Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Restaurant Review: Rise Above in St. Catherines, Ontario...

While we were on vacation in September we got to eat at so many wonderful vegan restaurants, and one of them was the amazing Rise Above, an unexpected surprise we found in St. Catherines Ontario. The original plan after sightseeing at Niagara Falls was to grab lunch at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Sarira Stupa which is a Buddhist Temple that provides a Buddhist Vegan Buffet lunch for around $7. They do this seasonally from June through October, and it’s all volunteer run, which means you need to get their early because when the food runs out it’s out. Since the lunch only runs from 11:30am - 2pm and we weren’t done at Niagara until 1:30pm we needed another option. Luckily the nice woman who rung us up at Veg Out in London, mentioned that Rise Above was a good place for Vegan eats near Niagara.

Cute little Rooster Salt & Pepper Shakers 

When I did the original research on Vegan food in Ontario I didn’t realize that St. Catherines is only like a 15 minute drive from the falls and so this restaurant wasn’t on my radar. I’m so glad we were told about it though because it was a real lifesaver. Our hotel didn’t have much in the way of a vegan option at the free breakfast and so by the time we were done sightseeing we were pretty famished. If we’d have had to wait until we got to Toronto - only a 60-90 minute drive - we would have been quite cranky I think.

Cappuccino with Chocolate Almond Milk

Just as we were getting ready to leave the falls it started down pouring. It had been lightly sprinkling on and off for most of the morning but this was real ‘cats and dogs’ stuff you know? Lucky we saved our Maids of the Mist ponchos otherwise we would have been soaked walking back up the hill to collect our car. By the time we got to St. Catherines and Rise Above I was ready for something toasty warm to eat and drink, and so my husband and I started with Cappuccino’s made with Chocolate almond milk. Oh yeah, you read that right! Not plain soy, not plain almond but CHOCOLATE almond milk! This my friends is a revelation and I ask “Why doesn’t everyone do this?” Amazing.

Cauliflower Sandwich

Next we debated whether or not to get an appetizer because the apps looked so fantastic. The Buffalo Seitan and the Sweet Potato Taquitos really stood out to me, but in the end we decided against an appetizer as we knew we’d be ordering quite a few desserts, not to mention we’d be getting our eat on big-time once we got to Toronto. We played it conservative and only ordered a main dish each.

Cauliflower Sandwich with Curried Cauliflower Soup

For my main meal I ordered the Cauliflower Sandwich. Something about that sounded so good right at that moment - though I did have quite a hard time choosing, the mushroom mac and cheese was tempting me! The sandwich is made with roasted cauliflower, picked red onions, and broccoli pesto served on house made bread. This was so fantastic I can’t even describe it. The pesto was delicious, and the pickled red onions gave it a nice tart crisp flavor. Loved the cauliflower too obviously my only complaint is that there wasn’t a little more of it. Since cauliflower is quite mild it gets a little overshadowed by the pesto, so a bit more Cauli next time would be good. With my sandwich I decided to order the soup of the day. I was still quite chilly from the rain. The soup of the day happened to be a curried cauliflower soup, which may seem like cauliflower overload to you but I really wanted soup and so I didn’t mind doubling up on my cruciferous veggie intake for the day. As it turned out the soup was phenomenal! Just really, really good and it quite hit the spot. My husband also got a bowl of the soup - despite his not particularly liking cauliflower - and loved it too.

Curried Cauliflower Soup

For his main meal my husband went with something simple. The Crispy Seitan Wrap. Which is made with crispy, tender seitan dumplings, red onion, romaine lettuce, and a lemon garlic aioli, on a flour tortilla. He really enjoyed it, and was kind enough to give me a bite. I thought it was tasty, and I liked the texture of the seitan but couldn’t really taste the Aioli.

