Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Easter Basket!

I don't really celebrate Easter from a religious standpoint, but who doesn't love chocolate bunnies? Especially when your awesome daddy, who doesn't believe one can be too old for an Easter basket, orders that bunny for you.

Yep, I still get an Easter basket. This year, my daddy asked me to pick out a few items from Vegan Essentials for my "basket." Here's what I picked.

There's Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Kettle Chips (they were out of the new sour cream 'n' onion ones!), Wayfare Pig Out Whole Grain Bacony Bits (these are the BEST bacon bits out there), Heritage Southwest Ranch Seasoning Mix (mix with Vegenaise or sour cream), Tofutti Better Than Ricotta Cheese (lasagna time!), a Coconut-Lime Dillo from Cakewalk Baking Company (like a vegan Twinkie!), Smofu Tofu Jerky, Parmela Creamery Kalamata Creamy Treenut Cheese, a little Sjaak's "Milk" Chocolate Easter Bunny, Neat nut meat mix in Mexican and Original, and Follow Your Heart Vegan Bleu Cheese Dressing.

Whew! Daddy went all out this year! Here's what I've tried so far.

Of course, I already opened my little Sjaak's basket. It's teensy, which is perfect because my hips do not need a gigantic chocolate Easter bunny.

The poor little bunny came in upside down!

Inside, there's a little bunny and three vegan rice milk chocolate eggs. I'm actually eating the bunny as I type. It's so yummy. I guess I've really missed that creamy milk chocolate taste. Quality dark chocolate is great and all, but this tastes like the Easter bunnies of my childhood. Much better than fancy dark chocolate!

I opened the Smofu Tofy Jerky right away. This was different from other jerkies I've tried. The seitan-based jerkies tend to be soft and chewy. But this was more tough and chewy, like the homemade meat jerky my daddy used to make in our dehydrator when I was a kid. Good stuff.

I've been enjoying the Parmela Creamery Kalamata Creamy Treenut Cheese on Wasa crackers all week. This is a smooth and creamy cashew cheese with little flecks of olive. Very tasty, but I think they were a tad skimpy with the olives. I would have included three times as much if I made this at home. As for taste, it really tastes like fancy aged dairy cheese. And since it contains coconut milk, it's creamier than most cashew cheeses I've had.

The Coconut-Lime Dillo was the stuff dreams are made of — seriously. It was moist and light and it tasted like the tropics. It's the kind of thing you eat and immediately get sad because it's all gone. Vegan Essentials sells several flavors of these, and it will now be my mission to try them all.

I had a salad with the bleu cheese dressing and bacony bits, but I forgot to photograph it. I've never actually tried dairy bleu cheese dressing because the mold always freaked me out. So I've no idea how spot-on this vegan version is, but it's really delicious. I think of it as a cheesy ranch dressing. Also, those bacony bits are my fave! There were samples in our swag bags from Vida Vegan Con, and I've been dreaming about them ever since. They're actually made from whole grain cereal, so they're healthy!

Finally, I used the Neat Mexican burger mix this week to make nachos! I tried Neat at Seattle VegFest and just had to have some! It's a powdered mix made from ground pecans, garbanzo beans, oats, and spices. You mix with a vegan egg replacer (I used Vegg Baking Mix), and brown in a skillet. I made patties, and then broke those into crumbles for nachos.

Happy (Vegan) Chocolate Bunny Day!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vegan Lo Mein Noodles!

Shortly after I went vegan in 2004, somebody told me that lo mein noodles were egg-based. At the time, it seemed like everyday, some food item was being struck from my list of what I could still eat. I was crushed. Veggie lo mein was always one of my favorite dishes, especially back then because I was all about Chinese buffets. I soon realized that a Chinese buffet doesn't have much to offer vegans. Sadness. From then on, I've always stuck with veggie fried rice (hold the egg).

Well, turns out some lo mein noodles are vegan! I'd guess the kind served in most casual Chinese restaurants are the egg kind. But Explore Asian has a Lo Mein Noodle in its line of organic, wheat noodles, and they sent me some to try. The lo mein is there on the end.

I know I could never recreate the traditional oil-heavy, MSG-laden lo mein that you'd get in a restaurant without balking at the calories. So I didn't even really try to go there. I made a much healthier, low-calorie(ish) Veggie Lo Mein instead. It's basically noodles, a homemade brown sauce (vegan oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, etc.), and veggies (I used bok choy, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, and summer squash).

