Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vegan Drinks: Burger Edition

Tonight, we had our monthly Vegan Drinks meetup at Slider Inn. I must have a craving for sliders every September because, unbeknownst to me, I scheduled this month's meetup for the same place I scheduled us last September! As the name would imply, Slider Inn serves sliders.

Here's the group early on. In this photo is Jennifer Harber, Pam, Richard, Stephanie, and Tiffany. Later, Jennifer Smith, Vaughan, and Nicole arrived, but I was too busy eating by then to remember to take pictures.

I started off with a New Belgium Tour de Fall Pale Ale. There's a slight chill in the air, and fall is right around the corner, so I figured I should give in to the Universe and get a fall beer. This was a fantastic beer! Even though I sort of hate fall because it means winter is coming, I love the taste of fall beers and fall foods. This had a crisp, almost spicy taste.

But once that was gone, I couldn't resist one final summer beer (okay, I'm sure I'll have a few more summer beers before the season officially ends on Sept. 23rd) — Memphis Made Soulful Ginger. This is a light gingery saison, perfect for patio days.

Richard had a Soulful Ginger too, and Jennifer opted for a Woodchuck. Not pictured: Pam also had Woodchuck, and I think Stephanie stuck with Yuengling.

They have three veg options — two that are already vegan and one that's easily made vegan. I'd never tried the Nuts and Berries slider, but I was craving peanut butter for some reason. So these tiny PB & strawberry preserve sandwiches hit the spot. Also, I LOVE Slider Inn's skinny fries.

Others at the table ordered the Vegan Triple B slider (beets, black beans, brown rice) with avocado and sprouts (top) and the Falafel Sliders with black bean hummus (bottom). The falafel sliders typically come with yogurt sauce, so you have to get that left off.

Since we had some latecomers, I hung around until about 8 p.m., just chatting and enjoying patio weather while it's still here. Sigh. I'm really gonna miss summer.

Anyway, if you'd like to stay up-to-date on the next Memphis Vegan Drinks meetup, join our Facebook group!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stuff I Ate: Mofo Edition

Oops! Sorry I didn't blog last night. I kinda fell asleep binge-watching season two of Orange Is the New Black and eating popcorn. And when I woke up, it was actually time for bed. And I was too sleepy to blog. My bad!

Anyway, my Mofo theme is Pantry Raid. And I can say that much of what you'll see in tonight's random assortment of stuff I ate came from my well-stocked pantry and freezer. But I've thrown in a few restaurant meals and treats too because I'm still eating out a couple times a week.

Tonight, I had Daiya Fire-Roasted Vegetable Pizza, which I impulse-bought about a month ago when I realized my formerly skeezy neighborhood Kroger was now selling Daiya pizza. They just expanded their health food section, and now they have all sorts of awesome stuff that I used to have to drive to fancy Kroger for. Lookout world!

On the side, I had something I've been eating a ton of all month — Carrot "Tuna" Salad. This is made from leftover carrot pulp from juicing, and since I juice several days a week, I always have lots of pulp. I bought the Raw Carrot "Tuna" Salad seasoning blend at the Memphis Plant-Based Food Fest at the end of August, so that forms the base of the flavor. It has seaweed, nooch, maybe some sesame seeds, garlic powder, onion powder, and some other secret stuff that isn't listed on the label. The salad also has Just Mayo, celery, and chopped pickles. So good!

Remember when I mentioned my Kroger Manager's Special hoarding problem last week? Well, they seem to always have all-natural cereals and granolas on sale. And even though I don't eat much cereal, it seems too good a deal to pass up. I'd been hoarding this Cascadian Farms Maple Brown Sugar Granola for too long. I finally had some for breakfast last week with vanilla almond milk and banana slices.

I had a lot of leftover aged Vegan Cashew Chevre and Vegan Sharp Cheddar (both from Miyoko's Artisan Vegan Cheese book) from last week's wine party. So I've been having my own little wine parties after work every day. Vegan cheese, crackers, and wine make a lovely pre-dinner snack. (Oops, you can totally see my dirty dishes in the sink!!)

