Friday, August 30, 2013

Vegan Dream - Jerky

Whenever I travel, I like to bring along a bunch of snacks and sometimes that includes vegan jerky because it travels well. Now before you balk at vegan jerky, don't knock it until you've tried it. I've been eating the same brand for several years so when one of my readers suggested I try Vegan Dream-brand jerky, I jumped at the chance.

Vegan Dream has been in business since 1997, yet I've never heard of them! This means the founder was surely one of the innovators of vegan jerky as there aren't that many brands on the shelf today, but there were even fewer 15 years ago!

Their jerky is more like a traditional jerky that is not as chewy as other commercial brands. When you bite into them, you have to rip each piece off with your mouth to separate it and you can really taste the intricate spices. If you are into a drier, more traditional jerky, you will like this one.

There are currently four flavors. I'd say the Original Hickory Pepper was my favorite -- it had just the right amount of hickory flavor.

I also enjoyed the Cowgirl -- a tomato base with a hint of sweetness and a hint of spice.

Other flavors include the Hot Chili Pepper and Teriyaki.

This jerky's base is wheat gluten and defatted soy flour along with spices. They are labeled as Non-GMO Soy though they do not carry the official Non-GMO Project Verified label. If you are interested in trying them, you can find them in about twenty stores from Fort Bragg to Trinidad in California or online here. A 6-pack retails for just $13.50.

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sonny Bowl, Portland

Portland is known to be one of the food truck meccas of the US. Combine that with its status as one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the US and you have yourself a city filled with vegan food trucks. In most cities, you are lucky to find a vegan option in a food truck. Here, you find 100% vegan food trucks. Love it!

I started my trip off by going to Sonny Bowl for lunch. Sonny Bowl is located on a street lined with food trucks and there are at least two all-vegan food trucks just on that block. I chose Sonny Bowl for my meal because I really wanted a fresh, wholesome meal. They have a basic menu of bowls, salads, and smoothies. I ordered a large Number One and a smoothie.

The Kale-Mango smoothie was a delicious blend of orange juice, apple, kale, mango, and agave. I could have drank 4 of them.

When I picked up my lunch, I was floored at the sheer weight of the container. It was filled to the brim!  The bottom layer was mostly black beans and brown basmati rice. On top, there were mixed vegetables, corn, anaheim chilis, and walnut faux-rizo served with cilantro-lemon sauce, roasted red pepper cashew cheese, and fresh apple-mango salsa. It sounded so amazing, but the taste left me disappointed. It was a nice vegetable, bean, and rice bowl, but, unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as good as it sounded. That said, it was good, but with all of the vegan options in this city, I was left wishing I had chosen another cart.

Willing to give it just one more try, I tried my friend's The Four. This was soy curls, bamboo shoots, and red and green bell peppers sauteed in Thai style almond butter sauce served with kale salad tossed in sesame-ginger dressing over rice. On top, there was fresh cucumbers and almonds. Again, the same impression -- good, but not great.

Both bowls cost $7 so they were quite the value given the amount of food served. However, as I previously mentioned, with so many incredible options in Portland, I have to say that I am going to choose to dine somewhere else the next time I am in town for a limited period of time. I love that they are serving fresh, wholesome vegan food, but the flavor is lacking in the sauces.

Sonny Bowl
SW 3rd Avenue & SW Washington St.
Portland, OR 97204
(971) 285-6713

Sonny Bowl on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kale, Carrot, and Avocado Bowl with Quinoa in Tahini Sauce

You may have noticed that I have been eating out more than anyone should ever eat out in a summer. I've been traveling A LOT and when I've been back home, I've been spending time with my friends. All of this equals no cooking for me. So, this week, I felt like I needed a good-for-you cleansing type of meal and considering that I've been seeking out healthy bowls across the U.S., I thought I'd make one for myself.

This one is loaded with good-for-you stuff like carrots packed with beta-carotene, which is good for your eyesight. I added kale, which is a great source of calcium and vitamins A, C, and K, and Swiss chard. There are red beans, which are high in fiber and antioxidants. And, of course, quinoa, the perfect source of protein, iron, and fiber. I also threw some avocado on top for some healthy monounsaturated fat.  Finally, I added a tahini sauce from the Cookin' Crunk for flavor (slightly modified). It turned out so wonderful that I think this will be a staple in my diet going forward.

