Monday, April 30, 2012

OXO Good Grips 5 lb. Food Scale Giveaway!

I'm super excited to be part of the OXO Blogger Outreach Program. As a part of this program, they have offered me the opportunity to give away one of their products. If there is any product I have ever wanted, that is, that I don't already have, it is a food scale. I often encounter recipes asking for 6 ounces of mushrooms or 6 ounces of pasta, etc. How is one to know if they have 6 or 8 ounces of anything?  Well, with this new OXO Good Grips 5 lb. food scale with pull-out display, I will never have to question it. And I get to give one away too!

Just tonight, I was making a recipe that called for 6 ounces of pasta. Most boxes of pasta are 8 ounces. With my new food scale, I was able to measure out 6 ounces and use the correct amount of pasta. They also say it can be helpful to those on diets for which you are required to measure out portions. The possibilities are endless.

About OXO
OXO began with a few simple questions - Why do ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands? Why can't there be wonderfully comfortable tools that are easy to use?

After hundreds of models, dozens of design iterations, and extensive research, OXO was born. In 1990, the first group of 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen tools was introduced to the U.S. market. These ergonomically-designed, transgenerational tools set a new standard for the industry and raised the bar of consumer expectation for comfort and performance. Today, OXO offers over 850 products covering many areas of the home.

About the 5 lb. Food Scale
OXO’s user-friendly Food Scale with Pull-Out Display is perfect for weighing all ingredients. Weigh items directly on the platform, on a plate or in a bowl, and pull the display away from the base to prevent shadowing from large plates and bowls. Accurately measure ingredients when cooking and baking or stick to a diet by weighing portions. A weight indicator shows the capacity left on the Scale before maximum capacity is reached. Press the zero button to offset the weight of a container or to set the weight back to zero so you can add additional ingredients. The display features large, easy-to-read numbers which measure in 1/8-ounce (imperial) and 1-gram (metric) increments. The plastic platform can be removed for cleaning. The Scale has a 5-pound capacity and two AAA batteries are included.

Disclosure: In accordance with the OXO Blogger Outreach Program, I received these scales for free.

The OXO Giveaway Summary
  • Prize: 1 OXO Good Grips 5 lb. Food Scale with Pull-Out Display
  • Deadline: Friday, May 11, 2012 — 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern time
  • Eligibility: Contest open to residents of the US only. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog on Monday, May 14, 2012. 
  • Entry: you may enter up to two times.  
    1. To enter the first time, please complete the form below.
    2. To enter the second time, just do one of the following: click the Facebook "like" button on the right-hand side of the blog, follow me on Twitter @veraciousvegan, OR click the Google Friend Connect at the bottom of my page. Once you "like" my page or become a follower of my page, just let me know by leaving a comment on this post. Please note: If you have already done one of these two things in the past, then just leave a comment to let me know.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sunspire - Coconut Bar

I found a vegan version of the Mounds bar!  As I was shopping in Seattle, I came across the Sunspire Coconut Bar.

This chocolate-covered coconut candy bar was sweet and delectable.  Unfortunately, it didn't look very good when I unwrapped it, but it sure did taste good!

I always find it interesting to compare vegan imitations to the items they intend to imitate.  The Sunspire bar is made of dark chocolate, (evaporated cane juice, unsulphured molasses, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (emulsifier), pure natural vanilla, white rice syrup, dried unsweetened coconut. Compare that to a Mounds bar that is made of corn syrup, semi-sweet chocolate (semi-sweet chocolate contains chocolate, sugar, cocoa, cocoa butter, milk fat, and soya lecithin), coconut, sugar, salt, vanilla, egg whites, and sodium metabisulfite. What a difference!

I only hope I can find this bar in DC as well!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Native Foods, Chicago

I got soooo excited when I heard Native Foods was opening not one, but three restaurants in Chicago. Then, I found out one was opening the day I was flying in so, of course, I had to go to that one.  The first time I went to Native Foods was when I was in Los Angeles about 10 years ago and I haven't stopped thinking about it since...seriously.

Native Foods Cafe was founded in 1994 in Palm Springs, CA by Chef Tanya Petrovna whose vision was to have a Native Foods in every major city in the United States. She always said she wanted Native Foods to be a household name like the major players in the fast food industry so that everyone would have access to good, healthy vegan foods.  Recently, other investors bought into the concept and moved the headquarters to Chicago and now a major expansion is underway with 15 restaurants planned to open this year bringing the grand total to 27. They have even been looking into the Washington, DC area -- oh, please, please, please open one here!!

