Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Candle 79 & Babycakes

This weekend I had the pleasure of exploring two vegan hotspots in New York City. We began our journey at Candle 79, the spiffy uptown cousin of Candle Cafe. The meal opened with a delightful little amous bouche of avocado and tomato mole on sesame rice cracker. I could've dipped an entire bag of those chips into the kitchen's guacamole bowl, but I restrained myself to just the one. The flavors were incredible, perfectly melding savory with sweet, and creamy with crunchy.

It was tough to decide on an appetizer. I always try to go with seasonal, and I look for unusual combinations of ingredients that I might not ordinarily consider putting together on my own. My first inclination was to go with the grilled asparagus with blue cornmeal crusted onion rings, arugula pesto and red pepper coulis, but then the waitress read the specials for the day, which included an app of fiddlehead ferns, wild mushrooms, baby asparagus, wilted spinach and cauliflower puree. How could we not give that a try? Needless to say, it was fabulous. You can only get fresh fiddleheads a couple weeks of the year, and these were perfectly young, tender and sweet, not the often soapy taste you get from the supermarket kind that are past their prime. The rich creaminess of the cauliflower sauce enhanced the delicate flavors of the steamed veggies.

The entrees were equally difficult to select from. We were aided by an article in this month's Vegetarian Times which featured top recipes from vegetarian restaurants across the country. Coincidentally, they picked one from Candle 79: the seitan picatta. It's a customer favorite, so we figured we'd give it a try. I picked the Morroccan chick pea cakes with spring vegetables, coconut curry and apricot chutney. Bother were delicious (though we must confess our preference for the humble chick pea cakes - it was a gorgeous electric green and orange presentation and the spicy flavors melded beautifully with the sweet chutney).

Dessert was equally challenging. My first inclination was to avoid the typical chocolate default and opt for something fruity. We made a compromise and ordered one from each category. The seasonal special was a lovely little strawberry rhubarb tart with triple cream ice cream - a winner. We also sampled the brownie sundae which was adorned with fresh strawberries and bananas and a chocolate chipotle sauce. YUM! What an incredible meal. And I don't want to forget the rich and creamy drink that could've been a light meal on its own: coconut, avocado, pear, agave syrup and mint frappe. mmmm...

The next day we headed down to Babycakes to pick up breakfast and some snackies for the train trip home. This is an all vegan bakery near Chinatown. It was cool to see the many Fallun Gong practitioners on our walk there, and there was also an Asian American parade with hundreds of people marching down Mott Street. This was my first visit, so I didn't know what to expect, but I was happy to find a place selling gluten-free vegan baked goods (not that I need them...). We shared a sticky bun and blueberry buckle for breakfast, then packed up a slice of banana chocolate chip bread, lemon cupcake and chocolate cupcake for the ride. It was a challenge resisting the temptation to inhale everything all at once. I was happy that my non-veg companion was delighted with his iced coffee and sticky bun, and we were both pleasantly surprised by the tender texture and light sweetness of the blueberry cake. My attempts at gluten-free baking always turn out dense and grainy. I guess I just don't know the secret yet. Needless to say, I'll have to do some experimenting this summer when it's blueberry season.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Superfoods, Healing Foods

Last week I had the priviledge to teach a workshop at the Mercy Center for staff members from the Yale Children's Medical Center. The location is gorgeous - right on the ocean in Madison with a sprawling campus landscaped with lush greenery and blooming shrubs and perennials. Even with the rain, it was a pleasure to be there. And what a great group of women! They were there for their staff retreat and wanted to do something special to de-stress from a hectic work environment. I was happy to help by providing a customized lecture and cooking demonstration about foods that heal. The menu for the morning included Gingered Vegetable Saute with Baked Tofu, Curried Chickpea and Quinoa Pilaf and an amazingly decadent nearly raw Chocolate Mousse with Nut Crust and Fresh Strawberries (you'd never guess that the secret ingredient was avocados!). I hope they had as much fun as I did.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thali, too - Now OPEN!!