Last Friday, my hula-hoop choreography class at Co-Motion Studio performed our first public routine (to Bob Marley's "Soul Shakedown Party"). I was afraid to eat much before the show for fear of getting gas or something. Eek! So I waited until afterward and got a Smoked Veggies & Rice Plate from the Hi-Tone music venue next door to the hoop studio. They have a guy named Richard who cooks things outside in a smoker. He always has one vegan option because a lot of the bands that play the Hi-Tone are punks and hardcore bands with vegan members. These smoked veggies were AWESOME! Anything smoked is crazy good.

This past weekend was Cooper-Young Fest, a massive arts, crafts, and music festival in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. I went with Paul's sister Sheila and Greg, and when we got hungry, we headed down to Imagine, which is located in Cooper-Young. And the best thing in the world happened!!! They had homemade Vegan Doughnuts!!!!!!!!! They don't usually sell doughnuts, but Kristie was frying them up just for the fest. THIS WAS INSANELY GOOD!

Speaking of desserts at Imagine, I went to brunch on Sunday and couldn't resist one of Stephanie's Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls. I always resist pumpkin until after the Harvest Moon, the full moon in September. But that happened last week, so pumpkin season is officially here! I took this home and had it for breakfast this morning.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

All Hail the Vegan Taco!

I get a lot of vegan cookbooks for review in my mailbox. And I love most all of them. But there are a few that just blow me away. Such was the case with Vegan Tacos: Authentic & Inspired Recipes for Mexico's Favorite Street Food by Jason Wyrick.

Maybe it's just because I freaking love tacos. Maybe it's the gorgeous full-color pics. Or maybe it's all of that, plus the amazing amount of time and research that I'm certain went into writing this taco tome. Not only does Wyrick give us recipe after recipe for mouth-watering vegan tacos, he also gives us a taco history lesson in his Tacos 101 section. He tells us the proper way to eat a taco. He tells us about nixtamalization, the process of soaking and boiling dried corn in an alkaline solution, creating the base for tortilla dough. He even tells us about how Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, invented the hard shell. Who knew?

Love a good history lesson with my meal. But most importantly, I love my meal. And Vegan Tacos has you covered with a ton of recipes — veggie tacos, plant meat tacos, tempeh tacos, bean tacos, guacamole tacos, breakfast tacos, the list goes on. After much deliberation, I finally settled on Tacos with Hot Dogs in Tomato Salsa.

Yes, that's right. I poured through pages of fancy tacos — some made with smoked or roasted veggies, others with super-gourmet preparations — and I settled on the hot dog taco. I'm sure that says something about me. But I don't care because these were delicious!

According to the recipe intro, hot dog tacos are a thing in Mexico City, and even though Jason makes a little fun of the idea, he admits these are to die for. Tofurky Beer Brats are simmered in dark ale and then cooked with fresh tomatoes, onion, and cilantro. Stuff the filling into a tortilla and add a squeeze of lime and hot sauce. Food of the vegan gods.

Now about those tortillas, the book includes several recipes for making your own corn, wheat flour, or hard shells. In keeping with my Mofo Pantry Raid theme, I opted to make corn tortillas with the giant bag of masa harina that had been hanging out in my pantry for a couple years. But I opened up that bag, and yuck! Bugs! This is why you shouldn't hoard food. I used to keep masa in the fridge to prevent bugs, but my fridge just got too full. Yes, I know I have a problem.

Anyway, lucky for me, I live about two blocks from an international food market. So I ran down and got a new bag of masa. Then I set out to making dough and pressing tortillas. The book recommends using a tortilla press to flatten the balls of dough, but I didn't want to buy a new piece of kitchen equipment. So I laid out some parchment paper, set the dough balls on top, covered them in plastic wrap, and pressed down on each one with my heavy cast iron skillet. Boom.

