Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sabra Hummus-Stuffed Artichoke Towers

As a Featured Publisher on Foodbuzz, I get the opportunity to tastetest certain products, participate in food preparation competitions, and the like, through the Tastemaker program.  It is so fun! This time, I was chosen to create an original appetizer recipe using the Sabra-brand hummus that would be suitable for a cocktail party.

The biggest decision for me was which of the many flavors of hummus I would choose for my recipe!  Sabra makes 14 different flavors of hummus! From Supremely Spicy to Spinach and Artichoke, their flavors go from classic to incredibly unique.  Not being familiar with some of the more creative flavors, I decided to stick with a classic flavor -- Roasted Red Pepper.  Yum!

So, in the spirit of finger food, I decided to make artichoke mushroom pepper towers stuffed with roasted red pepper hummus and olive cashew cream.  I'll call this "Hummus-Stuffed Artichoke Towers."

I decided to stuff and tower three vegetables: artichoke bottoms, cremini mushrooms, and sweet peppers.

Ingredients for Hummus-Stuffed Artichoke Towers
Makes 5 towers
  • 2 cups raw cashews 
  • 1 can artichoke bottoms (contains 5) *not artichoke hearts!
  • 5 cremini mushrooms (baby bellas)
  • 5 sweet tri-colored peppers 
  • 1 can black olives
I started off by placing the raw cashews in a bowl, covering them with water, then covering the bowl with plastic wrap. I placed the bowl in the refrigerator to let it soak overnight. This softens the cashews and makes them easier to digest once pureed.

The next day, I took the cashews out of the refrigerator, drained the water and put them into a food processor. Then, I added water to cover them by 1/2 inch and pureed them in a food processor two minutes or until the cashew mixture was creamy and thickened.

Then, I added a bit of olive juice from the can of olives to give it an olive taste.

Next, I took the artichoke bottoms, filled them with the Sabra Roasted Red Pepper hummus and a little bit of the red peppers that are on top of the Sabra hummus and placed them on the serving dish.

Then, I de-stemmed the mushrooms and filled them with cashew cheese and placed them upside down on top of the hummus-filled artichoke bottoms.

Lastly, I cut the tops off the sweet peppers and filled them with a bit of hummus, turned them over and topped the mushrooms. Alternatively, I also filled a few of the olives with hummus and placed them on top of the mushrooms.

And, just like that, I had an amazing appetizer!  The artichokes and hummus were a natural combination, the mushrooms and olive cashew cheese really complemented the artichokes and the pepper or olive stuffed with hummus on top helped tie it all together!  I only hope my recipe wins so I can head to San Francisco for the Foodbuzz Festival this fall and see my appetizer served to the masses! Yay Sabra!

Disclosure: As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I received a container of Sabra hummus.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Soyummi Foods Pudding

After blogging about the benefits of probiotics, Soyummi Foods contacted me to see if I'd be interested in trying their puddings, which have a natural prebiotic. Not knowing what a prebiotic was, I figured this was an opportunity to learn more and taste their pudding too!

What really makes these puddings unique is that they are vegan, organic, gluten-free, Kosher, and made of natural ingredients with no preservatives.  And as if that weren't good enough, they are low calorie, low sodium, and contain a natural prebiotic.

The key ingredients are:
  • Beet Syrup: a naturally occurring slow-burning sugar found in beet roots with a low glycemic index 
  • Inulin from chicory root: a source of soluble fiber and a prebiotic
  • Yucca extract: a digestive ‘cleanser,’ washing toxins from the intestine, including those which contribute to colitis
What is a prebiotic? 
This is where I had to do some research. Prebiotics stimulate bacterial flora in the gut rather than supplementing them as in a probiotic. As quoted from Jackson GI, "A prebiotic is a special type of soluble fiber that is used mostly by the beneficial good bacteria as a fuel. These good bacteria, in turn, produce certain substances that acidify the colon (a very good thing) and serve as a nutrition source for the colon’s own cells. Isn’t this remarkable? The colon provides a warm, oxygen-free environment for these beneficial bacteria to grow. These bacteria, in turn, manufacture the nutrition source for the colon itself. This is a true symbiotic relationship where both the bacteria and colon depend on each other and promote each others’ health."  Pretty cool, huh?!

Now, on to the pudding. The puddings come in 5 flavors: lime, tapioca, rice, dark chocolate, and cherry. I was only able to find 2 flavors at my local Whole Foods -- lime and tapioca. I will preface this by saying that I am not a big pudding eater so I don't have many points of comparison on this one. That said, I found the flavors to be quite good. The lime one, well, tasted like lime and the tapioca one had a bit of a vanilla taste along with the tapioca pearls.  They weren't super creamy -- they were denser than I had expected, but the taste was great.

