Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vida Vegan Con, Portland, 2013

I'm back from vegan food blogger conference, Vida Vegan Con, filled with memories, ideas, and lots of delicious food!  I've been posting reviews of my fabulous meals at Homegrown Smoker, Portland's only vegan BBQ, Back to Eden Bakery, which has amazing gluten-free vegan treats as well as soft serve vegan icecream, Sizzle Pie, where I ate a delicious slice of vegan pizza called The Veganator, and the best Lebanese restaurant I've ever eaten in, Nicholas Restaurant. Here are some of my quick impressions of the city, the conference, and well, of course, food!

Speaking of food... one of the most exciting things about this conference was getting to sample new products by vegan companies such as GO Veggie!, So Delicious, Turtle Island (Tofurky), Teeze, Attune Foods (Erewhon), and WayFare Foods.  Upon arrival, we were handed a hefty goodie bag loaded with all sorts of tempting loot.  As if that wasn't enough, the first day featured a grazing bar type lunch where all of these companies handed out samples of their delicious treats.

Here's a lineup of peanut butter offered by Peanut Butter & Co.  My favorite was the chocolate peanut butter, which I think would make a great frosting.  It was yummy on cereal and in a banana smoothie, FYI.

Turtle Mountain, makers of Tofurky, is introducing a new line of "artisinal sausages" later this year.  Flavors include Andouille, Applewood Chick'n, and Spinach Pesto.  I sampled them all and I definitely think these will satisfy even diehard meateaters.  Definitely be sure to grab some to serve to your omni friends and family next time they come to dinner.

Nayonaise by Nasoya is much better than I remember.  It reminded me of Miracle Whip, and tasted really delicious with no augmentation in the potato salad they were serving.  I'd definitely use this at my next picnic.

Vegan, but not gluten-free, and I have no idea how they do it, but these fake bacon bits from WayFare Foods were delicious!  I can totally see using them in a savory bean soup or a tofu quiche with asparagus.  Loved the smoky flavor!

Teese makes great nachos.  You can get the spicy jalapeno or plain cheese and melt up a bunch to drizzle on top.  Sooooo.... goooooood.

I can't stop raving about how awesome this cereal is.  I know it's just cereal, but it's gluten-free, soy-free, and corn-free - all of the things I have to stay away from for health reasons!  It'll be so nice having some real crunch that I can alternate with rice puffs for my morning breakfast.

One of my favorites was the new gluten-free Cookies & Cream flavor from So Delicious.  They handed out samples in these equally good gluten-free cones.  Yum!  I can't wait till this hits shelves later this summer.

Vegan Trivia on opening day.  I would've lost badly if I was up there.  Except for all the nutrition questions... which I geekily knew all of.

The conference took place at the beautiful Portland Art Museum.  My favorite sculpture was in the outdoor patio garden.  And of course, I gave it a hug.

Terry Hope Romero, author of Vegan Eats World among many others, speaking about recipe creation. One of my favorite quotes from her presentation:  "Your recipe is the map, and the food you create with it is the adventure."

Another enjoyable presentation was by the young and talented Hannah Kaminsky, author of My Sweet Vegan.  She recently graduated from college with a degree in photography and demonstrated her food styling techniques.  Here is how she dressed up a simple Pad Thai from Whole Foods.  Looks good enough to eat! :-)

Here she is showing off her "most used tools."

I rode to and from the conference each day on the Portland streetcar.  It was a convenient form of transportation, and essentially free.  Here's the view out the window, which was pretty much a constant ominous cloud since it rained nearly every day I was there.

More ice cream.  This was vegan softserve from Back to Eden Bakery.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this mirage at the Portland Airport.  It was a pleasant way to welcome a weary vegan traveller.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I ate The Veganator at Sizzle Pie

My last day in Portland started with a downpour, so my plans to head out on a roadtrip to the coast abruptly detoured me to the famous Powell's Books.  Yes, it's big.  Yes, it's overwhelming.  And it was exactly the place where everyone decided to converge on a rainy holiday.