 Here they are cooking on a griddle.

And here they are stacked and ready to fill. These were so soft and fresh-tasting. Not at all like packaged corn tortillas. And since they were such a cinch to make, I think I'll start making them fresh every time.

As for the rest of the book, let me just list a few recipes that caught my eye.
* Baja Style Tacos with Lobster Mushrooms
* Tacos Dorados with Plantains, Black Beans & Roasted Garlic (these are fried after they're filled!)
* Basket Tacos with Chipotle Coconut Beans
* Hash Brown and Black Bean Tacos with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
* Tacos with Crispy Greens (these are filled with Swiss chard tempura!)
* Hominy & Seitan Tacos in Roasted Garlic Cascabel Sauce (cascabel is a chili pepper)

And there are even dessert tacos! The Sweet Crispy Tacos with Ancho-Vanilla Ice Cream, Mexican Chocolate, and Salted Peanuts sound divine.

There will definitely be future taco nights in my life, and Vegan Tacos will be my new go-to guide.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bargain Shoppers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Bianca, and I am a food hoarder. Every time I visit my neighborhood Kroger — usually once a day, sometimes twice — I go in the door with a mission to get just what's on my list, nothing more. As those automatic glass doors slide open and I enter the store, I repeat a mantra, "I will only get what I came for. I will only get what I came for."

But nine times out of ten, that mantra goes to hell less than five seconds after I hoist a plastic shopping basket over the crook of my elbow. As I'm standing in the produce section fondling avocados in search of the ripest one, my thoughts turn to an aisle clear across the store — the Manager's Special aisle. The aisle filled with products that some kind manager, whomever or she was, has thoughtfully slashed prices for and broadcast those deals to the world with a bright orange and yellow sticker. Before you know it, my basket is so heavy with clearance items, I'm switching to a wheeled cart. Awww ... I get a little farklempt just thinking about it.

Anyway, that my friends, is the source of my hoarding problem. It's genetic, I'm certain. My Granny has the same condition. I remember going grocery shopping with her and Pa as a kid, and we'd stop at three different stores just to save 50 cents. Did Granny need 10 cans of green beans? No. But they were on sale! I thought it was a little silly back then, but now I totally get it.

And so, that's why this Mofo, I'm working on using some of that pantry stash in my Pantry Raid theme. Tonight, I created a meal almost solely from items I bought on Manager's Special at Kroger — Tolerant Organic Black Bean Mini Fettuccine, Bertolli Tomato & Basil Sauce, and Yves Meatless Ground.

Here's how much I paid! The veggie burger was marked down to $1.50 from $3, and the sauce was only $1 (regularly $2.59). The Tolerant pasta was $2.99, even though it typically costs $6.99! That gluten-free stuff is pricey sometimes.

I bought each of these items at different times. The veggie beef has been in my freezer for about a year, I'd guess. I found the sauce and pasta more recently but not on the same shopping trip. I'd even forgotten I had some of this stuff, but while scouring my pantry for meal ideas, a light bulb when off. Duh. I had all the makins of a pasta dinner! I paired the pasta & meat sauce with some fresh okra (sauteed in garlic, cumin, and hint of canola oil) that Granny gave me last week. Ta-da!

I love the color of that black bean pasta! I'd tried Tolerant's red lentil pasta before and loved it. And this black bean pasta was equally delicious. It had only a hint of black bean flavor, so it didn't contrast too much with the pasta sauce. I do think it would be lovely in a Mexican-style pasta dish though. But I would have had to buy more stuff for that ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cookie Dough Protein Smoothie!

We're well into the second week of Mofo and I'm sort of sticking to my Pantry Raid theme. Sort of. I'm supposed to be basing my meals around items I already have in my pantry or freezer. And I'm finding that, while I am indeed doing that, it's nearly impossible to find a recipe you don't have to buy anything for. Tonight's Cookie Dough Protein Shake is a perfect example.

