Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jax Vegan Cafe

Continuing the trend of posting a couple weeks after the actual event, I went to Jax Vegan Cafe two weeks ago. :) Although this lovely little vegan haven is a mere 2 miles from my office, with traffic, it took me about 15 minutes each way, not including the time it took me to park and walk to and from my car. It was worth it, though! I had the Veggie Turkey Sandwich, a comforting staple that included vegan mozzarella, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and garlic vegenaise on whole wheat. It was accompanied by a small mixed greens salad with vegan ranch dressing.

I generally bring my lunch to work for both health and financial reasons, but on this particular day, I eschewed what was in my pink lunch bag for what I was really craving: a simple vegan sandwich. I'm so glad I did!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Revisiting 2 Sundays Ago

January 13 was apparently big vegan Sunday. :) It all started with the perfect brunch chez Your Vegan Mom. She posted about it here and Foodeater of To Live and Eat in L.A. posted about it here. I fully intended to post about this within days of the event, but life got in the way. You know how it is.

YVM had a pretty basket of muffins ready when we arrived. I had the pleasure of feeding one to YVM's adorable son. She had set aside a few for him that were nut-free. Believe me, there is a lot of joy to be had in watching a baby relish his vegan muffin. I tried both varieties she provided, carrot and apple, and they were equally delicious. The perfect snack to have before rolling up my sleeves to help prepare the...

red grapefruit! This is the first time I've ever supremed a citrus fruit, but years of watching cooking shows gave me the knowledge I needed to feel like a pro. Foodeater and I worked on the grapefruit to which YVM later added agave nectar and mint. It was so good! Now, we all know that I eat about a red grapefruit a day and that I eat them like an orange, so the addition of sweetener and mint was a nice change for my palate. Unfortunately, it didn't convert the grapefruit dislikers in the brunch crowd that morning.

Here's my plate on my lap. Don't ask me how the potatoes came to touch the quiche; I'm sure I quickly moved them over after taking this shot. Notice how far away the grapefruit is from everything else. The two types of mini crustless quiche on my plate are swiss chard and sweet potato-poblano. Both were fabulous, but I was very partial to the smoky-sweet goodness of the sweet potato-poblano. I had at least one more of those. YVM adapted Fat Free Vegan's recipe for these beautiful little quiche. The potatoes were perfectly roasted and yummy.

Thank you for hosting us, YVM! I can't wait until next time. :)

We three vegan bloggers had dinner reservations later that night at the soon-to-be-open shojin, a Japanese vegetarian restaurant in the heart of L.A.'s Little Tokyo. Foodeater and I learned about this new restaurant at the Madeleine Bistro Vegan Meet-Up that I blogged about here. The owners were at the Meet-Up offering a FREE prix-fixe, four-course dinner on three specific dates to anyone who wanted to attend. All they asked in return was for our feedback. We quickly decided which evening we wanted to attend and Foodeater made the reservations. We weren't the only ones who took them up on their offer; there were three other tables of people from that Meet-Up at the restaurant when we were there.

We walked into the restaurant and were treated like royalty. There was even paparazzi (this became slightly disconcerting to me as I had to be aware of the photographer's position every time I opened my mouth to take a bite)! Our hosts were extremely gracious, seating us immediately even though we were quite early. As soon as we were seated, we were given an amazing "welcome" drink made of fresh-squeezed cane juice, fresh-squeezed ginger juice, and cayenne pepper. Oh, my goodness, this was so incredibly delicious. I drank two small glasses. I was especially happy with this healing drink, as I was in a fierce battle with my allergies at the time.

Although the menu was made up of four courses with the choice between two dishes per course, our hosts invited us to order each and every item on the menu if that was our desire. There was also a drink menu of multiple teas, juice, soy milk, and coffee.

I started with this wonderful cup of organic Matcha Genmaicha. It was a vibrant green and packed a lot of smoky flavor.

