Monday, December 31, 2012

Bouldin Creek Cafe, Austin

Bouldin Creek Cafe was not on my list of places to go in Austin, but after speaking to a bunch of people who recommended it, we decided to go for lunch. I mean everyone we talked to raved about it so how could we not go?!

Bouldin Creek is located in a cute neighborhood in the midst of many little shops. When we arrived it was about 1 p.m. on a Saturday and it was packed. There was only a 15-minute wait for brunch though -- not too bad.

When we finally sat down, we realized how extensive their menu was. They offer many varieties of breakfast plates, salads, and sandwiches. They pride themselves on serving fresh vegetarian food made from scratch and are known for their tofu. Their tofu is actually locally made by White Mountain Foods.  I, specifically, wanted to try their tofu.

Once again, Zach and I decided to order the same thing. It is funny that out of all the things on the menu, we went for the same thing -- The Renedict. Zach also ordered a coffee and I ordered a rose lemonade.

The coffeehouse was bustling on this Saturday afternoon. It was eclectically decorated with red ceilings and yellow walls along with various unique lighting structures including a light made from a bicycle wheel. Artwork from a local artist was displayed on the walls.

After a little time, our renedicts were served. As you probably guessed, this is a play on eggs benedict. It was tofu served on grilled ciabatta (open-faced) topped with baby spinach and locally-grown tomatoes. On top was their homemade vegan Hollandaise and it was sooo good. There were also slices of tofu bacon, which were surprisingly similar to regular bacon. The sauce was rich, the tofu had a unique texture and flavor, and the bacon was divine. I loved it all! On the side, I had organic red and black beans -- also very good.

The meal was huge and we were stuffed, but our waitress still convinced us to get a dessert so we took one of their brownies home with us. The brownie had an unusual flavor - it was good, but weird.

All in all, we were really glad we went. The food was delicious and filling, the service was great, and we loved the atmosphere. Definitely recommended for Austin.

Bouldin Creek Cafe
1900 South First
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 416-1601

Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Better Bean Company - Three Sisters Chili

One of my favorite meals to make on a busy weeknight is prepared chili, that is, prepared by someone else. Recently, there has been a lot of press about BPA or bisphenol A, a compound found in plastics and aluminum cans. Since it exhibits hormone-like qualities and has been linked to a variety of health problems including recent correlations to hyperactivity and obesity in children, I've been trying to find alternatives to products I used to buy in cans like chili and soup. So, when I discovered The Better Bean Company, a company making skillet sauteed, prepared beans packaged in BPA-free packaging, I was thrilled.  One of their products, Three Sisters Chili, had me most intrigued as it is one of the ones that you can eat right out of the package. Just heat and eat!

I heated the chili up for a quick lunch and was very pleased. The Three Sisters Chili is named for three companion plants of Native American agriculture--beans, corn, and squash. This chunky chili has both red and black beans along with tomatillos, corn, squash, poblano peppers, and yams. It is a mild chili and since I prefer a lot of spice, I reached for some hot sauce to add a little kick. You could also top it with cilantro, green chilis, or green onions to add another fresh component. Other ideas include using it in a 7-layer dip, on baked potatoes, or as a component to a lovely, cheesy, beany nacho dish!

The only thing I wonder about is whether the corn in this chili is GMO or non-GMO as I try to avoid genetically modified organisms as much as possible these days. With such an environmentally and health-conscious company, I'm hoping they will get certified by the Non-GMO Project soon. UPDATE: As you will see in the comments below, they are currently pending Non-GMO Project verification. The chili sells for under $4 per package and is a quick, easy, healthy lunch. To find out where these products are sold, click here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tears of Joy, Austin

While walking down 6th Street on a 95-degree day in Austin, we stumbled across Tears of Joy, a hot sauce shop. Oh, how I love hot sauce! The last time I had been in a hot sauce shop was in Louisiana. There really should be more shops like this across the U.S.

Inside, it was a hot sauce lover's dream. The hot sauces were all rated on a scale of 1 to 10 in hotness. There were sections for sauces, chips, spices, and salsas.

