Thursday, January 31, 2013

Source, San Francisco

A vegan restaurant called "Source" opened up in downtown San Francisco in March of 2011. The concept is a multi-dimensional dining experience complete with vibrational elixirs, high vibrational sound, purified air, and water filtered through a four-step process. Andrew Fox, Co-Owner, describes it as "an energetic spa where your soul is being fed, your body is being fed, and your mind is being fed." The reviews on Yelp sounded pretty good so Zach and I went to check it out.

We walked in around 5 p.m. on a Sunday night and there was already a long line to the counter. One of the servers invited us to sit at a table and take some time to look at the menu before waiting in line so we did so. The menu didn't seem to have much of a theme. It was all vegetarian while everything can be made vegan so that is good. But, the choices ranged from pizza, burgers, and hot dogs to Indian dosas. I immediately felt like this place lacked direction.

I wanted to start with an elixir, but it wasn't at all clear as to what was in each one or what they tasted like. When I inquired to the server, she didn't know either. So, the owner came over and told me not to choose by taste or ingredients, but rather by what I need at this moment. Okay, I was immediately transported to hippie land. I was open to that, but worried I'd choose something I didn't like and for $7 per drink, I didn't want to take a chance. But, I guess I had to.

After a bit, we walked up to the counter and placed our order. We ordered an appetizer, two drinks, and two entrees and were a bit surprised that the total was $52. That seemed a bit pricey for a seat-yourself cafe.

We took a seat near the window and waited for our food. They brought out the drinks first. I ordered the Expressed Heart (was I in Cafe Gratitude??), which was described as, "heart cordial, chrysocolla angelica - throat chakra." Well, I guess I didn't need a throat chakra because I really disliked it. It was watery and didn't have a pleasant taste. They let me order a different one and it wasn't much different. I gave up at that point. -1

We ordered the baked vegan spinach and artichoke fondue to start, which was served with pita bread. This fondue was made of a cashew cream base that was way too runny -- it was nothing like fondue and it had very little flavor. Very disappointing. Another -1.

For my entree, I ordered the Jamaican Jerked Cluck (all of the fake meat is named by the sound the animal makes) along with a house salad. I was served fries instead and had to request the salad I had already paid extra for. Ugh.  I finally got my salad and dug in. The sandwich really wasn't that flavorful. The fake chicken balls were good, but the spice wasn't there. Jamaican Jerk is supposed to be really spicy and this wasn't. It was so disappointing.

The owner stopped by to talk to us probably because I was taking pictures of my food, which always attracts some attention. He said that almost everything is made in-house including the breads, which I really appreciate. The fake meats and desserts were the only items not made in-house as the desserts come from Wholesome Bakery. I told him I was expecting the sandwich to be spicier and he mentioned they had two housemade hot sauces available. I ordered the extra spicy habanero sauce. Now, that sauce is burn-yo-ass-off hot and very good.

I have to say that the salad, sadly, was the best part of the meal. It was loaded with fresh greens, spinach, raisins, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds with a delightful house dressing.

Zach ordered the Cluck Avocado Club with Beyond Meat, a new faux meat product that is being described as the closest thing to real chicken ever. And I would have to agree. I liked the Beyond Meat, but it was a little scary eating something that was so similar to chicken. The texture and the taste were just like chicken -- many say it is even better than chicken. Beyond Meat has the potential to change the world, but I digress. Overall, besides the Beyond Meat, the sandwich wasn't anything special.  But, Zach liked it.

In the end, I felt like I had been jipped a multi-dimensional dining experience. What I got was a one-dimensional experience with food and drinks that needed more flavor. The ambiance left much to be desired as well as the dining room was very plain.  In a city with tons of vegan options, this restaurant shouldn't be at the top of your list. I really appreciate what they are trying to do and that the food is very fresh, but as a restaurant, the food also has to taste good. Next time, we'll go to Herbivore instead.

11 Division Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 864-9000

Source on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chicago O'Hare Airport Vegan Options

As you may have noticed, I travel a lot and I thought it might be helpful to start sharing my favorite places to eat in each airport. I've decided to start by profiling Chicago O'Hare, the second busiest airport in the U.S.

I've walked through this airport enough times to know where I want to eat. My first stop is usually Nuts On Clark where I can get some of the best roasted salted cashews in America. See my full review here.

My next stop is CIBO Express located in Terminal 2. This convenience store offers the most options for vegans of anywhere else in this airport.

They have an entire wall of freshly packaged nuts, trail mixes, and dried fruits.

