Saturday, April 24, 2010

Best Dessert EVER: Bananas Foster with Coconut Ice Cream

I like bananas. I like rum too. But when you put them together, holy crap, something magical happens. This magic is of course aided by a buttery, caramelized, warm gooey sauce that would pretty much make anything taste like ambrosia from the gods. I've had bananas foster before, but damn did I forget how incredibly good it tastes.

It is super quick and easy to make, which is good because it smells so amazing when it's cooking that if you had to wait any longer you might be tempted to dunk your face into the scalding hot bubbling caramel, which would not be good. The recipe is from The Joy of Vegan Baking, which has a 100% approval rating for everything I have tried so far. You just melt 4 Tbsp. of nondairy butter in a large, heavy pan. When the butter is melted, stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 Tbsp. of rum, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. nutmeg. When the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is bubbling, add 4 bananas that have been sliced in half lengthwise and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans. Gently coat the bananas and nuts with the syrup, but don't allow the bananas to become mushy.

I served this with a scoop of Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Coconut ice cream. The store was out of my favorite flavor, Vanilla Bean, but this was fortuitous because the Coconut was fantastic with the bananas. I think I have a new all-time favorite dessert. Please run and make this right now. Run!

Thank you Patricia for this fantastic bottle of rum!

Sweet & Sour Tempeh with Spicy Peanut Sauce

A few months ago I took a cooking class with Peter Berley, author of The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. Peter worked wonders with tempeh in the class, like the recipe I made for Tempeh & Vegetables in Spicy Lemon-Coconut Broth, so I pulled out his cookbook to look for a new recipe to try. I came across this one for Sweet & Sour Tempeh with Spicy Peanut Sauce, and since I'm a lover of anything with peanut sauce, I thought this would be a sure hit.

The tempeh marinade is made of 1/4 cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin; 1 Tbsp. fresh minced ginger, and a crushed garlic clove. You cut one pound of tempeh into 1-inch cubes, then pour the marinade over, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

The peanut sauce is not cooked, which I thought was strange at first, but it worked. The ingredients are pretty similar to the tempeh marinade. You just puree in a blender one cup of peanut butter, 4 Tbsp. maple syrup, 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. fresh minced ginger, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper. Add 1/2 to 1 cup of hot water, until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

The tempeh turns out to be moist and tender, nutty, savory and gingery. I'm not sure I would call it "sweet and sour," because that made me expect a different type of flavor, but it was really good. The peanut sauce was really good too, with the sweetness a good contrast to the earthiness of the tempeh. One word of warning however, the sauce really does pack a punch because of the raw garlic. Eat this with someone who won't mind your raw garlic breath.

I served this with some jasmine rice and broccoli that I quickly stir-fried with some sesame oil, minced fresh ginger, a splash of mirin, and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Delicious!

