Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats - Award Winning Cupcakes

I've written about Sticky Fingers before so I won't start with a long introduction. Doron Petersan, the baker behind the best vegan bakery in the country has now competed on Cupcake Wars three times. She won once, lost once, and then went to the All Stars show...and won again! If you aren't keeping up, that means she won two out of three times -- not bad!  Although I missed the most recent episode, when I heard that all four award-winning cupcakes would only be available for a limited time, I ran up there to grab some.

All of the cupcakes looked so good!

The first one I tried was called the Salt-n-Peppa Inspired cupcake. This cupcake was amazing! The super moist cake was made of chocolate, bourbon, and smoked pepper, which gave it a delicious spiciness. The icing was made of vanilla bean topped with fondant candy headphones and a salted caramel sauce. It was like a party in my mouth.

The second one was the Chuck Berry Inspired. It was an orange cake with blueberry cinnamon filling topped with raspberry frosting with a red fondant guitar. Oh, this one was so good!

These cupcakes will continue to be offered going forward, but not all will be available every day. You can call to see which ones are available each day. Don't miss out on these amazing cupcakes! Get 'em while they're hot!

Plug: With your VSDC membership card, you'll save 10% at Sticky!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mia's Kitchen

So many pasta sauces, so little time. There really are a lot. So, I generally don't get excited when I see a pasta sauce booth at a natural foods trade show, but this one was really big and for some reason it intrigued me so I walked over to it. The company is Mia's Kitchen and the sauces are, as they like to say, "awesome." I agree. And, I'm a sucker for good marketing. I absolutely love that each product is "certified awesome."

So, who is Mia and how did she start such an awesome company at such an early age? I did my research and found out that she is a Sebastiani, one of Northern California's most respected and renowned families. Her father and two older brothers started a wine company called, "Don Sebastiani and Sons," for their everyday wines. They also developed a sister wine company called, "The Other Guys," for their laid-back approachable wines. Mia's Kitchen was developed by Mia and her mother, Nancy, to complement their family's wine business with fine food. They first developed olive oil and a balsamic vinegar (not vegan) in 2009. Then in 2011, they introduced three flavors of pasta sauces.  They sent me a sample of each of their products along with one of their wines to sample. I couldn't wait to try them!

I have to say that I really loved these sauces. They tasted incredibly fresh as if they had just been made in my kitchen. My favorite one was Nonni's Special, which was made with roasted red bell peppers, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and spices. Simple, yet, oh so tasty! I served this sauce over whole wheat penne noodles.

Next, I tried the tomato basil sauce over gnocchi and, again, I loved it. The ingredients are so simple, yet the sauces are so good. They are very balanced in that they have just the right amount of chunky veggies in a hearty sauce. The gnocchi I used, by the way, is a boxed Dellalo-brand gnocchi that is a great easy-to-make vegan gnocchi.

On the tomato basil pasta sauce jar, it states, "Go on. Take a deep breath and breathe in the aroma. Tomatoes, basil, garlic.  All perfectly melded together -- like a symphony for the taste buds. Really, who needs the pasta? I just need a big spoon and a packet of breath mints." Too cute.

I also tried the wine called, "Hey Mambo." Zach and I really liked it paired with the pasta. It was like a light Zinfandel, but is labeled just as a bistro style wine.

Lastly, I used the marinara sauce as a dipping sauce for calzones I cooked the other night. It was heartier than the other sauces with the same fresh tomato taste. Yum, yum, yum.

So, as you can see, I liked all of the sauces and the wine. I only hope to see her products in my Whole Foods soon. If you'd like to order your own, just click here. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Everest, Chicago

My colleagues and I were headed to Chicago for a work-related trip in January and as a token of my appreciation for all of the hard work they put into preparing for this trip, I wanted to take them all out to a nice restaurant. But, I didn't want to take them out to just any nice restaurant -- I was seeking a unique experience, one that would be different from any we could find in Washington, DC. Chicago is known for its exquisite restaurants so it wasn't hard to find several that met my criteria. After much research and many discussions with restaurant staff, I chose the Everest for my special dinner.

Everest, one of the country's premier restaurants, is located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange building. The chef, J. Joho, is known throughout the world for his superb cuisine. As the owner and/or Executive Chef of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in France, the Paris Club in Chicago,  Brasserie Jo in Boston, and Everest in Chicago, he has made his mark across the world. The Everest, is an award-winning, Michelin-starred French restaurant that offers meat and vegetarian degustation menus. Having had some negative experiences in DC with French restaurants, I was hesitant to even ask if they could accommodate me, but after realizing how unique this restaurant was, I decided it was worth a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chef Joho was happy to accommodate and proposed a menu to me that sounded incredible. So, I booked the dinner, and we headed to Chicago!

