Monday, September 30, 2013

Natural Products Expo East 2013

Another fall, another show!  Once again, I headed over to the Natural Products Expo East to discover new products and reconnect with old friends. Although the show seemed smaller and less busy than in previous years, I still discovered some great products. Here are my top picks of the show in no particular order.

#1 Treeline vegan cheese (soft and hard)

#2 Green Mustache organic smoothies

#3 Mira's Homemade organic granola

#4 Rhythm Superfoods chips

#5 Wonderfully Raw organic brussel bytes

#6 DF Mavens new vegan ice cream flavors in smaller sizes

It was another great show overall. On another note, I left the show annoyed by three things in particular:
  1. A lack of understanding of what is vegan: one person actually said his product may be vegan depending upon how vegan I was. Of course, this guy was referring to the fact that his product contained honey. I'm getting more annoyed by this by the day. By definition, a product is not vegan if it contains honey. End of story.
  2. Stevia -- it is in everything and I don't like it. I prefer natural cane sugar.
  3. Serving vegan products on non-vegan bread or making vegan cake mixes with eggs and/or milk. I experienced both scenarios at the show. If you make a vegan product and promote it as such, please serve it with other vegan products.
See ya next year, Baltimore! And with that behind me, now I can begin the countdown to Expo West. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sweet Leaf Iced Tea

Do you want to try our tea? Eh, I don't drink tea. But, wait, that would be something new for me and I'm all about opening my mind to new things. So, instead, I said, "send them my way!" Sweet Leaf Beverage Company has been making sweet iced tea since 1998 straight out of Austin and has been steadily expanding their distribution ever since. They shipped four flavors to me to try and I must say, I liked them all!

The Raspberry flavor was probably my favorite with its sugar sweetness, rich raspberry flavor, and black tea goodness, it was a refreshing tea.

The Citrus was simply green tea with hints of citrus. The Original was another one of my favorites. It's a premium black tea sweetened with real cane sugar (as they all are.)

Then there is the Lemonade Tea which mixes black tea and lemon juice for a lemon punch.

I like that they are certified organic and made with real cane sugar. I'm just not a big fan of Stevia and that nasty sweetener has been showing up in everything lately so I'm glad it isn't in these teas. So for a non-tea drinker, I may just make the switch. You can call me a tea-drinker now...or at least a sweet tea-drinker.

To try some for yourself, you can order them here or you will find them in a grocery store near you retailing for $1.27 for a 16-ounce bottle.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Roasted Baby Potatoes with Sorrel

I love buying the tricolor baby potatoes not only because look great, but, also because each color tastes a bit different from the other. So, it keeps things interesting throughout dinner! For this side dish, I roasted the tricolor potatoes with sorrel.

The picture under "ingredients" shows parsley because I was going to use parsley, then realized I needed to use my sorrel (shown below). Either one will work, but you'll end up with completely different tastes depending upon which one you use. Sorrel has a bright, tart flavor to it that is very distinctive and it goes nicely with potatoes. I also used nutritional yeast to add a nutty, cheesy taste and another layer of flavor.

In this dish, I used Bill Sanders' First Fresh extra virgin olive oil. The olive oil you use in this dish matters because it is one of only a few flavors included in this recipe. In DC, you can find this olive oil at Calvert Woodley, Cleveland Park Fine Wines, and Weygandt Wines.

Roasted Baby Potatoes with Sorrel

  • 2 lbs tricolor baby potatoes, quartered
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 3 Tbsp sorrel, minced
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, nutritional yeast, and sorrel and season with sea salt. Put the potatoes in a large bowl. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and toss gently to coat.

Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast until tender and lightly browned, about 35 minutes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Joel Palmer House, Willamette Valley OR

As soon as I scheduled my wine tasting trip to Willamette Valley, I took a look at the fine dining establishments in that area. And lo and behold, that's when I realized that The Joel Palmer House was there. I only know of The Joel Palmer House because I met the former chef, Jack Czarnecki, at the Fancy Food Show in DC as he was displaying his pinot sauces at one of the booths. So as soon as I saw that I would be staying very close to his restaurant, I reached out to him to find out if they might accommodate vegans to which he replied, "absolutely," and then offered to take me truffle hunting as well. Wow! I was so excited.

