Saturday, August 31, 2013

Happy Vegan Mofo 2013!

It’s that time again folks, yes, Vegan Mofo has arrived! This year the world wide blogging event has moved up a month. For the past couple of years it’s been held in October but it was pushed up to September 1st this year to give us bloggers - and readers - a little more variety. I guess everyone got tired of seeing recipe upon recipe for pumpkin, and Halloween themes. I am super pumped! Like every vegan blogger I always look so forward to Mofo. Not only because I love the intense blogging and cooking but because I love to read about everyone else’s experience.

Many bloggers choose a specific theme to work with over the course of the month, and some people choose daily themes like muffin Monday or something like that. For the past two years I’ve done what I call “Cooking the Books.” in which I make recipes from various cook books in my arsenal and share them with you guys. Since my blog is full of original content year round I feel like this provides a nice change of pace. Plus it gives the me opportunity - or an excuse - to use a variety of different cook books that I might not regularly use, and make some more interesting and involved recipes then I might normally choose.

My first year doing Mofo I didn’t have a theme beyond “Cooking the Books” it was pretty generalized. My Second year blogging for Mofo I wanted to hone in on a theme so I chose to make sandwiches all month. This was a great experience but it also taught me an important lesson. If you have to eat the same basic thing every day for an entire month you might burn out. That’s what happened to me anyway, and so this year for Mofo I’ve settled on a theme that’s somewhere between general and specific. Ethnic food!

I love all ethnic and world foods, I can’t think of a region where I’ve ever said  “Ugh, the food there is terrible, or I don’t like ____ food.” Yet, strangely in my day to day life I don’t often cook traditional ethnic dishes. I do a lot of fusion cooking. A lot of Asian fusion or stir-fry. A lot of Indian fusion, Middle Eastern fusion, Mexican fusion even European fusion to an extent. It’s less common for me to make a dish that is distinctly from one country. I really don’t know why this happens to be the case, after all I love world cuisine and I have a wealth of cook books devoted to the subject. I suppose these particular books just don’t fall into my regular repertoire of ‘go-to’ books, but I’d like to change that.

Since it would be kind of impossible to make regional specialties from every corner of the globe in a single month I’ve decided to narrow my focus to only a few regions. Asia, India, The Caribbean, Mexico/Latin America, and Europe. That gives me a wealth of countries to choose from and loads of potential variety so that I won’t get burned out, and I think it keeps things interesting. Other criteria I chose to picking these regions go as follows - I had cook books that focus on these areas, they are some of my favorite cuisines, or I have limited to zero experience cooking them. I plan to break each area down into smaller points of focus so that I can get the most variety and excitement out of the project.

For Asia - I’ll primarily focus on Chinese cooking, though I may through in a few Korean dishes, maybe a few Japanese dish’s, some regional specialities from South East Asia, and I’m also including Hawaii in the Asian category. Even though Hawaii is a U.S. state, anyone who’s ever been there knows that Hawaiian cooking isn’t American cooking. Polynesian cooking is it’s own distinct style, a kind of blend of all the various Asian cultures and cuisines that have passed through the Island over the centuries. I love this kind of food, and it reminds me so much of childhood that I thought it was only fair to include a few dishes from one of my most beloved places.

For India - I want to make both North Indian and South Indian cuisine, with perhaps slightly more focus on South Indian cuisine because I have no experience in cooking it and limited experience in eating it, as many of the Indian restaurants in my area are of the North Indian variety.

For The Caribbean - Well, it’s kind of a ‘free for all’ in which anything goes but probably I’ll make a lot of Jamaican or Barbadian dishes.

For Mexico/Latin America - it’s also kind of a ‘free for all’ that will probably mostly focus on generalized Latin American cooking however there will be at least a couple of Mexican dishes, and a couple of Cuban ones, and maybe something from El Salvador or possibly Argentina.

For Europe - My primary focus will be on French, German and Greek cooking but a few dishes from other European countries might sneak their way in. I chose Germany and Greece for the obvious reason that, that’s where my heritage lies. My childhood is full of German and Greek cooking and yet I rarely make dishes from either one of these places. I wanted to explore these cuisines a little more. I also chose France because I have zero experience cooking French food, but the style of it has always intrigued me, and what better time to experiment with it then now?

So there you have it, Vegan Mofo 2013. I have no particular order to what cuisine I’m going to post when. I’m going to leave it open for variety rather then do all the Asian cooking in one block, all the Indian cooking in one block etc... It’s more interesting this way, and less chance of getting burned out I think.

Lastly, unfortunately - or fortunately - once again I’ll be absent for part of Mofo. My husband and I are going on Vacation next week so we’ll be gone from September the 6th to the 16th or so. During that time I will have limited or no internet access and so I will be unable to post. However, to make up for the days I’ll be gone I plan to do what I did in previous years and post twice daily to make up for it. So bare with me while I’m gone, and please, please stay tuned!

Happy Mofo Everyone!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Restaurant Review: The Chicago Diner in Chicago...

The Chicago Diner is a place that I love, and it’s a place I’ve eaten in many times, so it seems crazy to me that I’ve never actually done a post on it before. Well that ends today my friends!

For those of you who don’t know The Chicago Diner is this hip, little, all-American diner that’s been serving up delicious vegetarian and vegan comfort food on Halsted Street since 1983. Over the decades they’ve won a lot of awards and a lot of notoriety, I don’t know a single vegan in Chicago who hasn’t been to ‘the diner’ and I know many vegans cross-country who’ve been there as well. More then likely if your vegan or vegetarian friend hear’s that you’re coming into town they recommend the diner. When you first go vegetarian or vegan and need a dining out option, everyone recommends the diner. It is the place. In fact it’s actually the very first all vegetarian restaurant I ever ate at in Chicago. This was four years ago now, before I’d even gone vegetarian let alone vegan. It was back when I’d first given up red meat and pork, when I was branching out, expanding my horizons and finding new and healthy food options. I can’t for the life of me remember how I found out about it - I didn’t know any vegetarians in the city at the time - but I did, and I’m so, so glad I stumbled across this wonderful Oasis in the city.