They also have a nice selection of fresh fruits.

But, best of all, they offer vegan entrees, sandwiches, and salads made by Soul Gourmet. On this visit, they had a tofu wrap and a vegan Jerusalem steak. I chose the Vegan Jerusalem Steak along with a Vegan Super Green Salad.  The Jerusalem steak sandwich was made with peppered seitan, green bell peppers, and onions. It was delicious.

The super green salad was made with kale, parsley, red pepper, garlic, and onions. I tried to eat a little bit, then put it away, but it was so good that I had devoured the whole thing within the hour.

CIBO also offers the Ritter Sport marizpan chocolates and Vosges' delicious vegan chocolates. As a side note, Vosges also has a store in one of the terminals that has many more options.

There really is no better place to eat in O'Hare than CIBO Express. But, if you happen to know of other options, please let me know!

CIBO Express
Terminal 2
Chicago O'Hare Airport

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Marinelli's - Pasta Sauces

There is something to be said about eye-catching packaging. While walking through my local Whole Foods one day, I saw this really cool box of pasta sauce. It had a face sketched on the box in black and white with spaghetti noodles and sauce hanging out of the mouth in color. Intriguing, to say the least. Then, when I picked up the box and turned it over and saw that they were certified vegan, gluten-free, Kosher, and Non-GMO Project Verified, I had to find out more about them.

The company is Marinelli's and they've been making "True Italian Pasta Sauce" for over 10 years out of Niagara Falls, Ontario.  I know what you are thinking -- there are so many pasta sauces out there. What makes Marinelli's unique? Well, a few things. First, all of their sauces are handmade in small batches from fresh, all natural ingredients. They do not use any artificial colors, flavors or additives. They don't even add any sugar to any of their sauces. And when I say "fresh", I mean fresh -- onions are peeled, diced, and then sauteed in fresh oil, all by hand. The company even roasts and grinds its own black pepper at its facilities. And they only make 950 jars at a time -- hand-numbering each one.

They sent me two of their flavors to try -- the Caramelized Onion Cipollata and the Classic Marinara. Of the two, I think I enjoyed the classic marinara the best.

The marinara just tasted so fresh and balanced as it is made with vine-ripened tomatoes, cold-pressed certified extra virgin olive oil, sauteed Spanish onions, garlic, genovese basil leaf, sea salt, ground black pepper, and chili flakes. They never use frozen, dehydrated, pre-cooked, or pre-processed foods -- just fresh vegetables and you can really tell the difference.

The caramelized onion cipollata was great as well. Made with Spanish onions, it had a light, sweet onion taste in a chunky tomato sauce. I found the flavors of this sauce to be well-balanced as well.

To top it all off, I found out that all of their flavors are vegan!  This includes Marinelli's No Meat Bolognese, Mushroom Soffritto, Sweet Pepperonata Primavera, Roasted Sweet Red Pepper, and Spicy Peperoncino Arrabiatta. Gosh, those sound good! At $10 a jar, the sauces are pricey, but considering that you are getting a very fresh, natural pasta sauce made in small batches, I don't think the price is too high. If only I could find that No Meat Bolognese locally! If you can't find them in your area, you can buy them in packages of six on Amazon here. I'll be keeping a lookout for arrabiatta too -- it sounds so good!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Chipotle-Style Burrito - Veganized

Who doesn't love Chipotle burritos? I don't mean chipotle-spiced, I mean burritos from Chipotle! But, as much as I love the burritos from Chipotle, I rarely eat there. This is mostly because the burritos are humongous and I go into a food coma every time I eat one. So what is it that makes them so good -- is it their black beans? No, they aren't particularly good. The salsa? No. Guac? No. I think the secret is in that cilantro-lime rice. So I did a little research and I found a recipe written by a former Manager at Chipotle that did the trick. That's right - I attempted to recreate the Chipotle burrito, but not only recreate - I wanted to improve upon it as well. And so I present you with my healthy, spicy, delicious version of a Chipotle burrito.

The Chipotle burrito is described on the website as: "Flour tortilla, choice of cilantro-lime rice, pinto or vegetarian black beans, meat (braised carnitas or barbacoa, adobo-marinated and grilled chicken or steak) or guacamole, salsa and cheese or sour cream." Okay, fine. So I used burrito-size tortillas made with organic sprouted wheat made by Alvarado St. Bakery -- better than white tortillas. I made my own cilantro-lime rice using brown basmati rice and used a safflower oil instead of vegetable -- slightly healthier. I used Better Bean uncanny refried black beans sauteed with serrano and habanero peppers -- oh so good. In place of the meat, I used Gardein Chick'n Scallopini breasts and sauteed them with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. For the cheese, I used Daiya vegan cheddar cheese shreds. I also made fresh guacamole, roasted corn, and pico de gallo.

