Friday, March 30, 2012

Viana - Chickin Fillets

I've gotten pretty used to having Gardein as my staple meat analog, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to try others. I stumbled upon a brand I'd never heard of called "Viana," when I was at Pangea in Rockville, MD. Viana is from Germany, just like my mother, and based upon my personal experiences, I consider Germans to be hearty meat-eaters.  But, maybe things are changing across the ocean. (I haven't been there in like 15 years!) This company has been in existence for 15 years under the parent company, Tofutown, and they also make the delicious whipped cream that vegans crave called "Soyatoo."

These Chickin Fillets are made of tofu, water, wheat protein, sunflower oil, almonds, sea salt, yeast extract, rice flour, cane sugar, palm oil, maltodextrin, tumeric, locust bean gum and spices. They are sold in packages of two and are refrigerated, not frozen. I liked that they refer to their product as the "The Happy Veggie Chicken" on the front because it's really funny. Another thing I noticed on the package is that they are really high in fat at 15 grams per fillet, which I didn't particularly like.

So despite the high fat, I decided to give them a try. Heck, I already bought them!  I simply sauteed a fillet in a pan with some cooking spray as per the directions. I wanted to eat it by itself to get its true flavor.

The texture was really different -- it was particularly dense and breaded tofu, which I guess is technically what it is. It just isn't what I'm used to. The breading was an interesting complement to the tofu inside. It tasted okay, but isn't something I'd go out of my way for in the future.

If you are just looking to try some other alternatives, definitely give the Viana Fillets a try. But, if you are happy with your Gardein, I'd suggest you just stick to Gardein for now.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

El Centro D.F., DC

El Centro D.F. or "the center" opened in May 2011 as yet another notable restaurant in the U Street Corridor/Logan Circle area. It is one of nearly 20 restaurants nationwide opened by acclaimed Executive Chef Richard Sandoval, but only the 3rd in DC so it is easy to understand why there was so much excitement about this one. As a regular patron to one of his other restaurants, Masa 14, I was expecting a similar vibe, but it actually quite different.

El Centro is a much larger restaurant than anyone would imagine by just seeing its facade from the street as there are actually several floors. The bottom floor is the Tequileria, which is the main dining room; the street-level floor is the Taqueria, which is the casual dining area; and the rooftop houses two open-air bars.  When Zach and I walked in, we stated we wanted a table for two and they immediately walked us downstairs to the Tequileria.

The Tequileria is actually in the basement of this building. It is an interesting and unique decor of stone walls and warm lights. When we started looking at the drink menu, I was completely overwhelmed. There were over 200 Tequilas and Mezcals! I'm not much into tequila so I didn't know where to start. I eventually went with the Lavanda, which was Milagro Blanco, St. Germain, lavender simple syrup, and lime. It sounded great, but when I tasted it, it wasn't very good. It was way too watered down.

I returned it and ordered the El Centro Margarita instead with Don Julio 70 tequila, lime, and agave nectar. Now this was one of the best margaritas I've ever had. Very good!

El Centro does not have many vegan options, but the few that they had sounded good and when I got in touch with Chef Juan Romero ahead of time, he sounded very willing to accommodate.  We started off with the Mushroom Huaraches, which is a corn masa flat bread with bean puree, sauteed mushrooms with epazote, roasted corn, and a pinch of cilantro. Truffle oil is drizzled across the huaraches as well. This dish usually has cheese, but, obviously, I asked them to hold that.  Although I enjoyed the huaraches, they tasted like they were missing something - like the cheese should have been replaced with vegan cheese. The truffle oil didn't pair well with the dish either. I just felt like something should have been different.

For the main course, I ordered the Grilled Nopal (cactus) tacos. If you've never had grilled cactus before, I highly recommend giving it a try. These tacos, while messy and oily were pretty good. They each had cactus, vegetables, chayote, salsa roja, corn, onion and tomato. Again, I asked them to hold the cheese. The tacos weren't quite spicy enough for me so they gave me a side of the habanero sauce. This was the hottest sauce I'd ever had and I loved it! They were served with beans and rice -- both were vegan and very tasty. It was a fairly satisfying dinner. There was also a grilled hot poblano pepper, which was really good.