Potato Skins 

On my very first ever trip to The Diner I played it safe and ordered the Cajun Black Bean Burger with Sweet Potato Fires and vegan cheese. I loved it. I think we also ordered an appetizer that night but it was so long ago now I can’t remember. On my next trip to the diner I tried The Radical Reuben with a side of coleslaw and was blown away. Next I tried the Dagwood Classic - another Reuben style sandwich with avocado on it - with a side of fries and was equally blown away.


For appetizers I’ve had their wings, their nachos, and their stuffed potato skins, all of which are excellent but my absolute new favorite appetizer at the Diner is the poutine! Seriously guys, vegan poutine! Okay, so if you’re not Canadian this may not excite you the way it excites me, but trust me when I say this is easily the best thing on the menu. I should disclose that even though Poutine is considered to be one of Canada’s ‘national dishes’ it is not actually something I ever liked. I’ve never been a fan of cheese curd, nor a fan of dipping fries into gravy but there’s something about knowing you can never have a certain cultural delicacy again that’s a little bit sad. So when I saw that the Diner was now making Poutine I jumped at the chance to try it. Hands down, honest to Buddha this is the best Poutine - vegan or otherwise - that I have ever had. For real. You get a plate of giant waffle cut fries, smothered in gravy, and vegan cheese sauce, topped with vegan sour cream, vegan seitan bacon, green onions and jalapenos, and it is mouth watering amazing! If you go to the Diner you NEED to order this!


The Diner is also well known - dare I say famous? - for their vegan shakes, and this notoriety is not unjust. I’ve tried quite a few of their blissfully creamy offerings and my hands down favorite is the Lucky Leprechaun, but then of course I’m a sucker for mint and chocolate together. This is like a way better, way tastier, non-nausea inducing, cruelty-free version of a Shamrock shake. Other great flavors that I’ve tried include the Chocolate Peanut butter, Mocha, and Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Tinga Street Tacos 

On a trip to the Diner back in July I tried a new item featured on the menu called the Tinga Street Tacos. Which contain chicken-style seitan simmered in spicy sauce, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Served in flour tortillas, with a side of refried black beans, Mexican rice, vegan sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and tomato. I definitely enjoyed this meal, but I’ll be honest and say the chicken-style seitan wasn’t my favorite, On the other hand the refried black beans, and Mexican rice were some of the best I’ve had. Definitely a worthwhile meal, and so filling that after Poutine and a shake I could only eat one and a half tacos and had to box the rest.

Tinga Street Tacos 

On this particular trip my husband got the new Karma burger with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. He loved both, and I had an itty-bitty bite of his burger and have to say that it was quite delicious!

Vegetable Stir-fry

On our most recent trip to The Chicago Diner earlier this month I got the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger which was a delicious veggie seitan patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, BBQ sauce, and seitan bacon on a wheat bun. This burger was so good. Halfway through I was getting too full to finish it but it was just so good I had to take those last couple of bites. I don’t often order vegan bacon cheeseburgers when I dine out but that day I was really in the mood for one and man did it hit the spot. I ordered a side of mac & cheese to go with it and I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t impressed with that. The mac was just noodles with melted Teese and I felt it was a bit underwhelming in flavor, but then again I’m pretty picky about my mac & cheese as it’s not a food I generally love anyway.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Mac & Cheese

For his meal my husband got the vegetable stir-fry which tofu, which was cooked in a tamari-sake, sesame sauce. He really enjoyed it and I snagged a few pieces of broccoli which were excellent.

The Chicago Diner also has quite a few dessert options, all of which are vegan however I have never had enough room after eating here to actually get dessert. The portions may not look massive but trust me when I say that they fill you up. It’s almost always too much food for me to eat, and I’m a girl who always clears my plate. So suffice to say I’ve never gotten dessert here, but maybe one day. One day!

Vegetable Stir-fry 

Now if you’re wondering about atmosphere, the Diner certainly has that in abundance. The Halsted location Is quite small, and it’s often very busy so you sometimes get jammed in there but the staff is always super friendly and super helpful. Service is prompt, despite the mad rushes, and you gotta love the diner’s mixture of old-time kitsch with a smidge of modern hipster. Oh, and they just recently opened a new location in Logan Square, so if you live in Chicagoland and haven’t been to the Diner I implore you to go! If you don’t live in the city but plan on visiting it sometime in the future, well, make sure you make your way over to the diner for some of that poutine and a shake. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

The Chicago Diner

Halsted Location 
3411 N Halsted St
Phone: 773-935-6696
Logan Square Location 
2333 N. Milwaukee Ave
Phone: 773-252-3211

PS: Apologies for some of the shitty quality photos. Unfortunately The Chicago Diner is one of those places that either has really bad lighting or really good lighting, you know what I mean? If you get stuck in a booth or you get stuck in the back the lighting is terrible. If you're lucky enough to get a window seat, or get seated near the front the lighting is much better. Of course there's less privacy up front and it's not a great place to be seated in winter but them's the breaks, yeah?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vegan on Vacation: Milwaukee, Wisconsin...

Lake Michigan and Milwaukee Skyline

Sunday the 25th was my anniversary, six years married, boy how time flies! My husband and I have been together as a couple for 9 years total, and to me that seems like a length of time worth celebrating, especially in this day and age. However, since we’re going on vacation next week it was a bit impossible to do anything too extravagant on our actual anniversary, but we still wanted to get away. Personally I really love day-trips. If you’re smart about things you can get a lot done in a day, and my husband and I are experts at whirlwind travel. Unfortunately most of the places that are within driving distance of Chicago we’ve already been too, and there isn’t that much of interest less then 3 hours from the city anyway.  Still, I wanted to do something, and so I started thinking about Wisconsin. I actually really like Wisconsin, it’s a pretty state, and out of all the times I’ve been there I’ve never once had a negative experience with anything or anyone. The people in Wisconsin are always brilliant, and friendly, and super nice. A total relief from the rude, and insane people that live in Chicagoland. So I was interested in going back, but I also wanted to go somewhere new. I briefly considered Door County until I remembered it was a 5 hour drive, and better suited for a 2 day getaway. Then I remembered that my husband and I have never been to Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a place we always talk about going, and somehow we never go, so I thought what the hell? No time like the present right?