I'm planning to save the recipe for my next cookbook, which will be a look at veganized food trends through the past decades. The history of Chinese food in America is fascinating! Much of the stuff served in Chinese restaurants here isn't even Chinese.

Dishes like egg fu young and General Tso's chicken were invented here for American palettes when Chinese immigrants were opening restaurants to feed Americans in the post-World War II era. Thrillist has a great list with "10 Little Known Facts About American Chinese Food."

I ate my lo mein tonight with Fried Cream Cheese Wontons (made with vegan wrappers and Daiya chive & onion cream cheese). You can find that recipe here (just leave out the vegan crab for straight-up cheese ones). Here's an old pic of those since the ones I made tonight didn't turn out as pretty.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Phuong Long

Gosh, it's been ages since I've done a Bluff City Vegan Eats post. I only do these when I try a new vegan-friendly Memphis restaurant, and I guess I've been eating at the same places over and over lately. But a couple Fridays ago (yes, I'm quite behind in postings some things), I joined my co-workers Susan and Alexandra in checking out Phuong Long for lunch.

Susan, the managing editor of the Flyer, wanted us to eat there so she could blog about it for work (which she did here on Hungry Memphis), but I wanted to piggyback off her post so I could make sure to include it in my vegan-friendly Memphis restaurant guide.

Anyway, this is a newish Vietnamese place located just a block from my house, so I've no excuse for waiting around to try it. My neighborhood in Crosstown/Evergreen is just around the corner from Memphis' Little Vietnam, and I tend to stick to the Vietnamese joints I already know and love. Plus, the Vietnamese restaurant that previously occupied Phuong Long's space wasn't very vegan-friendly, which is strange for that cuisine. I guess that kept me from trying the restaurant under its new ownership for a bit.

Long story short, Phulong Long is very vegan-friendly! They have several veg dishes under the "Tofu & Vegetarian" section of the menu. Since I have a personal goal of trying every Lemongrass Tofu dish in town, that's what I ordered.

Since we were there for lunch, we ordered the lunch special, which comes with steamed rice and an eggroll. The eggrolls have meat unless you ask for a veggie one, but they're happy to sub. Also, I rarely inquire about the vegan-ness of eggroll wrappers because it seems that many Vietnamese places interchange the words "eggroll" and "spring roll," and many wrappers (especially the Asian brands) are made without eggs. I seriously doubt these guys are using the eggy Nasoya wraps. That being said, feel free to ask and let me know. I tend to shy away from asking too many questions when there's a language barrier.

Anyway, the lemongrass tofu was fantastic! It was saucier than I'm used to for lemongrass tofu, but I enjoyed that. And their tofu is fried to perfection. Pho Binh still makes the best lemongrass tofu in town, but Phuong Long isn't far off.

Susan ordered the Tofu with Bok Choy.

And Alexandra had the Curry Tofu.

Both agreed that the food was really yummy. Since I can walk to Phuong Long from my house, I'll definitely be going back soon.

Phuong Long is located at 306 N. Cleveland. Call 901-725-5079.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

MemFEAST on Broad!

Every year, my neighborhood arts organization, Crosstown Arts, holds a huge vegan-friendly dinner at which artists propose public arts projects and the diners vote on their favorites. It's called MemFEAST, and in years past, it's always been held in my own neighborhood, Crosstown. But this year's event was held in a little arts district just up the street from mine.

The Broad Avenue Arts District is just adorable, and when I'm not hanging out in my own neighborhood, Broad is typically where I go. It's in the Binghampton neighborhood, and about 10 years ago, the stretch of shops was mostly vacant and suffered from a high crime rate. But in the past few years, thanks to some dedicated grassroots-style neighborhood activism, Broad has emerged as a hip little district with art galleries, a dance collective, an arts social club, bars, and other cool stuff. It was also one of the first Memphis neighborhoods to get bike lanes because the residents just painted their own! How DIY! The neighborhood beacon is this old rusty, graffiti-covered water tower.

Photo from

But with the neighborhood experiencing such a renaissance, it seems kinda silly to leave the water tower all rusty. Tonight, Crosstown Arts expanded out of my Crosstown neighborhood to hold "MemFEAST on Broad," where diners voted on murals and sculptures for the water tower. While we heard presentations from three artists chosen as finalists, we dined on amazing vegan food prepared by Chef Miles McMath!

