Monday, June 30, 2014

Mistress Ginger Cooks

Omg, I love this book!

About a month ago, a friend of mine (Hey, Rhiannon!) who works at my publisher, Book Publishing Company, stayed at my house for a few days when she and her boyfriend Forrest were in town. She brought me a copy of Mistress Ginger Cooks, which BPC put out earlier this year.

Let me tell about Mistress Ginger, aka Justin Leaf. Leaf is a performance artist, choreographer, ballet teacher, and yoga teacher based in Minneapolis. But his alter-ego Mistress Ginger is a sassy showgirl with a fabulous wardrobe, a quick wit, and some serious vegan talent. She always wears her hair in a flashy pink bob, but she's pictured throughout the book in all manner of get-ups — frilly pink nightgown, fitted business suit, green sequined two-piece, and even in a super-sporty athletic jersey dress (belted at the waist, of course).

Ginger's personality shines in the recipe intros and descriptions in a way that makes this book not only fun to cook from but a blast to read. Here's an excerpt from her recipe for Mediterranean Melange, a quinoa-millet pilaf with white beans and kale: "Step one in the universal quest for an Italian stallion is to prepare a light quinoa-millet pilaf. Put the quinoa, millet, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. ... While the pilaf cooks, pray to Mount Vesuvias that your loverboy will materialize within the next 15 minutes, and then prepare the white beans and kale."

I tried three recipes from this book, and all were wonderful! I brought this Moroccan Broccoli to a work potluck, and it was a hit. It's a cold salad with broccoli (I used a medley with cauliflower and carrots) and a homemade Moroccan-spiced (cumin, ginger, cinnamon) tofu-based mayo with cranberries and peanuts. So different! So tasty!

Last week, I made Ginger's Threesome Salad with Drizzle Me Dressing. The threesome is field greens, red cabbage, and carrots. And the dressing is a super-easy tahini-ume plum vinegar dressing.

I had my salad with the Baba's Tempeh Sandwich with Shakti Spread and Cha-Cha-Cha Chutney.

The tempeh is fried in a light marinade of soy sauce and lemon. The spread is made from red lentils, sunflower seeds, and spices. And the chutney is made with mango, currants, green onions, vinegar, and agave. I'd probably never think to combine these ingredients in a sandwich, but it's a genius combo. The Shakti Spread gave the tempeh sandwich an Indian flair, and the mango added just the right blend of sweet and salty.

If you're looking for a fun vegan cookbook that's probably unlike any other book on the market, Mistress Ginger is it. Reading this book is almost as good as being at a drag show with a cooking stage.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

To 10 Years!

On Saturday, Paul and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary! It's hard to believe a decade has gone by since I met this dude, but I guess that's a sign that we're really getting older. When you're old, time seems to fly by. Here's a baseball game selfie from a few weeks ago.

A few months ago, we discussed maybe taking a fun trip for our ten-year anniversary. But then, I found out Everclear, Soul Asylum, Spacehog, and Eve 6 were playing a show in Southaven, Mississippi (just 15 minutes from Memphis) on their Summerland Tour on our big day. We're huge '90s alternative rock fans (again, this makes me realize we're old), and I actually got to interview Everclear's Art Alexakis for the newspaper I write for, The Memphis Flyer (you can read that interview here). So we decided to celebrate our decade together at the Everclear show.

There was a 30% chance of rain Saturday night, and it was an outdoor show. We packed our panchos and prepared for a rain-or-shine show. When we arrived at the amphitheater, it began to sprinkle. I put on my pancho, and Paul slung on his rain jacket. And then seconds later, a monsoon hit. It was sideways rain, the unforgiving kind that manages to soak through rain gear. And the winds were blowing over vendor tents and beer stands. Everyone took cover under any vendor tent they could find. And we waited. And waited. And waited.

An hour went by, and the rain wasn't letting up. A policeman showed us the radar map on his phone (ours were tucked into the only dry spots we could find in my purse), and more storms were on their way. My clothes were soaked. Paul's shoes and socks were oozing with water. My canvas purse (and everything in it!) had a pool of water at the bottom, and my wallet was floating! Seriously. It was bad. The organizers hadn't yet called off the show, but we assumed they would. And if they weren't going to, we knew it'd be hours before the bands would be able to play. Dejected, we walked in the rain back to our car. We missed the show. Here we are totally soaked (look at my sad hair!) and frustrated, incorporated.

