'all!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I spent Cinco de Mayo with a bunch of friends at Maya. It was the first time there for all but two of us, and those two gave it rave reviews. Because these friends are actually from Mexico, I was already holding Maya in high esteem before I even took my first bite....errr..... gulp. Drinks, after all, have a priority on this holiday.


As for food, we started by ordering a ton of guacamole and chips. The guac, though delicious, was not as good as mine, but hey, nothing is. Maya had me beat on the chips though. There is just nothing like freshly fried, still warm, torilla chips. Yum.

For my entree, I went with the nopales (that's cactus for you gringos) tacos, sans cheese of course, and they were slammin! My only complaint would be that it was a pretty small serving. I should have ordered 4 instead of 3 I guess.

I think I'd like to go back to Maya under normal dining circumstances. We were a party of 13 on a busy-as-hell night, and the service lagged at times. However, the food was good enough for a return visit, so maybe the hubs and I will check it out again soon. It is definitely a great places for us vegans to "eat well with others" and that alone is cause for a fiesta!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wax Orchards Fudge

Ok, so I know I'm a little slow on the uptake here, but Wax Orchards fudge sauce is blowing my mind right now. How have I not known about this stuff before? I mean, W.O.'s been around since 1920 for goodness sake. Not to mention their fudge is vegan, fat free, and delicious! I've recently been wrought with sugar cravings but have tried to stay away from the refined stuff since I've had more than my fair share as of late. So, tonight I finally break open this jar of goodness I got a little while ago. After all, its only ingredients are cocoa, fruit juice, and vanilla. Check out the yum factor:

You can see how rich and, well, fudgey it is. It would be great heated up and poured over ice cream, or mixed with peanut butter and used as a fondue dip. Today, however, I kept it simple. I had some bananas in the freezer, so I busted one out and dunked away. The perfect simple and healthy dessert. I recommend you and your others get some (I got mine at Rainbow but you can order online) and find your own ways to enjoy!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Whole Foods Cake Reigns Supreme

Just thought you guys should know I got yet another amazing vegan cake from Whole Foods today. This one was chocolate with strawberries, and it was in honor of my flute students who put on a fantastic recital! Rich, creamy, moist, delicious, and gorgeous. What more could you ask for in a cake? Try not to drool:

Friday, May 1, 2009

New and Improved

Sometimes when old favorites come out with new flavors and formulations it is a very bad thing. (I'm looking at you, Ciao Bella Chocolate Sorbetto.) Other times, the clouds part, the heavens open up, and angels sing. This is what happened when I heard Earth Balance was coming out with a soy-free variety. The first of it's kind, as far as I know, it sets the standard for taste among non-dairy spreads, while eliminating that pesky bean which seems to be in everything these days. Mad props, Earth Balance. Thank you.
Another favorite of mine, GT's Kombucha is coming out with some new flavors. (So new, in fact, that they're not even listed on the website yet, or I would link to them directly.) Made from "superfruits" like goji berries, and botanicals like red clover, these are complex and delicious flavors that pair well with the tangy fermented kombucha. I don't think I'll be trading in my go-to Trilogy flavor just yet, but it's nice to mix it up every now and again.

I don't know about you, but I love seeing how the vegan food industry evolves. Over the next few years, I think we can expect some amazing products to hit the shelves. I've especially got my eye on the vegan cheeses in the works, but you can count on me to try everything - cheesy or not - I can get my hands on, and I look forward to sharing it all with you, dear readers, so stay tuned.

Coming soon: A Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, a trip to Charlie Phan's new Chinese restaurant, and a give-away you do not want to miss!