Milwaukee Museum of Art 

Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking Milwaukee? Really? Who goes to Milwaukee when they live in Chicago? Well, I do. In case it hasn’t been abundantly clear I’m the kind of person who wants to travel everywhere, I want to go a lot of places that most people have no interest in going. I love adventure, and I love to explore and I’m not typically interested in the kinds of things that other people are. You might think that Milwaukee is some lame-o Midwestern town, but you would be wrong. I had no expectations of what to expect when I got there and I was really surprised at how much I loved the city. My husband loved it too. I have to say that after living in the extremely overcrowded and overpopulated Chicago for the past six years, Milwaukee was a breath of fresh air. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever visited a city with such a low population density before and I loved it. Chicago you see is a city of 3 million people, (Not including the suburbs and year-round tourism) and that’s about 2 million people more then I can stand. Whereas Milwaukee is a city of just less then 600,000, and it didn’t exactly seem as though the tourism industry was booming there.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am most definitely a city-dweller. I love cities, and I love city life, but I am far more comfortable with Vancouver’s 2 million people. I could never survive living somewhere like Manhattan with 9 million inhabitants. So for me being in a city of less then 600,000 was brilliant, it felt like a ghost town to me and I loved it. I loved not having to fight for a spot to sit by Lake Michigan. I loved not having to fight for parking spots. I loved being able to walk down the street without having to bump into 50 people. I loved not getting pushed around at a crosswalk. I loved that cars actually stopped at cross-walks - they rarely do this in Chicago - I loved that people in traffic stopped to let us in - this also never happens in Chicago - I loved not having to wait in lines. I loved going into a restaurant and not having to wait 20-45 minutes for a seat even though it was prime dining hours. I loved how nice everyone was. Everyone we encountered was super nice, helpful and seemed genuinely happy - very unlike Chicago.

After living in Chicago, Milwaukee was like another universe, and the best part? Milwaukee is Vegan Friendly! Seriously, at only 1 hour and 45 minutes away Milwaukee is like a little haven.

Riverwest Co-Op

We started our morning off with a nice breakfast at The Riverwest Co-op Café. Which is a really cool all vegetarian Café next to a co-op. The Café has many vegan options, in fact most of the stuff on the menu can be veganized. They had so many amazing choices for lunch, but I really wanted breakfast since I don’t get vegan breakfast out very often. I ended up ordering the Breakfast Burrito with tofu scramble instead of eggs. My husband ordered the Breakfast plate which was a tofu scramble, toast, and home-style potatoes. Both meals were excellent. Their tofu scramble had such wonderful flavor and I loved the avocado, rice and beans that were also in the burrito. I was really tempted to get a shake, but I wanted to save my appetite because I knew we’d be going to several other places for food during the day.

Breakfast Plate - Tofu Scramble, Home-style Potatoes
& Toast 

After we ate I took a quick look around the co-op and they had some really cool stuff. All the usual health food and vegan items you might find in a Whole Foods or similar health food store,, plus they had local produce and some other local goods. Very neat. I have to say that The Riverwest Co-op has gotten some real mixed reviews on Happy Cow and so I wasn’t sure how our experience was going to be, but it was wonderful. I’m not sure what the negative reviews are all about but there was no mixup that our meals were suppose to be vegan, and everyone at the café was friendly. They did seem very busy and perhaps a bit aloof but they certainly weren’t mean as some reviewers have suggested. If you need a good meal in Milwaukee I highly recommend this place.

Breakfast Burrito 

After breakfast we went to The Miller Domes - or Miller Conservatory, as it’s officially called. - which is a very small botanical conservatory but it’s also a really cool place. We pretty much had it to ourselves which was nice. Unfortunately the tropical dome was closed on our visit, but I really enjoyed the dessert dome. I also really loved that their gift shop had so many cool books on herbal remedies, growing herbs, and growing plants in general. Very neat to see that in a small place like this. Then we headed over to the Milwaukee public Market to see what we could find there, and man is there some great stuff in there! Local produce, artisan foods and gifts. I bought a jar of Cherry Butter, and a jar of Plum Tarragon Jam because I’m a big fan of jam’s especially strange ones. I also bought some Chipotle infused Olive oil and Pineapple infused Balsamic Vinegar at ORO di Olivia. They had all kinds of cool Olive oils infused with different flavors and tons of awesome Balsamic Vinegars from the traditional dark to white. I wanted to buy so many bottles, but at $15 a bottle I limited myself to only 2.

Next we headed over to The Green Kitchen which is a cool little lunch spot in the Public Market. We weren’t exactly hungry after are delicious breakfast but I wanted to get something. Now, The Green Kitchen isn’t a vegan or vegetarian place, but it is vegan friendly. They have at least one sandwich and one wrap that is naturally vegan, and I think there are 2 others that can be made so by just asking for it without cheese. They also have a salad bar, smoothies, and fresh juices. We opted to get some juice to wet our whistles after so much walking around. I forget the name of the juice I got but it was a mixture of pineapple, grapefruit, strawberry and mango I think. My husband got a tropical drink as well with pineapple, mango, and some other stuff. Both juices really hit the spot, they were so delicious!

Boats on Lake Michigan 

Next we headed off to walk around Lake Michigan. Now Milwaukee doesn’t have quite the skyline of Chicago, and their Lakefront isn’t quite as developed but the one thing I loved about walking around the Lake here is that there weren’t a million other people doing the same thing. In fact we could walk or sit wherever we wanted because there were only a handful of others at the Lake, most of the jogging or biking. It was brilliant and we even saw a couple getting married by the lake. Very cool. This is also the site where the Milwaukee Museum of Art is, and it’s a really neat futuristic looking building. Great for taking photos.

