Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vegan Drinks Taco Tuesday!

We had our one-year Vegan Drinks-aversary tonight! A year ago in July, a group of Memphis vegans met up for happy hour at Chiwawa, a vegan-friendly taco joint in Overton Square with snazzy margaritas. And so it was fitting that tonight, a year later, we met for tacos again in Overton Square. But this time, we gathered at Babalu.

Here's Cassi and Nathan.

Babalu is fairly new, and most of us hadn't been yet. They have tacos, tapas, fancy cocktails, and tableside guac. And upon inspection of their menu, it looked like they had a few veganizable options. They don't take reservations, but I Facebook-messaged them to expect a large number of vegans. They told me they'd have a server ready to explain what we could and couldn't eat.

And they did! His name was Brandon, and he was awesome. He informed us that Babalu's sour mix contains egg whites, but they were happy to sub lemonade for any drink that called for sour mix. Cassi made that substitution with her Champarita (sparkling wine, agave nectar, lemonade, triplesec), and it was delicious.

I went with the TC Tea (sweet tea vodka, mint, lemon, powdered sugar, sprite). Wow. This may be my new favorite fancy cocktail. I've long been a fan of sweet tea vodka, but this was the perfect combo of flavors. And the sprite added a nice bit of bubbly.

Jennifer went with a Cat 5 (Cathead vodka, mint, agave nectar, soda, lime, bitters).

And Pam opted for Babalu's twist on the margarita — the Baba-rita (Patron Silver, agave nectar, Patron Citronge, lemonade, POM 1) — with the lemonade subbed for sour mix. Stephanie and her kid Peter are totally photo-bombing!

 Autumn had a glass of the Red Sangria.

And Cassi's second drink was the Rose Sangria, or the "pink sangria" as she called it. When the server asked if she wanted "red, white, or rose," Cassi just said "pink." Yep, that's Cassi.

After I finished my TC Tea, I went with my current favorite local brew — High Cotton Scottish Ale. It's so creamy and almost chocolatey. Love it! Babalu gives you the option of ordering a 14-ounce beer or a 20-ounce beer. Of course, I chose the 20-ounce!

Now we might have drank a fair amount, but I promise we ate too! Babalu has a few vegan options, but we mostly all ordered the same thing. Vegetal Tacos (with summer squash, crimini mushroom, radish, corn, red onion, chipotle vinaigrette, and arugula). These come with goat cheese, but it can easily be left off.

We all loved the tacos! The shells were light and pillowy. The veggies were perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned, and the chipotle vinaigrette was smoky and spicy. I even liked the arugula! And I generally hate arugula.

On the side, several of us ordered Tableside Guacamole. Our server Brandon made it fresh right there!

And each order made a ton! I think each bowl had two and a half or three avocados! This guac was insane, mostly because of the genius addition of sundried tomatoes. I will always add those to my guac now.

Stephanie also ordered Chips and Pico for her kid Peter. But he's, like, three or something, and he decided he just wanted chips. So we ate his pico. It was fresh and tasty.

The service at Babalu was fantastic, and the food was outstanding. And of course, the cocktails were expertly crafted and delicious. Bonus: There's a mouthwash dispenser in the bathroom with tiny disposable cups! So you can freshen your breath after eating all that oniony guac and pico.

We'll definitely be back here for Vegan Drinks in the future.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Vegan Cheeseburger Oats

Okay, this is totally weird, I know. But this morning, I made Vegan Cheeseburger Oats. 

Let me explain. I've long been a fan of savory oats over sweet oats. Don't get me wrong — I can certainly get down with maple-sweetened oats piled high with dollops of almond butter and fresh berries. But give me a choice, and I'll pick noochy oats over fruity oats any day.

I've made a number of actual recipes for savory oats (like this Loaded Savory Oat & Lentil Bowl from the Oh She Glows Cookbook), but I typically just wing it. I'll start with plain rolled oats or steel cut oats, stir in some nutritional yeast, flax oil, hot sauce, etc. And then I'll top the bowl with walnuts or pumpkin seeds or sesame seed gomasio or something nutty. My fave-ever bowl was one that I topped with green olives, pepitas, and sundried tomatoes. Yum!

