Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beyond Sushi

I recently spent a day in New York to attend a cooking class at the Natural Gourmet, and made a point of arriving early so I could sample one of the many vegetarian dining options in the city.   This is always the most difficult decisions I face, since there are hundreds of possibilities.  I have my favorites: Candle Cafe, Caravan of Dreams, Counter, Quintessence, Sacred Chow, Angelica's Kitchen... to name but a few.

This afternoon I decided to try a new entry onto the scene, Beyond Sushi, a 100% vegetarian sushi restaurant on the lower east side.  It's an easy 2 block walk from the 14th street subway station, which made it convenient and intriguing.  And according to VegNews, the place was opened by a former contestant of Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen competition.  Why not give it a try?

From the outside, the restaurant had a clean, sophisticated look, and inside the minimalist decor continued that theme.  However, I have to say my Connecticut sensibilities were shocked by the New York space limitations!  At most, the three wooden shelves that acted as counters with barstools wedged beneath could seat 12, but in reality, two to a table was stretching each patron's comfort level.

The menu was a selection of about a dozen creative combinations of standard veggie fillings:  asparagus, avocado, mango, cucumber, pickled daikon, and a few others.  These standards were elevated by a choice of 6 sauces topping each roll, such as carrot ginger, spicy cayenne, and mango chili.  The rolls were also made a bit unique because they were all inside-out with a choice of black rice or 6-grain rice.  Also on the menu are several options for summer rolls, salads and soups, as well as a few vegan desserts prepared off site.

I ordered the La Fiesta - 8 pieces rolled with Black Rice, Avocado, pickled jalapeno, chayote, and topped with cilantro and mango chili sauce - and the Sweet Tree - 8 pieces rolled with six grain rice, avocado, and sweet potato, and topped with alfalfa sprouts and toasted cayenne sauce.

Both were tasty, fresh and expertly prepared in a tiny kitchen.

I enjoyed my light lunch, but left wishing there had been the ubiquitous warm tea to accompany my meal and a larger table where I could spread out with a book and linger.  However, if you're in a hurry, this is a great place to grab a quick bite that's inexpensive and satisfying.  


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This week's menu

While I was in the checkout line of my local health food store purchasing groceries for this week, the man behind me asked about the can of Muir Glen Organic Crushed Fire Roasted Tomatoes in my basket.  "Do you like those?  I've never really had much luck cooking with them."  I was surprised, because I find that they add so much flavor to soups, stews, and sauces, especially the one with adobo seasoning.  I suggested, "have you tried using them in chili?"  He hadn't, but was intrigued by the idea.  That's my favorite use for them because they add a deep, smoky undertone to whatever it is you're cooking.  I also like them in Indian food because the roasted quality is both sweet and savory, and they'll put an extra little indescribable zing in your curries.

This week you will find Three Bean Chili with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes and Brown Rice on the Menu.  It's a favorite for cold, rainy autumn evenings.

pan-fried tempeh with agave dijon glaze, sesame cabbage, and baked garnet yam
three-bean fire-roasted tomato chili with brown rice
tofu piccata with mashed root vegetables and sauteed kale

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cyber Monday Special from Teavana

Are you ready to do some cybershopping?  Check out this sweet deal available Monday, November 26!

Teavana is the nirvana of teas.  And for Cyber Monday, they're offering this nifty little special:

Receive a Free Tin + Free Sample on all Orders & Get Free Shipping plus an extra $10 off on any purchase of $60 or more at! Use promo code: TEAGIFT10 (valid 11/22 - 11/26 11:59pm EST)

Holiday Gift Guide for Cooks

Now that the holiday shopping season is upon us, I'm often asked for recommendations on what to get the chef in the family.  The options can be overwhelming, especially for someone who is not familiar with the great big world of shiny pretty cheffy things out there.  I often draw upon my favorites for gift giving, those classics that stand the test of time. Whether it's big ticket splurges like a Vita-Mix Blender or a set of indestructible All-Clad Stainless Steel  pots and pans, or the more affordable stocking stuffers like a Garlic Press or Microplane Zester, there's always that "perfect gift" to be discovered.

What I've put together for you is a handy reference guide to help get you started in your search.  Some of these are absolute "must haves" for the home chef, like a good chef's knife and cutting board.  Some are gratuitous items that make cooking fun (no one really NEEDS a Doughnut Pan...).  And sometimes chefs just like to be pampered with items they would never get for themselves, but have always dreamed about (personally, I'd be thrilled if someone bought me anything enameled by Le Creuset just because I love all the pretty colors).

So.... here you go, starting with the essentials.