Fortunately since the building covers nearly an entire block and is several floors stacked high with books, it was relatively easy to sneak away to the quiet cookbook corner where I discovered an entire wall dedicated to vegetarian and vegan cookbooks.  I managed to graze through the entire collection without piling any into my bag to take home with me... mostly because I have NO ROOM.

When my hunger pangs kicked in, I took the recommendation of a fellow Vida Vegan Con attendee to head to Sizzle Pie for a slice or two of vegan pizza.  I must qualify my impressions by stating that I'm from New Haven, the pizza capitol of the U.S., so it's tough to compete.

That said, my two slices made a pretty decent showing.  The crust was thin, crispy and chewy, and had a nice salty flavor that balanced the toppings well.  There wasn't much sauce, but this allowed the pizza to keep from getting that first bite of a soggy, placid center.

I had The Veganator, which was topped with green peppers, onions, Soyrizo and Daiya mozzarella.  I generally don't like peppers and onions on anything but pizza, so this was a nice combo that had a smokey undertone from the soy sausage.

The other slice was the Let Us Play Your Party, featuring spinach, mushrooms, black olives, onions and a nut-based basil ricotta.  I love the Mediterranean flavors on my pizza, but I wished these were kalamata olives instead of the metallic canned black olives.  The vegan ricotta made up for it with its pleasant texture and flavor.

I'd happily recommend Sizzle Pie for anyone who needs their vegan pizza fix in Portland.  But if you're traveling to the East Coast, definitely head to New Haven's DeLegna Cucina which can make any of their traditional and artisinal pies vegan with the substitution of Daiya.  Bon appetit!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Back to Eden Bakery

I'm in Portland this week for the Vida Vegan Con, but I had two days before the festivities begin to explore the city solo.  The first morning was spent wandering around the Rose Test Garden, Japanese Garden, and Arboretum at Washington Park.  Even in the incessant cold rain, it was sublime.

Afternoon hunger pangs lead me to consult my list of vegan restaurants I had compiled prior to leaving for my trip.  The one that drew me in was buckwheat crepes... with vegan nutella.  It seemed like it would be the perfect light lunch that was almost breakfast since I hadn't had my morning sweet fix, aside from an apple.

So I headed to NE Alberta for Suzette Creperie, one of many French themed restaurants in the city, but this one had a vegan section on their menu and came highly recommended on Happy Cow.  I drove through pouring rain and bumper to bumper traffic, then pulled up in front with a sense of victory, only to find that the spot was no longer a creperie, but instead a Middle Eastern cafe.  UG!!  (Note to Happy Cow: please update your site!  Note to self:  Always call ahead!).

Fortunately for me, this section of the city had 2 other vegan options:  a food cart and a gluten-free vegan bakery.  I chose the latter because I needed to sit inside somewhere warm.

And I was glad for the rain.  And the mixup in plans.  Because Back to Eden Bakery was an oasis of sweet and savory treats that were welcome to this weary traveler.

It was difficult to decide what to start with when I searched the array of wraps, tarts, salads, and mini quiches in the display, and there was also soup and biscuits & gravy (yikes!!).  I chose the mini cashew asparagus tart, which was perfectly satisfying.  The filling of creamy cashew had a cheesy, bacony undertone and it sat nicely in a light and flaky crust.  This was a lovely lunch.

Then came the desserts.... I wanted to take the whole case to go, but I restrained myself to just the Rocky Road Mini Cake and the Almond Strawberry Whoopie Pie.  Both were outstanding.

The cake had a moist, dense, yet tender crumb.  It was enrobed in a bittersweet chocolate ganache that was the ideal accompaniment to the super sweet cake. Inside there was a filling of creamy marshmallowy goodness.