I also tried the organic iced green tea, also a beautiful green color. It's amazing how different (in a great way) shojin's teas are from the bagged tea I usually drink.

For the soup course, I chose the Sweet Kabocha Pumpkin Chowder. It was a pureed soup topped with dehydrated squash pieces and organic parsley. The soup had a light flavor and a creamy texture achieved by blending with soy milk. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but it was a very nice start to the meal.

I chose the Tempeh Bacon & Cashew Cheese Wrap for my appetizer. By far, this was my favorite dish of the meal. It was a whole wheat tortilla stuffed with grilled tempeh bacon, cashew cheese, potato salad, alfalfa sprouts, and mixed greens, served with a dipping sauce that I think was maybe a thinner version of their cashew cheese. On the side were dehydrated sweet potato chips. The flavors and textures within this wrap worked very well together; the smokiness of the tempeh, the slightly sweet creaminess of the cashew cheese, the bite of the potatoes and veggies. During the feedback portion of the evening, the only suggestion we had regarding this dish was to make it an entree as opposed to the appetizer. If you check out the menu on their site, you'll see that they did!

My entree was the Cha-Soba Pasta with Tomato Sauce. Essentially, this was soba noodles with puttanesca sauce and was quite tasty. You can see that I forgot to take a photo of this dish until I was finished eating. Oops!

For dessert, I chose the Fuji Apple Tarte with Kinako Custard. The presentation was gorgeous, but dessert was the only course that I felt needed serious improvement. The tart crust was undercooked and sticky and the custard lacked flavor and sweetness. It was just bland and, dare I say, tasted...healthy.

I also tried YVM's dessert, the Chocolate Cake with Pecans and Walnuts. Look at that gorgeous presentation! A cupcake-sized cake sitting upon a pool of sauce and surrounded by dollops of berry coulis and a meringue-textured whipped topping. However, the cake tasted more like a fruit-sweetened breakfast muffin. The whipped topping was incredible, though. We all marveled at the texture. I think we all know how delicious vegan desserts can be and I have full faith that shojin's will improve before they open, so don't be shy about ordering dessert there! We all gave our honest input and we're certain that they took our advice.

It was an amazing experience to be among the first to try shojin. I feel very honored and I hope to make it back there soon after they open. We all expected to have a nice time, but I don't think we could have ever imagined the generosity and kindness of our hosts, who spared no expense in making sure we were comfortable and satisfied. Instead of small tasting-menu portions, we were fed full-sized portions of everything. Our feedback was respected and taken to heart. Oh, and there were parting gifts! Our hosts gave us each a bag of three cookies and all the women were given a beautiful red rose. It was a night to remember. Thank you, shojin, and good luck!

P.S. You can read Foodeater's review here. I don't see YVM's post about shojin, so she may not have done so yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Baked Potato and Greens Soup with Potato-Wedge Croutons

Another Veganomicon soup hit! This soup took quite a while to prepare, considering all the potatoes I had to scrub and cube and the kale leaves that needed washing and prepping. Believe it or not, it was the first time I'd purchased and prepared kale (I've eaten it many times, though), but I felt like I knew how to do it because I'd seen it done before. I opted for dino kale with it's beautiful, deep green, long leaves. I thought it might be easier to work with and it had the added bonus of being called dino, which for some reason, brought out the four-year-old in me (you know how little kids love dinosaurs). Instead of chopping or tearing the kale, I decided to chiffonade it. I thought it would be quicker to roll it up and slice multiple leaves at once as opposed to tearing up each leaf. The soup has great flavor and is thick and hearty. I love the potato-kale combination of flavors and textures.

As for the Potato-Wedge Croutons, the oil spray bottle I bought for less than $5 at Target turned out to be a dud, so I had to use Trader Joe's olive oil spray instead. It's not actually olive oil, it's like Pam. They still tasted good, though!