But what really caught my eye was the coffin. Inside the coffin were all of the sauces that were rated a 10 including pure extracts! Wow!

It was quite the selection. Eventually, after trying many sauces and burning my taste buds off, I chose to purchase The Executioner Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce, The Hottest Fuckin' Sauce (that is what it is called) and Deano's Jalapeno Chips. More on these items at another time.

As I was checking out, the woman at the register told me to try the extract that was there, I picked it up, smelled it, then decided against it. In the process, a tiny bit got on my finger so I licked it. It almost killed me. For hours later, I could taste it -- it was that hot. I have no idea why anyone would need anything that hot, but now I aspire to get to a point where I could handle that. For now, I'll stick with the ghost pepper sauce, which is plenty hot enough.

This is a great place to visit while in Austin. Highly recommended.

Tears of Joy
618 E. 6th Street
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 499-0766

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Qrunch Burgers

Quinoa, quinoa, quinoa -- how do you find your way into so many things? Is it your yummy, nutty taste or the protein-packed punch that makes everyone want you so?  Either way, quinoa (keen-wah) has become a household ingredient over the past few years. Now, it is even showing up in burgers! Qrunch Burgers is the latest veggie burger creation containing quinoa. A small, but growing company based in Denver created these burgers to show the world that vegan burgers can not only taste good, but be good for you too. Well, they certainly aren't the first to make a good-tasting vegan burger, but they are one of the few using quinoa.

The burgers have a crunchy crust on the outside and are soft on the inside with a nutty texture. In terms of their texture, they remind me a lot of Hilary's Eat Well burgers.  They are nice, neutral-flavored burger patties filled with lots of good-for-you stuff like millet, quinoa, carrots, broccoli, spinach, apple cider vinegar, and psyllium seed powder.

They currently come in two flavors: regular and spicy Italian. As you might have guessed, I prefer the spicy Italian because spicy is always better! I topped mine with vegan mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions, and giardiniera (pickled peppers and veggies).

Besides the great ingredients, I like that they are all-organic and free of the most common allergens: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, wheat, and nuts.  They are currently sold in select Wegmans and Whole Foods as well as at Yes! Organic Markets in DC. To find a store near you, click here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hanoi House, DC

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

I can't say that I was saddened when Blackbyrd closed, but I was a bit surprised as it was owned by the same people who own Marvin and Gibson, both of which are very successful and all of which are conveniently located next to each other on 14th Street. In its place now stands the Hanoi House, a Vietnamese restaurant, under the same ownership as the former Blackbyrd.  The menu was created by Executive Chef James Claudio and his grandmother, Lap Claudio, who taught him the art of Vietnamese cooking in their family home.

As me and my friend glanced at the menu on the outside of the restaurant, we were most surprised at the prices -- $8 - $11 entrees on 14th Street? How will they survive? I guess it isn't much different from Busboys. Heck, we'll give it a try. We were there on a Saturday night only five days after they opened. We asked if we could put our name on the list and were told there was about a 30- to 45-minute wait. Before we waited that long though, I inquired as to whether the vegetarian items on the menu were vegan. The hostess went back to check with the chef and when she returned, she told us that he would let her know in a few minutes. After 10 minutes went by, we went back up to ask if the chef had gotten back to her. She had forgotten about us and immediately apologized and checked with him. The good news is that the items I asked about were vegan -- no fish sauce or egg wash is used in the vegetarian dishes. Great!

They told us we could grab a drink at Marvin or Gibson as they are under the same ownership and would accommodate us if we told them we were waiting for a seat at Hanoi House. That sounded great to us. And with that we were seated on the second floor of Gibson immediately. About an hour later, we realized she still had not texted us so we headed back over only to find out that it appeared they had forgotten about us again. Geez. I know it is a new restaurant, but these are basic principles of service.

