Sunday, October 19, 2014

Product Review - Sweet Earth: Hickory and Sage Smoked Seitan Bacon...
















Look out folks there’s a new vegan bacon in town! Sweet Earth Natural Foods has just come out with a Hickory and Sage Smoked Seitan Bacon, that’s pretty darn good. I don’t normally buy pre-packaged vegan bacon as I prefer to make it at home myself but you know how the novelty of a new item always makes me want to try it at least once.

Personally I think seitan is probably the best candidate for making the most realistic vegan bacon. Of course that doesn’t do much to help those who follow a gluten-free diet, but for the rest of us I think seitan makes for the closest and most accurate bacon texture. If you like soft - think wilted - chewy bacon, seitan can do it, if you like crispy hard bacon, seitan can do it, if you like something a little in-between seitan can do it. Where as Tempeh doesn’t really do ‘soft’ and tofu never does crispy without becoming super chewy. Shiitake, coconut, and eggplant bacon are all great as well, but none of them ever stack up texture wise. So Sweet Earth has really achieved something unique with their seitan bacon, the texture is fantastic, and the flavor is pretty darn good too. When they say smokey they mean smokey for sure! Though I didn’t taste much sage. Overall this is a very savory product and satisfying to the palate, although I think - since I like a bit of sweetness with my bacon - next time I’d drizzle a bit of maple syrup over the strips as they’re cooking.















Now the nitty-gritty nutritional details. For 2 slices of seitan bacon it’s 90 calories, 30 calories from fat. 7% sodium, 2% carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 1g fiber, 10g protein, 8% Vitamin A, 2% Vitamin C, Iron and Calcium, 50% Vitamin E and also contains several B vitamins in varying percentages. Unfortunately this is not the most allergy-friendly product out there as it contains wheat, soy, and coconut, however the only soy listed on the ingredients list is soy sauce. The ingredients are pretty basic, mostly spices, maple syrup, a bit of sugar, wheat gluten, red beans, and buckwheat groats, and the product is non-gmo, with no nitrates. According to their website Sweet Earth also works hard to ensure their products are sustainable so you can feel good knowing that too.
















For all the vegan bacon lovers out there, this is a nice addition to the vegan bacon market, and tastes great served up alongside a tasty tofu scramble. I enjoyed it drizzled in a bit of maple syrup served with the Tuscan Tofu Scramble from Chloe Coscarelli’s latest book “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen.” My husband loved it too, saying it’s one of the best commercial vegan bacon’s he’s tried, and I’d have to agree. Though honestly when it comes to any commercial vegan bacon I prefer my own homemade stuff, but this is a nice change of pace once in a while or great if you don’t want to go to the trouble of DIY.

My only real complaint is the packaging is horrible to open. It's like opening a tempeh package. You need to get our your scissors and because of all the marinade it just makes a freaking mess. So be warned.

If you want to learn more about Sweet Earth you can check them out Here.
















PS: One of the craziest things about this bacon is that when you cook it, it actually smells like bacon. It’s not like when you cook tofu and tempeh or other vegan bacon’s and you just smell that salty, blackening smell. This actually smelled like bacon - but without the grease. Weird.

Product Review - Califia Farms: Pumpkin Spiced Latte Flavored Cold Brewed Coffee with Almond Milk...






















You know it’s fall, not only when the leaves begin to yellow and the weather grows chill, but when you can’t seem to throw a rock without hitting something that’s ‘pumpkin spice.’ The words Pumpkin Spice are now synonymous with fall;  it’s the kind of winning, warming, comforting combination that almost everyone loves. Pumpkin Spice Scones, Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Spice Cake, Pumpkin Spice tats, and perhaps most famous - and most beloved - pumpkin spice coffee. Of course, pumpkin spice is not always easy for us vegans to come by because so many of these delicious fall treats are loaded with dairy, but fret no more as the world of vegan holiday drinks has recently been expanded!