For breakfast the next morning, I enjoyed the Whoopie Pie.  This was like two soft almond macaroons filled with a sweet and fruity frosting.  It was quite a sugar shock to the tastebuds first thing in the morning... but I'm not complaining.  It was fabulous.

Back to Eden was a happy accident that I stumbled upon.  And I'm definitely going to plan a return visit for some goodies to take back on the plane home.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hello pillowy pita cloud!

This week I will be in Portland attending the Vida Vegan Con vegan food blogger conference.  Not only am I looking forward to this amazing event, but I am thrilled to finally be visiting one of the great vegan food meccas of the world.

I arrived in Portland exhausted, frustrated, achy and famished after taxi-ing on the runway for 3 hours during a hail-thunderstorm in Dallas in a stuffy airplane with no water, followed by a 4-hour flight, then driving through torrential rain and rush hour traffic. My first vegan meal in Portland was Lebanese because it was only 7 minutes away from the hotel.  On a stretch of highway punctuated by fast food restaurants and steak joints, I wasn't expecting much - falafel alone would've sufficed! - but this blew me away.

Happy Cow informed me that I had 3 options within 10 miles of my hotel:  a health food store, a health food cafe, and Nicolas Lebanese Restaurant.  Because it was already 7:45 p.m. and the first 2 places closed at 6:00, I chose the Lebanese.

It was a cozy little spot on a quieter stretch of sidewalked side street with neighboring craft shops, a brewery, and ice cream parlor.  My first thought was, "at least it looks warm and dry."

I love Middle Eastern foods like falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, and tahini, and that's what I was expecting here.  It would've been fine, too.  But this wasn't your standard fare.  Instead, everything tasted fresh, hand made with love, seasoned a little more generously with garlic, herbs and spices, and oh so satisfying.

It was by happy accident that I stumbled upon this hidden treasure, and I'm glad I did.  Had my plane arrived on time, I would've taken the drive downtown to visit one of the 200+ dining hotspots recommended by Happy Cow and other vegan bloggers.  Nope, this is my little secret oasis, and I would recommend it to anyone coming to the area.

This is what arrived at my table on its own little stand:  a puffy pita cloud steaming with doughy goodness.  How could I possibly resist?  I decided to forgo the gluten-free dietary requirement in order to inhale this delicate bread.  It came with an unusual (to me), yet nonetheless delicious, dipping sauce called manakish, made with olive oil, parsley, thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds.

Stuffed Grape Leaves were filled with rice, pine nuts and raisins and perched in a pool of creamy tahini lemon sauce made a luscious accompaniment.

The vegan Arabian Mezza Platter included Baba Ghanoug, Hummus with Caramelized Onion, Garlic Roasted Cauliflower, Falafel, and Hamara, a sweet and savory pate made with roasted red pepper, tomato and walnuts.  This would've been a feast for 2 people, so I enjoyed as much as I could last night and took the rest home to my hotel room, which I enjoyed this morning for breakfast.  There's still some left for an afternoon snack that I'm already looking forward to.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Healthy Cooking in a Hurry" class

I've been teaching this class for West Hartford Adult Education for the past 8 years with a changing seasonal menu, and it always fills up fast.  Because there was a waiting list with enough people for a second session this spring, I agreed to offer Part II last week.  Here are some highlights from our evening together.

Vichyssoise with Parsley Oil and Fresh Dill Sprig

A closeup of the luscious vichyssoise

Chickpea Croquettes with Creamy Cashew Dill Sauce and Mediterranean Quinoa

A closeup of the entree

Gluten-free Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On the Menu

What do we have going on this week?  A mix of warm sunshine, cool spring showers, followed by a little bit of summer humidity.  And likewise, the menu is a similar melange of hot and cold weather treats.  I'm already getting ready for a Memorial Day picnic!

Mock "Chicken Salad" with Tomato and Cucumber

Fire Roasted Tomato "Sausage" and Mushroom Ragout with Stewed Zucchini

Pasta Primavera with Basil Walnut Pesto