Afterward, we met up with our friends Misti and Doug, who were also supposed to go to the concert, at Local Gastropub for beers. We finished out the night at Newby's, the bar where we met 10 years ago. Sadly, we checked the amphitheater's Facebook page at 9:30, and they said Soul Asylum had just taken the stage. We missed it! But it was hours after the show was supposed to start, and had we stayed, we would have been miserable and cold in our wet clothes.

Fast forward to today. Since we skipped out on a fancy dinner in favor of a concert that never happened, we decided to have a make-up dinner tonight. We went to our favorite vegan-friendly Italian joint, Ciao Bella Italian Grill.

We started with Bread and Olive Oil. They have the best soft bread and garlicky oil!

I had a House Salad with Italian Dressing.

And the Oricchiette Pasta with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes, and Mint with White Wine Sauce. This typically also comes with feta, but they were happy to leave that off. So good! I love little ears pasta, and the white wine sauce was light and fresh.

For dessert, I picked us up a takeout slice of Stephanie's Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake from Imagine Vegan Cafe. Four layers of cookie with buttercream! OMG, this was so good! We shared it at the house after dinner (okay, truthfully, Paul ate one bite cause he's not really a dessert guy ... I shamelessly devoured the rest).

After we shared I ate dessert, we stopped by The Cove, our favorite nautical-themed bar on Broad Avenue, for a drink. I had my usual, The Vampire (tequila, tomato juice, sriracha, lime, hot chilies).

Even though we didn't get to see Soul Asylum and Everclear, it was still a lovely celebration! We're hoping to catch the Summerland Tour in Chicago — only an 8-hour drive — this August maybe if funds allow.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My New Favorite Breakfast!

Y'all, you might have gathered this by reading this post's title, but I have a new favorite breakfast! It's from the Oh She Glows Cookbook, and it tops just about anything else in the world I can think of to eat for breakfast. Except maybe vegan yeasted doughnuts, but those don't count because I'm too lazy to make them and I can't buy them in a bakery here.

Plus, this Loaded Savory Oat & Lentil Bowl is way healthier than doughnuts anyway.

I generally prefer savory over sweet breakfasts (except for, you know, doughnuts), and I've long been a fan of savory oat bowls. Who wants oats with sugar and fruit when you can have oats with nooch and salt?

But I've never ever thought to make something as crazy awesome as this. Only Angela Liddon, author of the Oh She Glows blog and cookbook, could think of this. Red lentils and oats are cooked together into a creamy porridge.

And from there, the sky is the limit. You can load you bowl with whatever you want! But I followed the suggested add-ins in the book — avocado, hummus, salsa, and cherry tomatoes (grown in my own front yard garden). Is there really any better combo in the world? Yea, I didn't think so.

Also, that hummus is perhaps the best hummus in the world. It's the Oil-Free Hummus by Roots, an artisanal vegan hummus company from Asheville, North Carolina. They call themselves the "microbrew of hummus," and they're not kidding. This is craft hummus, seriously.

I will probably never make my own hummus again because I can get this stuff at Whole Foods and it's better than any homemade hummus I've made or tried. I bought oil-free hummus because I wanted the lowest-calorie hummus (40 cal per 2 Tbsp.) that Roots makes so I'd have an excuse to eat an entire half of an avocado in my bowl (I try to keep my breakfasts under 600 calories). Anyway, it's the first flavor of Roots hummus I've tried, but they have so many more flavors that I'll be experimenting with soon — Lima Bean, Chipotle, Spinach, Thai Coconut Curry!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Easy Vegan Chicken & Cheese Quesadillas

Sometimes, a girl just needs a quesadilla. Okay, well, lately, I've found myself craving quesadillas quite often, and I'll order them in vegan-friendly restaurants or make 'em at home any chance I get.

I had some Follow Your Heart Fiesta Shreds that needed using.

And some Tresomega Nutrition Coconut Oil that was just begging to have something fried in it. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I also had Match Ground Chicken Without the Chicken and Ezekiel Food for Life Brown Rice Tortillas. The stars had clearly aligned.

First, I shaped some Match chicken into a patty. It comes ground, so you have to cook it in patty form first. Once it was browned on both sides, I chopped it up. You could really use any vegan chicken for this (Gardein, Beyond Meat, Soy Curls, homemade seitan) or, if you're not into plant meat, we can't be friends, you could always leave it out.

Then I heated the coconut oil in a skillet and sauteed some mushrooms and yellow bell pepper. This is organic, cold-pressed, extra-virgin coconut oil. If you're not familiar with coconut oils, the cold-pressed, extra-virgin kind is the kind that tastes like coconut. Some people reserve the cold-pressed kind for desserts and raw dishes that they want a coconut taste in. But I actually love cooking savory foods in cold-pressed coconut oil. The Tresomega Nutrition oil added just the lightest hint of fresh coconut to my sauteed veggies, but it wasn't overpowering.