But this morning, I was feeling a little wacky. I knew I wanted to add protein to my oat bowl, but my nut supply is running short. I do, however, have a lot of veggie burger crumbles. I opted for the Dixie Diner Beef Not! crumbles, which are basically TVP crumbles. I rehydrated them and then sauteed in Magic Vegan Bacon Grease and seasoned with shoyu, liquid smoke, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Then I put 'em atop my noochy oats! Cheeseburgers need tomatoes, so I added those on top. And I stirred some spinach into the oats for good measure. You can't go wrong adding greens. Delicious! The only thing that would have made this bowl even better are slices of avocado. Yum! And maybe some ketchup and dill pickles, no?

Vegan Cheeseburger Oats
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup water
1/2 cup baby spinach
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup seasoned veggie burger crumbles
1 large slice tomato, chopped
hot sauce to taste
optional extra toppings: avocado slices, dill pickle, ketchup, mustard, thinly sliced red onion

Combine the oats and water in a large measuring cup and microwave for three minutes.

Stir in spinach until it wilts. Stir in nutritional yeast. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top bowl with seasoned veggie burger, tomato, hot sauce, and other desired toppings.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Paul Cooked Tofu ... Twice!

BREAKING NEWS!!!! My carnivorous boyfriend bought tofu all by himself, cooked it all by himself, and ate it all by himself. Twice in one week.

Yep, that's Paul cooking tofu.

About a week ago, Paul and I stopped at Kroger to grab a couple things. We entered the store and went our separate ways, and then we met back up in the produce section. Paul often declares that he's going to start eating better, and he'll stock up on cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and romaine. He's always liked salads. So he's grabbing that stuff in produce while I'm squeezing avocados, looking for the perfectly ripe ones.

And then he walks up to me and says, with a proud smirk on his face, "Where's the tofu?" Just like that. I pointed him in the right direction and advised him to buy extra-firm. Then we went home, and he got to work making little tofu nuggets to dip in barbecue sauce. He's seen me cook tofu enough times to have a clue what to do, but I did have to remind him to press it first. Then I left him to his own devices.

Paul's always been good at seasoning things. When we make spaghetti together, he's in charge of sauteed mushrooms because he does it better than me. I didn't guide him on how to season tofu, and you know what? He did a great job! He used a mixture of Dale's Seasoning (a very delicious, very high-sodium marinade), garlic salt, seasoned salt, and lime juice. And then he fried the tofu on very high heat until it developed a crispy, golden exterior. He dipped his tofu nuggets in super-spicy Trinidad Scorpion BBQ sauce (because everything Paul eats has to be so spicy it'll make your tongue fall off).

A couple days later, Paul went to Kroger on his own and came back with more tofu, fresh mushrooms, spaghetti, and jarred spicy red pepper marinara. He made a similarly seasoned tofu and sauteed the cubes with mushrooms. And then he topped his pasta with the mixture.

I'm quite proud of him! He's not pledging to go vegan or anything. But baby steps, right? Over the years, he's tried various things: vegetarian until 6 p.m., breakfasts of vegan protein smoothies, etc. So it's not the first time he's dipped his toe into veganism. But learning to cook and love tofu is a big step for an omnivore! And since he's good at it, I may just put him in charge of cooking tofu for me too.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rockin' the Casbah

I've already done an official Bluff City Vegan Eats post about Casablanca, a Moroccan/Middle Eastern restaurant. But that post was from 2011 when Casablanca only had one location on Poplar in East Memphis. Now there is a second location in Cordova on Germantown Parkway, and it recently changed its name to Casbah to distinguish itself from its sister restaurant. Same menu, same owners, different name. (Yes, I know The Clash are stuck in your head now. You're welcome.).

For those who don't live here, Cordova is way out in the 'burbs, so I don't get out there often. To a Midtowner like me, Cordova seems to be all strip malls and chain restaurants, and about the only thing that drags me out that way are the handful of friends I have who live there. One of those is my friend Cindy. We haven't seen one another in a bit, and Cindy eats meat (and she can be a bit of a picky eater). But the one thing we both love is Middle Eastern fare.

So we met for dinner at Casbah last night. It was my first time checking out the Cordova location. As most things in Cordova are, it's located in a strip mall. But inside, you're transported to another land. The decor is much fancier here than in the older East Memphis location.

As for the food, it's all the same! Cindy ordered their locally famous ginger-sage tea. It's supposed to be the bee's knees. But I'm just not a tea girl, so I opted for Turkish coffee. Few things in the world can top coffee with cardamom. Or anything with cardamom, really.

I typically order the falafel sandwich (called the Big Mac of the East) at the other place, so I decided to try something different — the Vegetarian Platter.