I found this recipe on Chocolate Covered Katie's blog back in August, and I promptly pinned it to my Smooth(ie) Playa board on Pinterest. I pin recipes all the time, but I use the smoothie board most often. Since I make protein smoothie after my runs four days a week, I'm always desperate for new ideas.

This sounded like an awesome one! And indeed it was. I swear to goddess that it tastes exactly like raw cookie dough, but it's totally healthy and perfect for a post-workout meal. It gets that special cookie dough taste from Katie's not-so-secret ingredients — a pinch of salt and a pinch of baking soda! It's that twinge of saltiness that takes this from just another protein shake to a full-on cookie dough experience.

As for ingredients, I had almost everything I needed to make this. Had the almond milk, the salt and baking soda, the oats, the maple extract, the sweetener (I chose Bee-Free Honee), and the vanilla protein powder. I stockpile protein powder since I use so much, so I typically have five or six flavors. I'm fresh out of French Vanilla Vega One, so I used Nutribody Vanilla Protein Powder.

The recipe also called for chocolate chips. And even though I usually have those, I was fresh out. So instead of buying a whole bag and cramming the unused portion back into my overstocked pantry, I sought out an option in the Whole Foods bulk bin. I thought they had vegan chocolate chips in the bins, but I was wrong. They did, however, have carob chips. And I love, love, love carob! Maybe even more than chocolate (because I'm crazy, I know). So I bought just the amount of carob chips I needed to make a couple of these smoothies. Boom! One less contribution to the pantry crisis.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Vegan Job Opening! New Memphis Vegan Meetup Group! Vegan Ramen! OMG!

I interrupt this Vegan Mofo for a couple of vegan announcements.

* Unemployed vegans: Imagine Vegan Cafe is hiring an EXPERIENCED vegan general manager! If you live in Memphis (or are planning to move here soon) and need a job, don't miss this opportunity. Kristie and Adam, the adorable couple who own Imagine, were finally able to branch out this year and expand their hours and hire several employees (before, Kristie and Adam did all the work themselves). But Kristie needs someone with lots of restaurant experience to help with point-of-sale stuff, ordering, and other restaurant stuff. Since it's a vegan restaurant, Kristie would prefer to hire someone who is already vegan (or at least vegetarian). If you're interested, call Imagine at 901-654-3455.

* There's a new vegan meetup group in Memphis! For years, it was just our little Food Awareness group holding things down. Plus, we have our monthly Vegan Drinks meetups, but those are some of the same people who come to FA meetings. But about a month ago, Susan Stern, who just moved to Memphis, established another vegan group, Memphis Vegan Dineouts and Potlucks, using meetup.com.

There have been two social outings so far. Last month, we gathered at Imagine for the inaugural meeting, and last night, we met at Crazy Noodle. It's been pretty cool because I'm getting a chance to meet vegans outside my circle. Plus, Food Awareness has been on hiatus for a couple months while organizer Vaughan moves into and remodels his new house. Here's a blurry picture of us at Crazy Noodle last night.

If you're interested in the Memphis Vegan Dineouts and Potlucks group, check out the Meetup.com page. The next meetup has not yet been set, but if you're interested, join the page and you'll get updates.

* And that brings me to my final (and most delicious) announcement — Crazy Noodle has VEGAN RAMEN! OMG!

I'd heard my favorite noodle shop had added ramen to their new menu, and because they were already so vegan-friendly, I figured there'd be a number of vegan ramen options. But I'd yet to check it out until our meetup last night. This Mandu Ramen was simply magical.

That's ramen in a vegetable broth with vegetable dumplings, cabbage, carrots, seaweed, and turnip kimchi.

There are a number of vegan bowls on the menu — Tofu Ramen, Miso Ramen, Vegetable Ramen, etc. But you can basically order almost any of the multiple ramen bowls vegan-style. Cassi ordered the Curry Ramen, which typically comes with chicken broth and chicken pieces, but she subbed tofu and veggie broth. Each bowl comes served in this cuteness.

