Monday, August 31, 2009

Home, Savory Home

I don't know about you, but after being away for a little while, and especially after a long day of traveling, I like to come home to some comfort food. In my mind, San Francisco was exactly as I left it (chilly and foggy) and I started to conjure up recipes in my head for the ultimate mac and cheese to keep the cold away. I knew I had a bag of the amazing, incredible, and wondrous Daiya cheddar cheese in the freezer, so I emailed the husband and had him put it in the fridge to defrost. He's good like that. Of course when I got home it was warm and sunny - not exactly mac and cheese weather - but I persisted and was rewarded with bubbly yummy goodness that made me so happy I could have cared less what was going on outside. Here's what I did:

That up there is the all star line-up of ingredients. Coming out to play was nutritional yeast, Earth Balance, unsweetened soy milk, conchiglie pasta (my fave for m&c because the mini shell shapes trap all that cheesy goodness), and the Daiya. Getting hungry yet? Oh, it gets better.

While the pasta cooked to just al dente, I heated up some soy milk with a pat of Earth Balance in a pot. When that was nice and warm I added the cheese which, because it is Daiya and Daiya is awesome, melted right away. At that point it was a little thick for my liking, so I added one more swirl of soymilk. The picture shows that addition right before I stirred it altogether. Cheese sauce accomplished, it was time to add the pasta.

Such lucky little conchiglie to be able to bathe is that goodness. Creamy, silky, and already smelling like heaven, I then topped it off with a mixture I made in the food processor from bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, and a smattering of melted Earth Balance. I sprinkled one more handful of Daiya shreds for good measure and then the whole shabang went in the oven and baked for about 30 minutes until it was brown and crispy on top and ooey and gooey on the bottom:

I must say, this was amazing stuff. This is sink into your chair, close your eyes, and make guttural noises kind of good. The perfect vegan comfort food for sure, and well worth coming home for. Coincidence aside, as soon as I put it in my mouth, the sun burst through the coulds. No joke:

Best part of this mac and cheese? It's even better the next day. :) So, I've back in SF a little while now and promise to catch up on the eats I've had here over the last few days before I leave again for Colorado at the end of the week. Stay tuned for solid salads, overpriced bites, and late night hot dogs coming soon!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Boston Day Five: Veggie Planet and Elephant Walk

My last day in Boston was a Monday, so Shelley was only available for lunch. Since she works at Harvard, we met up over in Cambridge at one of her favorite spots: Veggie Planet. At first glance, this below-the-street spot doesn't look like much, but as I waited outside I figured the throngs of people going in and out must be on to something. By the time Shelley arrived, the smell of roasting garlic and fresh-baked dough escaping every time someone opened the door was intoxicating.

VP is primarily a pizza joint, but the neat twist is that everything you can get on a pizza can also be served up in a rice bowl. For example, Shelley got roasted butternut squash and Teese Mozzarella on a pizza, but doesn't that sound like it'd be damn good over rice? Well, if you think so you could have it that way too. Personally, I went more of a traditional route and got 1/2 a 'Vegan Oddlot' and 1/2 Special Salad of the Week.

The salad had the yummiest vinaigrette and the addition of bulgur was a nice hearty touch. But let's get to the pizza. The toppings here are garlic, spinach, tomatoes, olives, and tofu-basil mash. The latter is so yummy, yet so simple. I can't believe I never thought to mash tofu and basil together and use it like cheese on pizza. Smart thinkin', VP. However, the real winner here is the dough itself. Slightly sweet, with the perfect combination of crispness and chewiness. If you live anywhere near Cambridge, I would highly suggest you purchase their dough from them and top it at home. I know I would. It's heavenly.

Lunch was filling, but we couldn't resist a treat from Sweet right across the alley. Luckily for us, Mondays are vegan cupcake day at this popular cupcakery. True, they only have one flavor, but it's chocolate, so I forgive them. Definitely a yummy post-lunch treat. We also checked out the vegan selections next door at Tealuxe. What a find! They had cookies and brownies and even these amazing-looking chocolate muffins.

