Friday, January 29, 2010

Sugar-Free Treats

The day after I decided to kick all the sugar in my life to the curb, the Girlie Girl Army newsletter arrived in my inbox containing a recipe for sugar-free chocolate chip cookies, vegan of course.* What perfect timing. Even better was that I already had all the ingredients at home except for the chocolate chips.Above is what I used. I love that the bag claims grain sweetened to be "a kinder, gentler, sweetness" when what they really mean is "will remind you of normal, sugary, chocolate chips... kind of".

The main sweetener these cookies use is brown rice syrup and I used Lundberg's because it's awesome. Still, it's not as sweet as sugar, so I was happy to see this recipe also called for a mashed banana. I like things sweet (hello, sugar fiend here) after all. In any case, you can't really tell from picture, but the dough was super-duper sticky because of all that syrup, so don't try to get it from bowl to baking tray with your fingers. Messy.

In the end, I think I would tinker with this recipe a bit if I made it again - maybe add some vanilla, use applesauce instead of the mashed banana, or try part brown rice syrup, part agave or yacon syrup. They are tasty, don't get me wrong, but they have a grainy, malty taste that I think can be taken down a notch without resorting to using sugar. There are some delicious agave-sweetened chocolate bars out there these days and maybe I would even chop one up and use that instead of the chips. The possibilities are endless! Of course, this is really only relevant because:
As the poster above informs you, the next vegan bake sale is coming!!! I will be making the infamous white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies as I did last time, but I am thinking about also trying this sugar-free recipe again. Not all people dig on the sugar, so it might make for a nice addition to the plethora of baked goods that will be offered. I won't be able to be there in the flesh (Valentine's weekend in Napa, what what?!) but will be delivering my contributions the day before so go, get your fix, and then get some more for your loved ones. All the money goes to charity, after all.

Dining at some old faves this weekend, so stay tuned to make sure they didn't change it up and start sucking. Happy Friday night, everyone!

*Sugar-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Just because you are going sans sugar, doesn’t mean you need to lose out on tasty treaters! Sugar-free chocolate chip cookies made with natural brown rice syrup for a sweet taste. Shop for brown rice syrup and sugar-free chocolate chips at a natural foods store to try these sugar-free chocolate chip cookies.


1 banana, mashed

3/4 cup brown rice syrup

1/4 cup soy milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 cups sugar-free dark chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the banana, brown rice syrup, soy milk and vegetable oil and whisk until well combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add to banana mixture, stirring well to combine. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Paltry Pate

Remember when I tried that Alexian tofu mushroom pate a month or so ago? Well it wasn't that great. Kind of bland and tasteless actually. But, I do like anything you can spread on crackers, so I decided to give their tomato basil variety a try last night. That's it over there on left. Looks tasty enough, right? Eh, not so much. I found it was better after I sprinkled some salt and pepper on it, but still it was pretty boring and blah. Now I know better... and so do you.

Quite a bit of dining out at old faves coming up, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, the rain is keeping me in and I'm enjoying some good eats at home. Salads and soups mostly. Tonight was avocado salad and black bean soup. Mmmmm.

Until next time, eat well everyone!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chocolate Amazingness

Does VegNews ever get anything wrong? No, no they don't. Knowing that, I take their recommendations very seriously. Many products they tout are a little overly processed for my taste, especially as I've decided to go sugar-free for the foreseeable future, but a little while ago Emmy's Organics Raw Chocolate Sauce got the VN seal of approval and I knew I had to try it.

This jar of wonder has only 4 ingredients: Organic agave, organic cacao powder, organic whole vanilla bean, and Himalayan crystal salt. It doesn't sound like much but this is the smoothest, most healthful sauce and has a deep, perfectly balanced, chocolate flavor that will transport any chocoholic to a state of euphoria, myself included.