At the end of our meal, we really wanted something sweet, but, of course, none of the desserts were vegan. There was, however, a dessert wine that sounded wonderful so we got that. It was an almond tequila with cacao and strawberries and was marvelous!

All in all, I enjoyed eating at El Centro D.F. The atmosphere is great and the venue is unique. I think for what they have, some of it is reasonably priced, but some of it is pretty pricey.  The nopal tacos were only $11 and the mushroom huaraches were $10.  I only wish they had more vegan options. I think next time I'll just go back for drinks and chips with guacamole -- happy hour style.

El Centro D.F.
1819 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 328-3131

El Centro D.F. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sauteed Swiss Chard

This is a basic sauteed swiss chard recipe adapted from the  Candle 79 Cookbook that is a great accompaniment to many dishes. I served this under my Stuffed Poblano Peppers and it was delicious!

Sauteed Swiss Chard
Serves 4

  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated, chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat, add the shallots and garlic, and saute for 1 minute. Add the chard stems, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is just wilted for another 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Spice & Tea Exchange of Georgetown, DC

Throughout my travels, I've stumbled upon some amazing spice shops, most notably The Spice House in Chicago and The Savory Spice Shop in Boulder.  This got me wondering....might we have a spice shop in DC? As I asked around, everyone told me that we didn't so I didn't look into it further. Then, one day, I saw a deal for half off spices and teas at The Spice & Tea Exchange in DC. Lo and behold, we have a spice shop! And, in fact, it has been in business in Georgetown for over a year!  The Spice & Tea Exchange is situated on Wisconsin Avenue, just off M Street towards the water, in a little townhouse.

As soon as we stepped in, we could smell the spices! We were immediately greeted by the owner, Keith Campbell-Rosen, who courteously showed us around. He has done a great job of organizing the spices throughout his store. Come to find out this is actually a franchise and this is their 17th store. Very cool.

There were 5 sections to the shop. On the first wall to the left, I found your typical spices -- basil, cilantro, cumin, etc. along with some atypical spices such as burgundy wine powder, gumbo file powder, and maple syrup granules.

To the right, was a special pepper section, which showcased 6 different types of paprika. I love hot, spicy food and am always in search of a different pepper. They had a few that are hard to find and one in particular that I hadn't heard of -- Datil. This pepper comes from Florida and is incredibly hot. I picked up a half ounce for $3.98. This pepper was the most expensive of all priced at $7.95 per ounce!

Next, I went to the custom blends section. This is always my favorite section of any spice shop as it includes their unique blends. As I opened each jar to sniff the seasonings, I was blown away by a few incredibly unique spices. I decided to get three from this section -- a Tuscany blend to be used in olive oil as a dipping sauce, Jamaican Jerk seasoning, and a Thai Red Curry spice. I can't wait to cook with these.

The entire time I perused the spices, Zach was checking out the teas. They have a great selection of loose leaf and blooming flower teas.  They also had some unique rices including one that was a Thai green rice.

Lastly, we took a look at the salt section. From black truffle salt to Fleur de Sel sea salt, this was quite the selection. They had ghost pepper sea salt, which is known for being the hottest pepper in the world. They also had jalapeno sea salt, lime coconut smoked sea salt, and pinot noir sea salt.

Additionally, they had a great selection of peppers and flavored sugars. There certainly was a lot packed into this little shop. I'd say I only have two criticisms of this place. First, they are incredibly pricey as compared to the other spice shops I've been to. Their custom blends are $4.89 per ounce, which is much more expensive than the shops in Chicago and Boulder. Secondly, they don't let you openly taste the spices. In the other shops I've been in, you could put some on your hand, taste it, then throw it on the ground. That isn't the practice here, though the owner does allow you to try some if you'd like.  So, other than those two things, I really like this place. I'm looking forward to cooking with my new spices and coming back to get more!