Too bad we were stuffed to try them. Next time I suppose...

After some more Boston tourism on foot, we were looking forward to dinner. I was especially enthusiastic having already been to the Cambridge location of Elephant Walk years ago.
It was delicious back then and I was excited to try out its Boston counterpart. The food at these restaurants is Cambodian/French, and they have a very extensive and VERY well-marked vegan menu, which you know I appreciate. It was a hard decision, but here's what I had:

First up were the 'Vegan Rouleaux', aka Cambodian Spring Rolls. Filled with mushroom, carrots, beanthread, and peanuts, these fried delights are made a little lighter when you eat them traditionally by rolling them up in a lettuce leaf along with some fresh herbs and dunking them in the tuk trey sauce. Tuk trey is normally a fish sauce-based concoction, so the fact that they make their own just for their vegetarians is quite nice. These were definitely a highlight of the meal, not that everything else wasn't delicious too....

For my entree, I went with the neon 'Curry de L├ęgumes', or vegetable curry. It was very tasty, though not as much as the color might imply. Good, but not spectacular.

For my sweet tooth, there was one vegan dessert offering, the tapioca pudding. Made with coconut milk, plantains, mango, tapioca, and (for some crunch) toasted mung beans, this was super sweet and refreshing, and best of all, interesting. All the different textures and flavors came together harmoniously and made for a delicious end to the meal.

Sadly, Elephant Walk was my last meal in Boston, for it was back to San Francisco not too long thereafter. Next up: My first meal back home was a real winner, and proves that cooking while jet-lagged can be a good idea.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Boston Day Four: C3 and Vlora

On day four, we decided to check out Central Square over in Cambridge. I was familiar with the area from when Shelley used to live over there, and I knew that Harvest Market would be a good place to get some salad bar or pre-made sandwich lunchy stuff. What I did not know is that Clear Conscience Cafe, aka C3, is now attached to Harvest and is serving up super yummy food, lots of it vegan. I still went salad bar, as my need for the greens is high, but my pal got this gorgeous panini:

Made with organic greens, hummus, and veggies, and served with a bean salad on the side, it makes for quite a dazzling lunch. C3 is a great little spot for a quick bite or a lingering coffee, not to mention if you sit near the window the people watching is fantastic. Highly recommended.

By dinner time, we were back in Boston and looking forward to trying a place I had researched online: Vlora. (I totally stole that pic, left, from their website, but that's exactly where we sat, btw.) Vegans are always pretty safe when it comes to Mediterranean food, and Vlora is no exception. The kitchen here offers up tons of vegan options daily, all of which are marked by two cute little hearts on the menu (one heart denotes vegetarian). That alone made this place all the more endearing, in my opinion. However, cute hearts aside, I don't give me love away without the food actually being good too. In order to know for sure just how seriously Vlora takes its veggies, we ordered everything vegan on the menu. (Ok, we skipped the pickled eggplant but maybe next time). I didn't take pictures of everything, but here are my faves:

First up is the Greek Salad (sans feta of course). I love pepperoncinis in my Greek, and this one had a plethora, along with olives, tomatoes, red onion, and just enough dressing. Divine. We also got the old staple of pita and hummus. This was a red pepper version, hence the orange hue, and is was scrumptious with the fresh-baked pita. It only gets better though....

These last two were the real show stoppers. On the left is fasule - a tower of savory gigante beans, crisp frisee, and sweet roasted red peppers all tossed in a garlicy vinaigrette. I can't even tell you how good this was. It made me want to learn Greek and move to Mykonos. And that was before I tried the phyllo pies. Theses babies may not look like much, but inside their flaky phyllo exterior is a mouth-watering tomato and onion mixture that is to die for. If they had given us ten, they all would have been eaten.