One interesting thing to note: Veganomicon gives instructions for baking potatoes on pages 60 and 146. Page 60 says to bake potatoes at 400 degrees F and page 146 says to bake them at 350. I followed page 60's advice, even though this soup is on page 146 and my potatoes were perfect.

Overall, definitely another winner from Veganomicon! Are you tired of the fact that I keep making soups from this book instead of venturing into all the other delicious-looking recipes? ;)

P.S. I'm watching Wednesday's episode of Rachael Ray's daytime talk show and Ted Danson just praised her because he had a delicious platter of vegan food in her green room!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Peanut Butter Love

Have you given this kicked-up peanut butter a try yet? I had a dollar off coupon to use and was debating over the varieties of Peanut Butter & Co. (I borrowed the photo from their website) that my Whole Foods had on its shelf. There was Cinnamon Raisin Swirl, Dark Chocolate Dreams, Smooth Operator, and The Heat Is On. Now, I love peanut butter, so this was a tough choice. Should I go for the one that promised to be a peanut-y version of Nutella? What about some sweet, cinnamon-y goodness for my toast? No offense, but Smooth Operator was out of the question when I had these other 3 intriguing possibilities. Hmmm, could I concoct a savory, spicy sauce with The Heat Is On? That is exactly what I decided to do. I paid for my (recycled plastic) jar of peanut butter and it settled into its new home on my pantry shelf.

There it sat for a couple weeks until my darn allergies hit me again on Monday. I had the brilliant idea of eating something spicy to try to knock out the allergies and my thoughts turned to my new jar of peanut butter. I took a tiny taste and was nearly knocked over by the spicy punch it was packing! According to their website, The Heat Is On is "all-natural peanut butter blended with chili powder, cayenne and crushed red peppers." Ever since that first taste, I've found myself grabbing a spoon for another bite! Give this a try, but only if you like a little heat!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Madeleine Bistro

There was a vegan Meet-Up yesterday at Madeleine Bistro, a wonderful gourmet vegan restaurant in the San Fernando Valley. Chef and co-owner David Anderson fashions his cuisine according to traditional French culinary arts, which he studied at the Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts. The chef and his wife, co-owner and restaurant manager Molly, graced us with a little background on how their dream of Madeleine Bistro came to be. You can read their history on the "About Us" page of their website. (Please be patient with the website, though, as it's currently under a bit of construction.)

I'm a bit of a Madeleine Bistro regular (David and I had a nice conversation yesterday, which started with him asking my name and telling me that he's seen me there often and for years now) and do my best to sample something new every time I dine there. It's not hard to do, as the menu changes frequently due to the chef's use of seasonal ingredients and his inspired creativity (think vegan panna cotta, chocolate souffle, baked Alaska, and those are just some of the desserts he's featured, let alone the appetizers and entrees!). I tend to go for dinner, but I have eaten many a brunch there, too.

Madeleine Bistro is chameleonic in ambiance. For brunch service, the restaurant is bright and cheery, with a lot of light coming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant. Dinner service is candle-lit and romantic, but still suitable for a meal with friends or family. That reminds me, Madeleine Bistro is very family friendly; I've often seen David and Molly's small children in the restaurant and their oldest daughter works there.

Our hosts were kind enough to pass out enough beignets for everyone to sample. I'd eaten these once before, albeit years ago. These dense, fried balls of dough are rolled in a cinnamon sugar coating and served with a cinnamon apple compote. For my taste, they are a little too fried, but that might just be because I don't eat a lot of fried food. Everyone else seemed to enjoy them immensely, so I'll chalk it up to being a problem with me. ;) Actually, you can see how well-liked they were by the fact that I couldn't snap a photo before people started grabbing them off the plate!