They seated us the bar. Apparently, there is no open seating so bar seating is reserved seating as well. So, if the next open spot is at the bar, then you either sit there or wait for a table. After having waited that long, the bar sounded good to us.  We both started with a drink from the "strong drinks" menu. I ordered the Singapore Sling (Redux), which is made with gin, pineapple, cherry, pomegranate, hibiscus, lemon, orange, and juniper. It was quite fruity, but not overly so.

My friend wanted another drink that they were out of.  Apparently all of the drinks are pre-mixed, which may mean that the main bartender wasn't there.  So, he eventually ordered off menu. The drinks were quite good and when I  found out that the cocktail program was created by a mixologist from The Gibson, that made perfect sense.

I started with the Cha Gio Chay -- crispy vegetarian spring rolls with dipping sauce. They recommended you eat them like lettuce rolls -- wrap the deep-fried spring roll in a lettuce leaf with fresh basil and cilantro. I really liked them, but they were a bit too deep-fried for me.

The noodle bowl I ordered was the Bun Voi Rau Thom, a bowl loaded with vermicelli, deep-fried tofu, carrots and fresh cilantro and basil with a broth. This dish was fine, but certainly wasn't anything to write home about. It was pretty plain and the tofu had been deep-fried so long that it was mostly fried crust without much tofu to taste. It was also pretty similar to the appetizer. But, for only $8 I guess it was fine.

The decor was similar to Blackbyrd's, but slightly different. The restaurant was very dark and decorated with red velvet curtains and red walls. The music was funky as it switched between dub step and several other genres.

Overall, the service at the bar was fine, but the hostess' service was disappointing. The food was fine, but nothing special. The ambiance was nice though. I definitely won't wait an hour to eat here ever again, but perhaps I'd drop by for a quick lunch one day. They are opening at a time when there are a lot of great restaurants in Logan Circle so I think they'll need to step up their game or they may soon be following in the footsteps of Blackbyrd.

Hanoi House
2005 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 747-2377

Hanoi House on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 24, 2012

Quinoa with Spiced Apples, Carrots, and Red Onions

Adapted from a recipe on the Tasting Table, this dish is a simple, yet elegant way to pair lemon-scented quinoa with roasted, spiced apples, carrots, and red onions. It is the mixture of ground cardamom and coriander that gives way to an aromatic winter dish.

Quinoa with Spiced Apples, Carrots, and Red Onions
Serves 6

  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 tsp sea salt, divided
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled; halved lengthwise and sliced on a bias into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium apples, halved; cored and sliced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • zest of 1/2 lemon plus 2 tsp of lemon juice (a Microplane grater is best for this)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 425-degrees. In a small bowl, stir together cardamom, coriander, pepper, and 1.5 tsp salt. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, add the carrots, apples, red onions, and olive oil. Add the spice mixture and stir to combine.

In a 9-inch baking dish, add the quinoa and spread into an even layer. Place the quinoa and vegetables in the oven. Toast the quinoa until fragrant and golden, about 8 minutes, then pour 2 cups water over the quinoa and loosely cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil. Cook the quinoa until it uncoils and looks fluffy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the quinoa from the oven, fluff with a fork, recover with foil and set aside.

Meanwhile, continue to roast the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to blacken around the edges and carrots are tender, about 30 minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish.

Transfer the quinoa to a serving dish as well if you like. Stir in the remaining 1/4 tsp salt along with lemon zest and lemon juice, then the parsley. Serve roasted vegetables on top or alongside the quinoa.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sweet Ritual, Austin

Juice and vegan ice cream sundaes? Sure, why not! In an unexpected location inside of the Daily Juice Cafe is this wonderful, heavenly spot where you can get your ice cream sundae fix. Welcome to Sweet Ritual in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin. The two owners, Valerie and Amelia, both worked for ice cream parlors in the past. In fact, Amelia worked for the only vegan ice cream shop in Austin at the time, Toy Joy, and while working there, she developed her own recipe for ice cream. They teamed up to start an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and the rest is history.