If the budding chef in your family is just setting up his or her kitchen, there are some basics that he or she will need to get started.  While we often use castoffs and hand-me-downs from other family members, wouldn't it be nice to have something brand new in the kitchen for inspiration?

Need ideas?  Read my Kitchen Essentials recommendations.

Holiday Gift Guide - Kitchen Essentials

If the budding chef in your family is just setting up his or her kitchen, there are some basics that he or she will need to get started.  While we often use castoffs and hand-me-downs from other family members, wouldn't it be nice to have something brand new in the kitchen for inspiration?

It's absolutely imperative to begin with a sturdy chef's knife and cutting board, and a few of my recommendations are below.  Beyond that, a good set of pots and pans, a heavy cast iron skillet, and basic utensils like wooden spoons, rubber and metal spatula, and tongs make kitchen tasks easy.
For the budding baker, consider a good set of mixing bowls (stainless steel or ceramic), measuring cups and spoons, Pyrex and Corningware baking dishes, and even a mixer.  Why not make the work even easier by wrapping some of these items up with pretty bows and ribbon for the holidays?

Chef's Knife - The two leading manufacturers of chef's knifes are Wusthof and Henckels, and I happen to have a couple of each.  I prefer mine in an 8" size, but you can also get 6" all the way up to 12".  You can get a good, sturdy knife that is fairly lightweight and stays sharp for about $50-100.  I like Wusthof's 8" Gourmet Chef's Knife. A Sharpening Steel is usually another $20-30, and a diamond blade sharpener is about $30-50 more.  I use my Chef's Choice Manual Knife Sharpener at least once a month since I'm cutting and chopping every day.

Cutting Board - My one rule for cutting boards is NEVER buy a glass one.  My second rule is NEVER buy a flexible plastic one.  Unless you want to dull your knife every time you use it or slip and cut yourself, you're better off using a hardwood board that can be cleaned with natural cleaners and sealed with mineral oil.  The bigger the better, too, especially if you're cutting a ton of veggies.  Chef's Catalogue has a gorgeous 18" square butcher block board for just under $90.  Catskill Butcher Block Cutting Board - MEDIUM 18" SQUARE

Cast Iron Skillet - The Lodge is the maker of my "go to" pan in 10" or 12", which goes from stovetop to oven and works great for tofu frittata, cornbread, and even pizza.  Depending on desired size, you can purchase the Lodge Logic Cast Iron Skillet for around $20-40.  You can even get one just for making cornbread.

Cookware - Everyone needs a good set of pots and pans.  I'd recommend a stainless steel or hard anodized set that includes a minimum of a 6-quart stock pot, 10" frying pan, sautee pan, and 2-quart sauce pot with covers, preferably with handles that stay cool while cooking and that are oven safe.  If you really want to splurge, you can't go wrong with All-Clad.  It's practically indestructible, heats quickly and evenly, and holds heat well.  The only negative is that it's EXTREMELY heavy, so don't plan on carrying it around with you in your backpack!  ABT is running a great special right now on a 9-piece set that includes all of the above pieces for just under $660.  A bargain! All-Clad 9 Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set 

Mixing Bowls - Any baker needs an ample supply of mixing bowls.  I like the glass or stainless steel variety that are of different sizes and nest comfortably together on the shelf, like these from Chef's Catalogue CHEFS Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowls.  I also like pretty ceramic sets and melamine, all of which work well and make mixing things up in the kitchen tons of fun.  Kohl's has some cute and colorful ones from Rachael Ray, KitchenAid, and Food Network.  There's even a 5-quart collapsible mixing bowl for those tight on space, appropriately named, Squish.  

Baking Dishes - I'm tempted to just recommend going to your local thrift store for some classic Pyrex, Fire King, and Corningware, because that's where you'll find all the good stuff.  But you can also get some pretty ovenproof ceramic bakeware in places like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel.  And why not get fancy with some Le Creuset Classic Stoneware or Emile Henry Olive Oval Gratin since it's the holidays after all?  I kinda like this flame top Tagine, and I'd probably try a bunch of new recipes just so I could use it every day for about a month.

Trivet - The last kitchen essential is something to put those hot pots and baking dishes on.  But don't just look at this item as utilitarian!  This is an opportunity to add some personality to the chef's kitchen, and every time they place dinner on this handy little fella, they think of you, too.  I generally look for indestructible cast iron, but Kohl's has this really cute 2-piece trivet set in environmentally friendly bamboo.  That would look lovely on any kitchen table.

Next.... what equipment does every chef need?  I'll tell you more tomorrow!