For lunch, I ordered the Cajun Caesar Sandwich, a French roll filled with blackened seitan, ranch dressing, lettuce, and tomato (yes, I did eat the raw tomato on my sandwich). I'd ordered this once before a couple years ago and remembered it to be spicy, juicy (as in, spicy sauce dripping down my arm juicy), and delicious. I remembered correctly! I had a choice of potato salad, caesar salad, and home fries on the side. As you can see, I went for the home fries (I'm not a potato salad person and there was already caesar dressing on the sandwich), which had a nicely crisp outside (yay, I got some overdone ones, too!) and soft, yet dense inside. Madeleine Bistro also makes their own ketchup, I believe. I ate half the sandwich for dinner tonight and it held up perfectly after about 6 minutes in my toaster oven at 400 degrees F.

If you've never been to a Meet-Up event in your area, it's worth researching. There was a very interesting mix of people at yesterday's event and I'm going to guess that about 35 people came (including Mademoiselle Foodeater). Honestly, I believe the turn out was a testament to Madeleine Bistro because the last Meet-Up event I attended over the summer brought out only 10-12 people. It could just be that more people were available this time, but Madeleine Bistro is truly a fantastic and unique dining experience. David and Molly are warm and generous hosts and I feel great about giving them business. As David explained, they're a true mom-and-pop business. The only reason you haven't seen photos and entries about it on this blog before is that I hadn't been since I started the blog. There will certainly be more to come.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Soup and baked goods

Wednesday night, I made Porcini-Wild Rice Soup from Veganomicon. Comme d'habitude, I substituted 4 stalks of celery for the onion. Since I had it in the pantry, I used a brown rice blend instead of wild rice and dried thyme instead of fresh. The porcinis smelled pretty bad when they were soaking, so I was a bit worried, but I shouldn't have been. This soup has a lovely, mellow flavor that is perfectly comforting and hearty. The leftovers are more of a creamy risotto than a soup, as all the liquid absorbed, but I'm ok with that.

Yesterday morning, knowing that I'd have a crowd of people over later in the day, I baked the Maple Pistachio Cremes and Crumb-Topped Brownies from My Sweet Vegan. Let me tell you, the pistachio creme is divine. Thank goodness I have some left over. I wonder if it'll make an appearance in a sandwich or if I won't be able to resist just eating it with a spoon. It's sweetened with maple syrup, so it's not unhealthy in the sugar department. Side note about making the pistachio creme: It took a long time for the pistachios to form a paste in my food processor (a very nice Cuisinart), so be patient with it and make sure to scrape down the sides often. The cookie part is soft and subtly maple-flavored. I was pleased with the texture, especially because I was a little concerned that they'd be crumbly after cooling. All in all, with the exception of the time it took to make a pistachio paste, this is a quick and easy recipe with delicious results.

The brownies also came together fairly quickly. I do recommend seriously cooling your melted Earth Balance before adding it to the mix. As in, see if you can wait until it's actually cool and not just lukewarm. It tends to re-solidify easily. I had difficulty getting the crumb topping for the brownies to actually form clumps. Instead, I had a very soft paste even after sprinkling in a tiny bit more powdered sugar. I'm not sure what happened, but I simply dropped the paste in small dollops on top of the uncooked brownie batter anyway. The brownies came out fudgy and rich and absolutely delicious. It didn't have the crumb topping, as the paste kind of held the shape of the dollops I'd dropped, but who cares. They taste fantastic and the texture is perfect!

In non-homemade food news, I tried the Berry Almond Luna Bar today and am not a fan. :( It's chewy, tangy, and tastes ok, but it's not what I want out of a Luna Bar, you know? I'm partial to the flavors that have the soy yogurt coating on the bottom and are a little more dense, not the ones that are more like a soft granola bar. So, it's really just a matter of my personal preference and not that they taste horrible. Maybe you're more of a soft granola bar person and you'll love them. :)

I'm planning to attend a vegan Meet-Up event at Madeleine Bistro, a gourmet vegan restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, this afternoon. Let's see if I can remember to take my camera!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Happy New Year to all. I wish you a year filled with love, health, happiness, and peace.