Spice & Tea Exchange of Georgetown
1069 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 333-4540

Monday, March 26, 2012

Serendipity Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

As I was flipping through a new cookbook I just got called Vegan Fusion World Cuisine, the Serendipity Soba caught my eye. I had just picked up a jar of The Heat is On, a peanut butter blended with fiery spices, by Peanut Butter & Co. and thought "what better way to perk up a simple soba noodle dish than to add spicy peanut butter?!"  This peanut butter is made with chili powder, cayenne peppers, crushed red peppers, and paprika. Yum! It makes this simple soba noodle dish with garden vegetables burst with flavor!

Serendipity Soba
Serves 8

  • 2 8-ounce packages soba noodles
  • 10 cups of mixed garden vegetables (broccoli, red bell pepper, carrots, and zucchini) - see below for chopping instructions
  • 2 cups peanut sauce (see below)
  • 2 T toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 T fresh cilantro, minced
  • 4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Sesame seeds
Ingredients for peanut sauce
  • 1 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup Peanut Butter & Co. The Heat is On peanut butter
  • 2.5 T maple syrup
  • 2 T tamari
  • 1/2 tsp curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen's)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Boil soba noodles and cook until slightly al dente, approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain, rinse well in cold water, and place in a large mixing bowl.

Cut the red bell pepper and carrots into matchsticks. Slice the zucchini and halve the slices. Then, cut the broccoli into small pieces.

Steam the vegetables in a steamer until tender, but not overcooked.

While they are steaming, you can make the peanut sauce. All you do is place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. That's it!

Once the vegetables are done, add them to the bowl with the soba noodles. You may need to split this into two large bowls as there are a lot of noodles. Add everything else including the peanut sauce and stir until mixed well.  Garnish with sesame seeds.

It turned out great. The heat from the peanut butter infused the entire dish with spiciness. It had quite a kick! The peanut sauce coated the steamed vegetables and noodles really well and made for a delicious filling dish. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

zpizza, DC

I was pleased to receive a request to complete a survey for zpizza, a pizza shop for which I'd never been. With the influx of vegan options at pizza places in DC, I've found I really can't keep up with all of them. But, by completing this survey, I earned a free small pizza, which gave me a reason to check out zpizza.

zpizza is a national pizza chain, which I believe it is the only national pizza chain serving Daiya vegan cheese.  There is only one in DC, located in Penn Quarter, and every time I walk by, it is empty. On this particular Sunday, we stopped by for pizza around 1 p.m. When we walked in, there was only one other person at the counter ordering. This is definitely more of a carry-out joint. We decided to order the Berkeley Vegan pizza and a California salad.

We sat down in the simple dining room and waited for our food. They brought the salad out to us pretty quickly. I was really pleased to see a salad on the menu that didn't need to be modified to be made vegan. In this day and age, you'd think salads weren't vegan anymore! This salad had mixed greens, avocado, red onions, cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, and black olives, and was topped with a balsamic vinaigrette. Very good!

The pizza was served pretty quickly as well. The pizza had a soft, but crisp thin crust and was topped with a tasty marinara sauce, Daiya cheese, veggie burger crumbles, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, and bell peppers. We both thought it was pretty good. The veggie burger crumbles had an Italian taste to them, which paired well with the marinara sauce. I'd have never thought to put zucchini on a pizza, but it was really good.

zpizza offers Rustica pizzas, which are more of an oval shape and regular round pizzas. They also offer a variety of sauces and toppings. It isn't the best pizza in town, but it is pretty good and I'll definitely be back sometime soon.

806 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 347-7874

Zpizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chocolate Inspirations - Vegan Caramel Corn

When I was young, I used to love caramel corn. As many of you know, caramel is one of my favorite things in the world, but I haven't had good caramel corn since going vegan, that is, until now.  Chocolate Inspirations is a chocolatier in Illinois who makes both vegan and non-vegan chocolate treats. In addition to chocolate, they offer other goodies like vegan caramel corn.