Come to find out that Jack Czarnecki is known to be an expert on truffles and The Joel Palmer House specializes in mushroom and truffle dishes. This was sounding like a dream come true. You might be wondering who the heck Joel Palmer is, as was I. He was one of Oregon's pioneers who co-founded the town of Dayton in 1848 and built his home in 1857, which is now where the restaurant is housed. In 1996, Jack Czarnecki purchased the Joel Palmer House and moved their restaurant there. In 2008, Jack retired and sold the business to his son Chris Czarnecki, who is now the current chef.

After spending the day truffle hunting with Jack, we arrived covered in dirt to this fancy restaurant. They allowed us to go upstairs to change into more suitable attire, then we were seated in one of the many dining areas. As a historic home, the grand pillars made it feel like you were dining in the White House, but inside it was nothing but cozy. They had a special menu planned for us and I was so excited for it to begin.

The amuse bouche consisted of three tartares. On the left was one made of cauliflower and white truffle oil, in the middle was one with carrots and black trumpet mushrooms, and on the right was one made of beets with black truffle oil. They were all so rich and flavorful.

They also served bread with a truffle-spread made with vegan butter and fresh truffles. My friend, Corey, couldn't keep his hands off of it.

For the wine, we had heard they had one of the most impressive wine lists in the area and we would agree. After speaking to their famous sommelier, we chose a 2007 Ken Wright red wine from the Canary Hill Vineyards. Loved this wine.

For the first course, we had a mushroom soup with tofu puree. It had an incredibly earthy flavor with a creamy puree. I seriously could have stopped at this course.

For the second course, we were served compressed honeydew topped with pickled radishes and set in avocado oil. For the watermelon ball, they compressed it in a vacuum sealer. The olive oil lemon sorbet was made with liquid nitrogen. Then there was the truffle powder. This was a neat way for the chef to show off his molecular gastronomy skills.

As a palate cleanser, we had a candy cap mushroom sorbet with rhubarb caviar. By this point, we were so impressed with the flavor pairings, we just couldn't wait to see what was coming next.

For the third course, we were served one of the most amazing dishes of the night. Thick black and white quinoa cakes were served in a red bell pepper couli and topped with porcini mushrooms, hazelnuts, and shaved truffles. The entire meal was just bursting with flavor as the quinoa soaked up the coulis and added sweetness to the hearty cakes. On the side were fava beans with diced onions.

The fourth course was a mish-mash of a bunch of different things presented on a slate. There was a delicious garbanzo bean hummus and a strawberry peach roll-up. Kiwi was served in a thinly sliced pineapple slice with pomegranate seeds. There was pickled asparagus and rhubarb. And best of all, was the hazelnut brittle.

As if that wasn't enough, next we were served a rich porcini risotto with white truffles topped with a morel mushroom stuffed with asparagus and bell pepper puree. It was like this unexpected amazingness!

Lastly we enjoyed a butternut squash and candy cap mushroom pie with a candy rum snowball on top and a candy cap mushroom.

By the end of the meal, we were just blown away. For every course, Chris came out and told us about each item and it was clear he had put a lot of thought into these vegan dishes which were all off-menu. From start to finish, we were amazed at the unusual flavor pairings and impressed with the complexity of the dishes.  The wine was incredibly good as well. For $65 per person, this meal was incredibly reasonable and I would highly recommend a visit to this restaurant to complement your visit to the wine country. I only hope I will have the honor to return sometime soon.

The Joel Palmer House
600 Ferry Street
Dayton, OR 97114
(503) 864-2995

The Joel Palmer House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 21, 2013

DC VegFest 2013 is Almost Here!