What makes this cafe unique is that they make almost everything from scratch including their seitan and tempeh. All of the sauces, drinks, desserts, etc. are all made by Native Foods. I think this is the first place I've ever been to that made their own tempeh so that in and of itself is impressive. The only thing they don't make in house is the "chicken," which is Gardein brand. They also source locally whenever possible.

So, right after I checked in to my hotel, I headed over to the new location in South Loop that is only open until 8 p.m. I walked in and picked up a menu and even though I had looked at it ahead of time, I still stood there for a long time trying to decide what to order. There is no table service at Native Foods, rather you order at the counter and they bring your meal out to you. After a few minutes the manager came over to ask if I had any questions and we talked a bit about the different menu items. Everything sounded amazing! I finally placed my order and took a seat.

The restaurant has a warm inviting feel to it with orange walls and lights. The exposed ductwork gives it a modern feel, while the artwork conveys a message about the importance of sustainability. They brought my Cabernet Sauvignon out first, which was very nice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they served beer and wine at this cafe.  The entree I ordered was from the Chef's Favorites section. It was a portobello and "sausage" burger that was divine!  The homemade Native Sausage seitan was formed into a patty that was topped with juicy grilled sliced portobello mushrooms, carmelized onions, salsa pomodoro, sweet roasted garlic, and fresh basil with creamy pumpkin seed pesto and mayo.  The flavors meshed perfectly and I was in Native Foods heaven. I mean for $10, you really can not get better food than this.

Portobello and Sausage burger (open)
I also ordered a house salad on the side, which was amazingly fresh with shredded beets, carrots, and sprouts over mixed greens and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Afterwards, I was pretty full, but I just couldn't resist the dessert case. I was intrigued by the cardamom rose cupcake, but ultimately decided to go with the new carrot cake cupcake. I loved the cake, but the icing was a bit too cold. I think you lose some taste when you keep baked goods too cold. It probably would have been perfect had I taken it back to my hotel, but, of course, I couldn't wait that long.

The entire time I was there, people kept stopping by to see if I needed anything. I almost felt as if I had table service anyway.  The service was great, the prices were right, and the food was amazing. Highly recommended.

Native Foods
218 S. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60604

Native Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spinach Mushroom Quesadillas

It has been a long time since I made quesadillas. I decided to make my old stand-by Spinach Mushroom Quesadillas, but this time with Daiya pepperjack-style shreds. They turned out yummy!

Spinach Mushroom Quesadillas
Serves 6

  • Your choice of oil (I used Sciabica's habanero cold-pressed olive oil to give it some spice)
  • 8 ounces of button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Fresh spinach
  • 1 package Daiya pepperjack style shreds (vegan cheese)
  • 6 whole wheat tortillas
Optional toppings
  • Jalapenos, sliced (in a jar)
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
Heat a skillet or saute pan to medium heat. Saute the mushrooms and onions in oil until the mushrooms soften and the onions become transparent. Heat the black beans in their sauce in a separate saucepan.

Once heated, place the black beans on half the tortilla, top with some of the mushroom/onion mixture, followed by several spinach leaves and top with some Daiya shreds. I usually use enough Daiya to cover the spinach. Repeat for the other tortillas.

Fold the tortilla in half, then spray some cooking spray onto a skillet or on a cast iron grill and cook until browned. Flip and brown the other side. If you are making many of these, I'd suggest storing the warm ones in a tortilla warmer or just reheating each of them in the skillet for a minute before serving.

Top each quesadilla with guacamole, jalapeno peppers, and salsa. These are great served with Spanish rice as well.

A note about Daiya
This newest flavor of Daiya is delicious! Just like the other two flavors, it melts and tastes great. It is the pepperjack flavor I always loved and missed. If you haven't tried it yet, run, don't walk to a store near you!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Green Zebra, Chicago

On my first trip to Chicago with Zach a couple of years ago, he suggested we go to Green Zebra, but at the time, there were few, if any, vegan options. Fast forward to today and you'll see that they are very vegan-friendly. I had always heard good things about this restaurant and was anxious to check it out.

Green Zebra was opened by Chef Shawn McClain in 2004, but at the time it was not a vegetarian restaurant though I also believe it wasn't a very meat-heavy restaurant either. About a year and a half ago, it became 100% vegetarian and is now also vegan-friendly.

I convinced a friend of mine who isn't vegetarian to go with me to get his thoughts on the cuisine so we headed out in search of the Green Zebra. In the dark, the restaurant is hard to find as there is no visible sign from the street. Once close though, I did see their logo on the window. We almost missed it entirely! Luckily, at least their address is clearly posted.

