Friday, February 28, 2014

Wine Tasting in Virginia

After having gone wine tasting in Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Yakima, and Willamette Valley, I realized I've never tried wine tasting in my backyard of Virginia. To be perfectly honest, I have only liked a handful of Virginia wines in my life and I didn't think it was worth spending a whole day out in Virginia wine tasting when the wines aren't that great. And, in the end, I was right.

We started at Linden Vineyards in Linden, VA. It wasn't a very nice looking tasting room, at least not compared to those I've been in in California. We tasted a number of wines including a 2011 Chardonnay, 2010 Petit Verdot, and a 2010 Vidal Riesling. I didn't think any of them were worth buying.

So we headed to Glen Manor. Glen Manor is the only Virginia wine I currently have in my wine cellar so I knew they made good wines. They only had three wines available to taste and I liked two of them enough to buy them. The 2010 Hodder Hill and 2011 Rapheus were amazing. The local wine store owner in my neighborhood said the problem with Virginia wines is that they are priced so high compared to California wines that they just aren't worth the money. He's probably right as the wines I bought were $50 and $30 so they weren't cheap.

Next, we headed to Chester Gap Cellars where we tried the 2012 Viognier, 2012 Viognier Reserve, 2011 Merlot, 2011 Cabernet Franc, and 2011 Cuvee Manseng. I didn't enjoy any of them. Not to mention there were children screaming in the tasting room, no bread or crackers, and they didn't provide us any information about the wine. Two thumbs down.

Lastly, we went to Desert Rose Ranch & Winery. This was a fun place. It had a lot of character with the employees dressed as cowboys and random stuff on display. We tried a number of wines and while none of them were very good, it was still a good time.

Reflecting upon this visit, I have reconfirmed the notion that it just isn't worth wine tasting in Virginia. Anyone up for a trip to Napa? Or better yet, Italy? Let's go!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chorizo Chili

What could be better than a big bowl of chili and some crusty grain bread on a cold, winter night?!  This Chorizo Chili combines hearty black beans and kidney beans with a rich tomato-based sauce, and spicy chorizo seitan for a very satisfying meal.

The star players in this dish include the Naked Infusions Signature Ripe Tomato salsa in Extra Hot Heat. These organic salsas are really just tomato-based sauces as they are blended like sauces and not chunky like other salsas. It makes a great base for a chili. And the Extra Hot Heat is really hot! Feel free to choose whatever level of heat you prefer.

I also used Upton's Naturals Chorizo Seitan, which I consider to be the best seitan available in my area. This flavor comes ground so it is easy to break up and use in chili. It has just enough spice to give it that chorizo flavor, but isn't overly spicy if you don't prefer the heat. And it's GMO-free! You can find it in the DC-area at Whole Foods, MOM's (My Organic Market), Roots Market, and the Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Co-Op.

Chorizo Chili
Serves 8

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 carrots, sliced 
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 habanero pepper (optional)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 package Upton's Naturals Chorizo Seitan
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Naked Infusions Signature Ripe Tomato salsa
  • Spring onions, sliced, for garnish

Heat a large saucepan on medium heat. Add olive oil, carrots, bell pepper, onion, habanero pepper, and garlic and cook for 3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. Add seitan and cook for 2 minutes.

Add cumin, chili powder and tomatoes and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Add salt, beans, and salsa and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat. Serve garnished with spring onions and crusty seeded bread.

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dandelion Communitea Cafe, Orlando, FL

I had the pleasure of heading down to Orlando for an event recently and reached out to my friends to ask if there was one place I should visit in Orlando, where would that be? Without hesitation, they told me to go to Dandelion Communitea Cafe. Founded in March of 2006, Dandelion Communitea has become a gathering place for the community as they not only offer delicious, fresh, organic, vegetarian food, but also a number of weekly events as well.