I tucked the vegan chicken, FHY Fiesta Shreds, and veggies into a brown rice tortilla and heated over medium heat in a skillet for about five minutes on each side. The FYH shreds taste a little chalky when eaten raw from the package, but they're perfect after melting. And they melt beautifully. When the quesadilla was browning on each side, I covered skillet with a lid to help steam the cheese. That makes it melt better.

And then voila! I had a delicious quesadilla served with Tofutti Sour Cream and Mi Elote Mild Salsa.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vegan Drinks Sushi Night!

Tonight was our monthly Vegan Drinks meet-up, and we met up at a place that has gotten considerably vegan-friendlier since my last visit long ago — Blue Fin. It's a downtown sushi lounge, and they've always had veggie rolls and such on the menu. But now they have dishes on the entree (and lunch) menu with the word "vegan" in the name. And vegetarian dishes (some have cheese, so watch out!) are clearly marked with a "V."

We arrived during happy hour, and that meant buy one sake, get one free. Paul and I split a 2-for-1 deal.

Jennifer and Tiffany (both awesome diehard animal rights activists!) did the same.

Cassi went with wine because she's special like that.

And Shay, who arrived super-late and way past happy hour time, ordered wine as well.

As for the food, Tiffany and I opted for the Vegan Noodle Bowl, a newer dish on the entree menu. It has rice noodles, coconut curry sauce, cashews, and veggies. OMG, this was so GOOD! It was probably enough for two meals, but I ate it all. (Note: If you're at Blue Fin for lunch, check out their Vegan Tofu Sandwich or their Vegan Vermicelli ).

Plus, I couldn't resist a side of Tofu Inari — tofu skin stuffed with sushi rice. I just love this stuff!

Cassi ordered a summer veggie plate that had a "V" next to it, but turns out the smoked polenta in the dish was made with cream and cheese. Ew! She sent it back and got the Veggie Roll (tofu & veggies) and Inari instead.

Speaking of Cassi, she's trying to open a vegan restaurant in Memphis. We have a few options here, but lawd knows we need more. She's got a building all picked out, so send her positive vegan restaurant vibes. And if you have some cash to spare, you can donate to her Go Fund Me page!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sesame Seed Bacon!

I'm still working on my vintage vegan cookbook, I promise. But honestly, my efforts to veganize retro recipes from the past century have been somewhat stagnant lately. I've been busy with life and work and reviewing other people's cookbooks and products. But I've decided that once I get caught up with reviews for this blog, I'll stop accepting every book and product that comes my way so I can get caught up on my own cookbook project.

Until then, I'm developing new recipes here and there, when inspiration strikes. And it struck this week when I got a craving for the Vegan BLT that Square Foods, a now-defunct Memphis health food store and cafe, used to serve. Square Foods has been closed for years, but I'll never forget their BLT. It contained no actual vegan bacon. No fake meat. No tempeh. No tofu. Instead, a layer of toasted sesame gomasio stood in for bacon.

What's gomasio you ask? It's just toasted sesame seeds and salt! And it tastes just like bacon. Don't ask me how. That, my friends, is vegan bacon magic. I can tell you how to make gomasio though. I developed a quick recipe for it so I could use it in the BLT that will go in my 1960s chapter.

I made the gomasio (recipe below), and then I got it to stick to the bread by smooshing it into a tablespoon of vegan mayo on one slice and one-fourth of an avocado mashed onto the other. And then I added tomato and lettuce of course.

Sesame Seed Bacon (a.k.a. Gomasio)
1 1/2 tsp. course sea salt
1/2 cup raw sesame seed

In a dry skillet, heat the salt on medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. This helps remove any moisture in the salt. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

In the same skillet, toast the seeds, stirring often to prevent burning, for about six minutes or until many of the seeds are golden brown and fragrant. Turn off the heat and add the salt back to the pan. Stir well to combine.

Transfer half the mixture to a coffee grinder (or mortar and pestle if you're feeling really hardcore). Grind. Add the ground mixture to a bowl and stir in the whole seed mixture. Stir well to combine.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Brunch is Back at Imagine Vegan Cafe!

Imagine Vegan Cafe, Memphis' vegan comfort food cafe, is now open for brunch on Sundays!

