Friday, May 29, 2015

Pepper Palace, DC

Brace yourselves, DC residents, because there's a new pepper in town and it's going to burn your socks off! I'm talking about the hottest pepper identified today and you can get a hot sauce made with it in DC at the new Pepper Palace in Union Station! A nationwide chain, Pepper Palace hails from Tennessee and can be found in states all over the country.

I only find myself in Union Station every couple of years so on this rare occurrence, I had to see if there were any new stores. And I hit the jackpot. Hot sauce is my name and Carolina Reaper is my game. So I went in hoping to find this famous pepper. In my way were a bunch of schoolkids who apparently got away from their chaperone, signed waivers they weren't old enough to sign, and tried a Carolina Reaper extract. I was lucky enough to show up just as they were all running away to puke up a pepper storm. Hilarious!!

Afterwards, I tried some Carolina Reaper, Ghost Pepper, and Habanero sauces and many were to my liking. This hot sauce shop is very much like the one I found in Austin, Texas, but it is in DC! They have hot popcorn, hot nuts, hot sauce, salsa, spices -- everything hot! I even found a sauce I haven't been able to find anywhere else. And you can try the sauces too!

I guess I will be visiting this store regularly as I build up my collection of sauces. The prices are not cheap, but I'd expect that of a specialty store. The ghost pepper sauce I bought was $11 and the Carolina Reaper sauce I bought was $15 and yes, they are small bottles.

So, what are you doing?! Go to Union Station and buy some freaking hot sauce now so they'll stay open in DC! Welcome to the neighborhood, Pepper Palace!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Chili

The first recipe I tried out of JL Fields' new book, Vegan Pressure Cooking, is the one whose picture adorned the front cover -- the Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Chili. Why? Because I love beans, tomatoes, and greens could I go wrong? It turned out to be scrumptious!  Black-eyed peas are engulfed with fire-roasted tomatoes and surrounded by crunchy carrots and celery all while taking in the unique spice mix featuring chili powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and oregano. It is a warm, happy party in your mouth that will likely please the most discerning palates. And, best of all, it is colorful, protein-packed, and calcium-rich. This dish has officially got me back into using my pressure cooker!

Note: you need a pressure cooker to make this dish.

Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Chili
Serves 4-6

  • 4 large collard green leaves
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chopped carrot
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp diced fresh jalapeno
  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt


Halve each collard leaf lengthwise with kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cutting out and discarding the center ribs. Stack the leaves and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide strips.

In an uncovered pressure cooker, heat the oil on medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the carrots and celery and continue to saute for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the collard greens, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, oregano, and jalapeno and saute for a minute or two. Add the black-eyed peas, bay leaves, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, and water. Stir to combine.

Cover and bring to pressure. Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. Allow for a natural release.

Remove the cover and taste the black-eyed peas. Add salt to taste. If they are not thoroughly cooked, simmer on low, uncovered until done. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The 22-Day Revolution by Marco Borges

If you aren't vegan or vegetarian and are looking to be inspired, The 22-Day Revolution by Marco Borges may just be the motivation you need. Marco Borges is pretty inspirational himself -- as the founder of 22 Days Nutrition, this world-renowned exercise physiologist just started a plant-based delivery program with Beyonce in Los Angeles.

The 22-Day Revolution is 22-day intensive program built to reset your body and mind. Why 22 Days? Because research shows that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. So if you challenge yourself to introduce newer, healthier habits for 21 days, then on day 22, you will emerge as an improved version of yourself. I felt inspired just reading this!

The first 100 pages of this book explain the what, why, and how. There are basic principles like choosing plant-based not processed food, eating three meals a day, aiming for 80% carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein, and exercising for 30 minutes per day.

He talks about why a plant-based diet is better for your health and how Americans are getting sicker and fatter while other countries know better. In the 1970s, the Finnish government took measures to decrease the amount of animal-based saturated fat (like butter) and increase the amount of fresh produce they consumed. In 25 years, mortality from heart disease among 30- to 64-year old males was reduced across Finland by 65%! He also describes the positive effect it can have on a number of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

He even addresses the old myth that vegetarians may not get enough protein. Plant-based foods offer all the amino acids you need. Complete protein sources are listed as well as how to combine other sources.