I was planning on making soup from Veganomicon and some baked goods from My Sweet Vegan today, but I spent the day on the phone with people I love instead. Cooking and baking can wait sometimes. I do, however, have some product reviews and a couple stories for you.

I met my dad for breakfast at Follow Your Heart on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera and forgot to take a photo of my breakfast with my cell phone camera. I had a special, which was pancakes with raspberries and bananas cooked into them, scrambled tofu (I substituted their fabulous white beans for the scrambled tofu because I can't get enough of them!), breakfast potatoes and veggies, and a vegan sausage link. The pancakes were wonderful with the fruit cooked right in. The sausage links are usually a little dry at FYH, but the flavor is good. To drink, I had their wonderful organic Bancha tea. It's smoky and delicious.

After breakfast, we shopped in the FYH market. My dad is so great; he always pays for whatever I happen to stick in my basket when we're there together. Thanks, Dad! On this trip, I bought some FYH cheese (jack and cheddar flavors), brand-new FYH cream cheese (for My Sweet Vegan recipes), Living Harvest hemp milk (original and chocolate flavors), Silk creamer (original, also for My Sweet Vegan recipes), mellow white miso, grapeseed oil, Wizard's vegan worcestershire sauce, and candied ginger. I'm sure I'm leaving some things out, but you probably don't care about all my grocery purchases anyway. ;)

The next day, I went back to FYH for lunch with Bazu and Daiku of Where's the Revolution, Your Vegan Mom with her husband and baby, Maybe Pigs Can Fly, and Textual Bulldog of Bigmouth Strikes Again plus one of her friends. Hopefully, Bazu will post a photo of my Tandoori and Curry, a "Tandoori Spiced Vegetarian "Chicken" and a Savory Tofu Curry, Served with Basmati Rice, a Vegetable Samosa and Mango Chutney." The chutney was actually mango puree and was delicious. The "chicken" and tofu are wonderfully spiced and have nicely contrasting textures. While the tofu is soft, the "chicken" is chewy. My entree came with soup or salad and I chose to try the mushroom cabbage soup. What a fantastic choice that was! The broth was spicy and savory and the vegetables kept their integrity. I also tried Maybe Pigs Can Fly's cauliflower soup, which was mild with soft vegetables.

At the FYH market on Sunday, I picked up two flavors each of Rice Dream and Soy Dream. Of the two Rice Dream flavors, I've tried the Chocolate Chai so far. The photo I took shows up sideways, despite the fact that I modified it in iPhoto, so I decided not to post it. This drink basically tastes like cinnamon-infused chocolate rice milk and is very tasty. I was surprised to find a little grit in the bottom of my cup, but it didn't bother me.

As for the Soy Dream flavors, I tried both the mint chocolate chip and butter pecan. They were creamy in texture, which I think is essential. The mint chocolate chip had a deep mint flavor and lovely dark chocolate chips. More chips would have been nice, but I'm not complaining. The butter pecan was also good with yummy little candied pecan pieces throughout. The base ice cream was a little too boring in flavor, though. Of course, I'm biased because mint chocolate chip has always been my favorite ice cream flavor, whether omni (many, many years ago) or vegan.

By the way, I was on an insanely wild goose chase this weekend for dutch-process cocoa powder that I needed for the My Sweet Vegan recipes. You see, Hannah only uses dutch-process cocoa powder in her book's creations. I looked at Follow Your Heart, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Ralphs, Vons, Cost Plus, and finally, on a whim, Gelsons. There it was at Gelsons for a whopping $9 per box, just hanging out innocently in the hot cocoa section (I figured that this particular story warranted posting the sideways photo). Good grief. The search occurred over a period of 3 days and I was about to start pulling my hair out over it. Thank goodness Gelsons saved me from baldness. Anyway, I have some things going on this week and this weekend that will occupy much of my time, so I'm not sure when I'll be baking. When I do, you'll see photos!