The River Walk

After the Lake we tried to find this vegan bakery called East Side Ovens Bakery. I was so in the mood for some vegan brownies. Unfortunately they were closed when we got there, so we headed over to the evil Big Chain Coffee shop that starts with and S and got iced lattes instead. Not as good, but since it was about 90'F out we really needed the cool down. After sipping our drinks we drove back into down town and walked around The Third Ward for a while, looking around at shops and things. By then it was late afternoon and it being a Sunday a lot of places were closed but I didn’t mind. Coming from Vancouver and having been to Europe a few times I’m used to places closing down early.

The River Walk

When we’d had enough of The Third Ward we went down to the River and walked along there. It was a great walk because not only is it a beautiful area, but it was also shaded and a nice breeze was coming off the river. We watched Kayakers and Sunday Boaters enjoying the water and took lots of pictures of the buildings. Then we found the Bronze Fonz which my husband was particularly excited about. Now if you don’t know what that is it’s a bronze statue of the actor Henry Winkler, who played the iconic character Fonzie on the popular 70's t.v. show “Happy Days.” even though the show ended a year or two before I was even born I still grew up watching it. I used to watch the repeats in the morning before school, along with other t.v. shows from that time period and earlier. My husband liked the show too, but since I haven’t seen it in probably a decade I didn’t remember until we got to Milwaukee that it had taken place there - hence the statue. Pretty neat if you like pop culture things.

Customized Pizza - Marinara, Fried Potatoes, Artichoke,
Vegan Cheese, & Garlic 

All that walking got us hungry enough for some dinner and so we went to Transfer Pizza, which is also not vegan or vegetarian but they actually have 12 vegetarian pizza’s and all of them can be made vegan because Transfer has a vegan cheese option. Or you can create your own pizza. We ended up getting Bob’s Special which is spinach, mushroom, onions, garlic sauce, and cheese. We got vegan cheese of course and the waitress kindly informed us that the garlic sauce wasn’t vegan and said we could switch it out for marinara which we did. We also got a customized pizza with vegan cheese, fried potatoes, garlic, red sauce and artichokes. Both pizza’s were excellent though I think I liked the customized pizza just a little more. I mean fried potatoes on pizza? This is really a great idea and one I rarely ever see. I also really liked the atmosphere at Transfer, and our waitress was super nice and friendly.

Bob's Special - Marinara, Spinach, Mushrooms
Vegan Cheese, and Onions

After dinner we wanted some bar food. Or more accurately I wanted bar food. I had heard about a Bar called The Palomino and how it has excellent vegan bar food. To find vegan bar food in a non vegan bar is such a rarely novelty that I just couldn’t pass it up. So we went on over. I have to say I was a little nervous about it because The Palomino has gotten some really bad reviews on Happy Cow with people saying the food is greasy and that the staff are really horrible and mean. Many people said that the staff were indifferent to vegans but honestly that was not my experience at all. Our waitress was super nice and helpful. Not only was she really friendly but she answered our questions and was prompt with her service. We weren’t neglected or left on our own, so I’m not sure what those reviews are all about. I would definitely go back to The Palomino, in fact it’s exactly my kind of bar. I’m not a bar person you know, or a drinker, but really the thing I hate most about bars is that they’re overcrowded, way too loud, and usually full of smoke. That wasn’t the case at The Palomino on this particular evening. The music was a perfect volume and it wasn’t jam-packed. It had a small-town bar feel, and kind of reminded me of Merlott’s from “True Blood” in atmosphere.

Vegan Chicken Wings, Sweet & Spicy
With Vegan Ranch

Anyway, as for food we ordered the Chicken Wings - veganized of course - we got a combo plate of half spicy half sweet wings, which came with a vegan ranch. The wings themselves were made out of tofu and seitan and I have to say they were so realistic in taste that we actually had to ask the waitress if they were really vegan. She seemed amused by the question and assured us they were. I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s been so long since we had actual chicken but these tasted spot on to me. Texture wise they were so moist, and the breading was perfect. Since we were pretty full from dinner we didn’t have a lot of room to explore more of the menu but we capped off the night with a fried vegan apple hand-pie. Which was super delicious, and moist. It was the perfect end to the night.

Fried Vegan Apple Hand-Pie

I actually had such a nice time that I can’t wait to go back to Milwaukee for another visit, and now that we know how awesome it is hopefully we’ll go back sometime soon. Chicago might be considered a vegan Oasis in the Midwest but being a city of 3 million it really should have numerous vegan options. On the other hand you typically don’t expect a city of less then 600,000 to cater much to vegetarians and vegans, but Milwaukee is super vegan friendly, to me they’re much more of a vegan oasis in the Midwest because you don’t expect it, and when you find it you’re so unbelievable surprised and outrageously happy.

PS: This is only a small sampling of the amazing vegan options available in Milwaukee. There were actually quite a few places for us to choose from when it came to dinner options, and a few places we’d originally wanted to go to were closed. So I’ll be sure to check out those places on my next trip to the city and let you know about them.

Riverwest Co-op Cafe
733 E Clarke St, Milwaukee,

The Green Kitchen
400 N Water St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Milwaukee Public Market

Transfer Pizza
101 W Mitchell St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Palomino
2491 S Superior St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Friday, August 23, 2013

Almost Raw Mango Cheesecake with Mango Glaze...

A few days ago I really wanted something sweet. I was dying for dessert, but as I mentioned a couple of days ago I’m staying away from sugar until I’m fully recovered. That means no dessert, or at least no traditionally sweetened desserts. I tried for a while to let the craving pass, and when it wouldn’t I started thinking about fruits. Only just sitting down and chomping away on a piece of fruit wasn’t really doing it for me. Then I got thinking about what I was going to do with the batch of home made cream cheese I’d made last week, and then I got thinking about cheesecake. Then I really wanted cheesecake except cheesecake is loaded with sugar. Hm! What to do?