When we arrived at the building, it looked like your typical Chicago skyscraper. We walked into the building and as we tried to go through the turnstiles into the lobby, we realized they were all locked. The security guy remotely unlocked them for us and asked if we had a reservation. After confirming that we were on his list, he allowed us up the elevators. That was some serious security! We took the elevators up to the 39th floor, then took a different one to the 40th floor.

When we arrived, they escorted us to the River Room in the private dining area . This room offers breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline. My colleagues were incredibly impressed as we spent 20 minutes just standing and looking out over the magnificent city. They began by offering everyone drinks. I had chosen two wines for the night -- a Terlato Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley and a Bordeaux from Chateau Haut-Beausejour. St. Estephe.  Very nice choices, if I do say so myself.

We eventually all took a seat at the large table and took a look at the menu. I had already chosen my entree so I didn't have any choices to make. To start, they brought out some delicious bread and while it was served to everyone else with butter, they brought me a little miniature pitcher of olive oil and poured it into a dish for me to use separately. I loved that little pitcher! Oh, and the bread was good as well.

Then, the chef offered an amuse bouche to everyone. Mine was a tiny beignet that was filled with vegetables served over minced vegetables in a tasty sauce. It was so cute that others remarked about its cuteness when they saw it!  On the tasting spoon was a mixture of beans and veggies. It was delightful.

Next, we were served our first course. Mine was a fricassee of wild mushrooms beautifully molded into a cylindrical shape and topped with flash-fried greens. It was surrounded by beets on greens and served with a sauce. The presentation was beautiful and the food was exquisite. This course was incredible.

My main course was a smoked yukon gold potato stuffed with cannellini beans, carrots, and other vegetables and served with a vegetable medley of green beans, root vegetables, and carrots. I know this sounds like a lot of vegetables and may not sound that exciting, but it really was. The potato was smoked perfectly so that it was firm, yet tender and stuffed with vegetables that were cooked perfectly. But it was really all of these sauces that brought the flavors together.

For dessert, I was served a trio of sorbets -- a typical dessert for a non-vegan restaurant, but these sorbets were anything but typical. The flavors were banana lychee, coconut lime, and concord grape served over a concord grape coulis with fresh pomegranate seeds, mint, and nuts. It was scrumptious.

We also ordered a moscato, but the waiters brought out a special bubbly one for me to try, which was very nice.

Afterwards, we were served other delectable bites -- mine were pineapple vanilla jellies.

I requested to speak to the chef, but little did I realize that Chef Joho himself was cooking that evening. He came out to our table to meet me, which was a great experience in and of itself. He told me he is very good friends with Michel Richard at Citronelle, the premier French restaurant in DC.  I told him about my experience at Citronelle in that the chefs told me that they wouldn't serve me because French cuisine, they said, is based upon meat and cream and there are no vegan options. He laughed and said that sounded crazy and told me I am welcome in his restaurant at any time. So, let it be known that not only does he accommodate vegans, he enjoys serving him. That is something special in a restaurant of this caliber and not something I've been able to find often.

During the entire dinner, the staff was attending to our every need. The wine was being poured regularly and the dishes cleared quickly. It was if we had a team of people serving just our room. The food and service were exquisite and the view was spectacular. This was definitely one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. I only hope I have the pleasure of dining here again. Highly recommended.

440 S. LaSalle Street, 40th Floor
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 663-8920

Everest on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vegetable Calzone

I haven't made my own pizza dough in many, many years so I'm way out of practice. But, I can't seem to find a good calzone in this city so I had to try my hand at making my own. These calzones turned out pretty good, but I would have done some things differently as I'll mention in the instructions.

Vegetable Calzone
Serves 4

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp Turbinado (or other brown sugar)
  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp pizza seasoning (Williams Sonoma is my favorite)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 4 cups all purpose flour (2.5 cups for the dough and 1.5 for kneading)
  • Pizza sauce
  • Your choice of toppings (I used green peppers and red onions, diced plus mushrooms, sliced)
  • Jalapenos, jarred (optional)
  • Lightlife Smart Deli pepperoni style slices
  • Daiya vegan cheese
  • Marinara sauce for dipping (I used Mia's Kitchen)
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and brown sugar in the water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, add the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, pizza seasoning and olive oil and whisk it all together until it is mixed well.