Finally, because I used chipotle peppers with the Gardein and habanero peppers in my guacamole, I chose a salsa that wasn't spicy to complement it all -- The Brooklyn Salsa Company's The Pure. This salsa is a satisfyingly pure Mexican-inspired salsa made with heirloom tomatoes, mangoes, green bell peppers, and onions and is one of the best salsas I've ever had.

If you love Chipotle burritos, I think you'll love mine even more.

Chipotle-Style Burrito
Serves 6

Ingredients for Cilantro-Lime Rice
  • 1 1/3 cup brown Basmati rice
  • 2 2/3 cup water
  • 3/4 lime, juiced
  • 4 tsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp safflower oil

Other ingredients
First, start making the rice. Put the rice and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on medium heat until soft, but not overcooked -- about 35 to 40 minutes. Add more water as needed.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the roasted corn. Preheat the oven to 425-degrees. Toss the corn kernels in oil, place on a baking sheet, and roast for 20 minutes or so until they appear done, but aren't burning. Keep checking them!

Next, place 5-6 Gardein scallopinis and saute them with the chipotle chilis in adobo sauce for about 10-15 minutes on medium heat. Once removed from the heat, dice into large pieces.

Now you can get the Better Bean beans heated up in another saucepan on medium-low heat.

Once the rice is done, remove it from the heat, then mix in the lime juice, cilantro, salt, and oil.

Next, heat a grill pan up on medium heat. You will need to heat your tortillas to make them pliable so you can make the burrito. You can either do this by placing one on the grill pan one-at-a-time and heating for a couple minutes or you can wrap one in paper towels and heat it in the microwave for a few seconds. The key is not to overheat them as they will get hard if you do.

Put all of your toppings into bowls and get crackin'!

Place some rice, beans, Gardein, corn and vegan cheese in the burrito.

Optional: you can roll it up and place it on the grill pan for a minute or so to allow the cheese to melt and get it all grilled and crispy.

Once you are finished grilling it or if you decided not to, the next step is to add all of the cold items -- guacamole, pico de gallo, and salsa.

Roll it up like a burrito and enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Average Joe - Artisan Bread Kit

As you may have noticed, I don't bake much. But, when I met Joe Bellavance at the Fancy Food Show last summer, he convinced me that I, a mere mortal, could bake artisan bread in my home. I cited his new Average Joe Artisan Bread Kit as one of my favorite products at the show and he kindly sent me a sample. Heck, if this kit is for the average Joe, then surely I could do it, right?!  The answer is yes, but because of my funky oven, it took me a few tries.

The Cook's Edition kit (there are several others) comes with everything you need to make 3 loaves of bread and then some, that is, assuming that you have basic kitchen tools at home.  It includes an instruction booklet, King Arthur bread flour, bread dust, finishing salts, yeast, baker's blade, scraper, and bread pot. I will admit that it was quite the intimidating package when I opened it up, considering that I've never tried making my own bread.

I started reading through the instruction booklet to prepare. Joe starts off with his own story, which is comforting as he calls himself "a hack baker who loves good bread." Joe is not a trained baker or chef, but he does love bread. So, he figured out how to make it without using expensive bread pots. The bread pot included in the kit is lightweight and durable and works well while still being inexpensive.

So I gave it a go. For my first attempt, on Day 1, I mixed the water, yeast, and bread flour, then added some salt. I covered it and set it aside to allow it to rise for 18-24 hours. Okay, simple enough.

On Day 2, I was ready to make bread. I started by sprinkling bread dust into the bread pot. This is the crumbly stuff on the bottom of a loaf of bread. Next, I used the dough scraper to remove the risen dough from the mixing bowl to put it onto a floured surface. I shaped the dough into a ball, then placed the ball into the bread pot. I let it rise again for another 60 minutes. It looked perfect.

I spritzed it with a little water, topped it with coarse red sea salt, then scored it with a baker's blade so it would open up nicely in the oven.

I baked it covered for 35 minutes at 425-degrees, then removed the cover and baked it for another 25 minutes. Everything was going great until that final uncovered baking session. After about 20 minutes, I smelled burning. The bottom of my bread had burned to the pot. I was so sad. I pulled out what I could salvage and let it cool on a cooling rack. the top of the bread was light, airy, and crusty - just as it should be. It was almost perfect, but I had no idea what had gone wrong.