I mean, look at that goodness. I wish you could smell it. It's unbelievable. Put it on ice cream, make a chocolate peanut butter sandwich, or just eat it right out the jar (what?). But don't just take my word (or that of VegNews) for it, get some for yourself!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sky and Shelley Eat SF: Monday

Ok, so in the interest of moving on from last weekend and getting back into the present, I will be brief about our Monday eats. I also took but one lonely picture, so that helps with the brevity.

We started the day with Ike's. Phoning our order in, as any sane person knows to do, we were told we could pick up our sammies in an hour. Not bad for what was technically a weekend (thanks, MLK). Still, when we got there there was a long line of people braving the rain for the goodness that is an Ike's sandwich. Needless to say, ours were amazing, and if you haven't gone to Ike's there is something seriously wrong with you. Moving on.

For dinner, we decided to have the best vegan pizza in San Francisco (and perhaps the world) and head to Beretta. I must admit that every time I go there I get a little worried. Will it be as good as I remember it? I've hyped it so much. What if it isn't really the best vegan pizza? This place is not a vegan restaurant after all..... And then it shows up.

One bite of the crisp crust, sweet red sauce, salty "cheese" and earthy mushroom and all my fears subside. Beretta is still the best. The pic is of the described vegan funghi, but Shelley ordered outside the box and got the potato pizza with brocollini instead of radichhio (and vegan cheese instead of regular of course) and that shit was amazing too! Now I want to go back and get all sorts of interesting pizzas. You should too. Beretta, man..... goddamn. SO GOOD.

And that is how our wonderful visit ended. Well, for me anyway. Shelley had to deal with a 5 hour flight delay - on a red-eye, no less. Still, SF food is worth a little delay when compared to the options in Boston (seriously, Boston, what up?) so hopefully Shelley will be back to eat again sometime soon.

Until then, I've got other pals to dine with and plenty more restaurants to enjoy, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sky and Shelley Eat SF: Sunday

On Sunday morning we took our time getting up and out of the house and then headed to ye olde standby: Herbivore. If you want a big hearty vegan breakfast done right, there is no better place to go. And, if you're like me, you'll be a freak and ask for the regular menu so you can order the large salad with grilled tofu for your first meal of the day. I know it's not "normal" breakfast, but it is just that good.Shelley, slave to tradition that she is, went for a more traditional breakfast and got the gargantuan breakfast burrito. Packed to the gills with scrambled tofu, black beans, salsa, guacamole and vegan sour cream, and served up with home fried potatoes, it is a massive and sublimely savory beginning to the day. You can't really tell from the photo, but that burrito is the size of your head. Even the preggers and starving Shelley didn't finish it.

That was enough to keep us going until dinner (well, that and about a ton of kettle corn from the Farmer's Market) and our destination for said meal was a new favorite: Gracias Madre. Just like last time, my only complaint was the communal seating and the semi-lame service. Also, like last time, the food more than made up for both of those things. Above you have our starters of Ensalada de Caesar and Guacamole con Tostadas. Both were delicious. The salad was perfectly crunchy and refreshing. There might have been a little too much of the dressing, but it was so good I didn't care. As for the guacamole, it's as perfect as you can get anywhere.

The real stars of the night, however were the roasted brussel sprouts and cashew cheese gratin with garlic breadcrumbs (left) and the crispy potatoes with nacho "cheese" (right). The former was a perfectly cooked, pipin' hot, oozey plate of goodness. Comfort food at its finest. The latter had a bit of a kick to it in the nacho cheese, and the potatoes were a wonderfully crispy vehicle to deliver that creamy sauce to my belly. Once again, the food at GM wowed me, and I can't wait to go back yet again to try some more things from the menu!

Then, because we somehow managed to still have room in our bellies (or at least we told ourselves we did), we took a short drive to Bernal Heights for the sweet ending that is Maggie Mudd. As usual, I had the mini-waffle sundae you see above. It's a scoop of Tarmac (chocolate with peanut butter and oreos) inside a waffle cone bowl and topped with chocolate sauce, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sprinkles and whipped "cream". Swoon. It's sweet, cold, cruelty-free, and downright scumptious. It may not be Lula's, but I'm so glad they're here in SF.