When you first enter, you walk up this ramp to the main dining area. The restaurant is pretty small, but well organized and there is a small bar at the front, which is pretty much in the dining area. For such a small space, I think they did a great job maximizing the space. On the walls, there is this unique artwork by Ashley L. Lieber that is made of live moss. They are all from the same artist and are all for sale. You just have to spray each one often to keep it alive. Interesting.

We sat close to the bar and began looking at the wine menu. We chose a bottle of Givry 1er Cru, Le Petit Pretan, Besson, Burgundy, France for $62. This was a very light wine, in fact, a bit too light for my liking, but it was fine.

We both decided to go with the 5-course tasting menu. I went with the vegan version while my friend went with the only other option -- vegetarian.  We were both served an amuse bouche of Moroccan spiced popcorn to start, which we enjoyed.

My first course was a salad off the menu made of arugula, cooked cauliflower, pumpernickel croutons and a citrus dressing. It was very unique and had some great flavors.

The second course was a black bean pozole that had black beans, corn, shaved radish, and cilantro. This soup was spectacular. I don't think I've ever had yellow heirloom hominy corn, but it was harder than your typical corn and was perfect for this dish. The shaved, crinkled radish went well as well. Superb!

The third course was my favorite -- the crispy sweet potato dumplings. These were dumplings were filled with sweet potatoes and deep fried served with honeycrisp apple sticks, walnut-sage pistou, and crabapple ketchup. Delicious!

The fourth course was warm soba noodles with crispy turnips along with a cashew cream. It was okay, but paled in comparison to the other dishes.

For dessert, I was served a rice pudding with some sort of shaved ice on top. It tasted like sour lemon shavings. I didn't particularly like the dessert. 

I'm really glad I was engaging in interesting conversation with someone, otherwise, I think this review would have been worse as the service was not very attentive. I was too engaged to be completely annoyed, but there were two things in particular that I didn't like -- one was that we had to pour our own wine because we rarely saw the server and the other was that the server barely said anything about the dishes. Most of my dishes were off menu or completely modified to be made vegan and he didn't even take the time to tell me about them.

Besides that though, I did have a good experience there. My friend liked all of his dishes and I enjoyed most of mine. So although the service is lacking, the food is pretty good. At $55 for the tasting menu, I think it was priced appropriately. I just hope the service improves on my next visit.

Green Zebra
1460 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 243-7100 

Green Zebra on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nut Kreations, Santa Cruz

I don't typically review stores, that is, unless they are incredibly unique and/or funky.  When I was walking around the downtown area of Santa Cruz, I stumbled across a nut shop that met that very criteria. After looking around and trying a few products, I quickly realized that I needed to write about this place!

Nut Kreations is a specialty nut store that was founded last year by a local Santa Cruz couple. In fact, today is the 1-year anniversary of their store's opening! Happy anniversary Nut Kreations!! The business grew out of an experiment they tried for Christmas a few years ago in which they took orders from family and friends and assembled 200 gift packages out of their home. Soon thereafter, they opened their own store that now offers close to 120 types of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, granolas, and other natural treats.

The store itself is beautiful with glass cases showcasing all of their offerings. I was overwhelmed by the unique selection. Especially of note was a selection of hard-to-find dried fruits such as strawberries, Australian ginger, cantaloupe, pears, peaches, and chili mangoes.

I picked up an incredible mix that included strawberries, figs, kiwis, golden raisins, tart cherries, persimmons, dried mangoes, peaches, cantaloupe, and goji berries. Every piece of fruit tasted like it had been dried yesterday - so soft, fresh, and flavorful. They are definitely the best dried fruits I've ever had. And considering that many of their dried fruits don't use many of the preservatives you find in most dried fruit mixes, they are much healthier than most. 

That's not to mention the amazing chocolate covered dried fruits -- most of which are vegan!

I tried a bunch of them before settling on the chocolate covered banana chips. They were dried to a crisp, then covered with just the right amount of chocolate -- a great combination!

There were so many nuts and nut mixtures. You could even create your own mixes by mixing fruit, nuts, and/or granola together. The possibilities are endless! I recommend the Thai Curry cashews and Salt & Pepper cashews.  The Thai Curry cashews (shown below) made me "mmmm" out loud! No joke! They are that good. Talk about a perfectly spiced cashew. This one is worth ordering online.

Another simple, yet delicious nut was the raw red walnut. These walnuts are native to California and lower in oils and acidity in comparison to regular walnuts. I loved the flavor of them in my steel cut oatmeal.