That’s right, Califia Farms - who I’ve posted about before, Here and Here - have tossed their hat into the ring once more and developed a Pumpkin Spiced Latte Flavored Cold Brewed Coffee with Almond Milk. As far as I know there’s two other vegan pumpkin spice beverage on the market, and they’re made by Silk, and So Delicious, of course these are both pumpkin flavored beverages sans Coffee. So Califia is unique in that respect since as far as I know it is the only Vegan Pumpkin Spiced Coffee Beverage on the market.



















So lets get down to the nitty-gritty stats. For an 8oz serving this Pumpkin Spice Latte is 100 calories, 35 of which come from fat, 17g carbohydrates, 1g protein, 1g Fiber, 14g sugar, and 50% of your daily calcium. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, non-GMO, Kosher, and the bottle is BPA-Free. The only allergens are almonds, and coconut. It is a little high in sugar though which may be a turn off for some people.

How does it taste? Pretty decent. However in my opinion the spices are a little heavy, and the pumpkin is hard to distinguish. It gets a little drowned out by the nutmeg, and the nutmeg makes this taste a lot like eggnog. I respect the effort that Califia Farms put into making this product for all of us pumpkin spice lovers out there, but I think I’ll probably stick with their regular cold brewed coffee. Of course, who knows, you might love nutmeg, or you might not love an overwhelming pumpkin flavor and so this would be right up your alley. Or maybe you’ll just love it regardless. I actually think this would be great used as a creamer in a cup of strong coffee but I haven’t gotten around to trying that yet.















However you decided to use it, I hope you enjoy it, and regardless of my own feelings it’s always nice to have someone out there ‘vegan representing’ you know?

You can learn more about Califia and their products Here

Happy Fall!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Celebrating Thanksgiving 2014...

My Plate

















I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving Weekend, full of delicious vegan food and good company. Thanksgiving as you probably know by now is my favorite of all holidays, and so I look super forward to it every year. This year was no exception, and I had my menu planned out weeks in advance, I just get so excited around this time of year. Fall produce is abundant, the weather is generally good, the wind is blowing, the autumn colors are resplendent, what’s not to like? Add a big elaborate meal on top of that and it’s magical.

The Dinner Table 

As usual I had a really hard time deciding what to make, obviously the obligatory pumpkin pie but what else? I did a seitan roast last year which turned out amazing but I didn’t feel like doing that again this year. Instead I decided to go with something slightly more simple, and yet completely elegant. Stuffed pumpkins! But now, I’m getting ahead of myself, we should start with appetizers right?

Top - Creamed Onions and Root Vegetable Puree
Bottom - Marinated Beets and Shaved Brussels Sprouts 

Since I have more then 100 cook books in my arsenal finding recipes - especially for special occasions - can be something of a challenge. Now that I’ve been vegan a while I’ve made most of the ‘fancy’ recipes in my ‘go-to’ books and so for varieties sake I needed something a little different. I wasn’t initially sure what that might be until I started digging around in the book shelf and found the copy of The Millennium Cookbook that I bought several months ago and never used. For those of you who don’t know Millennium is a very famous vegan restaurant in San Francisco, I’ve never been there myself but would love to go some day, and so I bought the book second hand so that I might ‘treat myself’ to a little Millennium at home. It seemed like the perfect book to break out for Thanksgiving, and so I started with the Smoked Pimento Pate, and Mushroom, Walnut, Rosemary Pate from the appetizer section.

YUM!
















First the Smoked Pimento Pate, it sounded really interesting, and how can you go wrong with pimento anything? The pate uses pimentos, cashews, liquid smoke, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and some other seasonings. This all gets blended with a bit of water in a food processor and then you have to boil some agar, add it in and let it firm up. I wasn’t initially sure how this would turn out. I have worked with agar in the past - primarily in desert recipes - and it’s always been fine but, one always wonders. I guess I needn’t have been concerned, the pate firmed up with no problems and was perfectly sliceable. It had a tangy, slightly sweet and smoky flavor that reminded me ever so slightly of cheese.