The Crispy Seitan Wrap

After all that it was time for dessert. Now originally we’d been looking forward to doughnuts and cinnamon buns, but on the day we were there they didn’t have doughnuts. No matter. We ordered two cinnamon buns, a Peanut butter blondie - a peanut butter bar with fudge brownie chunks and chocolate and vanilla drizzles. - and a Nanaimo Bar, which I mean Vegan Nanaimo Bar? How could I NOT get that? I mean the Nanaimo Bar is like Canada’s thing you know? Plus it’s even more of a necessity for me to get since I’m actually from B.C. where this dessert originates from. I just couldn’t pass up the novelty of it.

Vegan Nanaimo Bar!

Unfortunately when we were paying for our desserts there was a bit of a mix-up. Another server accidentally gave away the cinnamon buns that our server had put aside for us. Which wouldn’t be a big deal except we’d already paid for them. So then there was some confusion over what should be done, personally I thought we should be reimbursed for the payment, but they didn’t seem very willing to do that and so in the end we settled for taking some other pastries at the equivalent price. Those pastries ended up being two fudge brownies drizzled in chocolate sauce, and they threw in a couple free chocolate chip cookies.

Nanaimo Bar

So how were all of those desserts? Fantastic! I quite liked the peanut butter blondie which had great flavor, and the fudge brownie was also very good, though to eat a whole one myself was a bit much I think. The Nanaimo Bar was alright, but then I have to admit I’ve never, ever liked Nanaimo Bars. When I was a kid I used to peel off the chocolate top layer, lick all the custard/frosting out of the middle, and then throw both the bottom and the top half away. Something about the taste and texture of the bottom half always put me off. However, I have to say that this particular Nanaimo Bar is one of the best I’ve ever had - probably because it’s vegan!  The chocolate chip cookie was good also, but I would have preferred the cinnamon buns!

Peanut Butter Blondie 

Oh well, overall our experience at Rise Above was good. Our server was very nice, and very helpful, and he felt quite bad about the cinnamon bun incident, even thought it wasn’t his fault.  The service was also very prompt, and as I already said the food was great. Prices here are a little high if that’s a concern for you, however I did not find the prices here any higher then other high-end or independent vegan restaurants in Canada or the U.S. for that matter. That seems to be the way of it, vegan restaurant are always either expensive or dirt cheap and it just depends on what they’re selling and what the market is, you know? I thought this particular place also had a very nice atmosphere. It was chic, but cozy, comforting on a cold, rainy afternoon, and exactly the place that I would make a weekly ritual of visiting if I lived in the area. Definitely your best bet for vegan fare in Niagra if the Temple is closed. I highly recommend at least paying them a visit for coffee and dessert.

Fudge Brownie 

Rise Above
120 St. Paul St
St. Catherines, Ontario
Open Tues-Sat - 10am-9pm. Sun - 11am-3pm

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Celebrating Thanksgiving 2013...

The Holiday Table

I hope everyone had a wonderful and lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite holiday, I look so forward to it each and every year. I love the big elaborate dinner, and the time spent with family and friends. This year it was a little different though, my husband and I chose to celebrate Thanksgiving quietly, just the two of us, because my family has suffered a poor turn of events this past week. Last Monday my Oma was hospitalized, and Sunday the 13th - the day before Thanksgiving - she passed away. It was an unexpected string of events that brought us to this point, and we’re all taking it rather hard. We’re all in a state of surreal sadness and shock I think. My Oma was a great lover of holidays - any excuse for an occasion or a party, something to dress up for and a reason to eat heartily. So because I had all the fixings for the Thanksgiving dinner I had planned to make I went ahead and made the dinner for just the two of us. I couldn’t handle company, but I know my Oma would not want us to give up all of our plans - especially if they included food! - just on her account. So my husband and I had a peaceful muted Thanksgiving. We ate, and drank beer - her favorite drink despite us not particularly liking it. - and we reminisced about good times and told fun stories. It felt appropriate. I only wish I didn’t live 2000 miles away from my family, because I would have liked to spend the day with my mother.

