Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Native Foods Cafe - Grand Opening in DC!

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.
It's as if the sky parted and the gods listened to my hopes and dreams -- for today is the day that Native Foods opens its doors in DC!

Native Foods Cafe was founded in 1994 in Palm Springs, California at a time when vegan cafes were scarce. What made them different was that all of their food was fresh and made in-house from the tempeh to the seitan. Tanya Petrovna was the genius and chef behind this venture though she was bought out by investors around 2011. The new investors moved the headquarters to Chicago and shortly thereafter, opened locations in Chicago, Portland, and Boulder.

Their recent expansion to DC has everyone talking as DC has a huge vegan population and very few vegan restaurants -- only a handful actually. They are opening today at 1150 Connecticut Avenue NW and in Penn Quarter in October. I was lucky enough to be invited to their soft opening where we got to try a number of dishes. Because there were hundreds of people invited, unfortunately, the staff was a bit maxed out and our food was mostly cold. So, I'm going to refrain from reviewing the food until I go back later this month.

For now, here's some eye candy:

So make your way over to Native Foods. I promise that you won't regret it!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Curry-Tahini-Shoyu Noodle Soup

Out of the new cookbook, Simple Recipes for Joy, by Sharon Gannon, I found a recipe that looked like a little more work, which is right up my alley. I like a challenge! It turns out that this recipe was really easy to make and it turned out great.  The Curry-Tahini-Shoyu Noodle Soup is a one-pot meal filled with fresh vegetables, aduzuki beans, tofu, and udon noodles. It's a mildly spicy Japanese country stew that is perfect for a chilly evening. Make it now, then share it with your friends.

Curry-Tahini-Shoyu Noodle Soup
Serves 6-8

  • 4 ounces uncooked noodles (udon, soba, glass noodles, or rice noodles)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled or unpeeled and chopped into small cubes
  • 1/4 pound fresh green beans, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped into small pieces
  • 6 ounces fresh, frozen, or canned corn
  • 1 16-ounce can adzuki beans, with liquid
  • 2 Tbsp powdered vegetable stock or equivalent in bouillon cubes, dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 Tbsp dried hijiki seaweed
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp tahini
  • 2 Tbsp mellow white miso
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable (or olive) oil
  • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 8 ounces firm tofu, chopped into small cubes
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper or cayenne pepper
  • Hot or toasted sesame oil, for serving

Prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.

In a large soup pot, place the sweet potato, green beans, carrot, celery, corn, beans, stock, seaweed, and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the tahini and miso to make a paste, then set aside.

In a small frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and onion and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the curry powder, coriander, and cumin and cook for about 3 minutes, adding just enough water to keep the mixture from burning, until well mixed and the spices are fragrant.

Add the noodles, sauteed mixture, tahini/miso mix, tofu, salt, and pepper to the pot. Stir gently to incorporate all of the ingredients. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and add several drops of sesame oil in each bowl.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Primizie Crispbread

If you are throwing a dinner party and want a snack that everyone will love, then look no further. Primizie crispbreads are thick-cut snack crisps that are perfectly seasoned and ready to eat. They were created by a chef who was inspired after tasting similar breads in Italy. He redeveloped the bread recipe and found that when the breads were crisped, they were perfect for hors d' Oeuvres. That's when Primizie was born.

Three out of the four flavors are vegan and amazing. The Classic Italian 7-Herb blend hits the Italian notes perfectly. These crispy, slightly oily chips have a delicious mix of herbs on them and paired well with my garlic scape pesto and fresh tomatoes.

The Sea Salt flavor was simply divine and paired well with the strong flavors of Hope Hummus' Coconut Curry Hummus. This thick, crispy chip will not get soggy even in heavy dips and hummus'.

Oh, and then there's the Chili Lime! Yum! Seasoned with New Mexico Chile Peppers, spices and lime flavor, you will find it goes perfectly with guacamole.