This caramel corn is handcrafted and made in small batches with Chocolate Inspirations' own vegan caramel glaze. Upon first bite, it reminded me of the caramel corn I had as a child. It was buttery and sweet with a salty aftertaste and rich flavor. If you are looking for a delicious vegan caramel corn, then look no further, I have found it for you!

If you'd like to try it, you can order it here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marinated Tempeh with Lemongrass

This basic recipe for marinated tempeh, adapted from the Candle 79 Cookbook, is a solid foundation upon which you can build a number of savory meals. I used this in my Stuffed Poblano Peppers, but you can use this in many types of dishes -- the possibilities are endless. This is one of the best baked tempeh recipes I've ever made.

Marinated Tempeh
Serves 4 to 6

  • 1/2 cup tamari
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 T brown rice vinegar
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped
  • 2 T safflower oil
  • 1 pound tempeh (2 packages), cut into 1/2 inch strips
TIP:  For the lemongrass, cut the top stalk and hard bottom off. Then peel away any hard layers. When you have only the soft core left, chop it up.

In a large bowl, whisk together the tamari, water, vinegars, garlic, onion, bay leaves, lemongrass, and oil until well mixed.

Add the tempeh, cover with plastic wrap, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Now you have the choice to either grill it or bake it. To bake the tempeh, preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Put the tempeh and marinade into a glass baking dish. Bake the tempeh, turning once, for 30 minutes. Then drain the marinade and cook for another 15 minutes until lightly browned.

To grill the tempeh, prepare a medium-hot gas or charcoal grill. Grill the tempeh until golden brown, about 5 minutes each side.

The lemongrass really makes this tempeh taste great. It may be time-consuming, but worth it in the end.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Indique, DC

Indique, a name formed by merging Indian and unique, used to be my favorite Indian restaurant in DC, that is, until Rasika came to town. Now, I like to go to Indique here and there for what I consider to be pretty good, modern Indian food, though not quite as good as Rasika. Nestled in the forgotten neighborhood of Cleveland Park, this restaurant isn't as busy as it used to be. Zach and I went there early on a Sunday night and it was pretty empty. We were seated on the second floor of the two-story restaurant, which is always my preference as I like the ambiance upstairs.

The same three chutneys were on the table -- the same as they'd been for years and the menu had all of the same items on it that I remembered from years ago.

Before we ordered, I asked the waitress many questions about the dishes and although she was not knowledgeable about the vegan items, she was eager to assist. She spoke to the chef and then told me which items were vegan -- there are many from which to choose.  We started off by ordering drinks and appetizers. I ordered a mangotini and Zach ordered a tea. The mangotini was disappointing. The mango juice was thick and pulpy and wasn't mixed well with the vodka and Chambord.

As soon as we placed orders for our entrees, the appetizers arrived. We got the Mini Oothapam, which is a savory pancake made with ground lentils and rice that was paired with four chutneys -- two coconut, a cranberry, and a tomato-based one.

The other appetizer we ordered was the Aloo Tikki, which are potato patties stuffed with spiced peas served with assorted chutneys. Both appetizers were very tasty.

For my entree, I ordered the Vegetable Jahlfrezi, an old-time favorite. I think my biggest mistake was not ordering it spicy because when I tasted it, it just didn't have as much spice as I remember. This dish is a medley of vegetables including green peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and peas. The sauce was good, but very oily and, as I mentioned, not spicy enough. The tomato chutney that was on the table, however, was very spicy and paired well with my sauce so I used it to boost up the spice. My dish also came with Dal, which tasted a bit bland.

I also had a Roti, which was fine.