I also learned last night that some of the appetizers that used to contain eggs in the batter no longer do. But I'd suggest clarifying that before ordering in case it changes again. Paul and I split the delicious battered Tofu Jean.

I also learned that Crazy Noodle serves fantastic veggie sushi. Both Cassi and Susan ordered a plate of their Veggie Sushi. I tried a bite, and wow! Even though Crazy Noodle is more Korean than Japanese, this is definitely better than any veg sushi I've had at Japanese sushi joints around town.

I'll definitely be going back to Crazy Noodle more often. For years, I've ordered the same thing there (Mandu Guk!) over and over, but now I'm determined to try so many more dishes! To read more about Crazy Noodle, check out my original Bluff City Vegan Eats review.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wine & Vegan Cheese Party!

This post doesn't exactly fit into my Mofo Pantry Raid theme, but I had a party this weekend, so I wanted to post about it anyway.

"It's like a Tupperware party but with wine instead of storage containers." That's how I explained to my potential guests about the Wine Shop at Home party I hosted this past weekend. My friend Heidi recently became a Wine Shop at Home consultant. She goes to the host's house and the guests sample six different wines, while Heidi offers a description and suggested food pairings for each. At the end, guests can buy bottles or sign up to host their own tasting.

I'm not always crazy about the selling-from-home parties (except Arbonne because they make awesome vegan skincare products). But a wine party? That's something I can get down with. I agreed to host a tasting at my house, and we had the party this past Saturday night. Here are the wines we sampled. The bottles are empty because I forgot to snap a pic before we downed them all. Oops!

Now just a little disclaimer: I do not know about the vegan-ness of Wine Shop at Home's wines. They come from small-batch wineries in Napa Valley, so they're not big brands that are listed on Barnivore. And my rule with wine is generally to drink it unless I know for sure it isn't vegan. If no info is available, I just hope for the best. It's a sticky vegan topic, and I'll be hosting a discussion about this very issue at Vida Vegan Con 3 in Austin next May.

The Wine Shop at Home website recommends hosts serve a couple of cheeses, crackers, fruit, and chocolates. And I guess I could have purchased some Daiya wedges, but I'm always looking for an excuse to make Miyoko's awesome aged vegan cheese from Artisan Vegan Cheese. I made a Cashew Chevre with Lemon Zest and Peppercorn.

This was a light and tangy white soft cheese with a hint of spice from the peppers. I found that it paired best with the sauv blanc and the rosé.

I also made Miyoko's Sharp Cheddar.

LOVED this cashew cheese! It had a sharp and tangy bite from the aging process, and it had a nice twang from the miso. This was great with the red wines, which are my fave anyway. I also love that this gave me an excuse to use my cheese board and accessories. Vegans can use that stuff too!

We had the cheeses on a variety of crackers — water crackers, garlic & basil crispbreads by Z Cracker, and Ritz Bacon & Black Pepper crackers (yes, they're vegan).

I considered making truffles, but I really just didn't have time. So I broke up a few vegan chocolate bars — Theo Cherry Almond Chocolate, Endangered Species Almond Butter Creme Filled Chocolate, and Chuao Chocolatiers Orange A-Go-Go.

We also had grapes, but y'all know what those look like. Here's Heidi, our lovely wine consultant, and my friend Greg.

And here's Shay and I, enjoying one of the reds.

We kept the party small so the six bottles of wine would be enough to go around. But we still had plenty of people to throw down — Cassi and Amy (left), Jordan and Andy (right), and Shay, Nicole, and Vaughan (bottom).

We had a lovely night! And I ended up ordering a bottle of the Syrah because it was my fave of the night. Since I was the host, I also got to order a free bottle of the sparkling wine. Bonus: I have two wheels of cashew cheese leftover since the recipes made four wheels, and we only made it through one of each. I know what I'll be snacking on all week!