After all this, we still had one more day of eating ahead of us. Tell you about it next time!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sky and Shelley Eat SF: Saturday

I just had the supreme pleasure of hosting my Bostonian pal, Shelley, for the long weekend. A fellow vegan, and pregnant to boot, she made for a terrific eating partner, and we ate our way through the city for a glorious 3 days.

First up was brunch at The Plant. Shelley had the scrumptious tofu scramble, which I've had, loved, and written about before. I, on the other hand, was more in the mood for lunch, and went for something I've never had at The Plant before: The Napa Cabbage Salad. The sesame lime vinaigrette is wonderful, especially when paired with the cilantro, mint, and peanuts. I added baked tofu and it was a light and tasty lunch. Always nice to have another item on a menu that I know I love. (I think you'll love it too!)

That evening, I was so psyched as we headed to Oakland to try encuentro, a wine bar and vegetarian (not all vegan) small plates restaurant brought to us by Eric Tucker (of Millennium fame) and Lacey Sher (former owner of the now-defunct Down to Earth restaurant in NJ where I was once a regular). Knowing these two genius culinary minds are behind the wheel, I went in with extremely high hopes. Much to my delight, I was not even remotely disappointed.

My group and I enjoyed a smorgasbord of offerings from the friendly folks at encuentro, including those you see here. The vegan cheeses coming out of this kitchen are amazing, and I was in heaven while devouring the dates stuffed with macadamia nut pate (on the left). Served warm, they are sweet, salty, melt-in-your mouth fantastic. If you're looking for a more traditional cheese presentation, the vegan cheese plate will make you very happy. I can't remember which was which from the photo, but I do recall that the cashew cheese was my favorite. They were all so good though, as were the chutneys and mustard with which they were paired.

For slightly more substantial fare, there are salads and sandwiches to choose from, like the vegan caesar and the grilled portobello above. The salad is very much like the one you can sometimes find on the menu at Millennium, which is to say I loved it. Tangy, crunch, and with little smoky bits of tempeh floating throughout. Yum. The sandwich, sadly, was not something I got to try, but the husband loved it. Next time.... and speaking of next time, we neglected to order the truffled mushroom pecan pate this visit. I've heard a few people rave about it, so try it if you go. I also didn't try, nor did I photograph, the tempeh bacon sandwich, but my friends loved that one too. In fact, there was not one miss at this meal. All hits, encuentro!

For a sweet ending, we ordered some fresh-baked vegan cookies, which were great, but the star was the apple cake, above. Not overly sweet, and perfectly spiced, it gets a drizzle of caramel sauce before entering your mouth and transporting you directly to a state of euphoria.

Needless to say, I loved my encuentro experience. Beyond the food, I got to talk to both Eric and Lacey, and they are just super cool people. I hope the restaurant does well so that I can continue to go back.... and bring many more of my others with me!

As for me and Shelley? This was only the beginning of our weekend of eating. Stay tuned for more shortly.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Out the Door

Chef/Restaurateur Charles Phan is a household name among Bay Area foodies, and any place he opens is pretty much a guaranteed success. I'm happy to say that this is because he continuously puts out delicious food and not because of any food-centric dogmatic obligation. The man is good. My favorite of his ventures is still Heaven's Dog, but I was very pleased with what we ate last night at his latest incarnation: Out the Door on Bush Street. We ordered a few starters, a few veggies, and some rice, and it was plenty. (Forgive the pics, btw. I forgot my camera and had to use the iphone.)

Hitting the table first were the spring rolls. You get pretty big portion for $8 and these are not your ordinary spring rolls. Filled with all sorts of tasty veggies in at least 10 variations of crunchy, these puppies are served with the tastiest peanut sauce there ever was. It is slightly sweet with a hint of kick and so good that I kept the leftovers after the rolls were gone and dunked some of the tofu in it. Mmmmm.