The Roast after being removed from the slow cooker and the foil
Not perfect, but not to shabby for a first try.

So, what did we all eat? You’re wondering. Well, we ate far more then we should have, and I cooked far more then was necessary for 2 people, but C’est la vie, and now I don’t have to cook the rest of the week. Now, the first thing any proper Thanksgiving Celebration needs is a good centerpiece, some main dish that the table can revolve around. Last year for American Thanksgiving I made a home-made Tofurkey. For Canadian Thanksgiving last year the centerpiece was a Butternut Squash Lasagna. This year I decided to go the home-made roast route again. I wanted something that felt traditional and so I went with the Stuffed and Rolled Seitan Roast from Carla Kelly’s book “Quick and Easy Vegan Slow Cooking” I have never made a seitan roast in the crock-pot before and I really liked the idea of it because that freed up my oven for other baking needs. Initially I thought making a seitan roast - particularly a stuffed one - was going to be hard. As it turns out, despite the initial work you have to put into it, it’s rather easy. I did have some trouble rolling my roast as it wanted to keep busting apart. Though I think this happened for 1 of 2 reasons. Either I had too much stuffing, or I rolled the dough out too thin in the first place. An easy fix for next time. The good thing is even if your roast threatens to bust and some stuffing pokes out, as long as you wrap the dough really tight in the foil and kind of mold it back together it really does fix itself in the steaming process. In my finished roast you could see a few pieces of apple or apricot poking through the surface of the roast but my roast had a huge crack down the center of it originally and by the time it was done steaming that crack had sealed itself completely.

The Roast after it had been put back into the slow-cooker and
basted for an additional 45 minutes.
Isn't it a beauty?

So not too hard, but how about the flavor? I think it was outstanding. Really, one of the best seitan roasts I’ve ever eaten. I think the slow-cooker method for seitan roast is my new favorite! The texture was also impeccable, it got really firm, but still remained moist and chewy. Loved it, and the flavor was spot on, it wasn’t too gluteny - thanks I’m sure to the addition of tofu in the dough.  I only made one change to this recipe, instead of using vegetable stock I used store-bought mushroom stock. I did this because I had a carton on hand that I haven’t used for anything and I wanted to use it. Though I also thought it would provide a nice depth of flavor for the roast. Mushrooms are earthy, and remind me of meat. They have that subtle slightly ‘off-putting’ flavor that is really hard to describe, and I think using the mushroom stock both in the roast itself and as the basting liquid really worked wonderfully. I highly, highly recommend trying this recipe out sometime!

Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes

Now, once the roast was all settled on we needed some vegetable side dishes. All the traditional players came to mind originally and I had a strong debate about whether to go with regular mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes. Since I couldn’t decide I let my husband pick and he chose sweet potatoes. So I made the Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes from Nava Atlas’s book “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” I think that these potatoes are actually suppose to be roasted and glazed as chunks not a mash, but my brain was a little preoccupied and so I over-roasted them and they became a sort of mash. I didn’t actually use a masher but when I started scooping them from the casserole dish into a serving bowl they just sort of mashed themselves and well, that was perfectly alright with me. Maple and sweet potatoes go together perfectly, and I loved the crunchy addition of pecans. However I forgot to add the pecans while the potatoes were roasting, but I had plenty of leftover caramelized pecans from the salad I’d made and so I just topped my sweets with them and I think it was a brilliant idea.

Agave Mustard Glazed Brussels Sprouts 
Aren't they beautiful! and so delicious!

We also had Agave and Mustard Glazed Brussels Sprouts from “Vegan Holiday Kitchen”. Sprouts for me were never a traditional part of Thanksgiving. I mean sure they appeared on the table from time to time but I never ate them. It wasn’t until I went vegan that I started making them a part of my Thanksgiving dinner. Each year I try a new preparation method and I think this is one of my favorites. I mean, all the sprout recipes I make are good but these were just perfection. I love agave-mustard concoctions anyway, and I really liked that this recipe used yellow mustard instead of Dijon. Nice to switch it up from time to time.