The menu is very extensive as they offer 17 different sundaes along with many different toppings so can either choose from the sundaes on the menu or you can make your own. They also have shakes and espresso. Unfortunately, though, there were only two types of ice cream to choose from -- vanilla and the flavor of the week, which was orange dreamsicle. Since we really couldn't decide on just one sundae, we just ordered the sundae sampler, which allows you to taste three smaller sundaes for $13. Okay, maybe we got a bit greedy. We went with the Turtle, Peanut Butter Cup, and

We sat down and anxiously awaited our sundaes. When they came out, two of them were half melted. The lady apologized saying that she was working by herself and quickly left to attend to the other customers. That was pretty disappointing. That said, they were all delicious. The turtle was vanilla ice cream with gooey chocolate sauce, salted caramel sauce, pecans and shaved coconut. The peanut butter cup was vanilla ice cream topped with creamy peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, chocolate chips and salted Spanish peanuts. What a great combo!  Last, but not least, there was the Luckily, this was the one that wasn't melted because it was the best! It was basically a Smores sundae with graham crackers, spiced chocolate sauce, and roasted marshmallows -- they really were roasted with a blowtorch! This sundae was amazing! If you only get one, get the sundae. This website, by the way, is an Austin vegan lifestyle blog.

So, besides the sundaes being half-melted, they were really good. I would highly recommend you try this place. Just order one sundae at a time.

Sweet Ritual
4500 Duval Street
Austin, TX 78751

Sweet Ritual Vegan Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spice Ace, San Francisco

As I continue my quest to visit spice shops all around the country (and hopefully the world!), I discovered a new one that just opened in the Lower Pacific Heights area of downtown San Francisco.  Spice Ace was opened by Olivia Dillan and Ben Balzer who found inspiration while on their honeymoon in Venice. They decided to open a shop that provided mostly organic or sustainably farmed spices at reasonable prices. And one thing I can tell you is that most spice shops are not going for the "reasonably priced" marketing strategy.

Inside this small store, you will find over 100 spices and herbs, over 50 peppercorns and salts, over 30 sugars and extracts, and over 30 unique spice blends. But, perhaps, the most exciting to me was their incredible selection of mild to hot peppers.

From hard-to-find Chiltepin Chiles from Texas to Marash Chile Flakes, it is an impressive selection. I picked up some ghost chile powder ($8.49 for 1 ounce) and habanero chile flakes ($5.79 for .6 ounce) and I am oh so anxious to try them out. The best part is that you can taste all of the spices, salts, chiles, and sugars using their cute little spoons.

Taste the difference between white truffle and black truffle sea salt and even lemon and lime sea salt.

It is a great place to find the perfect gift for your culinary-minded home chef. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I'd love some more Chiltepin Chile, please. Dear Santa...

Spice Ace
1821 Steiner Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 885-3038

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seitan and Vegetables in Thai Curry Peanut Sauce

Who doesn't love a good curry?! The inspiration for this dish came when I received a sample of the Sweet Earth Curry Recipe Seitan satay-style. There is so much I can do with curry-flavor seitan, but the one thing I almost never make is my own curry. And Sweet Earth specifically states on the box that it goes quite well with peanut sauce. And with that, I was dreaming up a seitan and vegetable dish in Thai curry peanut sauce that I knew I had to create.

I used a few products of note in this recipe. The first I already mentioned -- Sweet Earth's Curry Recipe Seitan. I've written about a few of their other products as well and have been very impressed with both the texture and flavor of their seitan. This one is no different. It is firm, but not too firm and chewy with a distinct curry flavor that works well in this dish. Sweet Earth products are currently sold in Whole Foods in California, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest.

Another product is the Organic Gourmet Miso Paste in Chili Pepper. This great miso paste is produced by fermenting organically grown oats for months at a time. Miso adds natural carbohydrates, essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to a well-balanced diet and aids in the digestive process. This paste is a great way to add some flavor to your curry while benefiting from the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in the miso. You can buy it at Vegan Essentials.

Lastly, I tried the Earth Balance Natural Crunchy Peanut Butter and it was just delightful. It is yet another great product from Earth Balance. If you can't find it locally, you can buy it on Amazon.