Smoked Pimento Pate 

















Next up was the mushroom, walnut, rosemary pate. This was a blend of mushrooms, onion, walnuts, rosemary, red wine, sage, thyme, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar. The recipe also called for the use of agar but I decided to skip that step for this pate as I prefer a more spreadable ‘meat’ pate versus one you can slice. I think this was the right call.

Mushroom, Walnut and Rosemary Pate 

















I served both of these pates with Millennium’s Chickpea Flatbread, which is basically a socca dough - made with water, chickpea flour, salt, and spices - baked in the oven until firm. The contrast between the savory chickpea flatbread, the tart pimento pate, and the earthy mushroom pate was brilliant. I think overall I liked the mushroom pate the best, but I also loved both of the pates when paired together.

Chickpea Flatbread 
















This year - unlike years previous - my appetizers did not require a lot of work or prep-time but they were delicious, and they really paired well with the overall meal.

Appetizers! 















Next we had a salad, because no holiday dinner can be complete without some sort of salad. I normally do a winter greens + fruit + nuts kind of salad at the holidays, think cranberries and pecans or pears and walnuts but I wanted to do something different this year. So instead I chose the Deviled Kale Salad from Terry Hope Romero’s newest book Salad Samurai. The salad is really simple, it’s basically kale, then you make some massaged red onions - in lime juice, salt and sugar - and some homemade croutons to top it. The dressing is a garlicy, tangy, roasted red pepper dressing, that uses cashews to achieve a creamy base. Pretty much every salad I’ve made from this book has been a win, and this one was no different. I loved the dressing and it paired really well with the heartiness of kale. The onions and croutons took it to another level.

Deviled Kale Salad 

















For our main course I went back to The Millennium Cookbook by Eric Tucker and John Westerdahl, and made the Pumpkins Stuffed with Sage Polenta and Seitan Bourguignon. Pumpkin are so festive that it just seemed like the perfect thing to make, and who doesn’t like a good bourguignon? Not to mention my husband loves polenta. The presentation on this dish is awesome, and it’s not complicated to make, but it is rather involved. First you make the stew, then you roast the pumpkins then you make the polenta, then you layer the pumpkin and then it’s back into the oven for a little re-heat. It’s all worth it though when you take that first bite. This is a slightly less traditional bourguignon then I normally make - because this recipe calls for a lot of root vegetables - but it is highly delicious, and ranks among the best bourguignon’s I’ve ever made. The sage polenta was creamy and flavorful as well and was a great pairing to the stew.

Pumpkins Stuffed with Sage Polenta and Seitan Bourguignon

You can't see the polenta but I assure you it's there
under all that yummy, saucy stew!






























For side dishes I made Millennium’s Root Vegetable Puree as an alternative to having yet another mashed potato dish. This dish uses the same basic concept of mashed potatoes but is made with a selection of other root vegetables - I choose parsnips, celery root, and turnip. - then you add in some white miso, and tahini to kick up the flavor and it was truly scrumptious and so creamy thanks to my food processor.

Root Vegetable Puree 
















Next I dug out the secondhand copy of Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, that I just bought last month and hadn’t had the privilege to use yet. For those of you who don’t know Vedge is also a famous vegan restaurant in Philadelphia. I’ve never been there either which is why I bought the book after reading the high praises it received upon release.  I went with two side dishes from Vedge, the first was the Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Warm Mustard Sauce. I love, love, love Brussels Sprouts and no Thanksgiving table can be complete without them so I knew this was a must the minute I saw it. The warm mustard sauce was just a bonus because in my opinion B. Sprouts and Mustard were meant to be together. This recipe really did not disappoint, and even my husband - who’s not normally a fan of the sprout - loved it and ate it up!