Kale, Carrot, and Avocado Bowl with Quinoa in Tahini Sauce
Serves 4-6

Ingredients for Bowl
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into carrot sticks
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, sliced crosswise
  • 1 bunch kale, sliced crosswise
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 jalapenos (optional), sliced
  • 1 container Better Bean Rethought Red Beans or other beans of your choice
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
Ingredients for Tahini Sauce
  • 1/3 cup roasted sesame tahini
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil (I used chili sesame oil)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • Water, to thin
Begin by heating the beans. Then, start steaming the carrots for about 5 minutes until soft. Next, steam the Swiss chard stems, kale stems, orange bell pepper, and jalapenos for about 3 minutes until soft. Steam the Swiss chard and kale last for about 3 minutes. Do not oversteam the vegetables.
To make the tahini sauce, just put all items in a bowl and stir well. My tahini was pretty old so I put in the blender and added a bunch of water to get it to the consistency I wanted. You may have to keep adding water until you get it to the consistency you desire.

I like to keep all of the items separate in the bowl as it looks nicer so I group the following items separately: carrots; Swiss chard and kale; orange pepper, chard stems, kale stems, and jalapenos; beans; and quinoa. Then I top with the avocado and tahini sauce. Sriracha is always an option as well. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

G Sandwich Shop, DC

Update 3/5/14: Reports state that the bread at G Sandwich Shop is not vegan.

On the other side of Mike Isabella's Kapnos is his G Sandwich Shop. A sandwich shop by day and tasting menu by night, this small cafe is a great addition to all of the fast casual joints along 14th Street.

I stopped by on a Friday afternoon to grab a quick lunch by myself. Inside this small shop, are several green booths along with tables and an exposed brick wall. The exposed ductwork on the ceiling is painted in a black matte paint, which is a nice contrast to the other white walls.

As this place operates as two separate concepts, there is no menu posted. I knew there was only one vegan sandwich, but I also wanted to try a salad as well. There are 6 marinated vegetable salads on the menu and I was informed 3 of them are vegan -- the spicy mushrooms, giardiniera, and olives.

So, I placed my order and took a seat at a booth. I ordered a housemade preserved lemon soda to start, which was very light on the lemon taste.  The grill area is open so you can watch them make your sandwich as you wait. The place filled up pretty quickly around noon and you could tell people were in a hurry.

After a while, they handed me my sandwich. The Roasted Cauliflower sandwich was divine as it was loaded with cauliflower, arugula, dill, scallions, pickled vegetables, and parsley. The romesco sauce was a nice complement with all the other flavors. And the bread was super fresh.

I also got the Spicy Mushroom salad, which wasn't spicy at all. I liked it though despite that. There was a variety of mixed mushrooms marinated with cherry peppers and mustard seeds. It was very good.

So for an $8 sandwich and $4 salad, it was pretty darned good. I think of all the sandwich shops in this area, this is the best vegan sandwich you can find.  I only hope they add another vegan sandwich in the future as there is only so much roasted cauliflower one can eat.

G Sandwich Shop
2201 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 234-5015

G Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 26, 2013

DeLuscious Vegan Cookies - VeLuscious

Someone asked me not too long ago what my favorite vegan cookies were and that made me think -- I haven't tried any new cookies in a while. And off the top of my head, there were only a few cookies I could think of that I would recommend. Then out of the clouds came the cookie goddess who told me to travel to Los Angeles where I would find some of the most wonderful cookies of all. There lies a bakery making VeLuscious vegan cookies for all of the world to enjoy.

So I sought out to find this bakery. Okay, maybe I didn't really go there. But, I did get my hands on some of their cookies anyway and boy, was she right. VeLuscious is the name of the vegan cookies being developed by DeLuscious Cookies & Milk. Lydia Shayne is the creative force behind this company. As a self-taught baker, she crafted each cookie recipe from scratch. Her mantra is that good enough is never good enough. Lydia and her team work to ensure every customer has the ultimate cookie experience. And in the spirit of inclusiveness, they are now servicing vegan and gluten-free customers as well.

They sent me their top four vegan cookie flavors to try and I was blown away by the goodness. My favorite was  their Vegan Chocolate Decadence. OMG. Their signature dark chocolate cookie is laced with sugar on the outside and soft, chewy brownie-fudgy goodness on the inside with lots of chocolate chips. It was like a chocolate chip brownie covered in sugar. Sinfully delicious.

The Vegan Chocolate Chip was crispy almost like a gluten-free cookie with a chewy center. It is filled with three different kinds of Belgian and domestic dark and semi-sweet chocolates.

The Vegan Oatmeal Raisin was soft and fluffy with plump California Thompson raisins baked throughout and a strong cinnamon flavor.

Lastly, the Vegan Cinnamon Sugar was super crispy and delicious with cinnamon on top, but a bit too oily for me.

These are some of the best cookies I've ever had and they would make a fantastic birthday or holiday gift (to me!). At $51.95 a dozen (plus shipping), they aren't cheap, but they are about as good as it gets. And if you are in LA, I encourage you to stop by and pick some up. Or you can just order them online. DeLusciously good.