Okay, on to the recipe! This curry has a rich, peanutty flavor with a little bit of spice. Anyone who loves a good peanut curry, will surely love this one. As soon as I tasted it, I was wishing that I had made more!

Seitan and Vegetables in Thai Curry Peanut Sauce
Serves 12  

Ingredients for Thai Curry Peanut Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp non-GMO canola oil (like Whole Foods' 365-brand) or any other neutral oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp vegan red curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen-brand)
  • 3/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter (I used Earth Balance-brand)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Organic Gourmet Miso Paste in Chili Pepper
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cans coconut milk
Ingredients for Dish
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup brown jasmine rice
  • 2 cups sugar peas
  • 2 cups purple cabbage, shredded
  • 2 broccoli heads
  • 5 carrots, cut lengthwise, then sliced into thirds
  • 2 red peppers, sliced and cut into thirds
  • 2 packages Sweet Earth Curry Recipe Seitan Satay
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
  • Lime wedges for garnish

    Bring water and brown rice to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for 30-40 minutes until cooked thoroughly and tender, but not mushy.

    Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute, stirring regularly so the garlic doesn't burn to the pan. Add the red curry paste and stir for another 30 seconds. Then, whisk the peanut butter, brown sugar, chili powder, cayenne pepper, miso paste, lime juice, sesame oil, and coconut milk together. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally for 8 minutes.

    Add the vegetables and cook covered over medium heat for 18-20 minutes, stirring regularly. The vegetables will cook in the curry.

    In the meantime, heat a skillet on medium heat. Then, add cooking spray and cook the seitan until browned on all sides.

    Serve curry over rice and top with seitan and fresh cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.


    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Casa De Luz, Austin

    In my research of Austin, I discovered this non-profit, educational community center called "Casa De Luz" that offers yoga and health classes. On-site there is an all-organic cafe that serves vegan and gluten-free cuisine. We thought it would be interesting to check it out for lunch on a Sunday.

    To get to the cafe, you have to walk through their gardens. It is a nice little pathway lined with trees and flowers.

    At the end of the path, we entered a very busy cafe. There must have been at least 50 people in this medium-sized cafe. At the counter, they displayed their fixed menu for the day. We checked it out and decided to give it a go. So, we paid the host a flat $12 for each of us, tax included.

    He explained to us how it worked -- we would seat ourselves, we could grab our own drinks, salad, and soup. Then, the entrees would be brought out to our table. Dessert would cost extra. Simple enough. We were game.

    We found a couple seats at the end of a communal table. Then we grabbed our soup, salad, and drinks. The atmosphere was energetic, the cafe was dimly lit, and we felt a really nice vibe there. People of all ages were brought together in this community center to dine on fresh vegan meals.

    The salad was a mixed greens salad -- very simple. The best part about it was the pumpkinseed basil dressing, which really brought life into an otherwise plain salad.

    The soup was also pretty simple -- a black bean soup. Again, it was the topping - a cheesy spread made of sunflower seeds that really gave it its flavor.

    For the entree, we were served quite a variety of very fresh foods. There were sauteed carrots, zucchini, cauliflower and onions with lemon-cilantro basmati rice.  The mashed sweet potatoes were topped with some sort of strawberry syrup making them a bit too sweet for my palate. My favorite dish was the steamed collard greens and kale topped with the parsley almond sauce. Yum! We just loved how fresh everything tasted.

    Afterwards, we took a look at what they were selling in the front of the cafe. There were some unusual things like freeze-dried tofu and some hard-to-find seaweeds.  As we walked back to the car, I spotted a beautiful red-mohawked woodpecker in the trees (you may need to click the image below to enlarge it). I don't get to see birds like this often so that was a real treat.

    In sum, we really liked the gardens and the fresh food and found it reasonably priced at only $12 per person. This is a great place to go for fresh, healthy vegan fare in Austin.

    Casa De Luz
    1701 Toomey Road
    Austin, TX 78704
    (512) 476-2535

    Casa de Luz on Urbanspoon