But, what is really great is the motivation. Marco states, "Run your own race. Stay at your pace. You aren't competing with anybody else. And when you get there, as long as you keep going, there is no greater feeling in the world than the day you look at the scale and you look in the mirror and you flex your biceps and you say, 'Wow, I did this.'"

The rest of the book outlines every meal and exercise plan for the full 22 days. It is very detailed and the recipes are very easy to make and follow.

So, if you are looking for a new way of life or are just looking for inspiration and want to try something new for a few weeks, this book is for you. Order it on Amazon here and start a 22-day revolution!

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Evolve Vegan Restaurant, DC

VSDC has been holding some pretty cool happy hours lately and I was excited to join them for their first happy hour at Evolve. Evolve has taken up shop in the former Everlasting Life space as it is really just a new vegan restaurant concept by the same owner. They still have the vegan chick-un and mac and cheese that everyone loves from Everlasting Life along with take-out options, but this restaurant has some nicer dishes and cocktails too. Keep in mind that my visit was on a special night when they were busier than normal due to the special happy hour.

When I arrived, there were only a few people seated. Seeing how small the restaurant was and how many people were expected, we quickly grabbed a seat. There is a large bar area and just a few high tops and a few regular tables in this small establishment. The decor is much nicer than the decor of the very casual Everlasting Life in Maryland so it is clear they were going for a different look and feel. The high ceilings made the space feel larger than it was and lightly colored walls with contrasting evergreen paint made it feel warm and inviting.

At this event, they had arranged for a special buffet to serve the amount of people that were expected. For just $5 they offered one vegan drumstick and two sides from which you could choose mac and cheese, collard greens, kale salad, or couscous. Having already had many of those items at Everlasting Life, I went for an order off the menu instead.

The menu, which at this time was not online, was very enticing. We recognized some of the standard dishes from Everlasting Life, but a few new ones really caught my eye. Some of the entrees offered are Beijing Fried Rice, Risotto, Seaweed Wrapped Soyfish, Southern Barbecue Tempeh Sandwich, and Old Fashioned Sloppy Joe.  Old stand-bys included macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and the chick-un sandwich. I placed my order and tried the house Cabernet. It was one of the best house wines I've ever had.

The social event was bustling with over 60 people so service was naturally slow. This was not a typical night so I definitely wouldn't ding them for this. When our entrees arrived, we were impressed with the presentation.  I ordered the Thai Market Special, which had sauteed organic vegetables such as onions, celery, carrots, green beans, cauliflower, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and squash. None of the vegetables were overcooked so they tasted quite fresh. The tofu was grilled and had great flavor. But, what really made this meal was the abundant, creamy ginger cashew sauce and sriracha.  It was also topped with cashews and served with brown (mahogany) rice. It was quite delicious.

Chris ordered the Southern Fried Chick-Un, which was also very good. The vegan chick-un was battered and deep fried with an amazing batter and was served with BBQ sauce. It was very hearty and had a great texture. As the side, Chris ordered the incredibly filling vegan mac and cheese -- a house favorite, which was as good as it always is. If only they'd give out this secret recipe! Hint, hint!  We found this meal to be quite heavy as it came with four pieces of chick-un so I'd recommend that you order a vegetable as well. It is with no doubt a hearty meal.

I have to say that my experience here got me excited about a new vegan restaurant in DC and it's been a long time since I've been able to say that! I absolutely can't wait to come back and try other items and I encourage you to as well. They weren't cheap at $12 and $14 respectively, but well worth it. This is now one of my favorite vegan spots in the DC metro area.

341 Cedar Street NW
Washington, DC 20012
(202) 882-8999

Evolve Vegan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 18, 2015

Baltimore VegFest 2015

Alright, so I'm a week late. I'll never win the award for breaking news. I'm just too busy! But, better late than never. Drum roll.....I come to you with less-than-breaking news that the Baltimore VegFest was AWESOME!

It was a fantastically beautiful day with nice cloud cover that kept the warm sun from beating down on everyone. When I arrived at 11 a.m., there was a line around the block to get in because everyone wanted one of the free goody bags that were only available to the first so-many people who arrived! Once that died down, there was a line around the VegFest for Vegan Treats baked goods. Not really a surprise there. Known for their inventive gourmet treats, Vegan Treats has quite a fanbase.

