Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vegan Summer Party

Summer is my favorite time of year to cater a party, not only because the weather is perfect for indoor-outdoor gathering and the veggies are bursting with flavor, but because of the flowers.  I love the bright bold contrasts of yellow and orange sunflowers with pinkish purple coneflowers that light up the garden and instantly make a table setting that much more appealing.

And summer flowers like nasturtiums make the perfect garnish on a plate.  I have a ton of herbs in my garden as well, so dill and parsley blossoms also made an appearance on several platters today.

The menu featured appetizers of Eggless Egg Salad in Endive Leaves, Cashew Cheese and Sundried Tomato Relish on Crostini, Olive Tapenade ("Vegan Caviar") on Crostini, and Cherry Tomatoes Piped with Avocado Cream.

The centerpiece entree was an impossibly amazing Pastaless Lasagna made with paper-thin slices of eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash that I layered with a tofu and spinach ricotta and Daiya mozzarella, and topped with marinara and fresh basil.  Yes, it would've been nice if I had gotten a photo of this but, alas, it got devoured before I remembered to pick up my camera.

Overheard snippets of conversation from dinner guests:  "I'm in food heaven"... "and this is all vegan??" "but this tastes just like lasagna!"... and lots of "this is SOO good."  Always so nice to hear!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This Week's Menu

I was inspired by last week's visit to Red Lentil, New Haven't newest vegetarian restaurant, to attempt recreating their Tempeh and Millet Cakes with Ethiopian Bechamel, so I decided to try it out on this week's menu.  For my first effort, I'd say... not bad.  not bad at all.

The sauce gets its flavor from the Ethiopian spice mix, berbere, a mix of chili pepper, ginger, garlic, white and black pepper, fenugreek, and other spices.  It's savory, rich yet mellow, and has a little bit of a kick from all the pepper.  Overall, it adds a luscious depth to a tomato based sauce which was thickened with a creamy bechamel and a little bit of Daiya cheese for added richness.  This was accompanied by some summer-fresh zucchini to balance out the heat.

The second entree this week was Baked Tofu with Agave Dijon Glaze, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans Amandine.  I love the spicy sweet flavor profile of the glaze, which balances nicely with the creamy potatoes.  A little crunch from the slivered toasted almonds rounds out this dish.

The final entree this week was a comfort food combo comprised of mid-summer veggies.  I'm still seeing asparagus at the grocery store, so I decided to make an Asparagus and Leek Risotto with Sauteed Broccoli Rabe, Kalamata Olives, and White Beans.  This was a particularly bitter bunch of greens, so I tossed in some chopped tomatoes and let it cook down a bit to mellow out.  I think the flavors will come together nicely when paired with the creamy and sweet risotto.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Post cards, tote bags, t-shirts, oh my!

Yes, Well on Wheels is hard at work designing some nifty new products for you to enjoy.  Soon this happy little lettuce girl will be bouncing around the grocery aisle on the back of happy shoppers and on tote bags draped across shoulders.  Can't wait!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red Lentil

It's always exciting when a new vegetarian restaurant opens, and when it just happens to be in downtown New Haven, I feel as if all my culinary prayers have been answered.  So, when Red Lentil opened its doors a couple of weeks ago, my expectations were as high as my appetite.

I've been there twice now, once for lunch on opening day and once for dinner a week later, and my experiences were dramatically different.  I'm hoping that as the kitchen staff and servers get accustomed to the menu, the end result will be more consistently positive.  I really want them to succeed in this difficult location so that I can have a restaurant to take family and friends who come to visit, and that I can happily recommend to anyone contemplating a vegan diet.

On my first visit, I met a friend for a late lunch on opening day, and we sampled several appetizers from the extensive menu.  Sweet Potato Fries always tempt me, so I had to try their "Belgian Fries" since I was curious to see how they compared to other dining establishments' versions.

The large portion arrived at our table with a smokey barbecue sauce for dipping.  I was eagerly anticipating that first crunch, but I'm disappointed to say that these must have been sitting for awhile after coming out of the oven (they were baked, not fried) because they were lukewarm and soggy.  The outside had gotten chewy and tough, and the sauce just clung desperately to the limp fry.