Devoured, but not pictured, items include roasted carrots, sauteed string beans, cabbage salad, herbed couscous, sauteed spinach, and bread with lemon olive oil. All were really satisfying, and this meal of epic proportions was actually just what we needed after walking around all day. That's the lovely thing about Mediteranean food - it's filling, but light. In fact, refueled, we even left Vlora and walked around some more!

Next up: My last day in Boston (including that pizza dough I mentioned earlier) and a meal worth returning home for.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Boston Day Three: Cottonwood

On day three, we headed to the 'burbs, Whole Foods salads in hand, to go meet a friend's new baby. Quick shout out to the Whole Foods salad bar for continuing to be a go-to lunch destination that does not disappoint. I, and the baby's mama, were very pleased.

Back in Boston for dinner, and knowing that nothing goes better with vacation than margaritas, we headed to Cottonwood. (That's their strawberry margarita on the left, by the way. Isn't is pretty?) From looking at the menu online I knew there were a number of veganizable dishes, but I was very impressed when the waiter came over and said, "I see from the reservation note that you are vegan. Here's what we can do....." and proceeded to rattle off about half a dozen options. I'm simple when it comes to Mexican and Southwestern food though. He had me at guacamole.

Soon a vat of the stuff, along with two insanely good salsas and a basket o' chips, was on our table. Score. For some 'real' food, I went with the dinner-sized portion of their San Mateo Salad, which was muy delicioso.

Filled with greens, veggies, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds, it was light yet satisfying. Since the dressing had sour cream in it, the waiter asked if I'd like a vinaigrette instead. I opted just for some lime slices. A squeeze or two, along with some salt and pepper, was all I needed.

My dining companion went with the flatbread pizza, sans cheese of course. This is pizza on a corn tortilla essentially, and it's super crisp and piled high with well-seasoned veggies. I managed to sneak a slice for myself and it was pretty great, but even better when topped with a little guacamole. Then again, what isn't?

All in all, Cottonwood was even more vegan-friendly than I thought it would be and I'd go back in a heartbeat if I lived anywhere nearby. With a friendly and knowledgeable staff, great drinks, and food worth writing about (ahem), it's somewhere I can confidentally recommend as a good option for vegans and others alike.

Next up: A vegan smorgasbord of epic proportions, and the best damn pizza dough evah!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boston Day Two: Masao's and My Thai

Still being on California time, I woke up late on day two, so the first meal of the day was lunch. One thing (among many) I love about visiting Shelley is that she's got the vegan food plan ready so I can just show up and eat! With her to lead the way, I was sitting quite happily in Masao's Kitchen in Waltham before I knew it.

This homey buffet-style restaurant, and its super-nice proprietor, Masao, totally won me over. Everyone was so kind and everything was so tasty and healthy that if I lived nearby I know I'd be a regular. Masao's is proving to folks on the daily that vegan macrobiotic food can be good, as well as good for you. Those are some of the hot options above, and here's my delicous plate:

Squash, beans, salad, rice, broccoli... all were devoured and left me feeling great for the rest of the day. Thanks, Masao!

We were in Boston proper come dinner time and Shelley was excited to show us one of her faves: My Thai. Good vegan Asian food is often hard to come by, but Shelley had been coming to this place for years, so I knew we were in for a treat. What I did not anticipate was that the menu would be like 15 pages long! Choosing an appetizer and an entree took quite some time, but I was very very happy with my choices. Then again, so was everyone else. Can it be that everything they make is delicious? I believe it can. Check out my fantastic meal:

I had the mango salad to start. In a vinaigrette of lime, chili, mint, cilantro, and peanuts, the shredded mango comes to life, and underneath it all lies some of the tastiest vegan chicken I've ever had. The flavors here were so intense and bright and I could have gone on eating it for quite some time. Magnificent. Next up was the Massaman curry tofu. I have liked this dish elsewhere, but I loved it here. Deep rich red curry and boiled peanuts meet up with sesame oil, herbs, veggies, and tofu, to create layers of flavors that just boogie down in your mouth. Amazing. And the perfect way to cool down the spice at the end of the meal?