Speaking of the tofu, the OTD offering is fried organic goodness with lemongrass, mushrooms and chilis. Layers of flavor are used here to create a perfect tofu dish. We devoured it.

And it gets better! Our two favorite dishes of the evening were the green papaya salad and the spicy cauliflower. The former we ordered sans fish sauce, and it certainly didn't need it. The combo of the papaya itself with rau ram and peanuts, not to mention the other million ingredients, was divine and refreshing. Still, the cauliflower was the star of the evening. Phenomenal flavor in the form of chilis, soy, and mushroom coat these florets and render them heavenly. Don't go to Out the Door without trying this dish.

We also had some really good kale (though not as good as Gracias Madre) and daikon rice cakes that neither of us were too fond of. They were kind of oily and gooey and just not that pleasant.
That being said, we didn't even come close to ordering all the veganizable options. Since it's in our neighborhood, we'll definitely be back to check it out again in the future. I recommend everyone else check it out too.

In the meantime, my friend (and one of my favorite eating buddies) from Boston is headed to SF this weekend and we'll be hitting up a bunch of old haunts and trying a brandy new spot as well. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Holidays Back Eats: Pala and Caravan

Okay, folks. Time for the last installment of my Holiday Eats. It's Sunday and I'm headed to a massage pretty soon, so I'll keep this short.

Pala makes the best vegan pizza ever. The end. They also make a rather scrumptious salad of simply dressed (and perfectly seasoned) greens and tomatoes (above) but, really, let's talk about the pizza.
When I first went to Pala years ago it happily made vegan cheeseless pizzas for those who desired them. Then they started offering Follow Your Heart and Daiya cheese, and now they have an entire separate vegan menu that is OMG amazing. Maybe Pala will go the route of Cruzer in L.A. and get rid of the animal stuffs altogether and then I will dance in the street and sing from the mountaintops. Until then, it remains my most favorite place to eat well with others in NYC. On this trip I had that the "etna" (above) which has a cherry tomato sauce, eggplant, basil and Daiya cheese. It actually comes with a mix of both Daiya and FYH, but I'm a hardcore Diaya fan. All of the goodness sits on top of the most pillowy, savory crust there ever was. This is certainly fancy pants pizza (as opposed to the cardboard box stuff) but every now and then I wear my fancy pants, and yes, they have an elastic waist. :)

After our meal we proceeded to drink way too much. Good hangover cure? The healthy lunch offerings of Caravan of Dreams. Right up there is our table full of hummus and chapati, miso soup, and a large salad. With some ginger tea and the ability to linger, we left feeling much more like ourselves and ready to travel home. Oh, and the best part of Caravan of Dreams? It's a block and a half from Lula's Sweet Apothecary which makes the best ice 'cream' in universe. Sadly, our bodies (from our sour stomachs to our frozen faces - it was 15 degrees!) couldn't handle it this time around. We will, of course, be back. I can't wait.

Up next, lots and lots of SF eats. It's good to be home.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Holidays Back Eats: Blossom Restaurant

On our first night in NYC, after seeing the truly awesome Fela! on Broadway, we went to dinner at Blossom. This place, with it's warm lighting, small cozy interior, and superb food, is an old favorite that I was happy to revisit. What I remembered from the last time I was there was tasty apps and entrees that took a backseat to stellar desserts, and the same was true this go 'round.

First up I had the Caesar Salad. I'm a big fan of greens, and crispy romaine is one of the best. Topped with creamy dressing, crunchy croutons, and an herbed gomashio to beat the band, it is the perfect way to start your meal at Blossom.