You can see the tapioca pearls here

The only complaint I have is that they are so hard to open!  I couldn't peel that cellophane off the top to save my life! I finally stabbed it with a knife each time. LOL!

I do like that each pudding comes in a small size, which is perfect for snacking. The tapioca pudding has 110 calories per serving and 2.5 grams of fat, although they do vary by flavor. The puddings are sold in packages of 4 for about $3.69. Not too bad considering that vegan, organic, gluten-free pudding is not that easy to find.

As far as where to find these puddings, Soyummi Foods told me that they aren't available in any nationwide grocery chains just yet. The company is just starting to sell them in the western US. If you are interested in trying the pudding, you can use their Retail Locator to find a store near you. I, for one, love when I can find a great tasting product that is good for you too!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The gardein™ Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to the following winners of a free gardein™ product!
  1. Julie Sterner in Glendale Heights, IL
  2. Melinda Walker in Wrightsville Beach, NC
  3. Roberta Zyduck in North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin  
Each of them will receive a coupon for a free gardein™ product this week.

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway! I know you are curious as to which gardein™ product was cited as the most favored product. Well, the results are in and the product cited as the favorite amongst those who entered is the Seven Grain Crispy Tenders. 
I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't tried that product yet, but I can assure you that now I'll be heading to Whole Foods to grab some.  In at a close second were the Beefless Tips, which I love! And third was the Chick'n Scallopini, which I also love!  You guys have great taste!

Thanks again to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for my next giveaway coming soon!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crisco Pure Olive Oil in Israeli Couscous with Cremini Mushrooms

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I was chosen to receive three Crisco olive oils for which I was asked to use to use one of them to prepare one of my favorite recipes.  Easy enough!  I was delighted to receive the box of oils - it felt like Christmas. :)

In the box, there were three different olive oils: Light Tasting, Pure, and Extra Virgin. The Light Tasting oil is extra mild in flavor. It is great as an everyday cooking oil for frying, cooking, stir-frying, and baked goods. The Pure olive oil is described as having a mild and smooth flavor and is great for sauteing, grilling, roasting, and marinades. The Extra Virgin olive oil has a bold and fruity flavor and is good for dipping, drizzling, dressings, and sauces.

To be able to really taste the flavor of the olive oil, I chose a relatively simple recipe that I make on occasion. It is simple, but delicious.

Israeli Couscous with Cremini Mushrooms
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (regular couscous will not work)
  • 4T Crisco Pure olive oil
  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 hot pepper, minced
  • 2T fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt to taste (I used a couple different kinds)
How to make it:
I started off by boiling the water in a small saucepan. In the meantime, I heated a saute pan to medium-low heat and added 2T Crisco Pure olive oil.

Once it was fully heated, I added the mushrooms and let them saute for a few minutes.

As soon as the water began boiling in the saucepan, I added the couscous, brought it to a boil again, then removed it from the heat and covered it with a lid. I let the couscous sit for 10-12 minutes covered.

Dry Israeli Couscous

After I let the mushrooms saute for about 3 minutes, I added the hot pepper and wild porcini sea salt as well as a pinch of truffle salt. The mushrooms began releasing their juices so I let them cook for another 5 minutes or so before adding the fresh herbs. I then added the fresh parsley and thyme. I let it all cook for another 4 minutes or so (12 minutes total) until all the juices had cooked off.

I uncovered the couscous and added 2T of Crisco Pure olive oil to it. As you can see the Israeli couscous is much larger than regular couscous and has so much more flavor too!

Then, I added the couscous to the mushroom mixture and cooked it together for just a couple of minutes.  That's it!

When I tasted it, it tasted great!  The Crisco Pure olive oil had a more pronounced taste than the olive oil I typically use and I really enjoyed it mixed with the mushrooms and couscous. It really helped bring out the flavors.  I might just be a Crisco fan now!

Disclosure: As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I received 3 bottles of Crisco olive oil.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chickpea Cutlets in Red Wine Roux w/ Roasted Potatoes

I was really in the mood for some seitan tonight, but not just plain seitan -- something a little different. I came across a couple recipes in Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero that sounded spectacular so I went at it!

I started by making the Chickpea Cutlets -- cutlets made of wheat gluten and chickpeas!