We all split this HUGE slice of sweet and refreshing lemon poppyseed cake. Light and fluffy, and with a super-fab lemon cream cheese frosting, this was a slice of vegan yum I didn't expect to find in an Asian cafe, but which I happily helped to finish all the same.

Next up: Tastes of the Southwest served up in the Northeast.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Boston Day One: Vej Naturals

After a traffic-filled ride from the airport, me and my Boston foodie friend, Shelley, arrived starving, at Vej Naturals near her house in Malden. I was initially a little wary, what with its sparse decor, small space, and the fact that we were the only people there, but my experienced pal assured me there was good eats to be had. Boy was she right. The food was fresh, unique, and plentiful!
I went with a standard green salad to start, but Shelley ordered this amazing Ranch Salad. Smokey, rich, and with an authentic ranch-style dressing, this vegan salad was quite delicious, and a meal unto itself for only $6! Can't beat it. Our entrees certainly gave it good competition though:Shelley went with the Tofu and Pesto Sautee. If you like pesto, this is the dish for you. Basil and garlic and pine nuts, oh my! The flavor is bright and tasty, but balanced nicely by the savory polenta cubes and tofu. It was great, though not too unlike some other pesto pastas you may have had. My dish, a Taste of Tripoli, however, was a very novel take on Mediterranean food:

You're looking at a chickpea and bulgur patty on top of romaine, stewed tomatoes and okra and topped with a tzatziki sauce. The veggies were perfectly seasoned with garlic and herbs, and the patty was earthy, hearty, and wonderful. Topped with the slight zing of the tzatziki, it was an amazing entree that I could have eaten twice over, and not just because I was so hungry!

The moral of the story here is to not judge a book by its cover. Vej Naturals may be a hole in the wall for now, but they're looking for a new location, and putting out some really high-quality food in the meantime. It's certainly worth a drive from anywhere in the Boston area (or a flight from CA!), and was a fantastic way to start my vacay. More of my Boston eats coming soon, of course.....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Parent Visit Day Eight: Saturn Cafe

Growing up in New Jersey as I did, it should be no surprise that I'm a big fan of diners. However, being a vegan in high school meant eating lots of salads and french fries. How pleasant it was, then, to find the Saturn Cafe in Santa Cruz. It's much like a diner, with its breakfast all day, late night hours, and super casual vibe. But the similarities end there. First of all this circular eatery is decked out with a spacey decor of Saturn-ringed light fixtures and huge photos of galaxies far, far away. But Saturn's most important distinction is that the menu is all veg.

Not everything is vegan, but they are very accommodating. I went with one of my favorite breakfast choices, granola. This was super-good, homemade stuff, served up with vanilla soymilk, and tons of fresh fruit. Dad, on the other hand, went savory and had the breakfast burrito. Spiced and scrambled tofu is wrapped up and served with vegan sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. Two great ways to start the day. But, behold, the holy grail of veggie breakfast - the vegan donut:

On the left is a deep, rich, chocolate donut topped with chopped nuts. Like the donuts of my distant past, it was sweet and decadent, only without all the cruelty. Amazing... but it gets even better. On the right, is something I've wanted to try ever since I heard of its non-vegan counterpart; The Maple Bacon Donut. I'm a sweet and savory kind of gal, and someone who always swishes her vegan sausage through her syrup before eating, so I knew this combo of flavors was for me. However, this taste sensation was strictly for carnivores until now. Take a wonderfully fresh, maple syrup-infused, cakey donut and top it with soy bacon bits. Oh yeah, it was good.