It was then that a vague idea for a raw cheesecake popped into my head. Most raw cheesecakes are not sweetened with sugar, and a lot of them use fruit as a sweetener instead. I could get behind that right? Except I’ve made raw cheesecakes in the past and while I do enjoy them I find they always have a very strong cashew, date, coconut flavor, which is fine if that’s what you want, but it’s not really ‘cheesecake’ you know? I wanted a cake that was creamy, and cheesy, sweet and tangy, and suddenly I started thinking about mango. I mean it’s summer after all - even if it’s getting near the end of summer - and a Mango Cheesecake sounded just about perfect in that moment. Only, I was tired, and drained from being sick and didn’t want to go through the process of having to bake and look after a cheesecake, especially in the middle of an already hot evening.

So I started wondering if I could make a more traditional cheesecake using my homemade cream cheese and frozen mangos - which were the only kind I had - by employing the basic principals of raw cheesecake making. Once I got thinking like that it all kind of came together in a snap. As it turns out you can make a cheesecake in this way, and it tastes awesome. This cheesecake was so sweet, cool and mangoey the perfect treat on a humid summer evening. Yet it was creamy and tangy like a regular cooked cheesecake with not coconut, or nut aftertaste. The only problem with this particular cheesecake is storage. You see since the filling is quite liquidy you can’t store it in the fridge even after it’s been frozen, because it’ll melt and leak. I didn’t have a problem with it melting completely losing it’s shape and reverting back to pre-frozen state but it melted enough. Of course because cheese doesn’t taste great frozen, and you loose that creamy texture if it’s frozen solid leaving it in the freezer isn’t so great either. My recommendation is that this is a cake best eaten right away. Of course if you need to store it I suggest cutting the entire cake into individual slices first, then storing in the freezer. When you want to eat a slice, take it out and let it thaw for 30 minutes so it gets creamy again.

Though that might seem like some unnecessary trouble this cake is so amazing flavor-wise, that it’s really worth it, even if there’s no perfect way to store it. Of course you could always store most of it in the freezer and store individual slices in the fridge in a snap-lock container that way if it melts a little it won’t get all over your fridge. I think next week I’ll experiment and make this a full-on traditional cooked cheesecake, so I’ll let you know how that goes, but for now enjoy!

Mango Cheesecake with Mango Glaze 

Crust -

1 C Pecans
1 C Rolled Oats
½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
4 Medjool Dates Pitted and Soaked
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
Pinch of Sea Salt
5-8 Drops Liquid Stevia

Filling - 

***1 ½ C Cream Cheese preferably homemade
3 C Frozen Mango Chunks Divided
2 Tbsp Lime Juice
Date Soak Water
1/4 tsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Maca
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Pinch of sea salt
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
8-12 Drops Liquid Stevia

Glaze - 

1 C Frozen Mango Chunks
4 Medjool Dates pitted and soaked
5-8 Drops Liquid Stevia

Instructions -

Crust -

Add Pecans and oats to a food processor and process into fine crumbs.

Add in the dates - reserve the soaking water - and coconut oil along with all other ingredients. Process until a smooth dough forms.

Turn out into a spring-form pan and press down evenly spreading the mixture across the bottom of the pan.

Freeze until ready to add the filling.

Filling -

Add 2 C mango chunks along with the date soak water leftover from the crust recipe to a high speed blender. The water should roughly yield between a third and a half cup. Add in the lime juice and vanilla extract and blend on high until completely smooth.

Add the cream cheese to the food processor along with the pureed mango mixture, coconut oil, maca, ginger, sea salt and stevia. Blend until smooth and fully incorporated.

Add in the remaining cup of mango chunks and process. You can process this until very smooth or leave it a little chunkier, it’s up to you.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and return to the freezer. Freeze for 2-3 hours until solid but still creamy.

Glaze -

Add all ingredients to a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Pour over cheesecake when ready to serve and then serve immediately or freeze for an additional 30 minutes to firm up the glaze a little bit. Enjoy!

*** Note - I used homemade cream cheese that was made with cashews, salt, water, and 2 tbsp of coconut milk yogurt to culture it. The recipe I used was from Miyoko Schinner’s “Artisan Vegan Cheese.” though I think you could use any homemade vegan cream cheese just as long as it’s cultured. You could try making this with store-bought vegan cream cheese but honestly I don’t know how that would alter the taste and texture of this recipe. Store-bought cream cheese is full of preservatives and other ingredients and it may not freeze as well. Since my homemade cream cheese was practically raw I think it might work better then a cooked cream cheese, but feel free to experiment and let me know what you discover.*** 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: Super H Mart in Niles...

So it’s no secret that I like Asian cuisine right? I mean, I grew up in Vancouver for Buddha’s sake, where Asian food isn’t just a ‘take-out’ idea on a lazy Friday night but a way of life. I spent years of my youth wandering around Chinatown, perusing the local markets, boutique and shops, and meditating in the Sun Yat-Sen classical Chinese Garden. T & T Market was one of my favorite places to shop, and grabbing some sushi or tempura in one of Vancouver’s - or the lower mainland in general - abundant Japanese restaurants was usually a thrice weekly occurrence. I loved the Richmond Night Market, hung out in Bubble Tea shops and ventured into offbeat Japanese bookstores. Thanks to my best friend from childhood I also have a nice collection of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese pop music in my music library.

Black Fungus, Jackfruit, Sugar Cane, Black Tapioca Pearls

These are all things I miss from home. When it comes to Asian Cuisine and Asian culture Chicago just doesn’t compare. However I just discovered the coolest place, and it goes a long way in making me feel a little less homesick, and a little less like a fish out of water. If you don’t know what I’m talking about I’m talking about The Super H Mart in Niles!