Words can't express how excited I am for the DC VegFest 2013 sponsored by Compassion Over Killing! Taking place on Saturday, September 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Yards Park in Washington, DC, this vegetarian festival promises to be bigger and better than ever. I recently attended a preview party and got the scoop on all the fun that is scheduled for this weekend. Here goes!

First off, the food! There are 111 vendors scheduled to be at the VegFest and you can bet that many of them will be there allowing you to sample and buy delicious vegan food! Some of the vendors include Pete's Apizza, Woodlands Vegan Bistro, Khepra's Juice Bar, Loving Hut, Mango Grove, and Beyond Meat.

And you better believe that sweets have not been left out of this mix. After you have some delicious falafels from Amsterdam Falafelshop, then head over to Sticky Fingers Sweets & Treats to get some of their amazing brownies.

Or try cookies made with the new Beyond Eggs product by Hampton Creek Foods.

Or better yet, go home with a mix of truffles like cookie dough covered in Oreos, caramels, and a vegan version of Mounds all wrapped up in a Vegan Treats truffle box.

Oh, and in-between your three meals at VegFest, you'll be able to see awesome cooking demos by Dr. Ruby Lathon, Dan & Annie Shannon, authors of Betty Goes Vegan, Ayinde Howell, and Doron Petersan of Sticky Fingers.

There are some great speakers as well. For example:
  • 12:20 p.m.:  Paul Shapiro: From the Margins to the Mainstream: Veg Eating in America 
  • 12:55 p.m.:  Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Finding Myself
  • 1:30 p.m.:    Dr. Milton Mills: Improve Your Health and Longevity with a Plant-Based Diet
  • 2:45 p.m.:    Josh Tetrick: Beyond Eggs: The Future of Food
And throughout the day, you can stop by the vendors and learn about whatever you'd like. Examples of some nonprofits that will be there are: Vegan Outreach, The Humane League, PCRM, and Vegetarian Society of DC.

Other commercial vendors will include: vegan sausages by Field Roast and Tofurky, bars by Kate Bakes, raw tonics and treats by Gouter, and amazing vegan cheeses by Treeline Treenut Cheese. The cheeses are so good!

Then, head over to the beer and wine garden sponsored by Bread & Brew to try their signature cocktails.

And if all of that didn't entice you to come join us at the DC VegFest, I don't know what will. Perhaps the official proclamation from Mayor Gray that September 28th is DC VegFest Day and that the mayor is ordering all people within a 50-mile radius to go to the VegFest will help you make your decision.

Lastly, if I can leave you with an insider tip, it is to get there early! The first 1,000 people will get a commemorative bag loaded with great vegan products and other items! Last year, the line started early so line up around 10:30 to get awesome, free goodies, then spend the day at VegFest! I hope to see you there!

Yards Park is located at 10 Water Street SE, Washington, DC -- just a few blocks off the Navy Yard Metro stop on the green line.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Vegan Cuts Snack Box

Who doesn't love surprises? I know I do! And I love snacks! That makes the Vegan Cuts Snack Box a perfect choice for me. If you aren't familiar with Vegan Cuts, you don't know what you are missing. It is the best way to stay on top of what is new and hip in the vegan world. There you can buy all kinds of cool stuff at discount prices. And on top of that, you can subscribe to their snack box deliveries to have a surprise box of vegan goodies delivered to your door monthly!

Last month's box featured all kinds of good stuff. I think my favorite item was Emmy's Organics raw Lemon Ginger macaroons! They were so moist and perfectly flavored. I gobbled them all up very quickly.

Other items included LesserEvil's smokey-sweet Southern BBQ Chia Crisps, Pretzel Crisps, and Angie's Popcorn Boom Chicka Pop.

The best part really is getting a box of goodies and not knowing what is inside until you open it. Surprise!  To subscribe, just go here. For $19.95 per month, you can get your own surprise box of goodies too!