Good Links: Earth Week Roundup

Wow, was this a busy week in the vegan world or what? People and companies always seem to try to put their greenest foot forward around Earth Day, but with this year marking the 40th anniversary, it seemed to me like green issues - including the meat question - were out in the public debate even more than ever. We've got a long way to go, but I daresay that awareness of the environmental impact from the meat industry is helping to make many omnivorous people choose to at least eat a lot less meat, if not go veg altogether. At any rate, these are the good things that caught my eye over the past week, and some things happening this weekend:
  • 101 Cookbooks always has gorgeous photos, like this one of Miso Vegetables & Tofu. The recipe looks easy to make, earthy, delicious, and perfect for a light springtime meal. 
  • Manifest Vegan made this delicious-looking White Pasta with Fiddleheads. I've never tried fiddleheads before, but this recipe sounds great and makes me wish that I had a yard, with fiddleheads growing in it! 
  • Quarrygirl was one of the first to announce to thrilled vegans everywhere that Starbucks has started serving soy-based vegan Frappuccinos. In all the excitement, I went to the one closest to my office (the one on 7th Ave. near 31st St.) to see if they had them yet. I nearly jumped up and down when they said yes, so I got a small tall one. Then I remembered two things: one, I stopped drinking coffee months ago, and two, I hate sugary coffee drinks. A few sips were enough to make my teeth ache and give me heart palpitations. Oh well. It's vegan though!
  • One of my absolute favorite sites, The Kitchn, gave us 10 Vegan Lunch Ideas, and also this interesting post on Vegetarian Etiquette: The Dinner Party Dilemma. I thought the comment discussion on the Vegetarian Etiquette post was really interesting. We've generally been lucky enough when invited to dinner parties - either they've been all-vegan or the hosts have known us well enough to include vegan dishes in the menu. Or I'm usually the one throwing the dinner party, which is the best way to make sure that the menu is all vegan. However, we have on occasion experienced a strange forgetfulness, even among our closest (omnivore) friends, that we're vegan, like the time we were invited over for an intimate dinner and they served a lasagna loaded with all kinds of cheese and a cream sauce. We made do with some salad. When in doubt, my best advice is to have a snack before you go to said dinner party. Then, if there's not enough to eat, you won't be starving while you're stuck there, waiting to leave and pick up a late-night falafel on your way home.
  • There was some good veg programming on the boob tube this week. PBS aired Food Inc. and one of my favorite guilty-pleasure shows, Law & Order: SVU had an episode titled "Beef," the plot of which revolved around the murder of a woman who had been doing a "Michael Moore-type expose" of a meat packing plant. I had mixed feelings about this episode. They kind of made the victim look like she had been some sort of crazed, fanatical, animal rights wingnut, instead of someone who was just genuinely concerned about animal welfare and who was trying to document malpractices in a local food processing plant. I also had hoped that the beef-industry expose would be larger-scale, instead it was about a local, mom-and-pop type place, that was run by a crazy, homicidal matriarch (sorry if that was a spoiler). Ultimately, it was more of a gross-out episode rather than a statement on the meat industry as a whole, but hopefully it was enough to get at least a few people thinking about where their meat comes from.
  • More in good programming: I loooooove Isabella Rossellini's wacky Green Porno series about the mating habits of insects. If you haven't seen these videos where she writes, directs, and acts out these mating scenarios, you are really missing out on some hilarious (and educational!) stuff. She now has a new series titled "Seduce Me: The Spawn of Green Porno" that is sure to bring more laughs and more insight into the seduction rituals of our animal friends. Watch all the Green Porno and Seduce Me episodes online here
  • Speaking of porn (what a great segue that was), Happy.Healthy.Life has this absolutely drool-worthy slideshow of the Top 20 Vegan Desserts in NYC. This is vegan food porn at its finest. And it makes me feel incredibly lucky to live in vegan-friendly NYC! I will make it my mission to sample every one of the 23 items she recommends. In the name of research, of course.
  • And lastly, I just had to link to this article on the Farm Bureau being pissed at the EPA for allowing one of its interns to write a post on the EPA blog about going vegetarian. Nicole Reising's post is here. The Farm Bureau is mad because the post might suggest that a vegetarian lifestyle is officially endorsed by the EPA. Nicole, I would like to shake your hand for your great blog post. Brava to you!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Love the earth and all its beings, today and every day. That's my Bella in the picture above, and the reason I can't eat any meat without thinking of suffering animals and in turn thinking about how much I love and want to protect her from harm.

But that's not the only reason to go veg. In honor of Earth Day, I think this video at the link really sums it up best: You can't be a meat eating environmentalist.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good & Quick: Mediterranean Chick'n Sandwiches

I've been kind of obsessed with sandwiches lately. First I was inspired by my trip to Terri, then by the different vegan panini I keep getting for lunch from Whole Foods, and on top of that I've been dreaming about how to make vegan versions of the grilled cheese sandwiches they made in the quickfire challenge on last week's episode of Top Chef Masters. It also has something to do with the fact that I'm fairly lazy and sandwiches are pretty easy to make.

This was a super quick sandwich to make, and a bit messy to eat, but in that finger-lickin' good kind of way. It's kind of a take on chicken parmesan, but the chicken isn't breaded. Or chicken for that matter. I wasn't sure what to call it, so I settled on "Mediterranean" because anything with olives, tomatoes, artichokes, and basil qualifies as "Mediterranean," right? Also, the chick'n breasts are "Tuscan," so yep, that puts us squarely on the map in the Mediterranean region. I guess I ruined my Mediterranean theme when I put sweet potato fries on the side, so sue me.