All of them are made with unbleached wheat flour, non-GMO expeller pressed canola oil, and Kosher salt. They are Non-GMO Project Verified, and contain no artificial flavors or preservatives. If you are looking for a party pleaser, I highly recommend Primizie crispbreads. You can find them on Amazon here.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

DC VegFest 2014

DC VegFest kicked butt this past weekend! DC residents no longer have to travel to other cities to get their VegFest kick because this is the real deal. Thousands turned out for a beautiful day in Yards Park this past Saturday. It was a fantastic day of cooking demonstrations, speakers, vendors, and vegan food galore!

The highlights of my day were listening to Robin Quivers from the Howard Stern Show talk about how going vegan changed her life for the better. And listening to Joe Yonan, editor of the food section of the Washington Post talk about going vegetarian and running the food section of a major newspaper.

After that, I walked around and found top-notch vendors selling everything from cute veg-inspired t-shirts to beautiful soaps.

There was a lot of food to try including Treeline vegan cheese (my fave!), Whole Foods Market garlic kale salad, SunRAWise cheese, Better Bean Company's seasoned beans, and Joy Bliss Raw's chocolate.

The line for Vegan Treats was like "seriously?" I mean, they had their own ropes to keep the line under control. Crazy!

And there was a lot of food to buy including Khepra's raw food, Bread & Brew's amazing nachos, and Craft Kombucha's yummy lemon kombucha.

Non-profits were in abundance including Vegan Outreach, The Humane League, FARM, and PCRM.

There were cooking demonstrations in the kids areas by none other than Sticky Finger's founder Doron Petersan.

And best of all was the wonderful veg-friendly vibe. Kudos to Compassion Over Killing for knocking it out of Yards Park this year!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Natural Products Expo East 2014

Quiet. That is how I would describe Expo East this year. It was awesome to connect with all of the manufacturers, but there weren't any new products by any of the big players at this show. The trend seems to be moving to having absolutely no new product announcements at Expo East and instead just waiting for Expo West. In fact, some of my good friends at a few companies gave me the "hey, come look what we have under the counter" as they gave me a taste of what was to be released at Expo West -- and boy, will it be exciting. There were, however, some new companies that debuted at this show. So I'll just show you some of my favorite picks from Expo East in no particular order.

#1 Ocean's Halo seaweed chips

#2 Love Grace raw juices

#3 Eating Evolved coconut butter cups

#4 Blount organic lentils and chickpea soup

#5 Hampton Creek just cookie dough and just mayo sriracha

#6 Treeline soft French-style cheese in Chipotle Serrano Pepper

As usual, more on these products to come. And the countdown for Expo West 2015 begins.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Acqua Al 2, DC

When Ghibellina first opened on 14th Street last year, there a lot of buzz about how it was the second restaurant opened by the owners of Acqua Al 2. But who had heard of Acqua Al 2? Apparently a lot of people. I guess I've been out of the loop on what's been going on in the restaurant scene in Capitol Hill so I'm going to start visiting this neighborhood more regularly.

The original Acqua Al 2 opened in Florence in 1978. Ari Gejdenson, an ex-pat opened an American-style restaurant just steps from Acqua Al 2 and struck up a friendship with the owner of the restaurant. Eventually, Gejdenson became the chef at the Florence-based Acqua Al 2 and in 2010, he moved back to his home in Washington, DC where he partnered with Ralph Lee to open the second US version of this restaurant.  The DC-based restaurant offers the same menu as the original one in Florence and brings the same true Italian dining experience.

My friends, some of which had dined here before, were very much in favor of dinner at Acqua Al 2 on a Friday night. When we arrived, it was very busy and I was pleased that they seated us so quickly. Having a reservation here is key. The restaurant is quite large with several dining rooms and a separate room for the bar. It immediately struck me as a warm Italian restaurant with its exposed brick walls, warm wooden tables, yellow painted walls, and decorative plates. The plates, of which there are more than 100, are signed by all of their celebrity customers and adorn the walls in each of the dining rooms.