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hunting for White Truffles in Oregon

As soon as I decided to head to Willamette Valley to go wine tasting, I contacted Jack Czarnecki, famed Oregon mushroom expert, cookbook author and former chef and owner of The Joel Palmer House. I contacted him to see if The Joel Palmer House might be able to accommodate a vegan diner. Well, not only did he tell me they would, but he said he'd also like to personally take me and my friend truffle hunting. Now this was something I'd never done!

I'm not talking about chocolate truffles. I'm talking about the amazing fungus that grows underground and costs a fortune to buy. Truffles are a rare delicacy in this world. There are black ones and white ones and in Oregon, you can find the white truffles.

So we met Jack on a Thursday afternoon in Dayton, Ohio. As my friend, Corey, and I changed into our truffle hunting gear, Jack immediately asked me if I was wearing a belt. Before we came out, he told me to wear boots, pants, and a belt. Corey and I kind of chuckled at the requirement for a belt as we had no idea why he specified that. As I don't even own a belt and am pretty certain my pants would stay up, I opted not to bring one. Then when Jack asked me about it, I had to ask him why it was necessary. He uses his belt to hang an empty milk carton that he uses to collect the truffles. He said it is easier than trying to hold it. Oh well - I'll just have to make due without one.

So we got into the truffle mobile and headed out. After driving for about 10 minutes, we arrived at this lady's house. Jack knew her very well so we chatted for a bit, then headed into the woods. Our mission was to find truffles in these woods, but I had no idea how we were going to do that.

We each had a rake and a milk carton. Jack started telling us about how you can often find truffles growing at the base of the Douglas Firs, but that they can also be found by other trees. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit he shared with us is that truffles give off a strong aroma (gases) to attract animals to eat them as they can not reproduce without being consumed by animals. Small animals consume the truffles and the spores of the truffle remain intact in the intestinal system of the animals. Then, when they defecate, the spores are released onto the soil where they have the opportunity to grow in another part of the forest. And that is how they reproduce.

So we began raking and almost immediately, Jack found a truffle. He showed us what it looked like -- it was a round, white truffle, covered in dirt and was quite firm. So we started raking. It was a while before we found any, but eventually we got the hang of it. We found them in mossy areas the most and every once in a while hit the jackpot and found a bunch in one area. It was so much fun -- like looking for gold.

Many people asked me if we'd be using pigs or dogs to hunt the truffles. Apparently, the Italian white truffle emits a gas which has an aroma similar to that of a pheromone found in the mouth of a boar. Sows are used to hunt truffles because they are very sensitive to that odor so that when the sow sniffs it she thinks she'll soon be on a "date".  The bad thing about using boars is that they try to eat the truffle as soon as they find it. Dogs are considered to be at least as good as sows for hunting truffles, but, unlike the sows, they must be trained. Once trained to find them, however, they are usually indifferent to the truffle's allure.  So the dogs will find them, but not eat them. But, Jack is so good that he doesn't need either.

 As we were raking, we realized how much we were digging up the soil and asked Jack if we were doing any harm. It is his theory that raking is actually beneficial for the health of the trees in the same way that other more traditional methods of aeration are beneficial. Provided the roots are not torn or otherwise damaged, aeration of the soil by raking allows more oxygen to reach the termini of the roots thereby allowing the root system to penetrate deeper into the soil and produce a longer living and healthier tree.

After a full two hours of raking, we realized just how much work this really was and were ready to head back. All in all, we found tons of truffles that we took back to the restaurant and were pleasantly surprised when he told us we could keep our truffles.

This was an amazing experience that I will never forget and am truly thankful for Jack for allowing us to experience the joy of truffle hunting with him. Now, I'm going to go cook with some of his famous truffle oil. :-)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Portobello Vegan Trattoria, Portland

The last time I visited Portland, I left with fond memories of one of Portland's nicer vegan restaurants, Portobello Vegan Trattoria. So it was on the top of my list of restaurants to hit for dinner on this trip.