When I arrived on a dreary Wednesday afternoon, I was pleased to see that it was a cute, funky, stand-alone house painted green with a white porch. So, so cute. It was dark inside as I picked up a menu and tried to figure out how things worked. You place your order, pay up front, then wait at a table for your meal. I asked what was vegan and they said most things other than those specified with cheese were vegan. Wonderful!

After perusing the menu of salads, sandwiches, and classic dishes for a while, I finally made a decision, paid, took a number, and sat down. The dining area was really dark and on this dreary day, there was little sunlight to illuminate it. The dining room was minimally decorated with a wood floor, brown tables and plush chairs along with white curtains and wildly painted walls. As I waited, I had a sip of my Buchi Kombucha in Fire -- so spicy!

After a while, my meal came out. I ordered a simple Classic Dandy dish. You choose either a bowl or a wrap and with spring mix and/or quinoa. I chose a bowl of the Abundant Harvest with both spring mix and quinoa. I found it a bit amusing that it was on a plate not a bowl, but whatever. The dish was huge and was loaded with fresh organic ingredients such as garbanzo beans, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, corn, celery, broccoli, and scallions. It was tossed with sesame seeds and their homemade Green Goddess dressing. I loved it. I topped it with their Cashew Tempeh Tenders for an extra $3, which were pretty good. They also include your choice of a side so I went with the Whirled Peas Guacamole with chips -- again pretty good.

I was in quite a hurry so I ate as quickly as I could and left as I had to catch a plane. I was so happy to find fresh, organic meals in Orlando in a place where I could eat quickly and go. And for $17 for the entire meal and drink, I think it was appropriately priced. I will definitely be back to try other items on the menu the next time I'm in the area.

Dandelion Communitea Cafe
618 N. Thornton Avenue
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 362-1864

Dandelion Communitea Café on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dr-Cow's Tree Nut Cheese - Aged Cashew Nuts

With all the innovation in nut cheeses, one of the original players in the nut cheese business still has one of the best cheeses in the industry -- Dr-Cow.  I first discovered this cheese several years ago and now I get to experience it again because it's in my local grocery. Yes, kids, that's right -- Dr-Cow is now available at Whole Foods P Street in DC! Contain your excitement!

This small artisan cheesemaker makes cheese from 100% raw, organic nuts. They select the nuts and seeds, then mix the nuts with their homemade acidophilus and a little royal pink himalayan salt. They make the nut curd the same way traditional dairy cheese is made. And the best part is that there are no preservatives, stabilizers, artificial ingredients or additives of any kind.

Dr-Cow makes many varieties of hard nut cheeses. The ones I've had in the past have been pretty strong in flavor, which I like. This time I tried the simple Aged Cashew Nuts flavor.  It is a great tasting cheese -- mild enough in flavor to pair with olives or other strong flavors and perfect to top a Mary's Gone Crackers cracker, which also has a strong flavor. The texture is absolutely perfect -- not too hard or too soft. They really have perfected the hard nut cheese.

All of them are gluten-free, soy-free, organic, and vegan. At $9.99 each, they aren't cheap, but well worth it. So go get yourself some nut cheese at the local Whole Foods (in the cheese section).

You can thank me later.

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Potato and Kale Enchiladas

It's cold outside! And when it is cold, I seek comfort foods. Who couldn't find comfort in a Potato and Kale Enchilada?!  Potatoes, kale, and spicy sauce...oh my!

The idea came to me when I received samples of the Saucee sauces out of the San Francisco bay area. My last sauce to try was the Flax No. 5. The name is very deceiving. I was thinking flax seedy like sauce, but instead it was a burn-yo-butt off sauce. Made of just [organic] white vinegar, fresno chile peppers, garlic, sea salt, and flax seeds -- it turns out the flax seeds are more like an omega 3 booster rather than the flavor of the sauce. It is one of the hottest sauces I've ever had that isn't a "hot sauce" if you know what I mean. So I used it as an enchilada sauce and it was great, but hot! So I tempered the hot sauce with some guacamole and that balanced it out perfectly. Oh, and the organic Food for Life sprouted corn tortillas are a must! This is a cold, snowy, day meal that should satisfy anyone with a taste for hot stuff!