After we rolled ourselves out of Saturn, it was back to the city for me, and back to NJ for my parents. It was a great trip, full of great food, and great memories. As I write this, I'm actually on a plane to my next eating adventure in Boston, so stay tuned to see what vegan treats I can find in that relatively un-vegan-friendly town. Summer may be coming to a close, but my stomach is open for business!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Parent Visit Day Seven: Black China Bakery/Cafe and Dharma's

Day seven began with us hopping in the car for a road trip to Santa Cruz. Wildfires, be damned! We were gonna get our grub on come hell or high flames. As we rolled in around lunch time, the town definitely smelled like smoke, but it wasn't unpleasant. It was kind of like being around a campfire 24/7, and it certainly didn't interfere with our hunger.

Santa Cruz has some pretty well-known veggie eateries, but perhaps none more so than the Black China Bakery. Their cupcakes and cakes are sold in stores and restaurants throughout the Bay Area, and are super rich, decadent, and HUGE. It was a given that I'd want to go to the source, but when I heard they also ran a cafe serving yummy savory food as well, it was a must for our first stop. Ignoring the smoke, it was a lovely day, so we sat out on the patio surrounded by greenery (above), and got to perusing the menu.

BCBCafe is all vegetarian, but not all vegan. However, there are still plenty of vegan things to taste. On the left is my choice - the portobello mushroom sandwich. The earthy 'shrooms were balanced perfectly by the slightly bitter swiss chard and the super-sweet carmelized onions. Served with a refreshing green salad, it was a delectable way to start my Santa Cruz vacation. My dad also really liked his lunch - the vegan muffaletta. Not your traditional muffaletta by any means, this one is open-faced and topped with red-pepper hummus, olive tapanade, and alternating avocados and cherry tomatoes. Simple and delicious food is what BCBCafe is all about....

....well, that, and the desserts of course! Vegan cupcakes were on sale (Oh, happy day), and a slice of chocolate coconut cake for the road was also in order. My father, he of the insatiable sweet tooth, was very, VERY, happy.

After checking into our hotel and wandering the boardwalk for a while, we decided laying out by the pool was a much better way to build up our appetite for dinner. Hard to believe, but in a few hours we were hungry again, so we brushed the ash off our clothes, and headed out to Capitola. Only a couple minutes outside of Santa Cruz, Capitola is home to one of the most infamous veggie restaurants in the country - Dharma's. Even non-veg folks have heard of it, though they may only remember it as McDharma's, its former name. This is the restaurant forced by McDonalds' lawyers to drop the 'Mc' or else. They're still up and running though, and better than ever some say, so I was eager to give the place a try.

The menu at Dharma's is huge, and you pretty much have to pick a flavor profile (Italian, Mexican, Thai...) and then narrow it down from there. However, I have to say that my salad (above) was the highlight. I had the lemon tahini dressing and it was bright and fresh and paired perfectly with the sunflower seeds and veggies. I should have just ordered another one of those...

My Tostada was pretty yummy too, though. A soft corn tortilla and a pile of beans lie under that unassuming layer of greens, and the side of salsa and dollop of guacamole brought everything together. Not the best Mexican food I've had, but pretty darn good. Hubby, on the other hand, went Italian and got the Pasta Primavera. Served with all the veggies under the sun and sitting atop 4 huge slices of garlic bread, it's a meal for the seriously hungry.

So, yeah, I'd go back to Dharma's to try something else from the huge menu, but I'm in no real hurry. Good but not great. The next stop on our SC eating adventure, however, provided something I'd only dreamed of up until now.... but that's a whole other story.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Parent Visit Day Six: Ike's Place

After our feasting the previous day, we decided to dine out only for lunch on day 6. It should, therefore, go without saying that we went to Ike's. If there is a better thing to eat for lunch in this fair city than an Ike's Place sandwich, I have yet to find it. The fresh-baked bread, the crisp veggies, the delicious assortment of vegan "meats" and "cheeses", and yes - oh yes! - the dirty sauce.... it's perfection.

