Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Vegan monthly?

I know, I know, it's been too long! And I don't have too much of an excuse, except that I've been taking an online class, but it just ended this weekend (and I aced it). So here I am...

Desserts have been on my mind lately. I had a last minute potluck lunch meeting I had to prepare for (OK, it wasn't last minute, but I remembered last minute), and I recalled reading in my favorite magazine, Veg News (more on that another time), that Duncan Hines cake mix and some of their frostings are vegan. A quick trip to Vons confirmed this (do read the ingredients as I'm not sure if all the cake mixes are vegan and for sure, not all of the frostings are). So, armed with my cake mix and frosting, I was able to make pretty yummy cupcakes very easily merely by substituting Ener-G egg replacer for the eggs.

Recently we went to Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy for a friend's birthday. Now, I wasn't expecting much as it's not a vegan bakery (my favorite is Stephanie's Bakery in OB), but I thought such a large fancy dessert place would probably have one vegan dessert option. Not true! When I asked, I was curtly told "No, sometimes we have a cookie or something but nothing today." Rather disappointing for a place with such a large selection. There was one sandwich on the lunch menu that appeared to be vegan if you got it without the aoli, but I didn't try it. However, Heaven Sent Desserts in North Park always has at least one vegan option even though they're a traditional bakery, so I recommend them if you're the only vegan in the group.

I keep hearing about new vegan pizza places (or pizza places with vegan options) opening up, but haven't had the chance to try any. However, an old local favorite, Luigi's in Golden Hill, has a great vegan pizza on the menu. Rather than using vegan cheese, he just opts to leave the cheese off altogether, and you really don't miss it with all the yummy veggies and the great crust. Luigi is a super sweet animal lover himself, who I always see at dog park with his two canine companions.

Well, until next time, adios and happy almost spring!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Local Vegan Eats

So I know it's been a month since I posted, and I apologize, but it's been a tough month with the passing of our beloved cat three weeks ago. We miss him, but hope that he's enjoying kitty heaven.

In the meantime, although food has not been a big focus, we have eaten out—just recently we went to Pomegranate, a Russian-Georgian restaurant on El Cajon Blvd. in North Park. I had been wanting to try it for a while, as I noticed some veg options on the menu they post outside, and I was not disappointed.

The atmosphere was delightful, with a bit of an old school feel. Every bit of wall space was covered with marker writing and drawing from those who have eaten there. Even the ceiling had writing, which intrigued me as it's somewhat a high ceiling. Perhaps one can request a ladder if they wish to write up there? But alas, our table did not even have sharpies, and I hadn't brought my own (although I will next time).

The service was very friendly and helpful. When we informed our server of our vegan-ness, he recommended a vegan platter of numerous cold salads and the vegan version of the Borscht. We agreed to both and eagerly awaited our food. We noticed that the menu said they sold vodka by the inch, so we ordered some of that too (although our waiter explained that due to the type of liquor license they held, it was not true vodka).

The platter came and was quite fun; most of the salads had a garlic flavoring incorporated somewhere in them. They were colorful and one reminded me of a vegan version of tuna salad. The Borscht there is actually served hot, for which I was thankful since it was a chilly night and the salads had been cold of course. It was actually a lot of food; more than the two of us could finish. We didn't put much of a dent in the "vodka" (the bottle said it was an orange flavored wine; whatever it was was quite tasty and not as daunting as shots of vodka) either; the two of us put down one inch.

The prices were quite fair for the amount and quality of food and we enjoyed the authenticity of the place, complete with an older gentlemen sitting at the tiny bar who reminded me slightly of Tolstoy, with shorts and black socks pulled up to his knees. We will definitely be frequenting Pomegranate again. It was both romantic and yet seemed like it would be fun with a group. However, I must warn that what we had may have been the only vegan options, although there were several other vegetarian options. Bon appetit!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holidays Recap

So, I got caught up in the whirlwind of the holidays and haven't had a chance to post, but I'll try to catch everyone up on my vegan discoveries and experiments now. First of all, I must make mention of Thanksgiving, which was an amazing feast this year. We hosted it at our place for the fourth year in a row, and it was a wonderful day filled with laughter and silliness, including us all making turkey gobbling sounds at the top of our lungs (which one friend could hear as he approached the house from nearly half a block away)!