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Warm Mustard Sauce 
















Next I decided to try the Chioggia Beets and their Greens with Nigella Seeds and Sherry, also from the Vedge cookbook. It sounded very interesting and since I have Nigella seeds and almost never use beet greens I felt compelled to try it. Unfortunately my local market did not have Chioggia beets - or candy striped beets as they’re sometimes called - and so I settled for regular beets, but the dish was still good, just less of a visual presentation. Probably this dish could have used a tiny bit of sugar since sherry vinegar is quite potent, but I loved the nigella seeds. I never would have thought to pair them with beets, and they actually work really well together.

Beets and Their Greens with Nigella Seeds and Sherry

















Next, you can’t have Thanksgiving without stuffing, and since I’ve made many a stuffing over the years and wanted to try something new I decided to go with the Green Apple and Cashew Sourdough Stuffing recipe from Spork-Fed by Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg. I’ve been wanting to make this recipe ever since I first bought the book but for some reason or another I never get around to it. I was so happy to finally be able to try it and it didn’t disappoint at all. It was a super delicious stuffing, tangy - from the apple cider vinegar and sourdough - and full of flavor with a bit of roasted goodness from the cashews and sweetness from the apples. This may just be up there among my favorite stuffing recipes.

Green Apple and Cashew Sourdough Stuffing 
















Lastly, as our final side dish I decided to try the Creamed Onions with Whole Wheat Bread Crumb Topping also from Spork-Fed. I have always found this recipe intriguing but never had any real cause to make it before. I’d never heard of creamed onions before but apparently it’s ‘a thing’ in America. Since I love onions, and had a ton of them on hand I thought ‘why not?’ and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this dish, it was creamy, and oniony, and just plain good.

Creamed Onions with Whole Wheat Bread Crumb Topping 
















That brings us up to dessert, and the obligatory Pumpkin Pie. Since I’ve made many vegan pumpkin pies over the past few years I wanted to try a pumpkin pie that I hadn’t already made, and so I went with the recipe in Chloe Coscarelli’s book Chloe’s Vegan Desserts I’ll admit that at first I was a bit nervous about this because it’s the first vegan pumpkin pie I’ve ever made that hasn’t called for tofu. All her pie is, is pumpkin, coconut milk, spices, and cornstarch and I just thought there was no way it would actually work and firm up. Boy was I wrong, I don’t know what kind of magic Chloe is working but this was probably one of the most perfect pumpkin pies I’ve ever made, and totally no fuss! I made the crust gluten free using a mixture of Chickpea Flour, Almond Meal, Quinoa Flour and Brown Rice Flour because I plan to give some of the leftovers to a gluten-free friend of mine, and I’d have to say that my crust combination really worked out. It was moist, and flavorful, and held together very well. Originally I was going to make my own homemade coconut whipped cream but after so much work I got lazy and decided to buy rice whip to top it instead. So what.

Pumpkin Pie 

















Of course no elaborate dinner can be complete with only one dessert and so I went back to the Millennium Cook Book yet again in order to make their Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache and Cinnamon Coffee Sauce. That sounded too good to pass up and so I was quite excited to try it out. The cake was overall pretty good although perhaps a little heavy on some of the spice. The coffee syrup was amazing, though something about pouring liquid onto a cake - Tiramisu style- always makes the texture feel weird to me. Lastly the ganache had a wonderful flavor only I think this would have been better if made in my vitamix rather then the food processor as the recipe suggested. It wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. Oh well.

Pumpkin Cake
With Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache
and Cinnamon Coffee Syrup 
















Also from Millennium I made the Warm Caramelized Apple Galettes which are a bit involved because there are several steps, however they’re not particularly hard. The dough is actually really easy to make - probably one of the easier dough’s I’ve worked with. Then you make your own homemade apple butter which is fun, and then caramelize some apples to top it off. A lot of maple syrup is used for this recipe but it’s the only sweetener, and trust me when I tell you that all the effort is worth it in the end. This was probably my favorite of all the desserts I made. We served it with some coconut milk ice cream which was also a nice pairing.