We ordered a bottle of nebbiolo to start, which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to our meals. When asked about the vegan options, they said there were many as many of the pastas could be made with vegan noodles and/or without cheese. Even the soup of the day was vegan.

I started with the Insalata di Rucola e Pera, a delicious salad of arugula with thinly sliced Bosch pears tossed in a citrus, shallot, and dijon vinaigrette. I loved this salad. Just be sure to hold the parmesan.

My friend got the Insalata di Finocchio, which had shaved fennel with pine nuts and radicchio tossed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Hold the parmesan on this salad too. I didn't try this salad, but it looked very good.

Chris ordered the soup of the day -- a tomato and eggplant soup that was delish.

For my entree, I ordered Farfalline ai Funghi Porcini (hold the parmesan). The bowtie pasta was draped with tomato sauce and sauteed porcini mushrooms, garlic, and parsley for an elegant traditional Italian meal.

My friend ordered the Orecchiette ai Broccoli (hold the parmesan), a pasta dish smothered in a light, but very flavorful garlic pasta sauce tossed with fresh broccoli.

Overall, we had a great experience at Acqua Al 2. The service was very great, the cuisine was quite good, and the prices were reasonable. The salads and soup were $8 each and the entrees were $13-15 each.  The atmosphere was warm and a bit loud. This is probably not the romantic restaurant you'll want to choose for that special occasion, but it certainly works well for a group of friends. Thanks to Acqua Al 2 for being one of the few vegan-friendly Italian restaurants in the city. Oh, and how cute are these placemats?! Gotta love them.

Acqua Al 2
212 7th Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 525-4375

Acqua Al 2 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Basic Aioli

This is a quick and easy way to make a basic aioli that you can use as a sandwich spread or dip on the fly. It comes from the Crazy Sexy Kitchen cookbook by Chad Sarno and Chris Carr. The garlic and lemon zest make it really zesty!

Shown with capers

Basic Aioli
Serves 4

  • 1 cup Vegenaise or other vegan mayo
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3 Tbsp lemon zest
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
In a bow, whisk all ingredients until smooth.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Simple Recipes for Joy by Sharon Gannon

Sharon Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti-style yoga and the Jivamuktea cafe, has put together a collection of recipes that embody the practices of ahimsa, a nonviolent yoga principle, to produce simple, nutritional, vegan meals. My friends in New York City have always told me about the Jivamuktea cafe as it is one of the best places to get fresh, vegan food in the busy city. Now, for the first time, Sharon reveals the secrets behind the cafe's acclaimed menu.

In the first twenty or so pages, she talks about how the meat and dairy industry have brainwashed most Americans. "In America, Froot Loops, a highly processed, high-fructose, genetically modified, corn-based breakfast cereal, is cheaper to buy per serving than a piece of real organic fruit." She states, "Everything that is good for us and good for the environment has been stigmatized with the label alternative while foods that are harmful to our health and the health of the environment are called  normal or standard and that is sad." Agreed.

She goes on to talk about the impact on the environment and all life on this planet. She states, "When you have a simple choice to be kind or cruel, why not choose to be kind and, by doing so, contribute to raising the level of joy and happiness in the world?"

She later tackles frequently asked questions about the vegan diet, offers cooking tips, and details how to stock your kitchen to prepare for cooking. The recipes include soups, pasta and sauces, dressings, salads, dips and spreads, grains, beans, tempeh, tofu, and seitan, vegetables, potatoes, toasts, sandwiches, smoothies, teas, and desserts.

So what about the recipes? The recipes were so simple that I had a hard time imagining how to make a meal out of them. I found the 30 sample menus in the back of the book really helpful as they put these simple recipes together into two- to four-course meals. I tried four of the recipes.

The first one I made was a real winner! The Curry-Tahini-Shoyu Noodle Soup is a one-pot meal filled with fresh vegetables, aduzuki beans, tofu, and udon noodles. It is so delicious! It's a mildly spicy Japanese country stew that is perfect for a chilly evening with friends and family.