Strolling around the festival, I ran into old friends walking the show and working the booths. Nonprofits were there representing like Vegan Outreach, COK, and Burleigh Manor Animal Sanctuary. Burleigh brought a beautiful goat so me and my brother got a pic with him. Smile!

There were clothing companies with awesome clothing and beauty companies with cruelty-free goodies!

And, of course, there was food and lots of it. I gulped down a delicious juice from Juka Juice and had lunch from the Land of Kush. I quickly wished I had gotten the falafel though as it was loaded with fresh veggies!

The best new item I found there were these amazing caramel peanut butter cupcakes from Vegedible. They couldn't have been any better. Look for more from this budding baker soon!

The festivities included speakers as well, but I missed most of that! How could I listen to speakers when I was busy discovering two new kombucha shops!

All in all, it was a great time. I'm so happy to see the Baltimore VegFest grow and look forward to supporting it year after year!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Carrabba's Italian Grill, Tampa, FL

We arrived at the airport in Tampa around 11 a.m. in the morning and were starving. I looked around and saw very few restaurants that I thought would offer vegan options. Then I saw the chain restaurant Carrabba's Italian Grill and wondered if they might offer a nice pasta dish. It appeared that there were only a couple options, but as hungry as I was, a couple simple pasta options was all I was looking for.

We were seated immediately at a big booth inside the dark airport restaurant. The tables and chairs were of a dark wood and the accents were in red. On each table was a bottle of San Pellegrino so I guess that influenced me to order a San Pellegrino. How is it that that water is so good?

At Carrabba's, the fresh pasta are made with eggs so you just need to inquire as to which pasta dishes can be made vegan with the dry pastas (penne, whole wheat spaghetti, etc.).  The bread that they serve is vegan as is the herbed olive oil mixture. We enjoyed hot bread as we waited for our entrees.

First came the Italian salad that comes with the meal. As it seemed that none of the dressings were vegan, I just requested olive oil and vinegar. I was unimpressed with the presentation of the salad. It was just some greens topped with carrots, onions, tomatoes, and two olives. It really wasn't anything special.

But, my entree, to my delight, was much better than expected! I ordered the Tag Pic Pac and replaced the tagliarini pasta with the whole wheat spaghetti. This was a huge bowl of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and basil. It was simple, yet delicious.

In most airports, there are few vegan options at sit-down restaurants so I was very pleased to discover Carrabba's. The pasta, though overpriced at $13, was very fresh and very good. The service left a lot to be desired, but overall, I'd say it was fine. I think this is a great option in the Tampa airport.

Carrabba's Italian Grill
Tampa International Airport
4100 George Bean Parkway
Tampa, FL 33607
(813) 396-4061

Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Best Thai and Sushi, Zephyrhills, FL #3

After a great experience at Best Thai and Sushi last year, we headed back for more. In fact, on this visit, I dined here twice in one week! The restaurant was able to accommodate our large parties on both visits and were ready and waiting when we arrived.

Best Thai and Sushi may not be the best Thai and sushi ever, but it certainly is the best in Zephyrhills, Florida. This small and unassuming restaurant has a large menu filled with vegan options. We started with a chilled bottle of sake that was oh so good!

For appetizers, we ordered the avocado rolls, which were your typical avocado rolls. They were great on the first visit, but not as good on the second as the rice was pretty wet the second time. But, it is hard to go wrong with standard avocado rolls.

We also tried the vegetable tempura. It wasn't the best tempura I've already had, but I appreciated the creativity with the dish. Instead of the standard veggies, we got onions, sweet potato, broccoli, and eggplant for just $5.50.

For my entree, I ordered the Green Curry. You can choose vegetables OR tofu for $10.50, which seems kind of weird in a vegetable dish as I assume vegetables come with it. If you want both, you pay $1 extra. I stuck with just vegetables -- bamboo shoots, bell peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, and snow peas in a coconut milk-based green curry with basil. I loved it.

Chris ordered a fried rice dish with veggies, which he really enjoyed.

On our second visit, we ordered the spring rolls, which were really good. They were deep fried and filled with bean thread noodles, cabbage, and carrots and served with a plum sauce.