Shortly after Imagine opened about three years ago, they started doing Sunday brunch. But because, at the time, the restaurant was being run solely by owners Adam and Kristie, they had to stop the brunch hours to spend time with their family. They have three kids, a pig, and a bunch of rescued dogs, and they simply couldn't be open all the time. After they stopped brunch hours, they started offering their breakfast foods all the time. Biscuits and gravy for dinner? No problem!

And they still offer breakfast all day. But starting today, Imagine is open for Sunday brunch once again. The restaurant is doing well these days, and they've been able to hire a full staff. So now Adam and Kristie can spend more time with their family and still have the restaurant be open.

Cassi, Stephanie, and I went to brunch today. They're offering all the same breakfast foods on the regular order-anytime menu, but there are also specials that you can only get during Sunday brunch hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). I ordered one of those specials — Spinach Quiche and Salad.

Stephanie, who bakes all the goodies at Imagine, actually baked the quiche. And it was so good! Flaky crust, tofu-eggy filling! The salad comes with your choice of dressing, and of course I opted for Imagine's homemade vegan ranch.

They'll also be having an assortment of breakfast-y vegan baked goods each Sunday — muffins, scones, rolls, etc. Today, Stephanie made Cinnamon Rolls, which are pretty much my fave dessert in the world. I actually devoured the whole roll before my savory items arrived at the table.

Steph also made her gigantic French Silk Pie, which is what Cassi had for dessert.

There's also a seasonal Strawberry Soup on the brunch menu. Kristie brought samples to our table to try. It was a cool, yogurty, sweet berry soup. Perfect for a hot day like today. You can order this by the cup or by the bowl.

Of course, the Memphis Slam is always on the brunch menu! This is what Stephanie ordered, and it's definitely long been one of my favorite dishes at Imagine. Biscuits topped with tofu scramble, gravy, and vegan cheese. Best served with a squeeze of sriracha on top.

See y'all at brunch next Sunday!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Leslie's Pre-Wedding Henna Party

This is my friend Leslie.

She converted to Islam a couple years ago, and since then, her dating life has been very different. I'm not really sure how it works, but somehow without actually dating, she scored a husband whose family lives in Palestine (but he lives here in Memphis). And although they got married in the mosque last week (without telling anyone!!), she's having her official ceremony for friends and family on Friday night.

So tonight, Leslie's girlfriends threw her a henna party at the American Muslim Intercultural Network center. Leslie got henna on her hands first, and then the other girls had their turns. Cassi and I went to the party, but since the henna got started a little late and we had to work in the morning, we had to miss getting henna done on ourselves. But we did have time to eat!

I brought Muhammara, a Turkish red pepper and walnut dip, from The Vegan Table. This has long been one of my potluck standard go-to dishes because it's quick and always a hit. I brought pita chips for dipping.

Cassi made Baba Ganoush with roasted eggplant! It was so good and creamy. Cassi didn't like it because she's a weirdo with "texture issues." But trust me, it was delicious.

There was also a Pasta Salad with fresh cherry tomatoes, beans, and peppers.

And a fantastic Kale Salad with all sorts of goodies in it — black olives! sunflower seeds!

My favorite dish of the night were the Lentil Sambusas! These were stuffed with spicy lentils, and I could have eaten this whole pan. The girl who brought them said she always makes them with meat but since Leslie is vegetarian, she experimented with lentils. And it worked very well!

Here's my plate. There was also Guacamole, Salsa, and Tortilla Chips!

I'm not a fan of weddings, but I know my friend Stephanie is baking Leslie's vegan wedding cake, so I have to admit that I am looking forward to Friday night's festivities.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Vegan Camping Food

Last night, I blogged about all the meals I bought from vegan-friendly vendors at the 13th annual Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival. But I didn't buy every meal in Centeroo, the main festival area. I ate several meals at my campsite, which was about a mile walk from the festival area.

Since we camp in the Guest Camping site (where media, marketing teams, and other guests of festival stay), we have an easy exit to get into the town of Manchester and buy food from Subway, Taco Bell, Shoney's, and Walmart. It's a small town and options are slim, but there are vegan dishes at most fast food places if you know what to order.

But this year, I think I only ate out once. I got a Subway Veggie Delite Sandwich with Avocado after we got our campsite set up on Thursday. The rest of my campsite meals consisted of snacks and portable meals that I packed with me. Every morning, I woke up and boiled water on my camp stove to make ramen! I know this little pot, with its flaking non-stick surface, has seen better days. But I just can't seem to part with it. It's perfect for the camp stove.

I buy these vegan instant ramen cups by Tradition in the kosher section at Kroger. The Tomato Flavor one is my fave, but I also packed Artificial Beef and Vegetable flavors. Nothing beat a breakfast of instant ramen.