Okay, seriously, how have I never heard of this place before? It’s not terribly far from where I live - roughly 40 minutes - and it is so worth the traffic to get there!  So Super H Mart is a predominantly Korean Grocery, though they also sell Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese staples. They have everything from fresh produce - a lot of awesome Asian produce like fresh lychee, longan, lotus root, jackfruit, all kinds of radishes, choy’s and other Asian greens. - to Fresh noodles, to dried noodles, to spices, seasonings, fermented pastes, buckets of soy sauce, gallon jars of kimchi, multiple types of tofu, rice, beans, canned goods, snacks, desserts, and unfortunately meats, but I ignored that section.

Fresh Udon. Dried Sweet Potato Noodles and Purple
Sweet PotatoeNoodles

So how did I find this magical paradise in the suburbs? Well Monday evening I picked up a copy of the August issue of VegNews magazine and was instantly captivated by two for Japchae which is a Korean Noodle dish, and one for Ddukbokki which is a dish of cabbage, onion and rice cakes. Now as much as I love Asian cuisine I don’t have a lot of experience with Korean food. When I was growing up in Vancouver the dominant Asian cultures were Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanise, with much smaller pockets of cultural influence from Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and other South East Asian countries. So my experience with Korean food is limited to eating in a few restaurants in my pre-vegan days, and some Korean-Fusion style food I’ve eaten since going vegan. Yet something about these two dishes just called to me and I knew I had to make them, but where was I going to find Dangmyeon - translucent noodles made of sweet potato - Garaeddeok - the rice cakes - Gochugaru - coarse ground Korean chili flakes, and Gochujang - A spicy fermented soybean and chili paste. The flakes and the paste I figured I could do without if need be but the noodles and the rice cakes were a must. So I Googled it, and Super H Mart is what I found. How many ways can I express my joy and excitement over this discovery?

Dragonfruit !!!

I was particularly taken with the produce department and I like that they sold some organic produce which I was not expecting. I could have spent an hour in just this department but the thing I was most excited for was finally finding my beloved Dragonfruit. Dragonfruit is something I was introduced to last year when I went home to visit my family. I loved it so much that I was determined to find it when I got back to Chicago but there were no dragonfruits to be found in my area. Occasionally the Whole Foods has them in stock but they go for $7 a fruit, and they’re usually small and questionable looking. - By which I mean they always seem to look as though they’ve seen better days. Well, Super H Mart is selling Dragonfruit for half the price of WF and so my husband and I got some. I also picked up some Chinese broccoli to make soup, and some lotus root because I have many recipes for it but have never seen it for sale anywhere in my area. I wanted to buy so many more things but my fridge was fully stocked already and so there was no sense in buying produce just for buying’s sake. Next I checked out the tofu options, of which there were many. Super H Mart also makes their own fresh tofu but they only had soft tofu in stock and I didn’t need any of that so I took a pass and bought some packaged non-GMO baked tofu, as well as some fresh bean curd. Did you get that? FRESH BEAN CURD! How cool is that? Bean Curd is also something I got turned onto when I was in Vancouver last year as several Asian Vegan restaurants I tried used it in place of tofu or meat. Really loved the texture though I guess it’s not a common item here in Chicagoland.

Black Sesame Seeds, Korean Chili Flakes,  Bean Curd
Baked Five Spice Tofu. Mochi, and Brown Rice cakes 

My next favorite place in the store was the fresh noodle isle. There were literally shelves upon shelves, and bunkers upon bunkers of fresh packages noodles. From Udon, to Ramen, to buckwheat, to shiitake, to a whole host of other noodles that I couldn’t pronounce or determine what they might be. Interestingly enough as much as I love a good pasta dish I’m not a freak when it comes to spaghetti or penne or any of the other Italian pastas, but put me in a room with a wall of Udon and watch out!  I couldn’t resist.

Red Bean Filled, Sesame Covered Mochi!!!

Also mixed in with the noodles were bags of picked vegetables and one of my all time favorite snacks - Mochi! I don’t mean the hard mochi you get in the healthfood store that comes in a brick that you need to cut and coook. I’m talking about fresh, chewy, stretchy, cold mochi balls filled with sweet red bean paste. Red bean paste is literally my favorite thing in Asian cuisine ever, honestly you put red bean paste in something and I’m head over heals. Though mochi is something I could take or leave when you fill it with red bean paste I go nuts for it. I bought several flavors of this little treat, including pineapple, plain, guava, green tea, and my personal favorite brown and black sesame. It was also in this section that I found the rice cakes or Garaeddeok that I was looking for. They had them sliced into rounds, or in cylinders and they came in brown rice or white rice. I chose the brown rice rounds.

Noodles again

Next it was off to the dried noodle isle where there were just as many bags and packages of noodles as there were fresh ones in the refrigerated section. Since I can’t read Korean it took me some time in locating the Dangmyeon but I eventually did. I grabbed two bags of the stuff, one of thin noodles and one of really wide noodles. Then I also grabbed a package of thin noodles made from purple sweet potatoes because, well... how awesome is that? They also had an entire isle of seaweed and some of the packages were almost as tall as I was. My husband came over with a package of Nori that was literally wider then both of us put together. I don’t even know where I’d start with using a sheet of nori that big or why it’s necessary but it was awesome.

Then I headed off to the seasoning isle where I found the fermented soybean chili paste, the Korean chili flakes, and Zhenjiang which is a Chinese black vinegar that I’ve been looking for and couldn’t find. I also grabbed a jar of black sesame seeds since I ran out last month.