So, I wrote to Joe and he sent me some suggestions. I needed to add more bread dust this time. He also said the bread shouldn't have burned and may have done so because (a) my oven runs hot or (b) the air circulates like a convection oven. I have a GE Profile oven and I can hear the air circulating so that is true. That seems to be a pretty big issue when making bread. He advised me to only bake it for 10 minutes with the cover off next time.

Second attempt: This one was worse than the first and I suspect it was my fault. I think I didn't measure the ingredients carefully. The dough was too runny and never formed a nice ball so it ran into the sides of the pot and burned to the pot. Ugh. Joe wanted a conference call. We walked through the steps and he made a few more suggestions.

Third attempt: I changed a few things.
  1. I removed 1 Tbsp of water from the recipe to make sure it wouldn't be too runny.
  2. I spent a little time kneading the dough on the first day.
  3. I used lots of bread dust in the pot.
  4. I used a new packet of yeast.
  5. When shaping the dough on the second day, I repeated the shaping exercise 10 times to form a tighter crumb.
  6. I only cooked it for 10 minutes with the cover off.
  7. I watched it closely while it was baking to ensure it didn't burn.
The result -- an absolutely delicious hot, steamy, crusty bread -- a perfect artisan loaf. And now I have so much more respect for bread bakers! But, actually, through this process, I realized how easy it is, once you get the technique down, to make bread. The main problem was that my oven circulates the air. I think if this weren't the case, the first loaf would have been perfect. And Joe is absolutely wonderful. He responded to my emails so quickly, ready to help, and encouraged me not to give up.

This bread kit would make a fantastic gift for an aspiring bread baker. The Cook's Edition, which is the one that I used sells for $39 here. The gift edition that comes with everything you could ever need including measuring spoons retails for $99, but you can purchase it on Amazon for $79 here. Once you have the bread pot, you can just order more refills for $15. Not bad considering how much a fresh loaf can cost these days. And, it is a really fun project. Thanks, Joe, for putting this together!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Souley Vegan, Oakland

The best vegan soul food I've ever had has been at Souley Vegan in Oakland. This is the land of soul where fried chicken meets its match with fried tofu cooked to perfection. Since 2006, the owner, Tamearra Dyson, has been serving her community healthy vegan options (um, other than the deep-fried options) and has been amazed at the impact she has had. Now her customers come from all walks of life and include vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores.

This was our first time returning here in years and we were pumped.  The outside facade is an unassuming white stucco building with a large sign that stated, "Souley Vegan - Vegan Soul Food," on it. The inside, however, is very warm and inviting with bright red walls and eclectic artwork showcasing African American legends. The front half is more of a cafe setup while the back half is more of a bar setup with a full bar. We grabbed a menu from the front and began perusing.  I ultimately decided to order the 3-item sampler while Zach ordered a sandwich and fries. We took a seat and awaited our order.

I started with a cayenne lemonade that came in a plain plastic bottle. I loved it. Zach ordered a tea.

My three-item sampler consisted of two pieces of southern fried tofu, macaroni and cheese, and greens. This was a meal fit for a queen. There are no words that can describe just how good this southern fried tofu is. I don't know how they do it, but they take a large block of tofu and deep fry it in a special batter that produces this thickly crusted tofu that is absolutely delicious. Zach had the same tofu on a sandwich, which he preferred over mine. It is served with a garlic alioli and hot sauce -- the perfect condiments. On the side were some mustard greens cooked with fresh onions, herbs, spices, and fresh sauteed tomatoes. So good. Also served was a macaroni and cheese made with rigatoni noodles and a nutritional yeast-based cheese. The mac and cheese was very hearty.

Zach ate his sandwich and fries up like there was no tomorrow. Even the seasoned fries he ordered were exceptionally good.

Unfortunately, it was so filling that neither of us had room for dessert. The desserts looked amazing though -- cakes, cupcakes, and cookies that are all made in-house.

I'm not quite sure how healthy the entire meal was. I mean, I think the mac and cheese and greens were pretty healthy, but the deep-fried tofu - not so much. But, you know, sometimes you have to live a little. The meal was a bit pricey at $11 for my plate, but certainly not overpriced. If you are anywhere near the East Bay, you have to come try the soul food here. I promise you won't regret it.

Souley Vegan
301 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 922-1615

Souley Vegan on Urbanspoon