When we arrived, the tables were decorated with vintage knick-knacks from the Cleveland Street Flea Market. And all the pieces had price tags in case anyone wanted to bring one home.

I've been to all five MemFEASTS over the years (there are recaps here, here, here, and here), and the menu is always either totally vegan or vegan with a meat or cheese option. Last year, Chef Miles McMath made a totally meat-free slider bar, but this year, there were options for all diets. Each was labeled with a little sign.

The food theme this year was global street snacks, and everything was made with food that was pesticide-free, GMO-free, regional, and fair trade when possible. Before the buffet began, servers passed out appetizers. The vegan option was Sour Fruit with Chile and Salty Sugar (jicama, green mango, pomegranate, mango, grapefruit, nectarine).

They also passed out Kale Pakoras (deep-fried kale!!!!), but it was served with a vegetarian yogurt sauce. I passed on those, but Amanda, whose husband works for Crosstown Arts, made sure I got a vegan pakora without the sauce later on. I know this looks crazy, but it was delicious! I mean, deep-fried kale! That purple stuff is some kind of chutney.

After the apps were passed around, we watched a dance performance by the Collage Dance Collective. And then it was time for the buffet! Each county had its own table, and everything was served in individual plates, so I had quite a stack of plates going by the end. There was Kimchi Slaw and Freezer Pickle Tacos from the Cambodian Taco Shop. These are great! Love some homemade pickles.

But the Aloo Gobi, Chana Masala, and Naan from the Delhi table was even better.

There was an amazing vegan Yuca Patty topped with Plantains and Avocado and served with Chimmichurri and Butterbean Guacamole from the Colombian table.

My second-favorite dish of the night was this Vegetable Falafel with Field Pea Hummus and Olive Salad on Pita from the Moroccan BBQ stand.

But, for me, the star dish of the night was this Vegan Tamale made with Local Veggies and topped with Pickled Okra. I just love tamales, and this one was perfect. The Grilled Corn on the side was very tasty as well.

As we dined, local rapper Marco Pave performed. And then we heard the artists' presentations. In the end, the winning proposal by artist Suikang Zhao involved some cool LED lighting on the tower with a metal sculpture wrapping around it. It's hard to explain, but I think it will look way cool.

Also, you know I couldn't resist buying something I don't need, right? All night, I kept staring that cat piggy bank pictured above. It looks like something my Me-Maw has in her house, and since I'm really an old cat lady at heart, I just had to have it. Besides, it was only $25!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lots of Stuff I Ate

I've got a big photo dump for y'all tonight. I take pictures of everything I eat, but not every meal warrants its own post. Here's a little photo essay of what I've been eating lately.

I'm still slowly but surely working on my next cookbook, a vegan look back over the past century. Each chapter will be divided by decade, and I learned through a little research that it wouldn't be uncommon for a family in the early 1900s to have a side of Creamed Potatoes with their meal. Now I always thought creamed potatoes were like a creamier mashed potato. But not so. It's actually made from diced, boiled potatoes tossed with white gravy, salt, and pepper. I'm a fan of anything tossed with gravy, so I created this recipe for the book.

I plan to include my go-to recipe for oil-free Sauteed Kale in the 1990s chapter. That's when kale was just beginning to move from garnish to health food (it wouldn't see it's full popularity explosion until the mid-2000s though), and the 90s were also all about low-fat recipes. Yes, that's sriracha on top. Let's keep those sriracha makers in our prayers, shall we? Silly City of Irwindale. This is how I always make kale! And it's so simple — just water, garlic, kale, soy sauce, mirin, and sriracha. Boom!

Last night, I ate at my friend Cassi's house. She blogs over at Pretty In Pink Vegan, and she was sent a copy of Wheeler del Torro's new cookbook Fillet of Soul Afro Vegan to review. So she made the Avocado san Crevettes (black eyed pea salad with avocado-yogurt dressing) from his book and invited me and Aisha over to try it. And she made perfectly chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies. And we had wine. By the way, Cassi is giving away a copy of Wheeler's cookbook on her blog. Check it out!

Here's a really crappily lit picture of my British breakfast this morning — Beans on Toast (Heinz Beans in Tomato Sauce over Ezekiel bread with Earth Balance and nooch). I washed this down with Earl Grey tea, like a real lady.