Mediterranean Chick'n Sandwiches
makes 2 sandwiches

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, packed in oil, drained
2 Tbsp. black olive tapenade
salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
1 package Gardein Tuscan Breasts
2 slices vegan mozzarella
fresh baguette, hero rolls, or other sandwich bread of your choice

1. Place sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, tapenade, and basil in a food processor. Pulse a few seconds at a time until you have a thick, chunky paste. Salt and pepper to taste.
2. Heat Gardein Tuscan breasts in an oiled pan according to package directions. When breasts are almost done, top with mozzarella slices and heat until cheese is melted.
3. Spread a generous layer of tomato-olive mixture on top half of sandwich. Put chicken on bottom half and top with some extra fresh basil leaves.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Vegan Potato-Bean Enchiladas with Green Tomatillo Sauce and Pine Nut Crema

I was so eager to dive into my new copy of Viva Vegan! this weekend and try out a new recipe. It was really hard to decide what to make first, there were so many tantalizing ones. I finally chose this enchilada dish because, well, who doesn't like enchiladas?

A couple things to note: the recipe is actually for Potato-Chickpea Enchiladas, but my husband can't stand chickpeas unless they're in hummus or falafel. It's the whole chickpeas he doesn't like. So I substituted pinto beans but I think black beans or black-eyed peas could also be really good in this dish.

The other note is that this recipe, like many others in the book, was very time-consuming to make, hence my designation as "weekend cooking." I made the tomatillo sauce and the pine nut crema yesterday, then did the filling and assembly today. As a matter of fact, Romero even gives a make-ahead tip to make the components over the course of three weeknights, then put them all together the next day. I'm not saying they weren't worth the effort - we really enjoyed them - but they were definitely a lot of work. So don't think you can just whip these up in a flash if you, like me, usually get home from work around 7:00pm ready to gnaw your own arm off and need something quick, like Rachel Ray quick, or else you're going to have a situation.

This was my first experience cooking anything with tomatillos. I was somewhat concerned to discover that they have kind of an odd smell and a sticky surface after you peel off the papery husks, but this went away after I washed them. After boiling the tomatillos about 10 minutes, then letting them cool, I pulsed them in a food processor with garlic, a couple jalapeno peppers, onion and cilantro leaves. (I know I recently commented on hating cilantro... so maybe calling them "vile" was too strong. I'm not a big fan, but they seemed an integral part of this recipe, and I really didn't mind them in it. The cilantro taste was not overwhelming.)  Then you boil the mixture with vegetable broth until it thickens.

The pine nut crema was very quick easy to make. You pretty much just blend some soft silken tofu, pine nuts, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, and cornstarch until it's smooth and creamy. It had a nice garlicky punch and citric tang to it that I liked a lot.

The filling mixture is where it gets a little more involved. First, it requires roasted jalapeno or serrano peppers. I discovered that it's actually pretty fun to roast peppers directly on my stove burner. It's kind of like sticking marshmallows into the camp fire and waiting for them to get all black and charred. Or maybe it just appeals to the inner pyromaniac in me. If your burners have wide spaces, it helps to have one of these diffusers, which we actually use for our stovetop espresso maker. It was the perfect size for holding the jalapeno while they roasted. After they are charred on all sides, you put them in a covered dish or paper bag, and wait for them to cool. As they cool, the moisture will loosen up the skin so you can easily rub it off. After you remove the skin, split them open and clean out the seeds, then they are ready to be prepared as directed by the recipe.

The filling is a combination of diced potatoes that have been boiled until soft, chickpeas (or beans of your choice), garlic, onion, the roasted jalapenos, spices, and vegetable broth. You cook it down until the broth has reduced, and then I used a potato masher to make a chunky texture.