Potato and Kale Enchiladas
Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 small Yukon gold potatoes
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch kale, washed, trimmed, and chopped finely
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/4 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • Saucee Flax No. 5 sauce (used as enchilada sauce)
  • 12 corn tortillas (I like Food for Life sprouted corn tortillas)
  • Guacamole

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees and have a shallow casserole dish ready that is at least 11 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches.

Dice the potatoes, then boil them until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cook the olive oil and minced garlic in a saute pan over medium-low heat,  stirring occasionally until the garlic is sizzling and slightly browned, for just a few seconds. Add the kale and cumin, sprinkle with some salt, and raise the heat to medium, stirring constantly to cover the kale with the oil and garlic. Partially cover the pot to steam the kale until it has wilted, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Remove the lid and mix in the potatoes, vegetable stock or water, lime juice, pumpkin seeds, and salt. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until the stock is absorbed. Add more salt or lime juice to taste.

Put some of the Saucee sauce in a pie plate. Put a thin layer of the Saucee sauce in the casserole dish. Heat a pan big enough to heat tortillas. Take a corn tortilla, place it in the heated pan for 30 seconds, then flip it over and heat until the tortilla is soft and pliable. Drop the softened tortilla into the pie plate filled with sauce and allow it to get completely covered in sauce, then flip it over, and coat the other side. Now, place the tortilla in the casserole dish or on an additional plate. Run the potato and kale filling down the middle and roll it up. Place it seam side down in the casserole dish. Continue with the rest of the tortillas, tightly packing them next to each other in the dish.

Pour some sauce over the top (reserving some for later), cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Top individual servings with any remaining Saucee sauce, warmed slightly. Finish with a scoop of guacamole.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Le Pain Quotidien, Alexandria, VA #2

After a great experience at Le Pain Quotidien, I decided to go back with other coworkers two more times.  The second visit proved to be as good as the first. The third did not.

We sat upstairs again, away from the noise. We started with a vegan chai made with almond milk and mint lemonade. The mint lemonade was my favorite as there were big pieces of fresh mint in the lemonade. Yum!

I noticed a seasonal special that caught my eye -- vegan kale caesar. Yes, please. One of the women I was with was gluten-free and she asked if they could get some gluten-free bread. The server seemed to have gotten confused as he kept looking at me to let me know he could replace my bread. No, I wanted my normal bread. So, I tried to tell him that. He still brought the gluten-free bread for me so I had to send it back.

When the vegan kale Caesar arrived, my worries about it not being big enough were immediately relieved. It was huge and delicious! It was loaded with kale, organic carrots, shaved fennel, cabbage, croutons, and gomasio. There were tofu triangles with sauce all around it and an amazing miso-lapsang dressing. It was really good. And so was the gluten-rich bread.

I decided to return not too long after that visit for another lunch.  This visit was not as great. My coworker order the vegan kale Caesar and I decided to try the avocado & omega-3 tartine.

When my coworker's salad arrived, I asked what was on top of it. That's when the server said it was chicken. I told her we ordered the vegan salad and she apologized and offered to bring a new one. My coworker, who is not vegetarian, said there would be no need as she would eat it as is.

My avocado & omega-3 tartine was served on a dense bread and topped with a lot of mashed avocado as well as chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds and drizzled with cold-pressed colza oil. The four open-faced sandwiches were served with microgreens. They seemed very fresh and healthy, but needed something else. I put some salt and hot sauce on them and they were a bit better. I think they were just a bit too simple for me.