Mix in the 2.5 cups of flour until you have a good dough going. Move the dough onto a clean, well floured surface and knead more flour in a little bit at a time until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough into a well-oiled large bowl (remember it will rise and double in size). Cover with a small kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until it is double its size -- usually takes about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees. Then, punch down the dough to get all of the air out and form it into a tight ball. Allow the dough to relax for a minute before rolling it out. Separate it into 4 equal parts (to make 4 calzones). Roll out each portion of the dough into a round or square shaped crust and place onto an oiled baking sheet.

Evenly spread the pizza sauce over the crust and add your toppings. This is where I messed up. I had sliced my green peppers and onions rather than dicing them so I couldn't fit as many in and they poked out of the dough. Just dice your veggies and you'll be fine. Add the Smart Deli pepperoni slices. Add jalapenos, if you like, and top with vegan cheese.

Fold the crust in half until the two sides meet and roll the sides up so the toppings are trapped in the dough. Brush a light layer of olive oil onto the top of the calzones, then cut 3-4 vents in the top. Bake until the crust is golden brown (about 25 minutes).

In the meantime, heat the marinara on the stovetop. Once they are ready, serve them with marinara on the side for dipping. Oh, and remember these are super hot so cut them open and let the steam come out before biting into them or you will get the pizza burn on the top of your mouth!

I really had fun making these mainly because I hadn't ever made my own calzones. I have to give plugs to Lightlife, Daiya, and Mia's Kitchen on this one. I had forgotten how much I love the Smart Deli pepperoni style slices. I could eat them straight out of the box! They are so perfect for this recipe. The Daiya cheese melts so beautifully and tastes so good. And Mia's Kitchen Marinara is delicious! Bon appetit!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Very Peri Sauce

There are a million hot sauces on the market. Yep, exactly one million. I know this because I counted them. So how does one break into this market and get noticed? I think part of it is marketing and the other part is taste. I would have walked right on by this hot sauce guy at the trade show had he not put "vegan" on his sign. I looked at up at the Very Peri sign and thought, "Of course, the hot sauce is vegan. Is that really necessary?" But, then I realized that he cared enough to market this to vegans and in this day and age when I feel I need to check every label, I really appreciate those who take the time to put "vegan" on their label. So, I stopped by the booth.

It turns out that the maker of Very Peri, Reggie Carey, is just a fan of fine foods. He's a home chef who enjoys creating and consuming good food. He is also an international traveler. So, after 25 years in the technology sector, he decided to try his hand in the food business.  It was during one of his trips to Europe that he came across the Peri Peri flavor and nothing has been the same to him since.  Peri Peri or Piri Piri are chili peppers grown in South Africa, but the flavor is also quite popular in Portugal. Reggie decided to develop his own Peri Peri sauces for the U.S. market because he wasn't able to find anything like them here, and, thus, Very Peri was born.

I tried one of his sauces at the booth and loved it. Because Very Peri is made with lemon juice and lemon oil, it has this hint of fruitiness. Couple that with the spiciness of serrano and birdseye peppers and you have yourself a spicy hot sauce with a fruity twang. He gave me a bottle of the Intenso flavor, the hottest one, to take home.  Zach and I made some chanterelle mushroom tacos, which went great with that sauce.

We started by sauteing chanterelle mushrooms, red and yellow bell peppers, and onions in olive oil and garlic. We wanted these to be very light so the flavors would allow the hot sauce to shine.

We put the mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions in a soft taco shell along with black beans, fresh guacamole and fresh cilantro, then topped it with the Very Peri.  It was the perfect complement. I loved pairing the lightly sauteed chanterelles with the intense heat of Very Peri.

Keep your eyes out for this hot sauce. I predict it'll be making its way into the markets across the country soon. In the meantime, you can buy your own here for $6.95 per bottle. Not a bad price for a great hot sauce!

Monday, January 23, 2012

District of Pi Pizzeria, DC

I met this great girl named Caryn, a plant-based cooking instructor who goes by STLVegGirl, while I was completing my training to become a certified Food for Life instructor in DC. Caryn is from St. Louis, Missouri, hence the "STL," and really wanted to go to this new pizzeria in DC called "District of Pi."  Come to find out, this pizzeria is based in St. Louis and is not located anywhere else in the US other than the new one in DC. That was intriguing. So, I met her and her husband at Pi in Penn Quarter.

District of Pi does not take reservations. When I approached the host, she said there would be a 20-25 minute wait. She gave me a buzzer, which seemed sort of cheesy, and I took a seat in the window. As I looked around, I noticed that it was a pretty big place. There was a large bar, seating in the main dining area, and seating on the second floor. The restaurant is pretty big by DC standards and even bigger by DC pizzeria standards. After about 10 minutes, Caryn and her husband arrived, and they called us up to be seated. We were pleased to have been seated so quickly.