Next up, I made a very difficult decision when picking an entree. I really wanted the Seitan Scaloppini, with its lemon caper goodness and savory mashed potatoes, but when our server starting whispering sweet nothings about a special of fennel crusted tofu served atop mashed parsnips, I was torn. In the end, the husband got the seitan, and I got the special. And special it was! I love (LOVE) fennel and parsnips so this really worked for me. My only complaint would be that the tofu was a bit soft for my liking. Still, truly delicious. Luckily, my husband saved some forkfulls of the heavenly seitan for me as well. If you're ever at Blossom you must try it.

Now for the show stopper. The dessert menu changes pretty often but if there's ever a mention of chocolate ganache, don't even think twice - just order it. Last time I had a peanut butter cake coated in the sweet brown yumness. This time around, it was a block of the deepest, richest, most wonderful chocolate ever. It was dense, gooey, and stick-to-the-fork amazing. To make it even better, a swirl of peanut butter sauce led to the perfect amount of vanilla ice cream to cut the richness. Sublime.

The people from Blossom also own Cocoa V, an all vegan chocolate shop across the street from the restaurant, and if my dessert is any indication, they make some good stuff. Sadly, they were closed by the time we finished our dinner. Gotta save something for next time I suppose...

Speaking of next times, next time I blog I'll be dishing up the best spot for vegan pizza in NY. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Gracias Madre

I have to take a break from recounting my holiday eats to tell you about a new place that opened last week in San Francisco: Gracias Madre. This new restaurant, dishing up all vegan Mexican cuisine and brought to us by the folks behind Cafe Gratitude, has been a long time coming. That's the case with most restaurants I suppose, but this time it is well worth the wait.

We went on Saturday night and the place was packed. Here is where I mention the one downside of GM - the communal seating. I know it's supposed to foster a sense of community and encourage interaction and blah blah blah but I came to dinner with the person I want to eat with and really don't like (okay, HATE) having to sit with strangers at a big old table. I don't need new friends, thanks.

Ok, enough ranting about that. We were lucky enough to snag a seat on the couch, which meant sitting with only one other couple, and they were into talking to us as much as we were in to talking to them. Which is to say, not at all. Our focus was on the food, and boy was it good. We started with the guacamole above, and it is heavenly. Folks who know me know I am a guacamole afficianado, and I dare say the GM offering is second only to my own homemade. I really think it's the use of organic and fresh ingredients that does the trick. So good.

Next up I had the Platillo de Legumbres. This dish consists of two sides of your choice served with rice, beans, and tortillas. I went with the roasted butternut squash and the kale. I excpected it to be good, but it was fantastic! I can honestly say it was the best kale I've ever eaten, hands down. I would have enjoyed a bucket of it. And the squash was the perfect texture for mashing into the delicious blue corn tortillas (sadly not pictured). When topped off with the insanely good fresh salsas on the table, these hand held bites become mouth watering. I want to eat it all again right now.... not to mention try the rest of the menu!

Magically I still had room for dessert, and GM serves one of my favorite things on the planet - Mexican wedding cookies. Nutty and light and covered in powdered sugar, they're a real treat without beign overly sweet. Served up with nut-based dulche de leche ice cream, they are the perfect ending to your Mexican feast.

I had high expectations for Gracias Madre and they were definitely exceeded. Everything is so fresh and flavorful! The service was a little spotty (forgiveable in their first week) and you will have to sit with other folks, but the food is so worth it. I can't wait to go back to try more of the menu, specifically the cauliflower gratan, which we watched numerous other people order and enjoy.

Meanwhile, there are tons of other restaurants on my "to try" list and holiday eats still unblogged, so stay tuned!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Holidays Back East: Home Cookin'

One of the best things about my family are all the vegan and vegan-friendly folks. My parents are both vegan, and my aunt, uncle and best friend are most of the time. This means there is no lack of good food at the holidays. I mean, just look at this plate:

Tangy vegan potato salad, supremely savory (and crunch from the almonds) brussel sprouts, and the most wonderful lasagna you ever ate made up my holiday meal this year. And seriously, that lasagna that my aunt slaved all day for was amazing. There was homemade vegan cheese and tomato sauce, grilled eggplant and mushroom, and pasta that she drove to Philly to get because fresh pasta without egg just ain't the easy to come by. So worth it though because everything was melt in your mouth good.