We moved on to the Gobi Manchurian, a chickpea batter-fried cauliflower with mildly spicy red sauce.  Although this was flavorful, it also suffered form that texture of sogginess.  It's a hefty portion, too, and could easily make for a filling entree.

We were also curious to try the Beet and Sweet Potato Latke, which was served with a handful of mesclun greens and topped by an apricot sauce and a cilantro sauce.  Again, I was assuming these would be pan-fried and crisp, but instead there was that soggy theme.  It's really too bad because these could have been delicious if they had been served straight from the pan.

For my second visit, I met a large group of vegan friends for a 6:00 dinner.*  We ordered several appetizers, including the Gobi Manchurian, which I'm happy to say arrived hot and the cauliflower still had some crispy crunch.  Other apps sampled were the Nachos (can be made vegan with Daiya cheese), Bruschetta (pretty presentation), and the Latkes (still soggy).

The most popular entree choice of the evening was the Pistachio and Herb Encrusted Tofu with Corn Cake, which came accompanied by a cilantro chutney.  This looked and tasted delicious.

Another favorite was the Shepherd's Pie, which was a generous portion topped by a vegan bechamel sauce and drizzle of balsamic reduction.  I heard that it was filling and flavorful, though perhaps a little too sagey.

I was intrigued by the Millet Loaf with Ethiopian Spiced Tempeh and Carrot Sage Bechamel.  This also was a big stack submerged in a rich and flavorful sauce.  Although it was delicious, I am just now noting that the promised "Summer Ratatouille" accompaniment was nowhere to be found on the plate.  huh.  Not only that, but I'm also realizing that all of the entrees were lacking significant portions of vegetables.  strange.

Several of our dining guests ordered desserts, but since none of the cakes were gluten-free, I had to pass.   The crowd favorite was the Carrot Cake, although everyone agreed it was more like a "tease cake" since there was more frosting than cake, though it was nonetheless delicious.  Others tried the Pistachio Cake (good, but more like a vanilla cake with crushed pistachios on top) and the Triple Chocolate Cake (which seemed to be missing a couple chocolates).

*All in all, the second time around was an enjoyable dining experience.  I put an asterisk there because some friends who dined on the same night but arrived later in the evening were very disappointed by confused wait staff, poor quality of food, and warm water in their glasses.  Again, I hope this is just a matter of working out the kinks because inconsistencies like this make me uncomfortable recommending this restaurant.  If you're thinking of trying it, I'd say give it another couple of weeks and be sure to go early.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This Week's Menu

Boy it's a scorcher out there... which makes me want to make entirely raw menus all week so I don't have to heat up the kitchen.  I compromised by making a couple of cool salads as well as seasonal veggies that are at their peak of flavor.  I love this time of year!  except, of course, for the heat. :)

The cold entree on this week's menu consisted of two high-protein salads that also packed a ton of flavor.  The Edamame and Black Bean Salad is tossed with a tahini-lemon dressing which adds a lightly creamy texture and tangy taste.  This is accompanied by a Quinoa Tabouleh made with a heaping mound of fresh parsley and mint from my garden.  In the center are some crispy jicama sticks, a perfect raw snack that I always forget to make... except this time.

The second entree is a Curried Lentil Stew with Brown Basmati Rice and Green Beans tossed with Shredded Coconut.  It' almost green bean season, and I've been seeing piles of them lately at the grocery store.

The final entree is also a little bit of wishful thinking, as I can't wait for my zucchinis to start producing, so I made Ratatouille the feature in this dish.  It was accompanied by creamy butter beans and Baked Polenta, which makes a nice substitute for the ubiquitous pasta, and topped with some fresh basil from the garden.  Ahh... the tastes of summer...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This Week's Menu

Technically, this was last week's menu, but it's been a crazy week and this is the first chance I had to post some photos.  What ever happened to a slow and relaxing summer?

On the menu this week were some of my favorite flavors:  fresh basil, spicy curry, and Dijon mustard.  Not all in one dish, mind you, although... I'd like to consider that a challenge some day.