Next, I made the Pasta with Pesto. It was super easy to make and turned out great. It was an oily, basil-rich sauce with a touch of nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy, chunky consistency. It wrapped around and coated my fusilli noodles just right.

Next, I tried The Most Simple Dressing. All you do is add olive oil and lemon juice over greens and you are done. The only flaw with this recipe is that it doesn't state how much greens to use. My advice is to use at least an entire pound of greens with this dressing. I only used a bowl and it soaked my greens so much that they were almost inedible.

Lastly, I tried the White Bean and Kale Soup. Everything about this soup sounded good -- a warm broth filled with cannellini beans and kale. It turned out to be a wholesome soup, but lacked a bit of flavor.  I'd recommend it if you are looking for a simple, wholesome soup, but if you are looking for a lot of flavor, you may want to add a bit of paprika or even sriracha to it.

So, all in all, the recipes in this book are about as wholesome and simple as can be. In some cases, I thought they were a bit too simple.  If you are a new cook looking for very healthy, plant-based recipes, then this book will give you a solid foundation from which you can continue to build. If you are a very seasoned vegan chef, then you may be a bit bored with the simplicity of the recipes. But, no matter what, I'm sure you will love the pictures and you will learn something in the 300+ pages. This hard-backed book is very professionally done and the layout makes it very easy to read and follow. The book goes on sale today on Amazon for $29.86. Order yours now here.

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DC VegFest 2014 is Coming!

Mark your calendars for DC VegFest 2014! I get so excited around this time of the year because it means a whole day of veg fun is headed our way!  DC VegFest is the largest vegetarian celebration in the Nation's Capital and it'll be here next Saturday!

The other night, I had the privilege of attending the DC VegFest Media Party at which I got to meet and talk with vendors and sponsors whose products will be showcased at VegFest.  The party was held at Busboys and Poets and they were letting us try some of the newest vegan menu options like the sliders (a huge hit!), chikn' satay, and cucumber "tuna" canape. Yum! They will be a restaurant vendor at the event so be sure to stop by.

The raw vegan truffles from Joy Bliss Raw were AMAZING!

The fresh, raw juice from South Block Juice Co. was to LIVE for!

And the Vegan Treats chocolates were unbelievable.

Oh, and I couldn't possibly forget to mention the delicious Charm School Chocolate white chocolate bar!

DC VegFest will take place on Saturday, September 20 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I've heard that people start lining up to get in at 9 a.m. to get one of the free goody bags (there are only 1,000!), which typically run out pretty early. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend this year's celebration. More than 100 exhibitors will showcase a wide range of products, services, and resources to help Washingtonians discover why eating a plant-based diet and choosing vegetarian foods is the best way to protect our health, the planet, and the animals.

What to do there:
  • Sample free delicious vegan food from vendors like Treeline cheese, Barefoot Bucha kombucha, Kate Bakes bars, and Sticky Fingers brownies
  • Learn from expert chefs hosting cooking demos
  • Hear from nationally renowned speakers 
  • Enjoy live performances from local musicians
  • Hit the restaurant vendors like Amsterdam Falafelshop, Bread & Brew, Vegetable Garden, and Pete's New Haven Style Apizza
  • Relax in the beer and wine garden
What to see there:
11:20 a.m.  John Schlimm: Welcome to the DC VegFest
11:30 a.m.  Dr. Betty Smith: Aging Agelessly, Running Long Distances Powered by Plants
12:00 p.m.  Erica Meier: Veg Eating on the Rise -- Standing up for Ourselves, the Planet, & Animals
12:25 p.m.  Bryant Terry: Afro Vegan -- cooking demo
1:15 p.m.    Robin Quivers: The Vegucation of Robin
1:50 p.m.    Joe Yonan: Eat Your Vegetables -- cooking demo
2:35 p.m.    Neal Barnard, MD: How to Kickstart Your Health
3:10 p.m.    Alexis Fox and Micah Risk: lighter cooking demo
4:00 p.m.    DC VegFest closing remarks

Get there early! I hope to see you there!

Date: Saturday, September 20
Time: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Yards Park in DC