Two weeks of menus

With the pressure of Thanksgiving now past, I'm finally able to post some photos of the last couple of weeks of menus.  There's been lots of orange on the plate from winter squashes and yams.  I've been trying to vary these seasonal standards a bit, using fall vegetables such as butternut squash, pumpkin, and parsnips in unique ways, adding some warming flavor combinations such as chipotle, agave and lime, curry and coconut, and cinnamon and cumin.  I almost wish it would snow!

A trio of warming favorites

Pistachio Crusted Tofu with Apple Cider Oven Roasted Root Vegetables and Sesame Kale Sautee 

Pumpkin and Sage Penne with Snow Peas, Pistachios, and Shiitake Mushroom

Spinach, Pumpkin and Chickpea Coconut Curry with Brown Rice

Southwestern Pinto Bean Quinoa Pilaf with Cumin Spiced Zucchini

Baked Tofu with Curried Pumpkin Risotto and Green Bean Mallum

Moroccan Lentils with Brown Rice, Sauteed Greens and Toasted Pine Nuts

Monday, October 29, 2012

Special Hurricane Sandy Menu

We're in the throes of a major tropical storm this week at Well on Wheels headquarters, so I developed a special menu for my clients in case the power goes out.  Meals can be stored in a chilled cooler and eaten at room temp, so no worries about freezing, thawing, or reheating in a microwave or oven.

If clients have gas and want to do a little stovetop prep, go ahead and get crazy!  But these are all pretty awesome eaten cold, right out of their containers.   

Mock Chicken Salad with Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Mediterranean Pasta with Kalamata Olives, Baby Spinach, Sundried Tomatoes, Capers, Cannelini Beans and Fresh Basil

Tofu and Veggies with Spicy Peanut Sesame Sauce on Rice Noodles

Saturday, October 27, 2012

This week's menu

It's hurricane preparedness time in the Well on Wheels kitchen, so this was actually the menu from the previous week; next week's menu will feature a couple raw dishes in case of power outages.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Adzuki Bean Saute 
with Chili Lemon Quinoa

Baked Eggplant Stacks with Tofu Cheese, Sauteed Greens, and Fire-roasted Tomato Marinara

Miso Glazed Portobello Mushroom Steaks with Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus

Friday, October 19, 2012

This week's menu

I got a little saucy with the menu this week, using a couple of my favorite "go to" sauces to accompany some tofu and tempeh.  Every vegan needs to have a good repertoire of sauces, gravies, and dressings to really boost the elegance, flavor profile, and interest of a dish.  Kick the standard fare up a notch!

Take bechamel, for instance.  Sure, the vegan version made with creamy cashews is pretty delicious on its own, but why not try something a little different by adding some zingy horseradish, Dijon mustard or Sriracha?  These are some of the combinations I played with this week.

Crispy Tofu with Harissa Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans

Southwestern Tofu Scramble with Daiya Pepper Jack and Homefried Potatoes 

Pan-fried Tempeh with Smoked Paprika Cashew Creme, 
Quinoa, and Zucchini Spears 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A trip to heaven: Divine Treasures

I had a free afternoon yesterday and decided to go on a spur of the moment roadtrip to Divine Treasures, a vegan chocolatier based in Manchester, CT.  I stopped for lunch along the way at Fire and Spice, and my journey continued to the northeast foothills amidst a sunny blue sky and a blaze or red, orange and yellow leaves.

I arrived eager with anticipation.  My last visit was back in February for Valentine's Day, and I returned  yesterday looking forward to sampling some new collaborative creations made with baked goods supplied by Shayna B's( & The Pickle), a gluten-free vegan baker based in Ashford, CT.

Everything I had heard was true:  the best vegan gluten-free desserts I've ever eaten.  No graininess.  No heaviness.  No "healthy" taste that makes me think, "why bother?"  If it's a dessert, it should taste like a dessert.  And by that I mean SPECIAL.

chocolate chip blondies from shayna b's

The cookies and cakes I sampled were sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the flavors tasted natural.  That's EXACTLY what I want in a dessert.  Make my tastebuds smile, and leave me wanting more!!  These desserts delivered exactly that.  And dare I say, I think they even blow away the famous Babycakes that has foodies all abuzz in NYC.  They've got nothing on Shana B's.

These Biscotti Bites are brilliant!

And now, onto the chocolates.  Everything I just said about the baked goods can also be said about Divine Treasures' chocolates.  They're rich, dark, creamy, and oh so satisfying.  The flavor combinations are creative, and the presentations are beautiful.  There are good things coming from this chocolatier, and the fact that the chocolates are vegan makes them even better.  The average customer would never know though.

Owner Diane Wagemann says that the majority of her customers are not vegan and don't realize her chocolates are made without any animal products.  They just buy them because they're outstanding.  She also uses agave and rice syrup for her sweeteners, and her products are gluten-free as well.