Caramelized Apple Galettes 
















Finally from Millennium I made the Fig Tarts with Red Wine and Pear Cream, only as it turned out my local market was all out of figs. In fact everyone was out of figs. Since I’d already made the pear cream and tart shells before going shopping for figs I didn’t have the option of simply not making the tarts so now they’re just pear tarts with red wine and pear cream. Oh well, they wee amazing even without the figs, and surprisingly easy to put together. I chose to serve these with the suggested Blackberry Coulis which was a really delicious pairing, and super simple to make. All it is is blackberries blended with sugar and black pepper but it was so good! I’ve still got plenty of it left over and I think I’ll drizzle it over my morning breakfast, yum!

Fig Tarts with Red Wine and Pear Cream
and Blackberry Coulis 


















So, as my Oma - who passed away at this time last year - would say “If that was dinner then we had it.” and we did. Afterwards I could barely move and fell promptly into a food coma, but it was a wonderful holiday!



Monday, October 13, 2014

Restaurant Review: Sativa Studio Café in Banos, Ecuador...
















Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful, and safe holiday this year. Since Thanksgiving is my favorite of all holidays I’m cooking a big dinner per usual, but I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Right now I want to tell y’all about an amazing restaurant my husband and I ate at while in Banos, Ecuador.
















It’s called Sativa Studio Café, and it is the hidden jem of hidden jems, let me tell you. Not only was this the best place we ate in Banos, it was the best place we ate in all of Ecuador, in fact the best place we ate on the entire trip. The food menu is small, limited to three dinner options each of which come with homemade chips or salad, and one breakfast option - but their drinks menu is extensive. They offer coffees, fresh juices, Health Elixirs and Tonics, and Kombucha. Not only is the food fantastic - carefully and lovingly prepared by the owners, but the atmosphere is chilled out and relaxed. The food takes time to prepare, because it’s fresh as can be, but you won’t mind the wait as you sit back in recycled and repurposed furniture, grooving to the reggae vibes.
















We ate here twice during our stay in Banos and tried a pretty good selection of the menu. We also talked quite a lot with Jessie - who owns the café together with his wife - and he was kind enough to show us the organic garden they have in back where most of the vegetables they use come from. The garden was brilliant, and I was completely amazed at how much they were able to grow in such a small space. He also told us a little about how the restaurant came to be, and how it was decorated. Friends and local artists painted murals on the inside walls, and virtually everything inside is recycled or rescued from ending up in the trash. There are a nice collection of colorful tile topped tables, some brightly colored couches and arm chairs from the 1950's, much of the flooring comes from when the church was renovated and put in a new floor. Some amazing, heavy wooden lounge type chairs were rescued from the side of the road. This is a couple that doesn’t like to add to consumerist culture, and doesn’t like waste - I can fully appreciate that, and the minute you step foot into the café you’ll appreciate it too, because it really adds to the nature of the place. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cooler café in my life.
















But, enough about all that, what about the food you ask? Well, on our first trip I decided to go with the Patacones and Salad. Patacones are smashed fried plantains that have a garlic lime marinade. These were simply delicious. I’ll take any excuse to eat some plantains but these were probably among the best I had all trip. The salad was delicious as well, not that there was any doubt it would be considering their phenomenal garden. This was not your average side salad either, it was full of mixed greens, chopped bell pepper, onions, sprouts, apple, pumpkin seeds, edible flowers and even more that I can’t remember. The dressing was simple and minimal, so a not to outshine the freshness of the vegetables. Seriously this was the perfect meal. With it I ordered a kombucha which was probably one of the best kombucha’s I’ve ever had anywhere! So flavorful, and not too vinegary like some I’ve had.

Patacones with Salad


Kombucha! 

