I packed way more food than I actually ate. And I failed to photograph most of my snacks, but throughout the weekend, I munched on Kettle Maple Bacon Chips (yes, they're vegan!), Blue Diamond almonds (Smokehouse and Soy Sauce & Wasabi flavors), and Primal Strips. I also had my share of Wild Garden Sundried Tomato Hummus to-go packs on Whole Foods Ritz-style crackers and baby carrots from the Memphis Farmers Market.

One evening (Saturday maybe?) I plopped this whole bag of Tasty Bite Bombay Potatoes in a pot of boiling water and had this for dinner. Please ignore my weird expression, wrinkles, and lack of makeup. The important thing is this bag of delicious Indian-spiced taters.

I also packed an Annie Chun's Miso Soup bowl that just required hot water, but I never got around to eating that. And I had lots of Odwalla bars and to-go packs of Justin's Almond Butter that didn't get eaten. Better to pack too much food than not enough!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What I Ate at Bonnaroo 2014

I survived my fifth Bonnaroo! I spent Thursday through early Monday morning at the annual Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Like Lollapalooza and Coachella, Bonnaroo is one of the country's largest mega-fests, and this year's line-up was stellar as always. Elton John was MAGICAL (I may have shed a tear during "Candle in the Wind" and "Tiny Dancer"). The Bouncing Souls were awesome (and the lead singer was actually pretty bouncy onstage). Ice Cube told us all to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves, and Janelle Monae's "Tightrope" was, well, tight.

But this year's EDM DJ line-up was the best part — Skrillex, Zedd, Kaskade, The Glitch Mob. I stayed up until sunrise Saturday night re-living my old raver days as DJs dropped beat after beat. Anyway, that's enough about the music. You're here for the food! But first, I can't do a Bonnaroo post without showing you the iconic Bonnaroo ferris wheel. I didn't ride it this year, but I spent a fair amount of time Saturday night gazing at the lit-up wheel with diffraction glasses.

But I digress. Now onto the food. I brought plenty of snacks and easy camping meals with me, but each day, I ventured into Centeroo (the main venue area with stages, vendors, and other attractions) to purchase one or two meals. There are so many vegan options at Bonnaroo, but it's a festival and that means jacked-up prices. So I tried not to eat every meal out. I'll do a full post on what I packed to eat at the campsite tomorrow. Tonight, I'll show you the vegan food I bought at the fest.

On Friday around lunch time, I found the Feel Good Foods booth, which proudly advertises "Vegan Entrees" on their sign. Last year, I had their BBQ Soy Curls, and they were quite good. So this year, I went with the Coconut Curry Tofu — tofu, snow peas, daikon, and carrots in a coconut curry sauce over brown rice. Paul took a bite and proclaimed it awesome, and he's not even vegan.

Later that night, I tried a dish I've seen on the menu at the Yakisoba Noodles vendor menu for years but never tried. It's Vegetable Yakisoba Noodles — wheat-based noodles with cabbage, carrots, and snow peas in a savory-sweet soy sauce. This was probably my favorite dish of the weekend because it reminded me of vegetable lo mein. Lo mein noodles often contain eggs, so I can never order it from Chinese restaurants and I miss it.

On Saturday, I ventured into the Food Truck Oasis, a food truck court near the giant water slide. The trucks came from all over the country, and most had vegan options. I decided to try Eatbox, a food truck from vegan-friendly Asheville, North Carolina. They had a couple vegan dishes on the menu.

One of those was called the Bad Hunter, and it was a vegan version of their traditional meatball sub. This had homemade vegan meatballs made with walnuts, lentils, and oats. And it was topped with marinara and green peppers. So good!!!

On Sunday, I walked past the Dia De Los Tamales booth. They had Vegan Black Bean & Corn Tamales for $5 each. I just got one so I'd have room for another snack. This may not look super pretty, but what tamale does? But it was so good! The salsa on top was garlicky and delicious, and the tamale was stuffed with black beans and corn. I could have eaten about five more of these!

Just before Elton John played the closing set on Sunday night, I knew I needed a snack. I grabbed a quick Vegetable Samosa from Swagruha Indian's booth (a Bonnaroo late-night snack tradition for me).

Even though I'm having tons of fun when I'm at Bonnaroo, I'm also there to work. I shoot the festival for my newspaper, The Memphis Flyer. You can see my slideshow of band shots and festy scenes on the Flyer website, but here are a few of my favorite shots. Janelle Monae!

And Cake! Remember them from the '90s? Yep, this was a fun, nostalgic show.