On my previous visit, I had the "Backstabber" while my husband went for the "Meatless Mike" (above), and we swooned and declared Ike's to be sandwich heaven. This time around, only my parents ordered sandwiches (I wanted too, really, but my stomach was in desperate need of a break), with my dad taking the husband's orders and going for the MM, while mom did her own thang and went with the "Vegan Curtis" - soy turkey and cheese with marinara and all the veggies:

Both parents were thrilled, and by the time lunch was over, they were sadly trying to figure out why nobody was serving sandies that good in central NJ. Sorry, folks. No Ike's franchise yet.

That evening, while dining on salads at home, I let my folks know I was whisking them off to Santa Cruz the next morning for vegan treats by the beach. More on that coming soon!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Parent Visit Day Five: Apples, Seed, and Saha

Day 5 began with a lovely drive up to Sebastapol to go apple picking at Gabriel Farm. It was a beautiful day and after Torrey, the farmer extraordinaire, gave us the run-down, we were off. As it turns out, you can pick enough apples for everyone you know in about 5 minutes, and since only the Macintosh were really ready to go, we concentrated more on the farm's blackberries. Perfectly ripe, these were a real treat, and worth having purple fingers for the rest of the day.

After all our "work" on the farm, we needed sustenance that blackberries alone could not provide, so we drove on over to Santa Rosa for lunch with friends at a place I've wanted to hit up for a long time: Seed. All vegan, largely raw, and ever-so-cute, Seed is a place I'd go to much more frequently were in not an hour and a half away. Here are some of the highlights:

Feeling like a salad was in order after all the eating we'd been doing, I went with the spinach salad. It had red onion, mango, and this awesome sicy watermelon dressing and was topped with crispy eggplant "bacon." Very unique and quite tasty. My dad felt no need for such girly fare, and went for the chili. Topped with faux cheddar and a corn chip, he raved about not only the taste, but the texture, which was enhanced with crunchy cashews. I must try that next time I make chili!

The jealousy order of the lunch (what I wish I had ordered) went to my mom who got the mac N cheez. Creamy soy cheese clings to corn pasta elbows and gets topped with some more of that eggplant bacon. She was in heaven, and I was slightly jealous. :) One of our friends also had a jealousy-inducing entree, the ravioli. These was a raw dish, so the "pasta" is actually a thinly sliced rutabega. Smart, eh? Inside is macadamia cheese, and it's all topped with marinara, a salad, and a flax cracker. Yum.

And of course there was dessert! On the left is the rich and decadent brownie sundae, and on the right is the all-raw cheezcake. The sundae is topped with a raw caramel sauce and the cheezcake gets a drizzle of raspberry sauce. Both are a must-try when (not if) you go to Seed.

After our drive back, we relaxed a bit before dinner at one of my favorite places in San Francisco. The delicious and reasonably priced Arabic fusion cuisine at Saha really should be better known in the vegan community. Also a great place to take your others (half the menu is non-vegan), the food is always amazing, and my mom claims this was the best meal of the trip. Sadly, the reddish mood lighting that makes for great ambiance also makes for no-so-flattering pictures, but here ya go anyway:

We started with some fouel (left, above), a hummus-like dip made from fava beans and za'atar spices and served with warm pita, it's my favorite way to start a meal at Saha. It slowly awakens your tastebuds and gets them ready for things to come. Things like the fatoush salad (right, above). Spiced with sumac and sesame, and topped with briny olives, this salad is crisp and vibrant and adds the perfect lightness to contrast some of the heavier dishes. Speaking of heavier dishes....

On the left is the Arabic version of a knish. A potato dumpling so good you'll swear it was magic, especially when paired with the smoky bean puree. I'd be willing to bet that you have never had anything that tastes like this (unless, of course, you've been to Saha) and you really, really should. On the right is my go-to favorite at Saha, the vegan bastilla. Veggies and shrooms wrapped up in phyllo and baked to perfection with savory spices and served with saffron sauce. It's heaven.

You'd think after a day like that, we'd take it easy on our stomachs the next day, but boy are you wrong. Instead ,we went for something SF Weekly called the best "gut bomb." More on that next time....