Ingredients for Chickpea Cutlets
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 cup plain whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated 
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
  • 1/4 tsp dried rubbed sage
  • Olive oil
So, first the chickpeas. I decided to try my hand at cooking chickpeas in my Fagor pressure cooker for the first time. Chickpeas are a long-term bean, which means that they must be soaked. I put two cups of dried chickpeas in a large bowl and covered them with 3x more water than chickpeas. They will expand as they soak so be sure to cover them with enough water! I soaked them for 12 hours, then put them in the pressure cooker with plenty of water. I added some kombu, a dry sea vegetable, which is a natural flavor enhancer and a tenderizer.  Then, I just turned the stove on high, waited for the pressure to rise, then lowered it to medium-low and cooked for 30 minutes. Voila, perfectly fresh chickpeas!

Then, I took 1 cup of the chickpeas and mashed them up with the oil until no whole chickpeas remained. I added the rest of the ingredients and knead it all together for 4 minutes until strings of gluten formed.

Then, I preheated my oven to 375-degrees. Meanwhile, I divided the cutlets into four pieces. To form each cutlet, I knead each piece in my hand for a few minutes, then I stretched each one out until it was about 6 x 4 inches -- a rectangular cutlet.

Then, I used my pastry brush to brush each one lightly with oil and I placed it on my non-stick baking sheet.  I baked them for 20 minutes, then flipped them and baked for another 8 minutes.

Ingredients for Roasted Potatoes
  • Small potatoes
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Sea salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Olive oil

While they were baking, I also decided to make some roasted potatoes. I cut the potatoes in half and placed them into a large glass bowl. Then, I lightly coated them with olive oil and tossed them with chopped fresh rosemary, sea salt, and ground pepper to taste. I put them in with the cutlets even though they really should roast at 425-degrees, but this got them started. You can raise the temperature once you take the cutlets out.

Lastly, I made the red wine roux, a sauce for the cutlets.

Ingredients for Red Wine Roux
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 2T nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 3T all-purpose flour
  • 3 large shallots
  • 1/4 cup finely minced celery
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2T minced fresh chives
This sauce is a bit labor and time intensive, but it will be worth it in the end. I started by dissolving the bouillon cube in the boiling water. Easy enough.  I kept the broth on warm as I prepared the rest. Next, I melted the margarine in a separate saucepan and stirred the flour in with a wooden spoon. I stirred it constantly over a medium-low heat until it turned golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

Then I stirred in the minced shallots and garlic and continue to cook while stirring for another 5 minutes. It began to resemble a course paste. Then, I stirred in the celery and cooked for another 4 minutes until the celery softened.

Next, I poured in the hot veggie bouillon and stirred it with a wire whisk to create a thick sauce. The, I added the bay leaf, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. While stirring constantly, I brought it to a boil, then lowered the heat and simmered for 2 minutes.

Next, I gradually poured in the wine, while continuing to stir with the whisk and brought it to a boil again. I lowered the heat once more and simmered for 5 minutes until it slightly reduced and thickened.  I removed it from the heat and stirred in the fresh chives.

All the while, I had been watching and flipping my cutlets. When I took them out, I put the potatoes back in cook them for a total of 55 minutes.  In the end everything came out wonderfully! The chickpea cutlets with the red wine roux were scrumptious and the potatoes were a good compliment!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eatonville, DC - Restaurant Week

The vegan community eagerly awaited the opening of Eatonville in the U Street Corridor back in 2009. Because Eatonville is under the same ownership as Busboys and Poets, everyone expected it to have vegan options. Not to mention that all the people who worked at Busboys at the time said it would have vegan options. So imagine my disappointment when I walked into this Southern restaurant when they first opened only to find there were no vegan options.

Then, COK stepped in and worked with them to develop some vegan options. They eventually added a griddled Gardein dish that was good, but overpriced for what it was.  But, at least they had a vegan option. Then, suddenly a few months ago, all vegan options were taken off the menu. Apparently the chef at the time believed in cooking only traditional Southern dishes, which for him meant that meat was cooked into everything.

Fast forward to today and you will see the effects of their newest chef, Oji Ashebre Jaja, who hails straight from the Ritz Carlton in Jamaica.  Oji's West African name means "The Artist," and an artist he is.  He's only been at Eatonville for a few weeks and he is already improving the menu. When I went, there were still no vegan options on the normal menu, but it is apparent they'll be coming back. During Restaurant Week in DC, most restaurants have a special menu and Eatonville was using this opportunity to test some of their new vegan cuisine.

I made reservations for lunch on Saturday with my friend, Ryan. When we sat down and asked for the Restaurant Week menu, we were immediately told me the bad news. The Restaurant Week lunch menu is only offered on weekdays as the brunch menu is offered on Saturday and Sunday. Um...this is the main reason I really dislike brunch. I want lunch at lunchtime regardless of which day it is. Brunch is the MOST annoying thing on the planet! Okay, I'm done with my rant for now. The hostess said she could ask the manager to come over and they could see what they could do. The Manager, Michael Woods, came over and was very apologetic, but offered to speak to the chef to see if they could accommodate. I really wanted the Restaurant Week menu, but I told him to go ahead and see what they could do. He came back and told me that they really value the vegan community and even though it is brunch, they were going to cook us the lunch we came for. I was so delighted!