It was a potluck affair, with each person (11 total) bringing a vegan dish, although only three of us are vegan year round. I truly appreciate our friends joining us in a compassionate feast on such a foodie holiday, and in turn, I think that most if not all are impressed by how yummy a vegan Thanksgiving can be. We had Tofurkey of course, but also mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, beet salad, brussel sprouts, and assorted appetizers, including seitan stuffed mushrooms (my contribution, based on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, "Vegan with a Vengeance" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz), bruschetta, and potato pancakes. For dessert, we had pumpkin pie topped with pecans (I made this one), bread pudding, and apple crisp with vanilla soy ice cream.

For the pumpkin pie, I made a very simple vegan version from a recipe I found online here. I always just buy a pre-made pie crust; even in the mainstream grocery stores, many of these tend to be vegan. Then for the topping, we took about 1/2 cup of mostly pecans and a few walnuts, sauteed them in some Earth Balance, added maple syrup, brown sugar, and brandy to taste. After the pie had been in the oven for about 1/2 an hour, I added the topping and let it cook for 15 more minutes. As far as the other recipes, I will leave it up to the other attendees to post them in the comments if they'd like to share!

For Christmas, we had an intimate dinner party with 8 of our closest friends. Marc made an amazing "Beef" Stroganoff with homemade seitan, based on a recipe from "Vegan with a Vengeance." We also had carrots and cheesy pesto bread (the pesto recipe was also from V with a V), which was apparently also popular with the cat, who opened the covered dish of pesto in the kitchen and helped himself while we ate in the family room. Who knew cats loved garlic and basil so much?

For my birthday, Marc made me a delicious "tofuamisu" (vegan tiramisu), as well as various tapas, including artichokes, mushrooms, wild rice, potatoes, and carrots, which we washed down with a nice bottle of Moet Chandon. All in all, we were very well fed this holiday season! Hope you ate well also and happy new year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nature's Express

So a few weeks ago, I blogged about the reopening of Kung Food under the new name Nature's Express, and I've eaten there a few times since then! I am so happy they're back. Some things are the same and some are different. Here's a few examples:

You now serve yourself from the buffet. I love this because I like to try small amounts of many things without bugging anyone about it.

The price is determined by plate size rather than weight. I like this too. A small plate is $6.50 and a large plate is just under $10. A friend I was with didn't love this because sometimes she wants just one or two little things, but as for myself, I never got out of there with less than $6.50's worth anyway. Guess I'm a piggy!

There are many familiar food items and some new ones too. Some of my old favorites are the Chicken Parmesan (which tastes better this time around) and the Essential Greens. For new favorites, there was a Tempeh Chicken Salad and the Guacamole, which come to think of it, probably isn't new, but it's new to me! I didn't like the Sea Veggies Salad because it tasted too "fishy" to me, but I've always been picky about sea vegetables for that reason. I'm sure some people would like it.

The atmosphere is not quite as warm and inviting as before but I think this is the fault of the restaurant that took the space over beforehand. They've torn down all the lovely shrubs that used to hide the outdoor seating area from the street and it feels naked now. The interior also feels a little empty and plain, although we sat at a nice booth the one time we were there. Hopefully the look and feel is still in progress and will improve as time goes on.

The drive-thru is still there and the Spicy Chicken sandwich is as good as ever!

Alright, now it's your turn to go try it and tell me what you think. I'm all ears!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fashion with Compassion

So, I was reading an email newsletter from one of my favorite fashion mags, Nylon, earlier this week, and, much to my delight, I noticed that they mentioned their turkey was vegan. I sent them an email complimenting them on their choice, and included a photo of our Thanksgiving tofurkey and guess what? They published it in their blog, which you can read here. Isn't it nice to know that the staff over at Nylon is as compassionate as they are stylish? Kudos to them for spreading the love!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local San Diegans, Rejoice!

Guess what? Remember how sad it was, when Kung Food, everyone's favorite vegan buffet style restaurant and drive through, closed? In case you don't, I still remember it vividly, like a bad dream: March 31, 2007 was their last day open, and I remember the date specifically because I was hoping it was all an April Fool's joke. Sadly, the cashier assured me it was not, and I swear I was dismayed for weeks. Besides the great, all-vegan food, which included numerous raw options, I also loved that there was outdoor seating, which meant that Juno, our beloved Great Dane, could accompany us. Add that to the fact that it was mere blocks from Nate's Point, Balboa park's leash-free dog area, and you can see why we were so disappointed to see its doors close.