Zach and I had eaten at Indique about a year ago and loved it, but weren't wow'd this time. Don't get me wrong -- the food was still good, but needed more of a kick. There was something missing this time. It makes me wonder if they got a new chef. In any case, the entrees are reasonably priced at about $12 each and the appetizers at about $6 each so it is much cheaper than Rasika. The service is good and the ambiance is calming, but they definitely need to spruce up their entrees. They also need to step it up on the drink menu. With so much competition in DC, I think Indique needs a makeover -- perhaps a new website and a new menu would help draw in the customers. I'm going to give it another year or so before returning to this restaurant.  We'll see if they improve upon anything in the meantime.

3512 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 244-6600

Indique on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 19, 2012

Domore - Velvet Gianduiotti

There I was in my favorite wine store, Cork & Fork, in Logan Circle when the owner, Dominique, invited me to try some little chocolates. Little did I know how wonderful they would be! They are called "Velvet Gianduiotti" and are made by some of the finest chocolatiers in Italy -- Domori. Domori has a reputation for producing high quality chocolate from single-origin bean-to-bar cacao.

Gianduiotti is a sweet chocolate that typically contains 30% hazelnut paste. It was invented in Turin during Napolean's regency. Domori's gianduiotti is one of the few vegan gianduiotti's imported to the U.S. They contain no artificial or extraneous ingredients -- not even vanilla or soy lecitihin. The ingredients are simply cane sugar, Piedmont hazelnuts, cocoa mass, and cocoa butter. The hazelnut content in Domori's is 34.5% using Tonda Gentile delle Lange, hazelnuts found in the Piedmont area.

The taste of these little chocolates is like nothing I've ever had before. Each one is shaped like the roof of a traditional house. They are soft with a smooth texture and a wonderful mix of hazelnuts and cocoa. As soon as I tried them, I wanted to buy the container of 20, that is, until I noticed that they were $25! Dominique didn't even realize they were that expensive and remarked, "Well, they must be good then!" Ha! He is so funny. But, really, they aren't any more expensive than truffles would cost at a chocolatier so if you are looking for something special and different, I definitely recommend trying these!

Friday, March 16, 2012

hope & grace Tasting Salon, Napa

After a long day driving through the rolling hills of Napa, sipping wine at various vineyards, and watching the wildlife, we ended up at a little wine tasting "salon" in Yountville. "hope & grace" was the name of it and we had never heard of it before. When we walked in, it was packed full of people tasting wines. It was a cozy tasting room with a warm feel to it. On the right, there was a sitting room surrounded by little knick knacks you could buy. There was a bar for tasting and, to the left, a table in a separate room at which you could sit while you taste your wines. When we arrived, it was almost closing time so we quickly ordered a flight.

While tasting the wines, we inquired as to the story behind hope & grace. Hope and Grace are the daughters of the winemaker, Charles Hendricks. He had been in the wine business for over 20 years, but this was his first pursuit on his own and it was a relatively new label. We found the wines to be very smooth and of high quality. When I asked about the breadsticks they offered, they showed me which ones were vegan and informed me that all of their wines were vegan as well. Well, that's a plus. This is the first winery I've been to that actually knew offhand if their wines were vegan.

The label on their bottles is very unusual. The picture on the label is actually a painting in this tasting room -- a painting Charles had in his private collection for the past 20 years. He acquired the "Figure in Red," painted by Charles Eckart, from Restaurateur Modesto Lanzone in San Francisco. He chose it for his label because he felt it provoked "emotion, opinion and conversation…just as art and wine should," and it has. It reminds me of the guy from the movie, "Scream."

I have to also mention that I loved their packaging. We decided to join their wine club and also bought some bottles while we were there. They wrapped them up in tissue paper and put them in these very nice, thick bags. I've never had a winery wrap up a bottle that nicely. Their logo is very modern as well.

They offer a selection of wines from many different grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Reisling. I liked one of their Cabernet Sauvignons the best. This label offers extremely limited production wines that are very good.  I would highly recommend stopping by if you are in Yountville and be sure to mention you appreciate them producing vegan wines.