Friday, September 23, 2011

Karyn's Chicago

A friend's wedding has brought me out to Chicago for a few days and while in town I figured it was my duty to sample and blog about some local vegan cuisine.  I put the call out to my Facebook friends for recommendations and immediately received about a dozen tempting responses.  Thanks everybody for coming through for me!

It was a tough decision prioritizing that list with favorites including Ethiopian, veg soul food, falafel, an organic bakery, and of course the legendary Chicago Diner.  But after my previous day of teaching, cooking, flying, and driving, followed by a bridal shower and Korean karaoke, I decided that the theme of the day would be "recovery."  So, I headed to Karyn's Fresh Corner, a raw cafe located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to be pampered with healthful indulgence.

This was a wise choice.  My lunch began with a thick and creamy coconut milkshake made with fresh young Thai coconut.  It was icy cold and refreshing, not quite pureed smooth so that I was chewing while drinking, with a hint of natural sweetness from the coconut and no added sweetener.

It was tough deciding on an appetizer since everything tempted me, but because I need to stay away from gluten, the menu simplified my selection process by marking items containing gluten which I avoided.  I decided on the Cauliflower and Red Pepper Hummus with Flax Seed Crackers and Crudites mostly because I wanted something crunchy and I was intrigued by the inclusion of cauliflower in the hummus.  The smooth and rich concoction did not disappoint, and it also added a surprising kick of chipotle to the mix.

For my entree I chose the Empanada with Mexican Mole and Basil Gastrique.  The spongy "crust" was made with ground flax seed and corn that had been dehydrated and stuffed with a savory and spicy walnut, jalapeno, and mushroom pate.  This was topped with pickled red onion, dehydrated jalapeno, and fresh cilantro springs.  My description cannot do this dish justice because I couldn't possibly come close to capturing the depth of flavor of each component, not to mention the symphony of flavors that composed the entire dish.  This was not only one of my favorite raw vegan dining experiences, but perhaps one of my favorite all-time meals.

Not only that, but there are the desserts.  Next door to the cafe there's a little wellness shop with a smoothie/juice bar, raw desserts, and grab-and-go items.  The gorgeous display of sweets made for yet another difficult decision, all of which provided the promise of "sinful desserts without the guilt."  I opted for the Mint Carob Cake, which had the density of a fudgey brownie made with pecans, cashew butter, coconut oil, agave syrup, dates, and carob powder.  Yes, these were entirely raw as well, made without any refined flour or sugar, and yet oh so good.  In fact, these were so decadent you wouldn't even miss the chocolate.

Anyone who has ever had qualms about vegan food being bland or boring just needs to take a trip to Karyn's (yes, it's worth the drive/flight from anywhere).  This is what turns skeptics into believers.  And it will probably change the way you think about food when you realize how tantalizing vegan cuisine can be.

As I crossed the street, I looked down upon this message, perhaps sent to such skeptics who had previously been turned off by bland, beige, limp, lifeless vegan fare and vowed to shun it henceforth.  Second chances make all the difference.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Old fashioned Peach "Slump"

I know, I know, it's not a particularly appealing name, but this dessert is heavenly, and even better when it's made with fresh local peaches.  I was fortunate to snag a bunch at the Edgewood Park Farmers Market this weekend and since they were perfectly ripe today, I decided they were ready to transform into something sweet and luscious.

I cut up the gorgeous peaches into wedges, then laid them in an 8" x 8" baking dish and sprinkled with some cinnamon.

I topped the peaches with the slump mixture, which was kinda like a runny muffin recipe, the batter filling in the crevices between the peaches.

When it cooks in the oven, the juice releases from the peaches and melds with the batter, creating an oozy, creamy pudding-like cake that tastes more decadent than it is (there's only about 2 Tbl of oil and 1/2 cup of sugar in there).

The end result is a sweet and comforting dessert perfect for a chilly late summer evening.

And it will probably make a pretty yummy breakfast tomorrow morning, I'm guessing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Farmers Market Windfall

This weekend I dropped by City Seed's Edgewood Park Farmers Market in search of summer squash.  I was looking for some heirloom and unusual varieties to bring to my cooking demonstration at the Southington Public Library this Thursday where I will be giving a presentation on "Cooking the Garden Harvest."  While my quest proved unsuccessful, I instead happened upon some unexpected treasures.

I was captivated by the lovely display of organic veggies on Riverbank Farm's table, and shifted gears when I saw the wide variety of baby eggplants, sweet red peppers, cipolini onions, and baby potatoes.  I decided on the spot that this would make the perfect dinner.

I lingered at the market chatting with vendors as they closed down and packed up shop.  To my pleasant surprise, one vendor walked over to me with a bag of little pears, slightly blemished, though nonetheless perfect, and asked if I wanted them.  Really??  Of course!  Two made an ideal treat to refuel me after spending an afternoon in the sun.

Feeling satisfied and looking forward to my dinner, I contemplated leaving, when that same vendor returned with a box of veggies, asking if I wanted them.  Seriously??!  "But I don't want to take them away from a food pantry or anywhere you might be donating them," I said.  "We're just going to throw them out otherwise," she replied.  Well then... you don't have to twist my arm.  So I left with a garden harvest in a box.

Nightshade Sautee:  baby eggplant, potato, sweet red pepper and 
cipolini onion with fresh basil

That, plus the amazingly fresh and delicious dinner I prepared later in the evening, made for the perfect ending to a lovely late summer day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Packing the Vegan Lunch Box

Thanks to Hurricane Irene, many kids got an extended summer vacation, but now that power is back up in about 90% of the state, that dreaded (umm... I mean "anticipated") first day of school is just around the corner.  Along with pens, pencils, and bookbags, it's time to start thinking about packing healthy lunches to keep the kiddies fueled and satisfied throughout the day.

I recently taped a segment for WTNH's "CT Style" called Packing the Vegan Lunch Box and provided quick cooking tips for this special occasion.  Tune in Tuesday, September 6, at 12:30 to see how to make Tuno Salad, Tempeh "Fish Cakes" and Vegan Remoulade.  Word in the studio is that these will be a big hit, particularly when zooming around in their Scooby lunch box.

The link is now up!  If you missed the show, you can see it here:

 Packing the Vegan Lunch Box on WTNH's CT Style