The assembly is fun in a messy way, and definitely helps to have two people working together. You need: a cast iron skillet to warm the corn tortillas, a pie pan filled with some of the tomatillo sauce, and then a casserole dish with some of the sauce spread on the bottom. Making one at a time, my husband would warm a tortilla, then I coated both sides in the sauce, then put it in the casserole dish, then scooped about 3 heaping Tbsp. of the filling down the middle, rolled it up tightly, and then started on the next one. I ended up with enough filling for 10 enchiladas. You could probably stretch it to 12 if you used a little less filling than I did.

 Step #1

Step #2

Step #3

When you have all your enchiladas in the pan, you spread a cup of the tomatillo sauce evenly over the top, then dollop the pine nut crema over the sauce. I followed Romero's directions to not spread the crema evenly over the top, because it looks better when some of the green tomatillo sauce still shows through. The crema was a real revelation - it actually browned a bit on the top and had a nice cheesy texture to it.

I felt like these enchiladas had many layers of interesting flavors to them. They weren't very spicy to my taste, but the roasted jalapeno added good flavor (they probably would have been spicier if I had left some seeds in them). I liked how all the elements complemented each other, but if I have any critique I would have to say that I would have preferred to have some contrasting textures in there. They needed something crunchy, or chewy, to give them some bite. As they were, they were somewhat mono-textural (is that a word?), with that texture being soft and somewhat mushy. But I think that the tomatillo sauce and the pine nut crema are very versatile and would work with all kinds of different fillings. I will definitely make this recipe again and try some variations on the filling, next time I have a weekend to dedicate to the project!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Golden Delicious: Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes

So it turned out to be a cold, damp, crappy day today. Great weather for an outdoor bake sale, right? The weather may not have been sunny, but that didn't put a damper on the spirits of the NY food bloggers who showed up to participate in the Share Our Strength Bake Sale. According to Jacquie from The JLH Life, we managed to raise $1,165! I saw some amazing (albeit non-vegan) creations, including gorgeous cupcakes from Cupcakes in Heels and pretty-as-a-picture (albeit VERY non-vegan) macarons from Macaron Parlour. Now I just have to convince Simon from Macaron Parlour to make some vegan macarons...or, I guess, make them myself.

So here, as promised, is my recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes. I must add that I am also a huge fan of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World's Pineapple Right-Side Up Cupcakes.  Sometimes I make them upside-down, sometimes I make them right-side up. I'm crazy and unpredictable that way.

Vegan Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes

For topping:
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) Earth Balance, melted
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained, juice reserved
1/2 cup light brown sugar

For cupcakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) Earth Balance
1/2 cup reserved pineapple juice
1 tsp. Egg Replacer, mixed with 2 Tbsp. water until smooth (equivalent of one egg)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter (with Earth Balance or vegetable oil) and flour cupcake pan. Turn cupcake pan over sink and knock out the excess flour.

2. Prepare the topping: Measure exactly 1 tsp. of melted Earth Balance into each cupcake cup. Sprinkle 1 packed tsp. of brown sugar on top of the butter. Spread 1 Tbsp. of pineapple on top of the brown sugar.

3. Prepare the cupcakes: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and spices. Add butter and pineapple juice, then mix with electric beaters about two minutes until smooth. Mix in the egg replacer and combine thoroughly.

4. Spoon batter over pineapple mixture, filling each cup about 3/4 full. Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

5. Cool the cupcakes no more than five minutes before running a knife around edges of each cake. Place a cooling rack on top of the cupcake pan, then invert and shake out the cakes. They should fall right out. If any pineapple sticks to the pan, simply use a knife to re-spread it over the top of the cupcake.

You may notice that I don't include the traditional maraschino cherries in my cupcakes. The reason is because, although they add an eye-pleasing pop of color, the unnatural redness (read: FD&C Red #40) freaks me out. If you want to use them, add half a cherry to the bottom of each cup, pressing down into the middle of the pineapple so that the cherry will show on top when cupcakes are inverted.

These cupcakes are moist and spongy, subtly spiced, and definitely best when eaten warm. Even better when served with a scoop of Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean ice cream.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good Links: Vegan Dresses, Sandal Giveaway, Some Pasta Dishes, and Viva Vegan!