Better shot of the Rice Cakes

Next it was time to scout the rice and bean section and oh my, if I had more room in my pantry and more money in my wallet I would have gone nuts. My husband and I love rice, and four pound bags of black rice for a fraction of the price Whole Foods sells it for was hard to pass up. They also had a variety of glutenous rice, white rice, brown rice, red rice, and wild rices that were intriguing, as well as dried black soybeans - only seen canned before. Though I enjoyed looking in this section I didn’t buy anything. I did however pick up two bags of dried Black Fungus or Chinese Black Mushrooms as they’re also known, as well as a bag of Tapioca pearls to make Bubble tea. After that it was time to go but not before stumbling upon something I’ve been looking for, for a long time. Canned Jackfruit. Jackfruit is the ‘new’ meat alternative for a lot of vegetarians and vegans. It’s popularity is growing ever more because of it’s meat-like texture and lack of flavor making it very adaptable to any recipe. Unfortunately for me all the markets near my house only carry jackfruit in syrup not in water or brine and so they don’t do me any good. For all of the jackfruit recipes I see water or brine packed jackfruit is called for and now I’ve finally found it. They only had 4 cans left on the shelf and I took them all. My husband also couldn’t pass up a can of sugar cane, which is something he really likes.

Then it was time to check out, and all that only came to $56! Wow, what a steal. I know I’ll be making regular excursions to Super H Mart now that I know about it, and if you love Asian food as much as I do I highly recommend you take a trip out there. Trust me when I saw it’s SO worth it. Oh and incase you’re interested they also have a bakery, a food court, a massage place, and electronics area, appliances, makeup and some other cultural items.

I can't wait to get cooking! Check it out guys, seriously!

Super H Mart 
801 Civic Center Dr  Niles, IL
Phone # 847-581-1212

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Super Garlic Stir-fry Bowl...

Lately I’ve just been craving real, simple, whole, foods, and my craving’s have perfect timing because that’s exactly what my body needs right now. I know I promised to post more about my experiments with “Cookin’ Crunk” and about my Artisan Vegan Cheese making but last Monday I started getting a strange cough. By Wednesday it had gotten much worse and I was feeling quite poorly overall. I spent most of the day in bed, and by the weekend the cough had escalated to downright awful. So I broke down and went to the doctor the other day and was diagnosed with Pertussis, that’s Whooping Cough for those of you who don’t know the medical lingo. How I got Whooping Cough and who from I have no idea. I was vaccinated against it as a child, and I’m never around children - sick or otherwise - unless I happen to pass them on the street or in the store, and so far as I know I haven’t been around any sick adults either. I thought whooping cough was a dead disease, something that only surfaced in third world countries, but apparently I was wrong. After doing a bit of research I read that it has been making a fierce comeback in the United States particularly over the past 3 years. In 2012 alone there were three massive outbreaks in Washington, Wisconsin, and Vermont, and the reports of whooping cough in those areas are considered to be at epidemic levels. Personally I blame all these people who refuse to vaccinate their kids for fear of the Autism boogie man, but I wont’ get into that.

So how do you get whooping cough if you’ve been vaccinated? Well according to the doctor vaccines aren’t always 100% effective, sometimes they may prevent you from getting a disease entirely, and sometimes they may only limit the severity of the disease vaccinated against. Also vaccines apparently aren’t designed to last for a person’s entire lifetime. They’re really just meant to get you through childhood, since most of the diseases vaccinated against are more contagious - and dangerous - to children. Unfortunately for me there isn’t much the doctor could do in the way of treatment, the whole point of vaccinating is prevention, because once you get an illness like whooping cough there isn’t a cure or a treatment, you have to just let it run it’s course all on it’s own and that can take as long as a month or more. I was told that because I’m healthy and came in relatively early I might be able to kick it sooner but we’ll see.

Since conventional medicine didn’t have a lot for me I looked to my training as a holistic health practitioner to see if there was anything I could do for myself, still even natural treatment options are limited. Licorice Root, Garlic, Plantain Leaf, Mullen, Anis Seed, Echinacea, and Elderberry, are the main herbs I’ve been using but I started using those way back last Monday when the cough first came on and they’re only providing moderate and brief relief. So in addition to supportive herbs I’ve decided to simplify my diet for the time being. Smaller portions, only whole foods, little to no oil, no sugar, very limited salt. A lot of greens, a lot of fresh veggies, fruit, garlic, ginger, and wheatgrass. I think it’s helping, at least it feels good to nourish myself with whole foods. The following recipe is what I made for dinner last night and I think it turned out extremely well, it’s so packed with flavor you wouldn’t even know it didn’t have any salt, or sugar, and wasn’t cooked in oil. The important thing with this recipe is to cook it at a lower heat to preserve some of the crunch of the vegetables. It's equally important to add the garlic in closer to the end of cooking so that it retains as much nutritional potency as possible while still mellowing out a little. I'll admit this is really garlicky so it's not for the faint of heart, but you can cut back on the garlic a little if you like. Garlic is a great food for illness, and a lot of garlic is always my personal preference. Delicious and filling! I do also add a tsp of sesame oil after cooking to add a bit of sesame flavor but you can leave that out if you wish .

As for the rest of it, hopefully I’ll start feeling better soon, but in the meantime you may have to wait for those other posts I promised because honestly most days I’m not really in the mood to do too much.

Super Garlic Stir-fry Bowl

2 tsp Garlic Chili Sauce
2 Large Carrots peeled and sliced
4 C Bok Choy chopped. Leaves and stems separated.
6 Shiitake Mushrooms sliced
1 C Sliced Red Cabbage
! C Frozen Lima Beans thawed
8 Cloves Garlic sliced thin
3/4 tsp Ground Ginger
2 Tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s
Water as needed - about ½ C
1 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil per serving (Optional)
Sesame Seeds
1 ½ C Brown Rice

- Cook Brown Rice in a rice cooker according to manufacturer instructions or in a pot according to package instructions.

- Meanwhile add Garlic Chili Sauce and ground ginger to a large saute pan with roughly 1/4 cup of water. Turn on the heat to medium and bring it to a simmer.

- Add in the sliced carrots, and the bok choy stems. Saute on medium for about ten minutes until softened.

- Add in the Shiitake Mushrooms and sliced garlic and saute for another 4-5 minutes. Add in more water if the pan is getting dry.

- Add the Red Cabbage, Bok Choy Leaves, and Lima Beans. Saute until Red Cabbage is wilted but still has some crunch and lima beans are heated through.