Full Disclosure: Although the cookies were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Taco Bus, Tampa

OMG! How had I not heard of Taco Bus until now?! Imagine roaming the streets of Tampa seeking nonexistant vegan food all hours of the night until you finally collapse from a lack of tasty morsels. Then out of the corner of your eye, you see Taco Bus to the rescue! With its four locations including three in Tampa, Taco Bus is growing quicker than you can say, "tacos, please." And the best part is that they have tons of vegan options!

On my first visit to the downtown Tampa location, I was a little disappointed to find that the bus was merely part of a short bus made into a storefront with a full restaurant behind it because I really wanted to see the real bus. On the other hand, I was glad to have a place to sit down and eat.

Taco Bus offers an extensive menu. First, you choose "Your Favorite Way." This includes options for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, salads, Mexican sandwiches, tostadas, and plates. Next, you choose your filling. Vegan options include grilled tofu, vegan "steak" strips, tempeh, butternut squash or just rice, beans, and veggies.  Then you choose the veggies you'd like: tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and/or cabbage.

Additionally, they even have a vegan food facts page that details what is vegan and what isn't. The Mexican rice, refried beans, corn and flour tortillas, red and green salsas, and guacamole are all vegan as are the vegan tamales!  I am so thankful for this page as many of the people working there do not speak much English. In fact, their slogan is "Broken English, Perfectly Spoken." Ha!

I was so overwhelmed with the choices that I just ordered two tacos--one with grilled tofu and the other with tempeh.  They were both better than I could have ever expected. The tofu had this amazing spice on it and it was grilled so well as was the tempeh. I mean, they were both very good. And they were topped with fresh veggies. I put lots of hot green salsa on them and went to town.

I also ordered the refried beans. These were just so-so.

I had such a great experience that I headed to the original East Hillsborough location a couple nights later. Now, this is a serious operation. There was a brick and mortar restaurant along with a white take-out bus and a yellow bus that opens for the late hours so you can get your taco fix 24/7. There was a long line for the take-out bus so I went inside.

Again, I ordered two tacos--this time with butternut squash and steak strips. The butternut squash was okay, but it didn't have much flavor. The vegan steak strips were seasoned like the tofu and tempeh and again, were very good.

I also tried one of their pineapple drinks, which was a bit too sugary for me.

I am so thankful to have found Taco Bus. For $6, I had a better meal than I've ever had in the city of Tampa along with great servers who truly spoke perfect broken English. Taco Bus, you are a godsend.

Taco Bus (several locations)
913 East Hillsborough Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
(813) 232-5889

Taco Bus on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Amella - Vegan Caramels

One of my favorite things in this world are caramels. But not just caramel sauce -- my favorite is the chocolate-covered caramel. So far, only a few vegan versions of this confection have satisfied my tastebuds and now I'll add Amella Caramels to that list.

Amella is not your typical all-vegan caramel company. They are a company specializing in caramels and have just come out with a vegan caramel, which is all the better as I know they truly know their caramels.  Take a bite into one of these caramels and your tastebuds will light up from pure enjoyment.  Made with organic coconut milk and organic raw blue agave nectar, this caramel is as buttery as any great caramel you've ever had.

But they didn't stop there -- they enrobed it in organic dark 66% chocolate and topped it with sel gris, a sea salt from France, to make one of the most decadent caramels ever satisfying both your sweet and salty cravings. The caramel is soft, yet buttery and the chocolate is smooth, yet oh so rich. They say the secret ingredient is the pure cocoa butter. No matter what it is, they truly have perfected this caramel.

And with no refined sugars or preservatives, it is as good-for-you as a chocolate-covered caramel could be. These caramels are certified vegan, gluten-free, and Kosher as well as Non-GMO Project Verified. They are sold in 2-piece grab & go packs or 6-piece boxes. Online, two 6-piece boxes sell for $25 with no shipping charges. Trust me, you'll want to get your hands (or your mouth) on one of these caramels soon. Yum!

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ghibellina, DC

As a young vegetarian in college, my go-to meal was always pasta. When I headed out to eat, I would frequent Italian restaurants because of the plethora of options. But, as soon as I became vegan, I realized my favorite cuisine would no longer be as accessible as it had been before as fresh noodles are often made with eggs, pizza with cheese, and ravioli with both.  So when Ghibellina, the new Italian Gastro Pub, opened in May, I was skeptical. Would it be vegan friendly? Well, I was delightfully surprised to find that it was!