It's been quite a long time since I posted some links, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been keeping up with my favorite blogs. I have 124 blogs bookmarked at the moment, which take a long time to browse, but I do love seeing what other people are eating and writing about. Here are a few things that caught my attention recently:

  • The Girlie Girl Army introduced me to these red-carpet worthy line of vegan dresses from Dalia MacPhee. Now, if only I had a red carpet event at which to show up!

  • Vegansaurus shares my hatred for cilantro. I already loved Vegansaurus, but now I love them even more. Seriously, cilantro is vile. 
  • This photo of Manifest Vegan's Lasagna with Creamy Red Wine Sauce literally made me drool. That looks insanely good. I am 100% going to try this recipe at home, although I fear that after eating that lasagna, I'll never fit into one of those Dalia MacPhee dresses. If I have to make a choice, I'm going for the lasagna.

  • Ecouterre is giving away a pair of these sexy Neuaura vegan sandals! Enter now!
  • Herbivoracious posted a recipe for Vegetarian Jap Chae, or stir-fried Korean glass noodles. You may recall that I'm a fan of Korean food, and this is one of my favorite dishes. I can't wait to try to make this myself.
  • And finally, I just got my copy of Viva Vegan!, Terry Hope Romero's new cookbook with 200 Latin food recipes,  in the mail today. I can't tell you how excited I am to try some new recipes this weekend - Empanadas! Tamales! Arepas!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

National Food Bloggers Bake Sale for Share Our Strength

Here's a sneak peek at my scrumptious Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes that will be on sale this Saturday, April 17 as part of the National Food Bloggers Bake Sale for Share Our Strength. A whole bevy of NY food bloggers will be participating in this bake sale (list of participants and what they are bringing can be found here), but as far as I can tell only Chris from The Skint and I are bringing vegan baked goods.

Share Our Strength works to fight childhood hunger in the US. Did you know that nearly 17 million children in America face hunger? That's ALMOST ONE IN FOUR CHILDREN. Sorry for the all caps, but I found this statistic to be truly shocking. That any child should be hungry in this great country of ours, the richest country in the world, is just plain unacceptable. And if you've been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, like I have, then you will also know that the majority of the children who do get to eat are being fed horrifically processed food products that just barely qualify as "food." Alas, but that's another problem. I know that Jamie Oliver isn't promoting a vegan or even vegetarian lifestyle, but I think we can all agree that he's fighting the good fight and is definitely trying to make progress in the right direction.

Our bake sale this Saturday will be one of many taking place across the country this weekend for the cause. Holding bake sales may seem like a small gesture to make in the face of such an enormous problem, but keep in mind that we raised thousands of dollars with vegan bake sales for Haiti. You can read more about how funds from bake sales go to fight childhood hunger here.

So if you're in NYC, please come out early this Saturday before my cupcakes sell out. I will post the recipe on Saturday too, but not until then in case you are tempted to just make these at home instead of coming out to spend your bucks on mine.

Where: The Brooklyn Flea
176 Lafayette Avenue
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

When: Saturday, April 17, 2010 (rain or shine!)
10 AM to 5 PM

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vegan Good Things now on Twitter!

I've been hesitant to cross over to the dark side and enter the world of Twitter, mostly because I don't know how the hell Twitter works. But today, out of sheer boredom a desire to reach out and connect with more vegans (or the vegan-curious) I decided to sign up for a Twitter account: @vegangoodthings. I expect that I'll tweet about vegan-related things that cross my mind that may not warrant an entire blog posting. Or maybe I'll tweet about what I'm having for lunch. Or maybe I'll tweet about these amazing red vegan shoes from Vivienne Westwood for Melissa that I got recently.

One other small thing I did today - I changed my profile photo from my adorable pup Bella to one of myself. Yep, that's me you see down there to the right. Bella is a lot cuter but I figured that people reading my blog might actually want to know what I look like. So there I am. Now go look for me on Twitter!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Seitan Black Bean Corn Burgers

If there's one thing I hate, it's a mushy veggie burger. Burgers need to have some bite to them. Some meatiness. I hate when they're so soft that they just squish out of the bun and fall out onto the plate. My very favorite burgers are the Original Vegan Boca Burgers, precisely because they are "meaty" in both taste and texture.  Because let's face it, when you're craving a burger, what you're looking for isn't a mouthful of mushy peas and carrots. No, you want something smoky, savory, and that makes you feel like you are indulging yourself.