Orange-Ginger Glazed Carrots 

We also had carrots because Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without a side of carrots. I made the Orange-Ginger Glazed Carrots from “Vegan for the Holidays” by Zel Allen and they were pretty good. I think I still prefer the traditional Earth Balance, salt, pepper, and parsley mixture but I liked the subtle sweetness of this dish, the thickness of the glaze and the kick from the ginger.

Mixed Baby Greens with Pears and Glazed Pecans

Of course you can’t have a well balanced meal without a salad and so I made the Mixed Baby Greens with Pears and Glazed Pecans Salad from “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” This was a really great salad. It’s super simple, greens, pears, pecans, lemon, olive oil, and carrots, but I added some leftover minced parsley, and some sliced red onion along with cracked black pepper and it was really a to-die-for salad. The perfect healthy dish to make you feel good about all the other not so healthy holiday treats.

Yorkshire Pudding

You also can’t have a holiday without some kind of bread and on my dad’s side of the family that means Yorkshire Pudding. I made these last Canadian Thanksgiving as well and they were such a hit I decided to make them again. Not a single holiday dinner has ever passed at my Grandma’s house without a Yorkshire pudding, and that was one thing I missed after going vegan. So when I discovered Mark Reinfeld’s recipe in “The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe” I knew I would have to make it again and again. They come out a bit more dense then my grandma’s because he uses spelt flour instead of white, but they’re still delicious.

Chipotle Scallion Double Cornbread

And even though we already had bread covered I decided to go crazy and include one of the ‘three sisters’ by making a cornbread. Although don’t think for a second that this is just any old cornbread, it’s the Chipotle Scallion Double Cornbread recipe from Julie Hasson’s book “Vegan Diner.” Have y’all made this? If you haven’t you NEED to make this because oh my goddess it’s probably one of the best cornbread recipes I’ve ever made. I did make one crucial substitution though. Instead of simply using chipotle powder I used 2 small whole chipotles that I seeded and minced. I highly recommend this, it was so good. I also used 2 cups of corn rather then 1 and a half cups. The finished bread came out really moist which is how I likes my cornbread.

Cranberry Chutney 

There was also the obligatory Cranberry Sauce - which I nearly forgot which is why you don’t see it in the photo of the spread on the table. - Typically I make a more traditional cranberry sauce, or cranberry relish as some call it, but this year I wanted to branch out. I used Nava Atlas’s recipe for Cranberry Chutney in “Vegan Holiday Kitchen” which I quite liked. I used the suggested pineapple Juice, and enjoyed the use of dried apricots as well as fresh apple. Red Pepper Flakes are also used - just a pinch - to give the chutney some heat and I think the only thing I’d do differently next time is add a bit more sweetener. Again this might have been simply because my cranberries were overly tart, who knows.


Lastly you can’t have a dinner with a roast and Yorkshire pudding without having gravy. This was a super simple gravy that I made by using the basting liquid from the roast, adding in flour, seasonings, and almond milk to taste, as suggested in the recipe footnote by Carla Kelly.

My overstuffed Plate. I couldn't eat both slices of roast so my
husband had to help out. I did sneak a few extra sprouts though

And now we come to dessert. Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It is my absolute must-have at any Thanksgiving celebration, and it is literally my favorite thing about the holiday. So this year I chose to make Robin Robertson’s Pecan Pumpkin Pie from “Party Vegan” I had not tried this recipe yet. I really loved the sweet crunchy pecans and the crust was wonderful but overall I’d have to say - much to my regret - that this was not my favorite pumpkin pie ever. It was good, but Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Isa Chandra Moskowitz are still tied in my heart for best pumpkin pie!