In addition to those items there was also vegan stuffed cabbage and vegan chicken paprikash, both of which were also fantastic. And that was before dessert:

On the left you have my mom's creation in the first stages of being made. She took dates, dried pineapple and cashews, threw them in the vitamix with some warm water to reconstitute, and then formed the mix into balls to set up. Once the magic happened, she dunked them all in melted vegan chocolate, sprinkled on some coconut and put them the fridge. They were so yummy. On the right, my vegan-friendly pal Gigi made some adventurous cookies. Adventurous for her because they were her first foray into vegan baking, and adventurous for us because they were chocolate raspberry chipotle cookies. The picture doesn't do them justice at all as they were delicious. I loved the way the sweetness gave way to the heat of the pepper. Kudos Gigi!

On the much more labor intensive side of things, my aunt (of lasagna fame) also make a freakin' ethereal chocolate cream pie. So rich and sweet and yummy it would blow your mind. The kicker is that she also makes her own whipped coconut cream to top it with. I somehow managed to not get a picture, but I assure you it was phenomenal.

How lucky am I to have a family with whom celebrating the holidays isn't a chore... or a time when I get stuck eating the sides or only what I make?! I know it's that way for a lot of vegans out there so I count my blessings every year. Thanks for another great Christmas, fam!

Next up: A break in the holiday action to talk about a new SF joint that recently won me over.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Holidays Back East: Northern Jersey

Happy New Year everyone! I've been away for quite some time and have eaten so much good food while away. I'm excited to tell you all about it, but I'm going to have to do so in chunks. There's just that much. To that end, let me tell you what's poppin' off in Northern NJ. I got to go to two places I've been hearing about for some time on this trip, and both were awesome.

First up was Sweet Avenue Bake Shop in Rutherford. This all-vegan bakery's speciality is cupcakes and MY GOD do they make some good ones, including the best cupcake I ever had, above. That is a struffoli cupcake. Deep fried dough balls top a vanilla 'butter cream' cupcake for a creation that is sweet, moist, and tastes a hell of a lot like funnel cake.... if funnel cake took a bath in heaven. Best cupcake ever.

Above are some of their other selections. On the left they had some holiday peppermint stick cupcakes and on the right is my dad's favorite: the all chocolate "Jet Black." Superb. I really can't recommend Sweet Avenue more. The goodies are delicious and the folks there are super nice and friendly to boot!

For a slightly more nutritious take on things, we headed 15 minutes away to Montclair for dinner at Veggie Heaven. The name might be slightly hyperbolic, but only slightly. All the Asian food on their menu is vegan and made from high-quality ingredients, the service is fast and efficient, and walking around cute Montclair is a great way to spend time before or after dinner. We chose before, and when we had finished some last minute gift-getting, we sat down to enjoy our tasty meal.

We started with some spring rolls which were probably the only thing we ate which were just "eh". Totally your typical veggie spring rolls. On the other hand, the wonton soup was delicious. Savory broth with mushrooms surrounds big fluffy overstuffed (with faux pork) wontons that will warm right through the cold-ass NJ winter.

Our entrees were pretty slammin' too. I had the broccoli with garlic sauce and my only complaint was that it could have been spicier. I asked for medium and it was super mild. Still good though. My mom's cashew "chicken", however, was amazing. Thin medallions of faux chicken meet up with perfectly cooked peppers and snow peas in a flavorful sauce and then the whole thing gets topped with crunchy roasted cashews. Yum.

My parents don't live in Rutherford or Montclair, but I'll totally make the hour long pilgrimage north to hit up these two spots again, and anyone in the area should absolutely do the same.

Up next: Holiday eats to die for.