Now, this typically comes with spanakopita, but that contains cheese. So I asked to leave that off and sub with extra falafel. On the plate are lots of falafel, stuffed grape leaves with carrots and squash, and hummus. A basket of pita was served on the side.

They have AMAZING falafel! I won't say it's the best in town. That honor would go to Al-Rayan. But it's close. I'd put it in second place. Definitely the best falafel that side of East Parkway. My only complaint was there simply wasn't enough hummus. I like to dip my falafel and my pita in hummus, and there were only about two tablespoons here. Luckily, Cindy shared her Baba Ganoush. Casbah definitely wins the award for best baba ganoush in Memphis. Hands down.

Here's an old pic of Baba Ganoush from a visit to their other location. I forgot to take one last night.

Note to self: Next time I order the Vegetarian Platter, order a side of this!

I'm adding the address for Casbah to the Casablanca entry in my Memphis Vegan Dining Guide, but in case you wanna know now, it's 1890 N. Germantown Pkwy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Macaroni & Tomatoes & Squash

Yesterday, I shared a picture of my first "cookbook," a Lisa Frank notebook filled with recipes I dreamed up when I was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12. My mama recently dug it up while organizing a closet, and she gave it to me. I'd forgotten all about it! It's filled with craziness, like a recipe for hot dogs topped with salad or one that calls for Taco Bell mild sauce as an ingredient.

Anyway, I'm making it my mission to veganize most (or maybe all!) of the recipes contained within. I started that process last night, and I shared my recipe for Binky's Bum Beans, which are basically just baked beans with potatoes and corn. I have to say, the recipe was pretty damn good.

Tonight, I'm at it again with another recipe from Binky's Cookbook (in case you missed yesterday's post, "Binky" was my childhood nickname). This time, I made a dish I used to call Tomato 'n' Squash Casserole.

As you can see, I didn't get very detailed in my instructions with this one. I guess I was assuming everyone already knew how to make both macaroni & tomatoes and boiled squash because my mama made those dishes all the time.

She'd often make her macaroni and tomatoes (basically elbow mac cooked with stewed tomatoes) and her boiled squash (yellow squash boiled with butter and onions) as individual side dishes for the same meals. But I'd take both sides and mix 'em together. And I apparently considered that to be a casserole.

Well, now I'm older and wiser and realize that two stovetop dishes mixed together does not a casserole make. So I'm changing the name for this one. It involves making my Mama's Macaroni & Tomatoes from Cookin' Crunk, separately making boiled squash, and then combining them in the end. I tried the combo last night, and you know what? It's still delicious!

Here's the updated recipe for Macaroni & Tomatoes & Squash. This recipe is best enjoyed at the height of the summer growing season, when tomatoes are juicy (and cheap!) and crookneck yellow squash is abundant (like right now!). Stewing the tomatoes is a little time-consuming, so I'd recommend doing that the night before, or you could always cheat with a can of stewed tomatoes.

Macaroni & Tomatoes & Squash
Yields 4-6 servings

8 large tomatoes
1 cup water
8 ounces quinoa macaroni pasta or whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 yellow summer squash, sliced
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
2 teaspoons onion powder
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Wash the tomatoes and place them in a large soup pot with a lid. Add enough water to cover. Bring the water to boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the tomatoes into a colander over the sink. Run cold water over the tomatoes so they’re cool enough to touch. Remove the skins and discard.

Chop the tomatoes into quarters and place them back into the large soup pot with the cup of water. Bring to a boil. Then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for one hour. Check periodically to ensure the water does not dry up. Add more water in 1/4 cup increments if needed.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is tender, drain the cooking water and return the pasta to the pot. Stir in the stewed tomatoes and olive oil.

Meanwhile, while the pasta is cooking, place the squash in another saucepan and cover with water until squash is just covered. Add the vegan margarine and onion powder, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium-high and boil until squash is just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Drain most of the water from the squash, retaining about one-half to 3/4 cup liquid. Add the squash and liquid to the macaroni and tomatoes. Season with plenty of salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Binky's Bum Beans

A few things you should know about my childhood:
  • My nickname was Binky, short for Binky-doo. A fifth grade teacher couldn't pronounce Bianca, so she called me Binky. It stuck throughout most of high school.
  • I loved all things Lisa Frank (and still do!). And yes, I've read about the sad and seedy underbelly of Lisa Frank's company on Salon.com. But that exposé will never shatter my love for frolicking rainbow unicorns, bunny ballerinas, and pineapples dressed in bikinis.
  • I fancied myself a young chef. I was always in the kitchen mixing up spice blends (lots of garlic powder and seasoned salt!), and I even wrote a cookbook!
I'd actually forgotten about my early attempts at authoring a cookbook though. And then my mom found this a few months back when she was cleaning house.