My friend, Saurabh, and I headed over for dinner on a Sunday night. The restaurant was packed and I was glad to have a reservation. The restaurant is designed so that the entire front of the restaurant opens so those sitting at the front can look out over 14th Street. It was a beautiful day and happy hour was in full swing at 6:30 p.m.  In the middle of the restaurant is a unique bar where patrons sit around an oval with the bartender in the middle. We walked past the bar to the dining room in the back. It was quite cozy back there and a nice departure from the happy hour crowd in the front. Here we could see an exposed kitchen with a big brick oven. There was a warm, modern feel to the restaurant with exposed white brick walls and iron-clad lighting. We liked the dim lighting as well.

On the menu, several soups, salads, and sides are vegan along with a pasta dish and pizza.  I started with a very nice glass of wine.

Saurabh started with the Pappa Al Pomodoro, a tomato-based soup with hearty croutons that are cooked down in the soup along with fresh olive oil. We both loved this dish.

I had the signature Insalata Ghibellina, which was a beautiful salad loaded with arugula, confit tomatoes, and pine nuts. It was dressed in an olive oil based dressing and tossed with a vegan pesto then topped with avocado. Just be sure to tell them to hold the cheese.

For our main dish, we really wanted to try the Marinara pizza, which is served as it is in Italy -- without cheese. This naturally vegan pizza was exceptionally good. We topped half of it with calabrian chilies and half with wood-roasted onions. It came out with a thin, wood-oven cooked crust that raised up in a fluffy way around the perimeter. In the middle was tomato sauce with oregano, garlic, olive oil, and fresh basil. We used the shears to cut pieces of pizza and what we found was a perfectly cooked crust and a delectable sauce. The onions were great and the chilies even better as they are super spicy.

On the side, we also tried the Fagiolini Sfiziosi, which was green and yellow wax beans in a lemon sauce with mint and croutons. Again, a winner.

Although I am not familiar with the owners or their other restaurants, they clearly know what they are doing. The owners, Ari Gejdenson and Ralph Lee, also own Acqua al 2 in DC; and Ghibellina is named after the street on which their American diner is in Italy. The Executive Chef, Jonathan Copeland, does an excellent job executing their vision of an authentic Tuscan menu.

The food was delectable and the service was excellent. The server even knew which items were vegan and was prepared to answer all of our questions. The prices were pretty average, if not on the low side, with the sides being about $8 each and the pizza only $13. All in all, a great experience and a great addition to Logan Circle. I look forward to dining here often.

1610 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 803-2389

Ghibellina on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Straw Propeller Giveaway Winner

Last week I told you about the delicious new oatmeals made by Straw Propeller Gourmet Foods and today I get to announce the winners of a 12-pack of oatmeal!  And the winners are.... Christa Hroch from Maryland and Victoria Robinson from Pennsylvania!

Congratulations Christa and Victoria!  I hope you enjoy all the delicious oatmeal flavors like the Muesli, Strawberry Jungle, and Banana Bread. My mouth waters just thinking about them.

And even if you didn't win, I'd encourage you to try some of these oatmeals. They make a delicious, healthy breakfast.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Best Thai & Sushi, Zephyrhills, FL

Zephyrhills is a small city in central Florida about 35 minutes away from the Tampa airport. There isn't much in this small city other than a Ruby Tuesday and other random hole-in-the-wall restaurants. So some friends and I ventured over to Best Thai & Sushi to see what they might offer.

Located in a strip mall with just a banner in front as its sign, it certainly wasn't the most attractive facade. But, they told us over the phone that they did not put fish sauce in everything so it was the best option we had.

When we arrived at about 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday, there weren't many people there. I started with the tofu soup made with diced tofu and vegetables in a clear broth. It was pretty good.

A friend of mine had the seaweed salad, which seemed fine, but nothing special.

We also tried the edamame, which was a bit oversteamed and underspiced.

For my entree, I ordered the tofu in basil sauce made with stir fried basil, bell peppers, onions, scallions, and carrots in a housemade basil sauce. The tofu tasted like it was pan fried until it was rubbery or else it was just sitting around for a long time and the entree itself was not that warm. In any case, it was edible and I was hungry so I cleaned my plate anyway. I did appreciate that they offered brown rice as an option.

The one thing I didn't like is that there are no alcoholic drinks at this restaurant. They do, however, allow you to bring your own, which we decided to do as soon as we realized we could.

All in all, the service was fine, the food was edible, and the prices were fairly cheap. The next time I get stuck in this city, I would definitely come back, but only because there really aren't many vegan options within a 20-mile radius. As for the name, it definitely isn't the best Thai I've ever had. Perhaps it is just the best Thai and sushi in Zephyrhills.

Best Thai & Sushi
35354 State Road 54
Zephyrhills, FL 33541
(813) 782-2201

Best Thai Sushi on Urbanspoon