However, the reason I bring up this past trauma is because this weekend they reopen their doors! Same place (Quince and Fifth Streets), same people, new name: Nature's Express. We've already planned a meal there for this Sunday with some vegan friends (well, one vegan, one veg-friendly to be exact) and I can't wait to try out their new dishes and savor old favorites. Look out for a review soon, and be sure to try it yourself and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

San Francisco Treats!

So, we spent a weekend in San Fran, celebrating Marc's (belated) birthday with friends, and one of the many highlights of our trip was all the good eats! I did a Happycow.net search before we left so I had a pretty good idea of some of the places I wanted to try before we even got there. San Fran has so many great options for vegans that we couldn't try all of them in our short little trip, but here are some brief reviews on the ones we did try.

The first place we tried for dinner with friends was Cafe Gratitude. There are actually two of them in the city (and three more outside San Fran), so we tried the one on Harrison St. this time since we hadn't been there yet. Besides being vegan, everything at Cafe Gratitude is raw, so it's perfect for a meal before stepping out, when you don't want to be weighed down by heavy, processed fare.

Cafe Gratitude is a different eating experience in a few ways. Besides the fact that everything on the menu is named with affirmations such as "I am precious" and "I am whole," the tables are community tables, meaning that my friends and I sat at a table with another guy who was already enjoying his meal, and when he was finished, another couple sat down. It wasn't as uncomfortable as it might sound, at least not for us.

For the appetizers, we shared the "I am abundant," a nice dish of assorted spreads and flatbreads. I had a lasagna dish made with zucchini, which was very good, and two of the others had the "I am elated," which is a mexican style dish with great guacamole. Another friend was "whole" with a macrobiotic bowl, that was quite good, and we all had various elixirs, which left us "effervescent," "enlightened," and so forth. But my very favorite thing there, indeed the best thing I ate all weekend, was the tiramisu. I have probably missed this dessert more than any other non-vegan food, and I can't remember the assigned affirmation, but the way it made me feel was "I am deserving of an absolutely sinfully delicious dessert in spite of (or perhaps due to) the fact that I am vegan."

The next day, we had lunch at a vegetarian (and mostly vegan) Chinese place called The Golden Era. The menu was quite extensive, and all but about two things (out of approximately 50 - 75 items) were vegan (the two exceptions were vegetarian). We started with the Vegetable Fu Young, which was even better than I had hoped for! There were three good-sized patties, perfect for our table of three. My friend had a yummy eggplant dish, I had a mock chicken and ginger dish, and Marc had a fried mock chicken dish, all of which were good, although I preferred mine the most. The prices were very reasonable, and even more so the next day (Monday), when Marc and I went back and tried the budget-friendly lunch specials. Again, I was blown away by the appetizer Marc ordered, which I didn't think I would like. It was a vegetable "bun," in the style of dim sum, which is usually too gooey for me. Much to my surprise, this one was perfect; the bun part was soft and sweet, but not too gooey, and the veggie filling was excellent.

We did go out for a fancy schmancy dinner while we were in town too—and Millenium was just the place for it. I had been wanting to try this place since it got voted #1 vegan restaurant in Veg News, and I was not disappointed! I had told Marc we were going to an all vegan restaurant, but once we sat down, as he looked at the menu, I heard him mention that he thought he could find something vegan in the appetizers. I questioned him, reminding him that everything was vegan, and the look on his face was pure shock and delight! As it turned out, once he saw the opulent atmosphere, he assumed it wasn't a vegan restaurant, but he was thrilled that it was. I must say, it was so nice to eat a vegan meal in an atmosphere with an upscale ambiance.

I had the Pumpkin Pupusa (pictured above), and others in our party had the Creole Spiced Portobello & Root Vegetable Gratin (which I ended up enjoying even more than my entree). We shared the Butternut Squash Raw-violi to start with, and also tried the Seared Brussels Sprouts (which were amazing!) and the Huckleberry Potato Flatbread. The latter, as well as being very tasty, is a great value for those watching the budget (and who isn't these days?). The serving was very large for a starter and it was quite filling for only $9.95. So although the entrees are all in the low $20's range, you could easily have a delicious upscale meal for a little less by getting the Flatbread and one of the small plates or sides, all of which are $6 or less. As well as great food, service and atmosphere, Millenium is involved in philanthropic efforts benefiting various local organizations, and their food is organic and free of genetically modified ingredients.

If anyone has any other recommendations for great Bay Area vegan restaurants, feel free to share them in your comments, and we'll try them next visit! Ciao for now...