The first entree was a bit of comfort food, with mashed potatoes as the featured starch.  The based tofu was topped with a Dijon-agave glaze, and Brussels Sprouts Amandine rounded out the meal.  I really liked the contrasting spicy-sweet-bitter elements, as well as the crunch texture of the slivered almonds balanced with the smooth and silky potatoes.

The next entree was a simple chick pea curry made special with the addition of pumpkin puree.  I sauteed some onion, stirred in the usual spices, and deglazed with diced tomatoes.  The sauce developed its richness with the addition of coconut milk and a squeeze of lemon, then I stirred in some baby spinach and cooked it until wilted.  I love this meal any time of year.

The last entree for the week was Pan-fried Tempeh with Pumpkin Seed Pesto, Baked Garnet Yam and Broccoli.  I love contrasting the orange-green color theme, and the garlicky punch of pesto melded nicely with the super sweetness of the baked yam.  This one is perfect for a late summer/early fall menu, but it worked just as well in the middle of a heat wave.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vegetarian Summerfest

I just returned from the 37th annual Vegetarian Summerfest held at the lush University of Pittsburgh campus in Johnstown, PA.  The event is sponsored by the North American Vegetarian Society, one of the country's oldest vegetarian education organizations. I've been dreaming of visiting this magical world for the past 14 years, and I'm glad I finally did.

For those looking for the latest news, trends, nutrition information, and culinary delights in the realm of vegetarianism, this is the place to get it all.  Highlights for me included introductory remarks by George Eisman, RD on the basic foundation of plant-based nutrition.

Compassionate Cooks founder Colleen Patrick Goudreau followed with an inspiring talk called "How to Be a Joyful Vegan in a Non-Vegan World."  And she truly practices what she preaches (not that she was preaching... this was inspiring).

The always passionate yet sweet Jenny Brown told her personal journey of becoming vegan and later founding Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary with her husband Doug Abrams.  She was so compelling it felt as if she was having a friendly chat with her audience, and it was so comfortable that I completely forgot to snap a photo.  (but please check out the website - it's such a great organization)

The next day I enjoyed two fabulous cooking demonstrations, one by vegan dessert expert, Fran Costigan, and the other by raw chef extraordinaire, Chad Sarno.  I've been a fan of Fran's Great Good Desserts Naturally which I found in a used bookstore and was one of the first vegan cookbooks I ever bought for over ten years.  It was great seeing her create her famous Chocolate Layer Cake to Live for, among many other delectable recipes.

As great as this was, I was floored by the afternoon's presentation by Chad Sarno.  He was well-organized, efficient, informative, passionate, and entertaining all at the same time.  I particularly appreciated him disclosing his childhood addiction to tater tots and Hershey's Quick, having formerly been a fluffernutter addict myself.

In under 2 hours, he managed to pull off a 4-course menu of some of the most beautiful and delicious raw food I've ever experienced.  If you are fortunate enough to be traveling to London or Istanbul, be sure to visit Saf, the raw food restaurant he helped create.

As if this wasn't enough, a veritable parade of vegan superstars followed:  Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Neil Barnard (who was inducted into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame), Dr. Michael Greger, Will Tuttle, Rae Sikora, Julieanna Hever, James Leveck, Rynn Berry, Michael Weber... and so many more I was unable to attend due to schedule conflicts.

A special shout-out goes to Maribeth Abrams, board member of NAVAS, who emcee'd much of the event and made sure everything ran smoothly.  I can't imagine all the work that went into coordinating this massive event, and I hope all those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes are treating themselves to some compassionate relaxation today!  

 The always entertaining and informative Dr. Michael Greger

More Chocolate Decadence by Fran Costigan

Chef Sarno's Watermelon Tots (background) and Beet Ravioli 
with Cashew "Ricotta," Pickled Apricots, and Microgreens

Raw Chile Relleno with Jalapeno "Cheese," Shaved Pear and 
Pea Shoot Salad, Red Mole and Green Cilantro Sauce

(I'm in love with) Chef Chad Sarno