While I was there, several regulars came in for their weekly fix, while others came in to try something different.  You can't find beautiful creations like this at Munson's or Russell Stover (where frankly, as far as I remember, everything tastes like wax).  No, these are unique, hand-crafted, and absolutely delicious.

Here's what I remember sampling (it's all become a chocolate blur to me now, but I'll do my best...):

Chocolate Biscotti Bites
Bonne Shanse Minou ("Lucky Cat" chocolate dipped brownie)
Heath Bar Crunch
Peanut Butter Patty Melt
Prince of India Truffle (spiced with garam masala)
Buddha Bite (a little Buddha man with spicy coconut cream tummy)
Chocolate Covered Chocolate Coconut Bomb (made with Shayna B's cake enrobed in dark chocolate)

If you're ever passing through the area - or like me, will go out of the way for good vegan chocolates - do make a point of stopping by the shop.  Have some vegan soft serve while you're there (I can't stress enough how much better this is than standard Tofutti fare), then fill a box of truffles and chocolates to savor for days to come.  Or at least for the ride home!

smiling buddha with a tummy filled with coconut creme and love

named for the very awesome animal activist, Annie Hornish

a perfect seasonal treat

a very lucky kitty made with brownies and love

A feast for the senses at Fire & Spice

I found myself with a free afternoon yesterday, and since it was a beautiful sunny day with autumn leaves in full glory, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a road trip.  My mission had two goals:  spice & chocolate.  The two are not necessarily incompatible, I soon found.

I headed north to a little hole in the wall treasure, Fire & Spice, a vegan Jamaican restaurant in the west end of Hartford.  It's a casual eating spot with three tables and a large counter where you order items from their warming trays to go.  A medium container with 5 items costs $7.95 - truly a bargain!

It was tough to decide with all of the offerings displayed in front of me, but I decided on a heaping portion of sauteed greens (kale & collard), pumpkin rice, jerk tofu, barbecue tofu, and Ital stew.  Each was rich, flavorful, and comforting as if prepared with love.

I also ordered the samosas (2 for $3) - one lentil and one potato.  These were crisp and tasty and worked perfectly scooping up the remaining sauce at the bottom of my container.

It was a quick lunch and perfectly satisfying for the next leg of my adventure:  a trip to Divine Treasures, the vegan chocolate shop in Manchester.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gluten-free Vegan Apple Cider Donut Muffins

Every fall I look forward to the first batch of apple cider produced by a local farm near me.  And every fall I think to myself, "mmm... apple cider donuts."  Back in my pre-vegan days I was addicted to these sweet treats, and when this time of year rolled around, I would always scoop up at least a dozen from the bake shop at Lyman Orchard, "Connecticut's sweet spot."  I've been missing this tradition for years and decided to do something about it when I found myself with a free afternoon on my hands and a quart of cider in my fridge.

I looked for recipes on-line and found one on the Bon Appetit website pulled from Erin McKenna's Babycakes Covers the Classics cookbook (Babycakes Covers the Classics By McKenna, Erin/ Donne, Tara (PHT).  I scoured my cupboard for ingredients and with a few modifications, I was able to pull together the gluten-free recipe.  The only thing missing was the cute donut pan. 


Instead, I decided to make the recipe in a muffin pan using cupcake liners and a slice of apple in the center to represent the donut hole.  For a first attempt, I think it worked pretty well.  I ended up with a dozen moist and dense donut muffins suitable for dunking.  And they successfully satisfied my apple cider donut craving.  For now.

Next week, I think I'll have to revisit my Grandma's Lithuanian Apple Cake recipe for some more seasonal goodness.  

Apple Cider Donuts
(modified from Erin McKenna's Babycakes Covers the Classics recipe for Plain Cake Donuts)
1/3 cup melted refined coconut oil
1 cup vegan sugar
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup Ener-G tapioca starch
1/4 cup arrowroot
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot apple cider

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with muffin papers and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, both flours, tapioca starch, arrowroot, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, and baking soda. Melt the coconut oil with the hot apple cider, and combine with applesauce and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just to combine. Using a tablespoon, fill each muffin cup about halfway, spreading the batter evenly.  Place an apple slice in the middle of each muffin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until firm and golden. Let cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes and sprinkle with toppings such as cinnamon sugar or icing, then remove to a cooling rack.

Start by mixing the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix together hot cider, coconut oil, applesauce, and vanilla.

Combine with dry ingredients, then pour batter into muffin cups.  Add a slice of apple to the center.

Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until firm and golden.

Top with cinnamon sugar.



Ed note:  These are also super-awesome after being frozen and then microwaved for a few seconds to return them to their fresh-from-the oven warm and spicy glory.