For this reason, I'm often hesitant to make homemade veggie burgers because most of the ones I have tried have turned out mushy. Whether they're bean-based, tofu-based, or vegetable-based, they usually have one thing in common: mushiness. So I usually ask myself why should I attempt to recreate something that the good people over at Boca Burger have mastered so well?

This recipe caught my eye, however, when I was leafing through my Vegan Yum Yum cookbook, because it combines seitan and black beans, which made me think it might have a little bite to it, and a  list full of spices and seasonings that I like. But would they stand up to the mush test?

You basically combine one cup of seitan and one 14 oz. can of drained black beans in the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.

Transfer the seitan/bean mixture to a large mixing bowl, then add: one Tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce (there's also a really good one from Annie's Naturals), one Tbsp. soy sauce, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, two Tbsp. flour, 1/2 cup frozen corn, and 1/2 tsp. each of smoked paprika, cumin, and chili powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt. If your mixture is too wet and gloppy, add up to 1/2 cup additional flour. The mixture should be able to hold together when you form it into a patty.

Form burger patties and fry in two Tbsp. vegetable oil, until crisped and browned on both sides.

The verdict? These burgers did hold together nicely and passed the mush test. They are definitely not "meaty" like the Boca burgers, but they are very nicely spiced and flavorful, and they crisp nicely, which helps to give them that charred, burger-y kind of taste.

We served ours on whole wheat buns with Vegenaise, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, vegan mozzarella, and slices of avocado. And onion rings on the side. Now that's what I call a happy meal.

Panfried Tofu with Asian Caramel Sauce

I made this dish the other night when I was trying to think of something new and different to do with tofu. I love to eat tofu, but most of the time eating tofu is really all about the other ingredients or the sauce that accompany it. This recipe that I found on has a great combination of flavors and textures, and really transforms the humble tofu into something very bold and exotic.

You start by deep-frying 3-4 large sliced shallots in one cup of vegetable oil. When they are golden brown, transfer them to paper towels to drain.

To make the sauce, cook 1/3 cup of sugar in dry saucepan until the it melts and begins to turn a golden color. Stir and continue to cook until all the sugar is melted. Then you add 1/2 of finely chopped shallots, which will make the caramel bubble vigorously. Cook and stir for about 45 seconds, until shallots shrink and become very fragrant. Then you add one finely chopped garlic clove and 1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger. Cook and stir for about 30 seconds, then stir in 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar, and 1 1/3 cups water. Simmer, stirring, about one minute to make sure that any hardened caramel is dissolved.

Next you mix 2 Tbsp. cornstarch with 2 Tbsp. water until smooth, then stir into the sauce and simmer a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and cover while you prepare the tofu.

I pressed one 14 oz. block of extra firm tofu, then cut it into 8 slices. Fry it in one Tbsp. vegetable oil until browned, 3-4 minutes on each side.

To serve, place slices of tofu over jasmine rice, then top with some sauce, a handful of torn fresh mint and basil leaves, and fried shallots.

Despite it being a caramel sauce, it's not nearly as sweet as you would expect it to be. It's slightly sweet, but also acidic and tangy (from the vinegar), and goes really well with the fresh herbs and the fried shallots. These are very bright, bold flavors that will definitely wake up your tastebuds. Perfect for spring!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday Brunch at Blossom, Visit to Cocoa V

Happy Easter! It's Sunday, and it was gorgeous outside today, so we decided that a special brunch was deserved. I've mentioned before that I love brunch, and if there's anything I like more than brunch, it's a meal at Blossom restaurant... so a brunch at Blossom, with some good friends joining us, is pretty much as good as it gets.

 Our friends Susanne & Terje, with their daughter Alea, who is not impressed.