It was a prix fixe 3-course meal that began with a black-eyed pea chowder that was just scrumptious!  It had onions, celery, carrots, corn, and, of course, black-eyed peas in this light broth -- a great start to the meal. I also had the lavender lemonade - one of my old-time favorites!

The second course was my favorite -- a shiitake lentil burger made fresh by the chef!  The burger consisted of shiitake mushrooms, lentils, and spices pressed into a patty, fried and served on multigrain bread with roasted garlic hummus, arugula, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and vine-ripened tomatoes. It was so savory and delicious.

The final course was a sweet polenta served with granny smith apple compote and fresh strawberries. This was sweet and filling -- a great end to a great meal.

There was a lot of food for a lunch so I ended up taking half of it home and eating it for lunch the next day and it was just as good as the day before. After we ate, Oji came out to talk to us. He was very interested in our thoughts about the meal and said he'd be adding some of these options to the permanent menu. I'm so happy to hear they will be serving vegan food here again as this is a great restaurant in a great location. I can't wait to post again about the new vegan menu once it is in place -- stay tuned!

2121 14th Street Northwest 
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 332-9672

Monday, August 22, 2011

Doctor in the Kitchen - Flackers

As I was walking through the Whole Foods in Chicago, I came across a brand of raw crackers that I hadn't seen before. They are called, "Flackers," which is an incredibly cute name for flaxseed crackers! The next thing that caught my eye was the price. I've been traveling the country trying all of the enzyme-rich foods I can get my hands on and most of the raw crackers I have found cost anywhere from $7 per package to $15 per package.  And, many of the packages were relatively small! This was a full-sized 5-ounce box of raw crackers for just $6!  Um, can I get 10? Before I went buying all of them up, I knew I had to try them first.
The crackers are just made of organic flax seeds, organic apple cider vinegar, vegetable protein from soybeans and purified water, and organic herbs and spices.  What makes them different is that they are much crunchier than any other raw cracker I've ever tried. Most raw crackers are a bit softer than cooked crackers because they are dehydrated, but this one really packed a crunch!

The first flavor I tried was the rosemary and it was delicious! There was just the right amount of rosemary and sage to flavor the crackers without overpowering them. The next flavor I tried was the dill and again, they had just the right amount of dill to give them flavor, but not overpower them. Lastly, I tried the savory flavor and this one is definitely my favorite! This one has garlic, onion, chili pepper, and basil and is, in fact, savory!  I could eat these all day! Hint: all flavors are delicious with hummus!

After eating a few crackers and thinking about how great it was that I found flax crackers that taste this good, I began wondering how they were making the claim that they were high in omega 3's, when I thought that the body can't absorb omega-3's from full flax seeds -- they have to be ground. So I jumped on the Doctor in the Kitchen website and read that the seeds are sprouted to increase the bioavailability of the nutrients, then dehydrated at low temperatures to preserve the omega-3 fatty acid. Wow, very cool.

Flax seeds are high in alpha linolenic acid (ALA) -- a heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid The crackers are also packed with fiber, which helps to maintain normal cholesterol levels and promote optimal digestion. Also, these powerhouse seeds are filled with antioxidants, protein, plant lignans, and many vitamins and minerals. So, as they say, "Three Flackers a day may keep the doctor away."

Whether you eat these for the omega-3 benefits or just because they are deliciously good, I am sure you will enjoy them. If they aren't available in your area, you can order them from Amazon by clicking the following link: Flackers Variety Pack.  Trust me -- if you like flax seeds, you will love these crackers!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mary's Gone Crackers - Crackers and Sticks & Twigs

I first discovered Mary's Gone Crackers at a trade show. I went by their booth and they were handing out samples of their crackers...and that is where the saga begins. Upon first bite, I didn't really care for them so I didn't really think about them after that. Then, about a year ago, I saw them at a wine and food show and realized they were trying really hard to get their name out there. I went up to their booth to try a sample of both their crackers and pretzel sticks and this time, I really liked them!  Maybe I am just more open-minded now, but I loved the flavors and the textures of their products. I took a bunch of sample bags home and got hooked.
At the time I discovered this brand, I had been snacking on pretzels [made with white flour] each day thinking they were super healthy because they were a low fat snack. Then, I realized that I was really consuming refined white flour, which is high on the glycemic index and contains minimal nutrition, fiber, and vitamins. I decided to eliminate products from my diet that contained white starches such as pretzels and white bread. And, so my love affair with Mary's products had begun.