The coconut cinnamon vanilla pecans are delicious and would be amazing on top of coconut milk ice cream with chocolate sauce! Okay, now I need to try that.

Other ones that looked good were the raspberry almonds, wasabi tamari almonds, and garlic almonds. Oh, and the spiced pistachios looked great too.

They allow you to try everything so you can be sure you like it before you buy. Then, you just tell them what you want and how much of it and they'll package it in their cute little bags.

They also sell nut butters, containers for nut storage, and other gift items. If you are in Santa Cruz, this place is a must-visit.  It is too bad they only have one store, however, I predict they'll be expanding soon. In the meantime, I'll be placing my orders online at UPDATE: They are offering all of my readers 25% off on orders if you use the following code upon checkout: YEAROFNUTS!

Please note that all vegan items are labeled as such in the store, but only some of them are labeled online. They are currently working to add these labels to all products in their online store. If you have any questions, just give them a call or shoot them an email -- they are happy to help!

Nut Kreations
104 Lincoln Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 431-6435

Friday, April 20, 2012

Whole Foods 365-brand Vegan Lasagna

As I was walking through Whole Foods the other day, I found a new frozen vegan lasagna. In fact, it is made by the Whole Foods 365-brand and since the sign said, "I'm new. Try me," I figured I would.  Given that it is Whole Foods brand, I thought it would be pretty good. Well, it wasn't.

This lasagna was about as bad as it gets. There were layers of noodles, vegan ricotta cheese, and broccoli. The noodles were way too thick and the cheese had no taste whatsoever. The tomato sauce was incredibly bland as well as if they just used some generic tomato sauce.

I can't believe Whole Foods even put their brand on this product.  I would recommend buying Amy's vegan lasagna instead.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Zach's Spicy Chocolate Mousse

Zach has been working on perfecting his chocolate mousse for a while and I think he has succeeded. This rich, velvety chocolate mousse will stun you with its robust flavor despite the simplicity of its ingredients. And, it is easy to make too. Please note that it must sit for 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

Zach's Spicy Chocolate Mousse
  • 6-8 ounces of chocolate chips (1 package)
  • 1 package of firm silken tofu
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (or soy milk)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup cane sugar
  • 3 T kuzu (or other thickener)
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnishing
Using a double boiler, heat the chocolate chips on medium heat until they are melted. This was our first time using my new double boiler so I was super excited about that - it worked great! If you don't have a double boiler, you can just heat water in one saucepan and place another saucepan on top of it -- it is the same effect. The chocolate goes in the saucepan on top. The point is not to place the chocolate directly on the heat as it will burn.

While they are melting, put the silken tofu, vanilla extract, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, coconut milk, fresh mint, and sugar in a food processor.

Process until smooth. Add the chocolate and stir. Pour the mixture into a bowl. Then, in a separate bowl, mix the 3 tablespoons of kuzu with 3 tablespoons of water. Add to the tofu mixture and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm for 4 hours or so.

Serve in small bowls garnishing with a mint leaf. We served it with passion fruit and raspberry sorbets for a delightful sweet flavor profile.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Loving Hut, Tampa

Zach and I were flying into Tampa so I figured we'd hit the Loving Hut for lunch. Loving Hut is an international chain of restaurants of which each is independently owned and operated by a member of the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association. Each restaurant has distinctively different menus, but all are focused on Asian cuisine.  This one had a huge sign posted with a picture of their cult leader and a message stating, "The ice that melts too fast. The climate that changes too quickly. Be Veg. Go Green. Save the Planet."  The website of is listed as well.

I actually think they all have the same sign. I hate to say anything negative about this wonderful chain, but the more I see these signs and the pictures of the cult leader in the restaurants, the more I think that this could really frighten people away. I mean, the sign is just weird and creepy and really doesn't make complete sense unless you think long and hard about what it is trying to say. To the average non-vegan, it just gives them a reason to think vegans are weird. But, despite the signage and pictures, I absolutely love the chain. So, on to the review.

The decor is always the same -- a yellow and white front counter with a dessert case and refrigerated case from which they sell their mock meats and this one was no different. We were seated at a table in the back of a fairly empty restaurant. This restaurant closes from 3 to 5 p.m. each day and we arrived 15 minutes prior to their break in service.  Keeping that in mind, we ordered quickly.

We started with the jumbo drumsticks, which I only ordered because they looked so incredibly odd. They basically took a bunch of mushrooms, breaded them, then fried them into the shape of a drumstick. It was quite amusing.