- Add in the Bragg’s and toss to coat.

- Distribute the rice evenly amongst bowls, top each bowl of rice with a generous helping of the sauteed veggies, sprinkle with desired amount of sesame seeds, and drizzle 1 tsp of Toasted sesame oil over each bowl.

- Serve and enjoy!

***Note - Remember to leave out the sesame oil to make this oil free, and you can make this soy-free by using a soy-free sauce, in place of Bragg's.***

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bianca's BBQ Pulled Tempeh and Carrot Sandwiches, and Tempeh Gumbo...

Inspired by my recent adventures at the Naperville Veggie Fest I decided to spend the week ‘Cookin’ Crunk’ and making Artisan Vegan Cheese. The cheese I’ll talk about another day because today’s post is all about the Crunk!

The first thing I was dying to make from Bianca Phillips book “Cookin’ Crunk’ was the BBQ Pulled Tempeh and Carrot Sandwiches. I’ve heard her talk about them on her blog in the past, and was immediately intrigued, even more so after watching her demo them on a Memphis morning show a while back. It didn’t hurt that I was also craving BBQ and that it’s the middle of summer. No better time for BBQ in my opinion.

So first you start by making the Memphis-Style BBQ Sauce. I think this is a really important step and other ‘Cue sauce afficionados will agree with me that a store bought sauce just won’t cut it. I mean the trick to really good BBQ is really all in the sauce, and man do I love me some BBQ. I don’t typically eat it much these days but in my pre-vegan days wooh-boy watch out. BBQ, was one of my very favorite things and I’m the type of gal who’ll put BBQ sauce on literally everything, it’s right up there with a good strong Mayo as my favorite condiment. Now, even though I was born almost as far from the South as you can get I still know a good BBQ when I taste it, and Bianca’s got the chops for sure. Her Memphis style sauce is everything good BBQ is suppose to be. Sweet, tangy, rich, smokey and garlicky. Mm-mm! This stuff is so good I could lick it off the back of a spoon and not feel any shame.

So once you got your sauce made it’s time to get the rest of the sandwich together, and it’s actually super easy. Onions and garlic are sauteed until soft and then crumbled tempeh is added and cooked till brown. Next in is the carrots and then the Memphis style sauce, and everything’s cooked together for a few minutes until it’s thick and bubbly.

The last component is the Slaw. Now I know a lot of people who think putting coleslaw on a BBQ sandwich is akin to sacrilege but they’ve obviously never been down south. Well, I have been to the south and this is a combination of brilliance that can’t be denied. I remember eating meaty versions of this type of sandwich right in Memphis - in my pre-vegan days - not to mention other parts of the South. There’s also a great Memphis style BBQ joint in Vancouver on Commercial Drive which I used to frequent in my pre-vegan days. They had the best BBQ pulled sandwiches, and ribs this side of Tennessee, and Bianca’s Pulled Tempeh Sandwiches brought back so many wonderful taste memories, but I’m getting a little off topic. The slaw used on this sandwich is a simple green cabbage slaw with carrots, onion, poppy seeds, vegan mayo, agave and salt. Though I added in a little bit of apple cider vinegar just for some tang. Considering the simplicity this slaw really hit the spot. Cool and crunchy the perfect accompaniment to sweet, and tangy BBQ. This sandwich is literally to die for, and to make it even better I served it on homemade Sweet Potato Buns the recipe for which came from Joni Marie Newman’s wonderful book “The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet”

So that was Monday night’s dinner. Tuesday was a bit cool out, not cold, but cool and I was feeling a bit off with a headache and a scratch throat so I thought something down-home and comforting for dinner would be best. When it’s cool out and I don’t feel 100% soup or stew Is always my meal of choice and so I chose to make Bianca’s Tempeh Gumbo.

Now, as much as I love a good BBQ I also love a good Gumbo, and I’ve made, and eaten many a Gumbo in my time. New Orleans is seriously one of my favorite cities in the whole of the United States it’s full of amazing history, interesting characters, and loads of fun. My husband and I spent endless days walking around the French Quarter poking around in crazy shops, sitting in French Cafes eating sugar covered donuts and at night we’d stumble into cozy dimly lit restaurant style bars and feast on creole, gumbo, jambalaya, and dirty rice. New Orleans made an impression on me that I’ve never been able to shake, and every time I make a pot of gumbo or a jambalaya it brings me back.

Bianca’s Gumbo is made first by making a classic roux - a mixture of fat and flour and in her case she uses canola oil and whole wheat pastry flour. However I can’t justify using Canola so I opted to use Olive oil instead. - Then a hot pan of sauteed onions, garlic, celery, and bell pepper are added. Along with the tempeh, tomatoes, Vegetable Broth, Okra, parsley, thyme, Cajun seasoning, Bay leaves, cayenne and salt and pepper. Aside from the change I made with the olive oil the only thing I did different here was to add less broth - she called for 6 cups which I thought was too much and so I only used 4 - and I added extra Cajun seasoning.

Overall while this was not the best Gumbo I’ve ever eaten it was pretty darn good, and certainly the perfect meal on a cool summer evening. I guess for me I just felt it was a bit under seasoned and perhaps more Cajun seasoning would have fixed that for me. It might have something to do with the olive oil roux too though, and perhaps an Earth Balance Roux would have been better, but that’s me. My husband loved it as was, and I have to say I LOVED the okra. A lot of people don’t like Okra because they think it’s slimy, but I’m not one of those people, and I can honestly say I’ve never had okra in a gumbo before. Not even the gumbo’s I ate in the South had okra in them. Supposedly okra in gumbo is traditional but I’d I guess everyone has their own feelings about that, so I’d never experienced it until now. Definitely a great addition.

Tonight I’m not much for cooking so we’re having leftover gumbo, but I am making Bianca’s Jalapeno Corn Buttermilk Cornbread to go with it. So stay tuned for more Crunk Cooking, and that Cheese post I mentioned.