I have been eating their crackers every day for months now and feel so much better than when I was eating pretzels. The crackers are made of short grain brown rice, whole quinoa, brown flax seeds, brown sesame seeds, sea salt and tamari -- all good-for-you stuff. The crackers come in original, onion, caraway, black pepper, and herb flavors.

I also love their Sticks & Twigs, which are these pretzel-like sticks that are unbelievably good! The Sticks & Twigs contain the same ingredients as the crackers with the addition of amaranth and chia seeds. They are super super crunchy and bursting with flavor!  The Sticks & Twigs come in sea salt, curry, and chipotle tomato flavors.

Here you can see the texture of the pretzel sticks.
My favorite flavors are the most flavorful ones. The curry and the tomato chipotle Sticks & Twigs are delicious. The chipotle tomato ones are tomatoey (is that a word?), but they also pack a spicy punch. Of all the crackers, I really like the herb flavor -- it has a lot of rosemary in it, which I love!  I also like the onion flavor of the crackers, but beware!, they are very oniony! I made the mistake of eating these at work when a coworker came in to my office -- I had to turn my head to talk to him.  But, no matter which flavor you try, you really can't go wrong.

The reason Mary's Gone Crackers' products taste different is because they are all gluten-free. Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related species.  In baking, it gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape. So, a cracker that is gluten-free will taste different from a cracker with gluten, but that is not a bad thing. Mary's is catering to those with gluten sensitivities and in the process has made some delicious products.

And the best part about Mary's Gone Crackers is that they are all about "conscious eating," which, to them, means being aware of how food impacts the mind, body, and the planet. They are gluten-free, organic, vegan, and use non-GMO whole food ingredients that are minimally refined.

So, what's not to love?! Go get yourself some Mary's Gone Crackers crackers or pretzel sticks today! I've been able to find the crackers at Whole Foods nationwide, but, unfortunately, the Sticks & Twigs are not as easy to find. I finally just ordered a bunch of bags off of Amazon. Yes, Amazon sells everything including food. Now, I know. And, it is cheaper to buy these through Amazon than it is to buy them in your local grocery store.  To order your own, click the following link: Mary's Gone Crackers products and get crackin'!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Leaf, Boulder

As one of the few vegetarian restaurants in Boulder, Leaf is well-known throughout the area.  After having dined here last year, I was looking forward to another great experience and I was not disappointed.

When you first walk in, you see a very cool looking bar displaying a wide variety of liquors. Then, when you turn the corner into the dining area, you see dark wood tables and chairs with Mooi Random lights above (my favorite lamp ever!).  I was having lunch with April, a fellow food blogger whose blog is called, "Epicurean Vegan." It was so great to have lunch with a fellow blogger! I also met another good friend of mine, Corey, at the restaurant.  We all sat down in a booth near the window and immediately proceeded to order drinks.  We were just there for lunch so we all ordered juices. I had the Hibiscus cooler, April had the mint lemonade, and Corey had an Izze.  Corey and April liked their selections. Mine was okay – it was just a bit tart, but hibiscus can be that way.

The waiter was very helpful with explaining the dishes as well as recommending certain entrees over others. All of the dishes are clearly marked as to whether they could be made vegan or not, which made it easy to narrow down.  I decided to order the Jamaican Jerk Tempeh dish while April ordered the Beer Batter Tofu Sandwich and Corey ordered a vegetarian sandwich. 

The Jamaican Jerk Tempeh entrée was absolutely delicious and the presentation was spectacular.  It was layered vertically with Black Emperor’s forbidden rice on the bottom, a deliciously seasoned tempeh in the middle and sautéed Swiss chard on top, then it was topped with fruit salsa and a crispy sliced plantain.  The sauce was a coconut plantain sauce that was scrumptious. The dish had just the right level of spiciness. The flavors were just wonderful together.

April also enjoyed her Beer Batter Tofu Sandwich and although I didn’t try it, I was quite impressed at their ability to batter and fry silken tofu as I know how difficult that can be.  Corey also enjoyed his sandwich.

As it was just lunch, we did not order any dessert, but the last time I was here, I really enjoyed their desserts as well.  If I was in Boulder for just one day, this is one of the two restaurants I would visit with the other one being the Black Cat.  The food is delicious, creative, and well-presented; and at $9-12 per entrée the price point is just right. Highly recommended.

Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant
2010 16th Street
Boulder, Colorado 80302

Leaf Vegetarian on Urbanspoon