Afterwards, when our server picked up our plates, she apologized again for the salad. My coworker said it was fine as she wasn't vegan. The server then said one of the most offensive things I've ever heard in a restaurant. She said that vegans complain all the time and she thinks it is because they don't eat enough. Wow. I decided not to identify myself as a vegan and instead just share this with the world.

So, even though they serve great fresh food at Le Pain Quotidien, my memory is now clouded by the offensive statements the server made about vegans. I like the food here, but I expect an apology from this cafe.

Le Pain Quotidien
701 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 683-2273

Le Pain Quotidien on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Eggplant Chickpea Stew

I was really craving a fresh vegetable-based meal this week when I received a recipe suggestion from Naked Infusions. Naked Infusions makes fresh gourmet salsas and are currently working on a recipe book so I was delighted when they offered to send me one of their recipes in advance along with their salsas. I don't think I ever really considered cooking with salsa before so this was a new idea for me!

This dish's base is the fresh Naked Infusions Signature Ripe Tomato (Mild) salsa, a mild, gourmet salsa made with all-organic tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and spices. Although pricey at $12 per jar online (cheaper in Whole Foods in CA & TX), this salsa is delicious and is just thick enough to use as a base for this dish. You get the meaty eggplant along with big slices of zucchini, strips of bell peppers, and diced onions in a tomato sauce topped with fresh cilantro and parsley. It really is the salsa and fresh herbs that make this dish.

Eggplant Chickpea Stew
Serves 8

  • 6 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 zucchini, sliced into rounds
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Naked Infusions salsa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Fresh parsley leaves
  • Cooked short grain brown rice

Pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a large saute pan over high heat. When just starting to smoke, add the eggplant cubes. Immediately, reduce heat to medium, and stir well. Cook until eggplant pieces are golden and tender about 10 minutes. When done, turn off heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add the onion, bell pepper, and zucchini. Cook, stirring often, until onion starts to brown around the edges, 8-10 minutes.

Add the paprika, turmeric and garlic. Stir well, and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Then add 1 cup of salsa and water. Add the eggplant, chickpeas, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low for a simmer. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Spoon into a bowl over the rice. Top with more of the salsa and cilantro and parsley. Bon appetit!

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

&Pizza, DC

There's a new pizza place in town and it ain't your typical pizza joint. Welcome &Pizza to the U Street Corridor! For its second location, &Pizza sure is popular. Located just outside the U Street Metro stop, this quick pizza spot is always packed.

I've visited on numerous occasions at this point and have had very different experiences each time. What's great about &Pizza is that there are tons of vegan options. In fact, all three of the crusts -- traditional, whole wheat, and multigrain are vegan.  Basically, it is like an assembly line ordering style and your pizza is baked in a quick oven on a thin crust so it bakes in just minutes.

You can build your own pizza or choose from a variety of their standard pizzas. The best part is that all toppings are included so there are no extra charges.  I actually liked the way the RedVine sounded -- one of their suggested pizzas. So I ordered the RedVine on a whole wheat crust. Then I swapped out the Classic Tomato sauce for the Spicy Tomato sauce. You have your choice of two tomato sauces, the red chickpea sauce, or garlic puree. This pizza came with Daiya vegan cheese as well as roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes, spinach, and fresh jalapenos. I added artichokes as well.

If you order a la carte, you basically have your choice of a bunch of veggies, but I just decided to start with their standard vegan pizza and change it up from there. You can also add finishes (herbs) and oils or hot sauce on top that get added after the pizza is cooked. So I finished my pizza off with fresh basil and piquin pepper hot sauce.

The only thing they don't have are any vegan protein choices. Hopefully, they'll add some roasted tofu, tempeh, or seitan in the future.

Once baked, the crust came out soft and chewy and even though the "spicy" tomato sauce wasn't really spicy, the hot sauce was so it was really good. The veggies were fresh and the Daiya cheese melted perfectly. For $8.86, this is an easy, quick, cheap meal on the go. It is mostly a take out joint as there isn't much seating. So be prepared to bring it home.