Caryn actually knew the owner, Chris, and had been tweeting about her visit on Twitter. She told me that at some point during the day, Chris sent us a Sqwid for a free pizza -- a delightful surprise!  That called for a celebratory drink. I took a look at the drink list to see what was offered. There was a short list of liquor and wine and a longer list of beers, which is to be expected at a pizza place. I decided to order a glass of wine-- a red blend that included carignan.

We started by ordering three appetizers -- the pi hummus plate, marinated cucumbers with Thai chili, and roasted mushrooms with roasted garlic and rosemary.  Out of the three, I enjoyed the pi hummus plate the best though there wasn't anything particularly special about it. The bread was really fresh, hot, and soft and paired well with the hummus.

The marinated cucumbers were fine.

The roasted mushrooms weren't really that good and I don't think I'd order them again.

When we were ready to place our order for pizza, the waiter informed us that the thin crust is always vegan. The deep dish crust is also vegan, but they coat the pan with butter so if you'd like a vegan deep dish pizza, they require you call 24 hours in advance so they can be sure to have all the butter cleaned off the pan and to allow the dough to proof properly. 24 hours?!  Who can think about pizza that far in advance?  Oh, well. [Update: since then, I've read you need to give 6 hours of notice.] Then, I suddenly realized we have vegan deep dish pizza in DC -- this is a first. I can't wait to try it!  But, not on this visit, so we ordered the Berkeley and replaced the cheese with Daiya vegan cheese and added vegan Match Meats and jalapenos.

When the pizza arrived, it looked amazing. The veggies were piled high over the cheese and the crust was thin yet soft. I took a bite and it just melted in my mouth. The crust is cornmeal-based and was a great complement to the portabello mushrooms, red onions, kalamata olives, red bell peppers, garlic, and zucchini. Oh, and then there was that Match Meat! The Match Meat was sausage-like with fennel seeds--incredibly spicy and delicious.

The wine was pretty good as well. Oh, and did I mention -- the service was great. Our waiter came by regularly to check on us and place our drink orders. By the end of the meal, we were really stuffed. I was somewhat glad there were no vegan desserts on this menu. District of Pi is a great addition to an area that already has lots of great restaurants. I'm excited that we have yet another great pizzeria in DC and the first that offers vegan deep dish. I can't wait to come back for more!

District of Pi
901 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-5484

District of Pi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Malaysian Rendang Curry

When I'm home, I try to cook fresh foods all of the time, when I'm not eating out, that is. This means that I often forget what's in my kitchen cabinets. When I looked in there tonight, I found a jar of World Foods Malaysian Rendang Curry ready to pour sauce that was going to expire this month. I decided to make a quick stir fry using Lightlife Smart Strips Chick'n Style Strips. It is quick, easy, and tasty -- perfect for a work night.

Malaysian Rendang Curry
Serves 3-4
Cooking time: 40 minutes

  • 1 cup brown jasmine rice
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 T high heat safflower oil
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 2 cups cauliflower
  • 3/4 red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 can baby corn
  • 10 leaves of fresh basil, whole
  • 1 package of Lightlife Smart Strips Chick'n Style Strips
  • 1 jar World Foods Rendang Curry sauce
Put the jasmine rice, water, and pinch of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover partially and cook for 40 minutes, stirring regularly.

Heat a wok (I prefer a cast iron wok, but any wok will do) at medium-high heat. Once it is hot, add the oil along with the broccoli and cauliflower. Allow the broccoli and cauliflower to stir fry and get brown, while stirring regularly for about 4 minutes.

Then add the red pepper, baby corn, chick'n strips, and fresh basil. Continue to stir fry until almost cooked through for another 5 minutes or so.

Then, add the curry sauce. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Serve the mixed vegetable and chick'n over the jasmine rice.

This dish turned out pretty good. The curry sauce was aromatic and tasty. I would rate it about a 3.75 on a 5-point scale. It had some interesting spices in it such as lemon grass, grass leaf, ginger, coriander, tumeric, fennel, cmin, cardamom, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon.  The base is coconut milk.

The Lightlife Chick'n Style Strips worked well in this dish though they were pretty plain tasting right out of the box. They are made of texturized soy protein concentrate, have a chewy texture and are a good shape, but don't taste like much. They work well in this dish because the curry sauce is thick and flavorful so they just soaked up all the sauce.

As I mentioned, this is a great dish for when you don't have much time to cook. Quick, easy, and tasty!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sweet Themez, DC

On my way to Smoke and Barrel in Adams Morgan, I noticed a new cupcake place named "Sweet Themez."