That, my friends, is my first cookbook. It's an old Lisa Frank notebook with a 1990 copyright, and it's one of her Ultra Neo designs. So I'm guessing I must have been between 10 and 12 when I filled these lined pages with recipes. Flipping through, I discovered some that are pretty crazy — Stir-Fried Wieners, Salad Dog (a hot dog topped with a salad), and McBinky Burgers (hamburgers topped with lunch meat, Velvetta cheese, and Taco Bell mild sauce, among other things). And, I shit you not, there's a recipe for a Meat Dog (hot dog topped with bacon, lunch meat, and hamburger meat).

Suffice to say, I wasn't a vegetarian yet then. That didn't happen until I turned 14. And I swear I wasn't a stoner at age 10, but it certainly sounds like it, no?

Anyway, I'm making it my mission to actually veganize some of these recipes. Yes, even the Meat Dog. I'll blog about my efforts and share the recipes in a series of posts. But I wanted to start with something a little healthier than vegan meat-covered meat. So I picked this recipe for Bum Beans.

No idea why they're "bum" beans, and I'm not certain saying the word "bum" is even PC these days. But oh well. I tried this recipe tonight, and you know what? This was actually really good! Go Binky! Here's the healthy vegan version of Binky's Bum Beans.

And here's the updated vegan recipe. The only real change I made was to cut back on the onion powder and add a little garlic. I used frozen corn instead of canned corn. Oh, and I tried to get a little more specific in the steps than my previous instruction of "cook 'til hot." Ha!

Binky's Bum Beans
Yields 4 cups

1 whole Russet potato, cubed
1 14-ounce can vegetarian baked beans (I used Whole Foods 365 brand)
1 cup frozen corn
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon of seasoned salt (I used Ass Kickin' Habanero Hot Salt)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cover the potato cubes with water in a large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat over medium-high for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Stir in the potatoes. Serve.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stuff I Ate

"What I Ate Monday" (or "What I Ate Tuesday" if you're reading this tomorrow) doesn't have the same ring to it as "What I Ate Wednesday," but oh well. That won't stop me from sharing my regular round-up of random meals.

I serve on the board of directors for an HIV/AIDS nonprofit called Friends for Life, and last week, I met up with director Kim for lunch. There's a great little Vietnamese place just across from FFL headquarters called Saigon Le, and it had been WAY TOO LONG since I'd eaten there. I ordered the Curry Tofu Soup.

The creamy coconut milk soup is loaded with fried tofu, potatoes, and carrots. It comes in a gigantic bowl, and it's definitely enough for two meals. I portioned mine out and topped with rice noodles, mung bean sprouts, and garlic-chili sauce.

At home, I've been eating a smidge healthier. I'm really digging Vega Chocolate Orange Smoothies for my post-run breakfasts (Vega One chocolate powder, segments from one whole orange, zest from one orange, and one cup of almond milk).

And on non-running days, I've been loving Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits! This one has fresh strawberries, Whole Soy & Co. Vanilla Yogurt, and Cascadian Farms Maple Brown Sugar Granola.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't include a few meals from Imagine Vegan Cafe in this post. Since I eat there once or twice a week, I always have pics of Imagine's food. After my vegan hambuger/fries/milkshake splurge there a couple weeks back, I've been trying to order some of their healthier fare to make up for it. Last week, I got this Portabella Wrap with black beans, portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sauteed green peppers, spinach, and creamy garlic sauce.

Even though Imagine's focus is on vegan meaty dishes, they do serve vegetable plates. I rarely order those, but sometimes, a girl needs her veggies. I recently ordered this plate with Red Beans & Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens, and Coleslaw to-go.

When I order super-healthy meals at Imagine, I usually balance that out with dessert. Imagine has the best desserts in the city. And maybe I'm a little biased because my friend Stephanie bakes them, but she's kind of a cupcake wizard. Just sayin'. Last week, I ordered this light and airy Strawberry Champagne Cupcake from Imagine. Look at the edible bubbles!

But few desserts can top this Insanity Bar from Imagine!! There's a layer of chocolate chip cookie topped with a layer of Oreos topped with a layer of brownie.

And I'll leave you with that. You're welcome.