My friends and I arrived around 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night with reservations for four and were promptly seated. It is a small restaurant with a fairly simple decor featuring local artists' works on the walls. We all started with some drinks. With it being my first day in Portland, I felt it appropriate to start with a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley so I went with the only one you could buy by the glass on the menu -- Tyee from 2009. It was very good, but highly priced at $14 per glass. My friends ordered some cocktails.

We started with a couple of appetizers. Out of all the things we ate for dinner, I think the best tasting item was the Beet Tartare appetizer.  It was made of cashew cheese topped with chopped roasted beets tossed with carrot aioli and capers served with olive oil and garnished with chopped parsley. It was thick, creamy, and deliciously satisfying on the sliced baguette. And did I mention how beautiful it looked?! I think I ate like four slices of baguettes generously topped with this tartare.

We also ordered the Asparagus Fries, which were coated in tempura. Everyone loved these although I found them to be quite oily. I guess I'm just not a big fan of fried food. I did love the cashew-based sauce they were served with though.

The seasonal menu of entrees is quite short with only two burgers, six plates, and several pizzas to choose from. Still, I had a hard time deciding what to order. Ultimately, I went with the English Pea Ravioli with Morels only because morel mushrooms are my favorite and I love fresh pasta. It is difficult to get fresh vegan pasta, especially ravioli, because most restaurants use eggs and/or dairy in the preparation of pastas so I was particularly excited. When I tried the ravioli, I thought it was quite good, but not as mind-blowing as I had expected it to be. The ravioli was stuffed with peas, shallots, and mint and served with morel and cremini mushrooms in a light sauce with mint. It had a bit too much mint for me that I didn't think went well with this dish.

I ended up switching dishes with one of my friends and finishing his instead. He ordered the Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables. These handmade potato dumplings were sauteed with snap peas and asparagus and served with a parsley pistou. This dish was quite good.

Another friend of mine ordered the Portobello Burger. This burger was actually a roasted portobello cap  served with greens and a red marinara sauce with cashew cheese. It was fine, but I didn't find it to be anything special.

My other friend ordered the Portobello Roast, which sounded kind of boring, but turned out to be very good. The sundried tomato polenta was cooked into a patty and served with slices of roasted portobello and sauteed greens with a roasted garlic cashew cream sauce. I really enjoyed trying this dish.

By dessert time, we were all glad we had ordered the smaller portions of each dish because we had to try the desserts.  And we went a bit out of control by ordering three desserts. Hey - we were on vacation - no judging.

We started by trying their famous tiramisu -- a dessert nearly impossible to find vegan. This dessert made with housemade lady fingers soaked in coffee, Marsala-spiked vegan mascarpone cheese, dark chocolate, and a dusting of cocoa was very satisfying though not as good as I had remembered. The cake layers were soft and the cheese was a nice texture, but it really didn't blow me away the way that I had remembered.

Next, we had the Hot Fudge Sundae, which was amazing. It was made with coconut milk-based salted caramel ice cream and topped with toasted pine nuts, chocolate syrup, caramel, and vegan whipped cream.

But, most amazing of all was the Chocolate Caramel Bomb. This mousse-filled chocolate shell was topped with the same caramel and chocolate sauce as the sundae and with a praline sauce made in house. It's a party and an explosion in your mouth all at the same time.

All in all, I'd say my experience at Portobello Vegan Trattoria was a very good one. Of all the dishes, the beet tartare, gnocchi with spring vegetables, and chocolate caramel bomb were my favorites. At only $12-$14 per entree, the meal was a bargain. And the service was great. In the end, I think I just set my expectations way too high and was a bit disappointed. The food is very good, but this is not a 5-star restaurant. If you are looking for a great take on Italian entrees with a vegan twist, you have come to the right place. It isn't fine, upscale dining, but they do serve great food.

Portobello Vegan Trattoria
1125 SE Division Street
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 754-5993

Portobello Vegan Trattoria on Urbanspoon