Blossom is our go-to place for birthdays, special events, and whenever we want to suggest a restaurant to go to with vegan-skeptic friends. We've been several times with some of our most carnivorous pals, and everyone always raves about it. Sometimes you even see celebs there, like the time we dined in between an Olsen sister (which one? who can tell?) and Emily Deschanel, an outspoken vegan actress.

We were absolutely ravenous by the time we arrived, so we quickly ordered some appetizers including my favorite "Cape Cod Cakes" that are reminiscent of crabcakes, but made with hiziki seaweed, tofu, herbs and spices, and served with a vegan tartar sauce. I was a big fan of crabcakes at one point, but I actually think that these are every bit as satisfying.

Cape Cod Cakes, with hiziki seaweed, tofu & spices, with vegan tartar sauce

We also tried the ravioli in cashew cream (an appetizer) and their French toast, which may or may not have been listed as an appetizer, but we ordered it anyway. The ravioli is filled with a spinach, mushroom, and pine nut mixture, and is a delight to your umami receptors. But what really shocked me was the cashew cream sauce - it was so incredibly smooth and creamy, almost like an alfredo sauce but without any of the heaviness or that sticky mouthfeel that cheese sauces can have.

 Spinach-Mushroom Ravioli in Cashew Cream (tastes so much better than it looks)

The French toast was perfection. In fact, I thought my French toast turned out pretty great, but theirs wins, hands down. It was perfectly crispy, buttery, and might have had a hint of cinnamon and some other spices to it. I'm on a mission to figure out what they use as their batter, and how they get it so perfectly browned and crispy. It comes topped with fresh berries, maple syrup, and a slice of tempeh bacon.

The best vegan French toast EVER.

Then we were on to our main courses. Two of us got the Soy Bacon Cheeseburger, which comes topped with caramelized onions, soy cheese, soy bacon, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle aioli. What can I add to that, except YUM?!

Soy Bacon Cheeseburger with perfectly crisped fries
This picture would have been better but my husband would have eaten the camera if I made him wait any longer.

I got the BLT, made with "crispy southern fried tofu," tempeh bacon, lettuce and tomato on ciabatta bread. I often make a simpler version of this at home, without the fried tofu, but it added a lot of good flavor and another texture to the sandwich. It also had the chipotle aioli, which added just a little heat and was very tasty.

Vegan BLT with tempeh bacon and southern crispy fried tofu

And another friend of ours ordered the Soy Philly Sandwich, like a Philly Cheesesteak but with pan-seared seitan, grilled onions, peppers, soy cheese, and again the ubiquitous chipotle aioli. I've ordered the Soy Philly before, and it's one of my favorites.

 Soy Philly sandwich with grilled onions and peppers

We were stuffed to the gills after all that, so we needed to take a little walk to burn it up, and also to put our favorite 3 year old to sleep in her stroller. We made a quick pit stop in Cocoa V, however, which is associated with Blossom restaurant and just a block away. Cocoa V opened not too long ago, and is the very first 100% vegan, organic, and fair trade chocolate shop.

As soon as you step in this charming little shop, you can't help but feel like, well, a kid in a candy store. Each bonbon is prettier than the next, almost too pretty to eat. Almost. They have a dazzling assortment of flavors to choose from, everything from chocolate ganache to passion fruit to orange vanilla caramel to fresh mint to pecan praline... I could go on and on but I'm starting to drool.

 Easter egg chocolate lollipops

Painted chocolate Easter eggs

But it's not enough that the chocolates look gorgeous, right? They have to taste good! And boy, do they ever. Rich, creamy, smooth... they all taste wonderfully fresh and are everything you could ever want in a bonbon, vegan or not.

Cocoa V also pairs their chocolates (and other sweets) with wine and a selection of savory dishes, like vegan quiche and even vegan cheese plates. But after our incredible meal at Blossom, I didn't have room for anything else. That will have to wait until our next visit. Luckily, there's always room for chocolate though.

The 12 winning bonbons that got to come home with me.

Blossom Vegan Restaurant
187 9th Ave., between 21st and 22nd Sts.
New York, NY 10011

Cocoa V
174 9th Ave., between 20th and 21st Sts.
New York, NY 10011