Pecan Pumpkin Pie

Since my husband doesn’t like pumpkin pie I have to make more then one dessert. Which is naturally A-Okay with me, because I’ll take any excuse to bake, and I don’t mind going overboard. As luck would have it just over a week ago I bought Hannah Kaminsky’s book “Easy as Vegan Pie” and so I was eager to give it a spin. Pie incase I haven’t mentioned this before is my upmost favorite dessert ever. Some people are cake people, some people are cupcake people, some people are brownie people but I will honestly take a slice of pie over any other dessert out there any day of the week. I’m a pie girl, there is nothing better! Since her book is filled with so many amazing looking pies I had a really hard time choosing which one to make, and in the end I went with two - for an overall total of three pies!

Trio of Pie
Top - Apple Burgundy Betty.
Bottom Left - Pecan Pumpkin Pie. Right - Cran-Cherry Impossible Pie

I made the Cran-Cherry Impossible Pie which is a mixture of cranberries, cherries, and almonds. I liked this because there wasn’t a traditional pie-crust involved. You know I hate working with dough and the cool thing about this pie is that you make a batter, poor it on top of the fruit and during the baking process the berries float to the top and you get an all around crust. Pretty cleaver. I liked this pie, though personally I thought it could use a bit more sugar, maybe my cranberries were just extra tart? My husband wasn’t a fan of the almond taste so next time I would make this sans almonds and using vanilla extract instead.

Cran-Cherry Impossible Pie 

Finally - because it’s hard to have Thanksgiving without apple pie I decided to make the Apple Burgundy Betty Pie. Which is a brown betty mixed with a pie and kicked up to new heights with the addition of burgundy wine. I think out of all three desserts this was my favorite. The breadcrumb topping was a little strange at first but the overall flavor is just so good, especially when you top the pie with Vanilla Almond Milk Ice Cream, and Vegan Soy Whip. Yum!

Apple Burgundy Betty Pie 

So there you have it folks. Though we were very sad, there is nothing better for grief then food, and in my opinion cooking. Cooking and baking always takes my mind off my troubles and in the end I think we had a Thanksgiving celebration that was fitting for our mood, and I think it was one that my Oma would have really enjoyed.
The Apple Burgundy Betty

The Pecan Pumpkin Pie topped with Soy Whip
Vanilla Almond Milk Ice Cream topping the Apple pie behind.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Restaurant Review: Veg Out in London, Ontario...

In early September my husband and I took a little road trip through Eastern Canada. From Chicago to Niagra Falls to Toronto, to Ottawa, to Montreal, and then we passed through New York on our way home. I’ll talk more about bits and pieces of the trip in posts to come but for now I wanted to share with you guys a totally awesome restaurant that we discovered in London, Ontario.

It’s about a 9 hour drive between Chicago and Niagara Falls, and so the original plan was to stop in Kalamazoo, Michigan to eat lunch since that was roughly a half-way point. However, when we stopped in Kalamazoo we couldn’t find the vegan-friendly restaurant we were looking for, and rather then waste precious driving time looking for it I made a judgement call to keep going and get some food over the boarder. I can not tell you how happy I am that we did that, because Veg Out in London, Ontario is pretty damn spectacular.

It was well into evening as we rolled into London, the sun was just beginning to set, but lucky for us Veg Out was still open, and there were tables to spare. I felt a little out of place in my sweaty ‘road-trip’ clothes as everyone around us was dressed rather nice, and the restaurant itself is quite classy - but in a cozy way! But what can you do about that? The staff at Veg Out was super friendly, and didn’t make us feel like we didn’t belong there.

We were pretty well starving by the time we got there, and everything on the menu looked so good it was really hard to choose. Still as hungry as we were we know from experience that eyes tend to be bigger then stomachs and so we ordered conservatively. For my meal I got the Bacon Mushroom Melt which has sauteed cremini mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, caramelized onions, chipotle mayo, melted daiya cheese, and tempeh bacon on toasted bread. - You can get this gluten-free if you need too! - How could I resist that? And trust me when I tell you it tasted as divine as it sounds.  To go with my sandwich I got an order of the soup of the day which was a barley soup. The soup was really spectacular, and since the temperature in London was cooling off it was the perfect thing. I love a big ole bowl of soup, and this one was so packed with flavor, you’d swear it wasn’t vegan. But of course it was!