The end of the drumstick was actually the head of a large mushroom and upon biting into each one, we found that were filled with enoki, king mushrooms, and other seasonal mushrooms as well as soy protein. Not too bad for $4.50. They were served with ginger sauce with peanuts.

This was the end of the "drumstick."

For my entree, I ordered the Savory Eggplant dish. This was a typical Chinese-style dish that consisted of eggplant, silken tofu, and onions in a mushroom sauce topped with sesame seeds. It was pretty good except that they served it with long grain brown rice, which I don't really like. I much prefer short grain brown rice with my Chinese dishes. The combination of long grain rice and Chinese food just doesn't go well, in my opinion.

Zach ordered the Noble Philly Sub, which was loaded with soy protein, onions, peppers, carrots, cabbage, and mushrooms and topped with spicy cajun sauce. The sandwich was good and incredibly filling.

We were pretty stuffed after eating all of that food. But, the desserts were so tempting. So, I took a Chocolate Pie to go. It was made with silken tofu, chocolate chips and vanilla and was delectably satisfying.

The Loving Hut restaurants usually serve good food though some are better than others. I enjoyed this meal, but prefer the menu at some of their other locations over this one. The prices are incredibly cheap. The sandwich was $6 while the eggplant dish was $9 -- a great deal considering the generous portions. I'm looking forward to visiting more restaurants in this chain soon. I just wish they'd tone down the Supreme Master messages a bit.

As a side note, I had to laugh as I noticed that directly across the street was the House of Meats. Ironic, huh?

Loving Hut - Tampa
1905 E Fletcher Avenue
Tampa, FL 33612
(813) 977-7888

The Loving Hut on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I was so delighted to receive the new Candle 79 Cookbook by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos, and Jorge Pineda for Christmas this year!  I couldn't wait to make something, that is, until I realized how complicated the recipes were!  Some of them use esoteric ingredients and/or specialty mushrooms that anyone living in the DC area would have trouble getting. I decided to try one that didn't seem too difficult. Boy, was I wrong. I pretty much spent 4 straight hours cooking this dish. So, don't go into this one unless you have many hours to spare as it incorporates 4 recipes. The original recipe calls for 6 stuffed peppers, but I was able to use the stuffing in 12 because it made so much. I revised the following recipe accordingly. I already posted the other three recipes I used to contribute to this one so this is the final one in the series that will pull it all together. Here goes...

Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Serves 12

  • 12 poblano peppers
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, chopped (I used cremini because I can't get fresh oyster mushrooms this time of the year in DC)
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped
  • 1 cup finely diced zucchini
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 pound grilled Marinated Tempeh with Lemongrass (see here for recipe)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cups Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Tomato Sauce (see here for recipe)
  • Sauteed Swiss Chard (see here for recipe)
Brush the poblano peppers with olive oil. I use a small silicone brush for this, but if you don't have one, you can just use your hands to rub oil around the pepper. The instructions in the cookbook state the following: With a long fork or tongs, cook the peppers over an open flame, turning often, until the skin is charred all over, about 5 minutes per side. I don't know about you, but I don't have an open flame in my kitchen so instead, I broiled the peppers. (The first mistake they make is not offering options.) If broiling, preheat the oven on the broil setting. Put your peppers on a broiler pan and put them in the oven. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn and cook another 5 minutes until the skin is bubbling.

Remove from oven and place the peppers in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool. Once the peppers are cool, peel off the skins. Make a lengthwise slit in the peppers and pull the seeds out. I found this difficult and decided to rinse the peppers under water to get all the seeds out of them. Once the seeds have been removed, set them aside.

In a saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes.

Add the scallions, zucchini, corn, and salt and saute until just tender about 5 minutes.

Crumble the grilled tempeh into the pan and cook for an additional 3 minutes. (The book did not instruct one to crumble the tempeh - second mistake). Mix everything together and let cool.

Meanwhile, put the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the onion, stock, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Add the rice and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the bell pepper and simmer until the rice is tender, 10 to 15 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, add the vegetable mixture and mix everything together.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Stuff each pepper through the slit with the vegetable and rice mixture. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, until heated through. I wish I had only baked them for 10 minutes as they seemed overdone after 20 minutes so just keep checking them until they are done. Serve with Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Tomato Sauce and Sauteed Swiss Chard.

This recipe was delicious. The mixture in the pepper was divine! The only thing I might change in the future is using another type of paprika in the tomato sauce other than smoked as that flavor seemed to be a bit much for this dish. Other than that, it was like eating at Candle 79, but in my dining room! Bon appetit!