One Sunday, I was slightly hungover and craving falafel because falafel (and veggie fried rice) is the ultimate hangover food. Sadly, there was nary a homemade falafel in Midtown (all the locally owned Middle Eastern joints were closed or out of falafel). So I was forced to try the Pita Pit for a Falafel Wrap. Fast food, yes. But much tastier than I expected. And it cured what ailed me. I loaded this wrap with all sorts of veggies, plus hummus and avocado spread.

While we're on the subject of handheld food, I have to tell y'all that I am LOVING the Tofurky hot pockets. This is the BBQ Chick'n one! Imagine Vegan Cafe was selling these for a time, but sadly, because they've not enough cooler space, they've stopped selling them. 

Imagine also sold the Tofurky Chick'n Pot Pies for awhile too. But they also took up too much freezer space (they need their freezer for the food they serve there rather than these to-go items). I'm glad I got to try one of these while they lasted. I love pot pie, but I'm really not that into making homemade pie crust. It's such a chore. I loved having this one already made for me. And it had that classic microwave pot pie flavor.

Last week, on the first day back after my Seattle trip, the only dinner in the world that made sense was a salad from the Whole Foods bar. I needed this! (And yes, I had to sneak in just one tofu chicken nugget - upper left corner).

And finally, I leave you this picture of Jalapeno Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates from The New Chicago Diner Cookbook. Dates wrapped in Upton's Seitan Bacon. So very, very good. Been snacking on these all week.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meatless Mondays at Tropical Smoothie!

Yea, yea, it's Thursday, not Monday. But I figured if I shared this with y'all now so you'll know in plenty of time to plan your Monday lunch. If you're anything like me, you're obsessively stringent with your meal plans and you need to know a few days before Monday what you'll be eating then. Or maybe you eat what you feel like when you feel like it. Whatever. Just remember this sweet deal!

So on Monday, I was in Jonesboro, Arkansas while my daddy was having surgery (he's doing well, by the way). Around 11 a.m., my tummy started growling (I'd been up since 5 a.m.), so I headed out to grab a Ruby Tuesdays salad bar to go. Jonesboro is a small town dominated by chain restaurants, and vegan options are slim. But on the way to Ruby Tuesdays, I passed a Tropical Smoothie Cafe and swerved into the parking lot without even having a chance to turn on my blinker (sorry, dude behind me).

For about a year, Tropical Smoothie has allowed diners to substitute Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips in any wrap or sandwich that contains chicken. But in Memphis, the closet Tropical Smoothie to my house is about 20 minutes away, so I'd yet to test this out. I kinda thought maybe the Jonesboro location wouldn't have the vegan chicken because it's Jonesboro. But lo and behold, not only did they offer Beyond Meat, but my cashier even told me his sister is vegan. He was able to help me veganize a sandwich, making sure none of the other ingredients in the sandwich were off-limits.

And not only that, he informed that every Monday at Tropical Smoothie Cafe is Meatless Monday. And meals ordered with Beyond Meat are HALF OFF! I got this Jamaican Jerk Wrap with Beyond Meat (southwestern rice, black beans, asparagus, jerk sauce, onion) and Original Baked Lay's ...

And this 24-ounce Sunny Day Smoothie (orange, banana, kiwi, mango) ...

For only $6!!! The wrap was fantastic, and the smoothie was just perfect. But most of all, I love that a major casual chain restaurant is offering half-off to customers who order their meals vegan-style rather than with meat! How freakin' cool is that?!

On Twitter, Tropical Smoothie said the deal may not be available at all cafes, but it is available at a bunch. I mean, it's in Jonesboro for god's sake. And they did confirm that ALL locations offer Beyond Meat.

So when you're looking for something to eat next Monday (or when you're planning your meals for the week Sunday night), don't forget about Meatless Mondays at Tropical Smoothie!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Oh She Glows Cookbook

Okay, so who doesn't ADORE Angela Liddon and her blog Oh She Glows? That's right. No one. Because she's awesome. Angela went vegan several years ago while combatting an eating disorder. She overcame her cycle of self-starvation and binging and got super-healthy on a totally vegan, whole foods-based diet. And now, quite frankly, she really does radiate from the inside out.