I went inside to see if maybe they had some vegan cupcakes and lo and behold, they did! In fact, they had three vegan cupcakes that day -- chocolate, vanilla chocolate, and vanilla vanilla.

This little shop specializing in custom cakes and cupcakes opened in the beginning of November. That said, there were several people picking up cupcakes in the shop when I walked in, which is always a good sign. I decided to try the chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting.

I don't usually expect that a place not specializing in vegan baked goods can make a good vegan cupcake, but this place really surprised me. The cupcake was moist and dense, but not too dense, with just the right amount of sweetness. The chocolate and vanilla complemented each other in a delicious way. And at only $2.75 per cupcake, compared to many of the other cupcake shops in town, these are a steal. I suspect they'll be making the headlines soon. Definitely check them out!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Holiday Meal 2011

I realize it has been weeks since the holiday season so this may not be the most timely of posts, but I have a good excuse -- I've been on vacation and haven't had much time to blog during my exciting adventures! But, I still wanted to share my Christmas meal. Zach and I went to visit my family, who, I should mention, are not vegetarian, and we cooked the entire dinner. My family is actually very open to vegan meals since I've been vegan for quite a while. I cooked last year and although everyone loved my casserole, I decided to do something different this year. Here is what was on the menu:

Holiday Meal 2011
  • Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast
  • Shallot Mushroom Gravy
  • Harvest-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
  • Shaved Brussels Sprouts
  • Multigrain rolls with Earth Balance
  • Salad 
  • Vegan pumpkin pie (cooked by my mother)

Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast
I was a little hesitant to bring store-bought meat substitutes into this home, but I'd seen a lot of good feedback about the the hazelnut cranberry roast so I decided to try it. We actually bought two, but only needed one for a meal for 6 people.

The roast couldn't have been easier to make. You just thaw it overnight (which I didn't realize and ended up just thawing it in the morning), then put it on a sheet pan and bake it for 45 minutes. Seriously, that is it. It is much easier than the Tofurkey roast, but a totally different flavor. My family loved it so it was a hit! It tasted like sausage wrapped in puff pastry and was very filling.

I made a shallot mushroom gravy from the Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook by Tanya Petrovna to go with the roast, which was okay, but not as balanced as I would have liked. There was way too much soy sauce and too many sliced mushrooms.

I also made Chloe Coscarelli's Harvest-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, which I've made before and loved! Here is the recipe:

Harvest-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 6

  • 1 large yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 cup cashews (salted or unsalted)
  • 2 T olive oil, plus extra for brushing
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked short-grain brown rice
  • 1 can lentils, drained and rinsed (I used dry lentils, cooked)
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 T fresh thyme leaves plus extra for garnish
  • 6 portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
  • 1 fresh vine-ripe tomato, sliced in thin rounds
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit. In a large skillet, saute the onions and cashews with two tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and saute until onions are soft and lightly browned. Add garlic and let cook a few more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine onion mixture, brown rice, lentils, breadcrumbs, vegetable broth, basil, and thyme. Mix together and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Brush both sides of mushroom caps lightly with olive oil. I used a pastry brush, but if you don't have one, you can just do this with your hands. Place them top-side down on an oiled sheet pan. Stuff mushrooms with about 1/2 cup lentil cashew stuffing, then press one tomato slice on top of stuffing.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the stuffing is browned and the mushroom begins releasing juices. Garnish with extra fresh thyme leaves.

Lastly, I also made Shaved Brussels Sprouts from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I wanted to try this recipe, but I wasn't sure how it would go over so I asked Zach to make regular roasted Brussels sprouts as well. It turned out that everyone, including me, preferred the whole Brussels sprouts just roasted with olive oil and garlic over these, but I'll share the recipe anyway. Everyone liked these too, they just preferred the others.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4
Time: 25 minutes

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 pound thinly sliced Brussels sprouts (see instructions)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
First, to shave the Brussels sprouts, just trim the nub off the bottom and slice the sprout in half lengthwise. Then, just slice the sprouts into thin lengthwise strips.

Preheat a large heavy skillet (cast iron works best) over medium-high heat. Saute the onion in oil for about 3 minutes, until just starting to brown. Add the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds. Add the Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper.

Saute for about 7 minutes, until the leaves are browned and crisped.
For dessert, my mother made a vegan pumpkin pie, which was scrumptious along with her famous chocolate chip cookies -- veganized!

So, there you have it -- a well-balanced holiday meal. It includes grains, protein, and veggies...and most importantly, no cruelty! That's what I call a great holiday meal!