My husband got the World Famous “Fish” and Chips for dinner, because how can anyone resist that? Especially when we spent so much time looking for vegan “Fish” and chips while we were in London, England last year. The ‘fish’ are beer battered soy fillets, serves with fresh cut fries, tartar sauce, ketchup, lemon and a side of creamy coleslaw. This was a big plate, and very filling, in fact my husband couldn’t eat it all and so I was lucky enough to get a few bites of ‘fish’ fillet. I don’t know how they did it, but texture wise I would say these fish filets were pretty dead on. Certainly the best vegan fish I’ve ever eaten. They even tasted fishy, actually almost a little too fishy for my liking - as I was never a fan of fish to begin with. The fries were also excellent, the coleslaw was fantastic, and the tartar sauce was to die for! Really I think anytime I ever ordered something fishy in my pre-vegan days it was just for the accompanying tartar sauce. So delicious!

I wish we could have eaten more, but I know that next time we’re in Ontario, and passing near London we will most certainly be making a stop for food. Veg Out is really a superb place - I’m envious of the native Londoners! You can tell how much love goes into the food here, you can tell straight off that it’s very fresh, and it’s organic! The staff is great too, so friendly and helpful, in fact one of the ladies even gave us a tip on vegan eats closer to Niagara Falls - for which I’ll be ever grateful! Thank you!  If you live in London, or are passing through it I highly recommend paying Veg Out a visit.

And just as an aside here - if you are passing through London, or going near it on your way to somewhere else you may want to reconsider your itinerary and stay the night. I had no idea that London was such a cool place. There’s a real hip vibe in that city and plenty of interesting things to look around at so I was sad I didn’t know that beforehand. Next time I’ll make a point to stay in London a day or two before heading out.

Veg Out 
646 Richmond St (Oxford)
London, Ontario

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vegan Mofo 2013 - Recipe Roundup...

Hello October, and Hello fall! I’m sorry I kind of flaked out last week, I know I promised a 2013 Mofo Recipe round up but I needed a little time to decompress. After spending so much time and energy in the kitchen and the blogesphere I just needed to unwind, I’m sure you understand, especially if you were participating in Mofo also. Now that I’m fully rested I present to you my favorite ten dishes that I made this year. I think I liked pretty much everything I made, and so it was really, really hard to choose what the best dishes were, but some dishes were more mind blowing then others. I really enjoyed my theme of making ethnic food, and really enjoyed the time I was able to devote to cook books I don’t often get to use. I hope you had as much fun reading about my little culinary adventures as I did embarking on them.

Without further adieu

Coming in at #10 - Taymer's Pina Colada Ice Cream

#9 -Anypy's South Indian Hummus

#8 - Mark's German Potato Salad

#7 - Terry's Pupusas Stuffed with Black Beans and Plantains with Salvadorian Slaw

#6 - Terry's Steamed BBQ Seitan Buns (Char Siu Seitan Bao)

#5 - Mark's Mediterranean Pistachio-Crusted Tofu & Saffron Quinoa Pilaf

#4 - Is a Tie between - Madhu's Potato Stuffed Flatbread (Aloo Paratha)

& - Madhu's Onion Stuffed Flatbread (Pyaj Paratha)

#3 - Donna's Sesame Balls Filled with Red Bean Paste (Jin deui)

#2 - Jessie's Ddukbokki (Spicy Rice Cakes)

And Coming in at #1 is - Anupy's Seitan Tikka Masala

There are some definite honorable mentions this year too such as

Terry's Cuban Black Bean Soup with Cashew Crema

Bryanna's Velvety Brussels Sprout Crema

Taymer's Bajan Seasoning

Which is use on practically everything now, because it's so damn good!

And there you have it folks! Thanks again for joining me on another Mofo adventure!