She's been blogging (and sharing her recipes) for years, but now she's released The Oh She Glows Cookbook. It's one of those books (like Isa's Isa Does It) that I just cannot help but dog-ear almost every recipe. Maybe it's the full-color pictures luring me in or maybe it's the simple elegance of the recipes. Or both. But this book definitely has a hold on me.

There's a whole chapter on juices, smoothies, and teas. The breakfast chapter combines sweet and savory options. The entrees are hearty and wholesome, and, perhaps my favorite, is the chapter on power snacks. The desserts are both decadent and healthy at the same time!

Since I'm on a smoothie kick these days, I just had to try the Gym Rat Smoothie (almond milk, almond butter, chia seeds, oats, dates, cinnamon, and vanilla).

Most of my smoothies are thickened with frozen bananas, and that's all fine and good, but every smoothie tastes like banana. So this Gym Rat Smoothie was a welcome change. No bananas! Yet, thanks to the chia seeds and oats, it was just as thick, if not thicker, than my banana smoothies. Plus, it tasted like a snickerdoodle. One can never go wrong with snickerdoodles.

As some of y'all may have seen in my Seattle wrap-up posts, I had a TON of vegan food on my trip weekend before last. So when I returned home, I knew I needed a mini-detox. Enter the Eat Your Greens Detox Soup.

This hearty veggie soup was made with kale, nori, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, garlic, ginger, and onion. It was sooooo nice to get a healthy dose of veggies after my Seattle splurge. I really feel like this soup, enjoyed with a slice of sprouted grain toast, set me back on the right track. Angela's publisher offered to let me publish the recipe for Eat Your Greens Detox Soup here, so I'm posting it at the end of this review.

Of course, you should probably just buy the book right now. You know you want it. There's a recipe for Life-Affirming Warm Nacho Dip for god's sake. And it's healthy because it's made with cashews, carrots, and even spinach! But it's vegan cheese! Just blows my mind.

Also, for those who don't own a juicer, Angela includes a few juice recipes that you don't need a juicer for!

Other recipes that I'm drooling over - Loaded Savory Oatmeal & Lentil Bowl (for breakfast!), Out-the-Door Chia Power Doughnuts (healthy doughnuts!), Summer Harvest Tortilla Soup, Cream of Tomato Soup with Roasted Italian Chickpea Croutons, Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas with Avocado-Cilantro Cream Sauce, 15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta (avocado pasta sauce!), and Broccoli & Cashew Cheese-Quinoa Burritos.

The Power Snacks chapter includes Angela's famous recipe for Classic Glo Bars (oat & seed granola bars), which took the internet by storm a few years ago. She even sold them for awhile through her online Glo Bakery.

And the dessert chapter is loaded with deceptively healthy treats like the Double-Layer Chocolate Fudge Cake (made with whole wheat pastry flour and chocolate-avocado frosting), Homemade Yolos (like Rolos!) with date-caramel sauce, and Crispy Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.

But I'll stop rambling on and on about how great this book is. Next time you're feeling icky 'cause you ate too much crap, make this soup. It's guaranteed to cure what ails ya.

Eat Your Greens Detox Soup
Calling all vegetables lovers! This soup is great if you want to cleanse and detoxify your body, especially before or after an indulgent holiday. It’s packed with detoxifying and immunity-boosting ingredients like broccoli, ginger, mushrooms, kale, nori, and garlic, and will get your healthy eating right back on track.

Serves 3
gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, sugar-free, grain-free
PREP TIME: 25 minutes • COOK TIME: 20 minutes

1 1⁄2 teaspoons (7 mL) coconut oil or olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups (750 mL) sliced cremini or white button mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
1 cup (250 mL) chopped carrots
2 cups (500 mL) chopped broccoli florets
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1⁄2 to 3 teaspoons (7 to 15 mL) grated peeled fresh ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground turmeric
2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground cumin
1⁄8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) ground cinnamon
5 cups (1.25 L) vegetable broth
2 large nori seaweed sheets, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) strips (optional)
2 cups (500 mL) torn kale leaves
Fresh lemon juice, for serving (optional)

1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.

2. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli and stir to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes more.

3. Stir in the ginger, turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant.

4. Add the broth and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 20 minutes.

5. Just before serving, stir in the nori (if using) and kale and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if desired.

Reprinted by arrangement with AVERY, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © GLO BAKERY CORPORATION, 2014.