For his meal my husband went with the Tamale which I believe contained a mixture of black beans, Swiss Chard and some other vegetables. This thing comes steamed in a banana leaf rather then a corn husk and it’s probably the most moist and flavorful tamale I’ve ever had. I only had a tiny bite but it was enough to taste the full-on flavor. My husband loved it, and devoured it in minutes along with an equally amazing side salad. For his drink he ordered the Seven Spice Coffee which was hands down the best coffee I’ve ever drunk anywhere, and it became the inspiration for my Epic Coffee . I will never drink another normal cup of coffee again!

Tamale and Salad

Check out that bomb-ass salad! 

A somewhat inside shot of the tamale


















































On our second visit my husband went with the Patacones and a salad while I decided to try the Veggie Burger with yet another Salad. The veggie burger was AMAZING! Probably one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had, full of lentils, grains and vegetables. It came topped with lettuce, tomato, sliced beets and a few other things. So much flavor and it really hit the spot after we’d had such a long day.

Veggie Burger and Salad 


















For drinks that night we went a little overboard. We both ordered a Seven Spice Coffee, then my husband ordered a Fresh Passion fruit Juice - which is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever tasted and Jessie makes it in a magic bullet! I decided to go with the coconut pineapple juice which was like no juice I’ve ever had, and the most amazing thing is that the juices were sweet, but there was no added sugar. We also tried some of the elixirs only I wish I could remember what they were called or what was in them. One of them was one of the more popular sellers and for good reason, all of them were good but some were stronger then others. Jessie even gave us a free shot of another popular elixir they make, which was really good, and super nice of him.

The Amazing Seven Spice Coffee!



















All and All this was the best dining experience I could have hoped to have, and I highly, highly recommend you check out Sativa Studio Café if you’re ever in Banos. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed. Heck, if you’re even considering planning a trip to Ecuador - which you should! - You need to take the time to visit Banos, not only for the amazing food but for the beautiful scenery too!

Sativa Studio Café
Calle Luis A Martinez y Eloy Alfaro Street, Correo Central
Banos, Ecuador
097-235-598
Open Mon-Sat 11am-11pm
CASH ONLY!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Epic Coffee...
















First I’d like to apologize for my rather long absence. My husband and I went on holiday to Ecuador and Peru and were gone for most of September. I had meant to leave a post saying as much before we left, but you know how it goes... packing and organizing long trips can be overwhelming and hectic, and in the end I just never found the time. Since I’ve been back I haven’t felt like doing too much of anything, our trip was long and busy and I’ve just been enjoying relaxing and cataloging my photos. I’m slowly getting back into the world of blogging, by catching up on all my favorite blogs, but as for posting recipes of my own - well, I’m not doing a whole lot of cooking at the moment and since Next week is Thanksgiving I probably won’t be doing any extensive cooking until then.















In the meantime however I did make one epic cup of coffee this morning, and it was so damn good I wanted to share it with you. EDIT - October 10th - Since I first posted this recipe on October 5th, I've been making this coffee everyday, and everyday it's just more and more amazing. Seriously, this is my new favorite coffee, it beats anything you can get at the evil chain coffee house that shall not be named. Do yourself a favor and take the five minutes required to make it, you won't be sorry! 
















Epic Coffee

2 Tbsp Fresh Ground Coffee
The Inner Seeds of 2 Green Cardamom Pods
1/2 Inch Cinnamon Stick
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract or Scrapings from 1 Whole Vanilla Bean.
Sugar and Almond Milk to serve


- Place everything in saucepan on the stove EXCEPT Extract.

- Pour 1 1/3 Cups of water over top and stir to combine.

- Bring to a boil, and let boil for a full 2 minutes, stir occasionally.

- Remove from heat. Stir in Vanilla Extract at this time.

- Let sit for one minute so grounds and sediment sink to the bottom of the pot.

- SLOWLY pour into your coffee cup, making sure to keep grounds in the pot.

- Now DRINK! If you like it black, have at it straight away. If you like sugar I recommend 1-2 tsp raw sugar, and then I topped mine off with a little Almond Milk, but you can use whatever non-dairy milk you fancy!