Ever since moving to New Haven in November, 2006, I've made a point to sample all the chat, chana masala and saag I can find from the many fabulous Indian restaurants within minutes of my apartment. I was in heaven when I discovered Thali on Orange Street. Their delectable dahl and rich and delicious chat are enough for a full meal, but they'll also accommodate us vegans with an off-menu order of coconut curry (just ask). I couldn't believe my eyes when I read recently that the owner of Thali would be opening a vegetarian-only version of the restaurant down on Broadway, tucked into that little corridor next to the Yale Bookstore. You can't see it from the street, but it's there - trust me. As of May 7, Thali, too is now Officially OPEN!! Please go and support them!

It was a warm, breezy evening last night, the perfect weather for outdoor dining. We decided to take a stroll by Thali to see if they were open and were pleased to find a gorgeous and bustling little patio set up with tables and big red umbrellas, so we happily took a cozy table for two. We started the meal with a fantastic masala dosa appetizer; eaten alone, it would have been a hearty meal. We fought each other for the last crumb, it was so yummy. The huge rolled up crepe arrives on an elegant silver tray with 3 pretty little vessels of accompanying sauces. I wasn't sure about the coconut chutney which may have been made with yogurt, but the sambal was a delicious tomato based spiced stew that was hearty and warm. There was also an accompaniment of chili oil with fried Indian spices that was hot, but not too hot. They have an interesting little concept going here: rice and noodle bar. You start with a base of either basmati rice or rice vermicelli ($5), add on some vegetables of choice ($2 each), and any of 5 sauces. We tried the Manchurian (which I'd highly recommend) which had garlic, onion, chili pepper and cilantro, that was actually more subtle and flavorful than you'd imagine, and the Sesame Peanut, which was good, however I detected no sesame or peanut and I'm wondering if I got what I ordered. Considering this was only the second night they were open, I allowed some leeway in working out the kinks. Our server was not very familiar with the menu and needed to bring the general manager over to our table to answer a few questions about dairy in dishes. He assured us there was no dairy used in the rice, noodles or the accompanying sauces. The rest of the menu is filled with creative interpretations of standard northern and southern Indian cuisine and I'm already dying to make a return visit to give them a try. They also have Take Out!! This is a fantastic little addition to New Haven's already plentiful dining scene, but it stands out for its affordability, creativity and pleasant atmosphere. I know where I'll be spending my summer...

From the garden

I love a good spring rain. Particularly on days after planting. The birds are happy, the plants are happy, and all that makes me happy, too. It's Week #3 at my Chapelseed community garden and already the fruits of my labor have been realized. Snap peas, snow peas, radishes, broccoli rabe, broccoli and nasturtiums are all popping out. I just transplanted some basil, and in another week I'll add a few tomato companions. If I can manage to squeeze in a couple mounds of Italian zucchini in my little 6' x 10' plot, I will be doing that, too.

The place already looks beautiful, and it's so nice to be serenaded by mockingbirds while laboring away in the warm sunshine. Today is a day of rest as plants soak up the moisture and grow big and strong.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cancer Project Update

On April 12 I hosted a house party for The Cancer Project to support the wonderful work they do. This organization is an arm of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine which is headed by Dr. Neal Barnard. I attended their free vegetarian cooking class over the winter and learned quite a bit. Even though I've been a chef for over 5 years and a vegan for nearly 12, it's always good to hear the latest research about vegan nutrition. I'd highly recommend the class to anyone, experienced or not, who would like to learn how eating the right foods can boost your immune system and help defend against disease.

Twenty-two people crammed into my little apartment to hear a conference call by Dr. Barnard and a presentation by Wendy Lewis, one of the Cancer Project's cooking instructors. I hope all who attended had a great time and will spread the word about this organization. I'm pleased to report that thanks to everyone's generosity, we raised over $500 to support The Cancer Project's work. For anyone who was not able to attend, please visit their website to learn more and consider making a donation.

New Blog

I'm excited to be launching my shiny new blog powered by Blogspot. This one's proving to be a little easier to navigate and post pictures, links and lists, so I hope to have lots more to share with you in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you can view my former blog here.