For my entree, I had the Garlic Black Pepper Sauce with vegetables and tofu for $10.50. This was a spectacular black pepper sauce with cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, and tofu with brown rice. The sauce was a bit watery, but the flavor was definitely there.

Each time I ordered, I specified that I did not want fish sauce and they were happy to oblige. I had great experiences at the Best Thai and Sushi again this time. The service was fine, the prices were appropriate, and the food was great. Highly recommended if you are in the area!

Previous review
September 2, 2014
August 19, 2013

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

Best Thai & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tofu and Seitan Sausage Scramble

Looking to surprise Chris with a little more than pancakes on the morning of his birthday, I thought I'd try a new tofu scramble recipe. I've been making tofu scramble for years, but I've never tried the scramble in the Candle 79 Cookbook by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos, and Jorge Pineda. It looked intriguing with tofu, seitan, spinach, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro, but not many spices. I wondered how it would taste. And it was missing a key ingredient in my mind -- mushrooms. So I added mushrooms too. How did it turn out? Scrumptious -- a crowd pleaser! So much flavor came from the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast that I increased the amount of nutritional yeast too. Here is the recipe with my tweaks.

Tofu and Seitan Sausage Scramble
Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds extra-firm tofu
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, diced (I leave the seeds for more hotness)
  • 1/2 cup diced or crumbled seitan sausage
  • 4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbsp Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
Press tofu in a tofu press, if you have one, for twenty minutes. If not, it is no big deal. With clean hands, crumble the tofu. Transfer to a colander to drain.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the onion, mushrooms, and garlic and saute for 3 minutes. Then add tomatoes, stock, salt, and tofu. Stir everything together, then cover and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in the jalapeno peppers, sausage, nutritional yeast, buttery spread, and cilantro and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for another minute. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve at once.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Trang Viet Cuisine, Tampa, FL

At least once a year, I fly into Tampa on my way to Zephyrhills. By the time Chris and I arrived, we were hungry -- really hungry. So, we headed to Loving Hut. Unfortunately, though, Loving Hut was closed this day and I really wanted a vegan meal before heading to a non-vegan-friendly place. We hit Yelp and found Trang Viet Cuisine and I'm so glad we did!

Trang Viet Cuisine is a family-owned Vietnamese restaurant that has been in business for nearly 20 years. It is not a 100% vegan restaurant, but it is incredibly vegan friendly boasting four pages of vegan options to choose from! I was so excited. The walls of the dining room are adorned with pictures of flowers and beautiful green trees are placed throughout the dining room. It is a very casual place that you could feel comfortable wearing whatever.

The vegetarian menu clearly indicates if items are vegan and our waiter was able to answer any questions we had. I found it so hard to choose! With 11 vegan appetizers, eight vegan salads, nine vegan soups, and over 20 vegan entrees, it is like a vegan paradise.

We started with an order of the spring rolls, which were filled with imitation meat and sweet potatoes fried in a spring roll shell. They were delicious. We also tried the Southern Vietnamese Rolls filled with shredded tofu, potatoes and imitation pork wrapped with fresh herbs in rice paper. These rolls had so much flavor and were so much better than the typical spring roll you'd get in a regular Vietnamese restaurant. I was very impressed.

For my entree, I ordered the V35 -- Vegan Lemongrass Beef Noodles (Bun Bo Sa Ot), but instead of noodles, I had rice.  This was vegan beef sauteed with lemongrass and onions served over rice. I also requested that they add other vegetables so they added some broccoli for me. The vegan beef had a nice texture and the sauce was very good. They also made it super spicy for me.

That said, Chris' entree was my favorite of the night. He ordered the V48 -- Vegan Central Vietnamese Noodles (Mi Quang). We didn't realize that this was basically an entree-sized soup, but regardless, it was amazing. The yellow rice noodles were topped with imitation meats, rice crackers, peanuts, and scallions. The broth was incredible as there was so much flavor.

Unfortunately, we did not have room for dessert as we were very full by the end of the meal. The service was great, the food was fantastic, and the prices were extremely low at only $9.50 for each entree. I can see why Trang Viet Cuisine has been in business for so long. I can't wait to come back for more. Thanks for a great experience!

Trang Viet Cuisine
1524 East Fowler Avenue
Tampa, FL 33612
(813) 979-1464

Trang Viet Cuisine on Urbanspoon