On another occasion, I added mushrooms as well.

As far as my experience, the first time we went, they cleaned the counter and changed their gloves when I told them I was vegan. The second time, they didn't do that. And the third time, the woman prepared the dough with her bare hands -- no gloves. So very different experiences. I was okay with all of them, but generally prefer that they change their gloves. I'll just ask them to do so next time.

Either way, I like &Pizza and am happy to have yet another option for vegan pizza in DC.

1250 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 733-1286

Friday, February 7, 2014

Portobello and Vegetable Fajitas in Capsaicin Sauce

Fajitas are so simple yet so delicious. My favorite way to make fajitas is using portobello mushrooms with a variety of vegetables.  And when topped with freshly made guacamole, you have a perfect meal.

This particular dish was inspired by the Saucee Capsaicin No. 1 Sauce. What I love about this sauce is that it has quite a kick with a fresh tomato base. Made with all-organic ingredients and no preservatives, you can really taste all of the ingredients -- tomatoes, onions, carrots, apple cider vinegar, garlic, and habanero peppers. I cooked all of the vegetables and mushrooms in this sauce and it was so flavorful that I didn't even need to add salsa. It coated the veggies quite well and gave them a seriously spicy kick. I'd go as far as to say that I think this is more of a hot pepper sauce than a tomatoey sauce and I absolutely love that! The tomatoes somewhat temper the spiciness, but not enough to take it away.

Portobello and Vegetable Fajitas in Capsaicin Sauce
Serves 6

  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 portobello mushroom caps, sliced
  • 3/4 of an red onion, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 jar Saucee Capsaicin Sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Whole wheat tortillas

Heat saute pan to medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and cook portabello slices on one side for 3 minutes, then add 1 Tbsp olive oil and flip each mushroom slice to cook on the other side. Once cooked through, remove from pan and set aside. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil along with the onions and peppers. Saute until soft about 4 minutes.

Add the mushrooms back in the pan along with the spinach and add all of the Saucee sauce. Cook for 7 minutes. Serve in tortillas with guacamole and fresh cilantro.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cava Mezze Grill, DC

As I was seeking some fast casual food, I stumbled across Cava Mezze in the Columbia Heights area of DC. I recognized their logo as they are retailing their hummus in all of the Whole Foods in the area so I thought I'd give them a try.

It is your typical Chipotle-style set-up. When you walk in, you see all of your topping choices on the wall. All are indicated as gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegetarian or vegan. So cucumbers are listed as dairy free, vegetarian, and vegan. In fact, everything vegan is listed as all three. Why? Because anything that is vegan is vegetarian and dairy free, silly marketing folks. I guess they don't think their customers are smart enough to know that so they use three symbols that all mean the same thing when used together. That seems silly. The problem with this setup is that by the time you get to the front of the line, you can no longer see the list and its symbols so you have to keep walking over to the wall to figure out which dressing is vegan, for example. Not the best set-up.

When I got to the front, I first had to choose a rice, both of which were vegan. Then you choose your protein. The only one that is vegan is the falafel so I went with that. Then you get three spreads.  I chose the red pepper hummus, spicy harissa, and regular hummus. Then, I got to choose all the veggies I wanted so I got cucumbers, pickled onions, mint, olives, and tomatoes. I also added quinoa. They didn't remind me that I could also get a dressing at the end so I forgot to do that.

The falafel balls are really unique as you can see whole chickpeas in them.  I thought their falafel balls were really good.

But how was it overall? Eh. There was way too much rice -- like 3/4 of the bowl was rice. There were not enough falafels -- only four. There were not enough veggies. And the spreads were fine, but nothing particularly special.

So for $8 or so, I'd rather just go to Roti as their falafel bowls are awesome.  Cava Mezze is okay, but in the world of fast casual, I'd choose Roti or Chipotle over them.

Cave Mezze Grill
3105 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 695-8100