Thursday, July 29, 2010

VGT On the Road: Weekend in Montreal (Part Deux)

At ChuChai with an AMAZING (non-alcoholic) Strawberry-Basil cocktail. So refreshing!

I was going to title this post "Weekend in Montreal 2: Electric Boogaloo" but I was worried that most of you would be too young to remember that movie. If you haven't seen it, then 1) you are young, and/or 2) you are missing out on a cinematic masterpiece.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about our other top choice for vegan eats in Montreal: the all-veg Thai restaurant ChuChai. It is almost entirely vegan, with the exception of a few dishes that include egg, which can be easily omitted. I should add that I found both Aux Vivres and ChuChai on every traveling vegan's best friend, the Happy Cow website. We were so impressed with ChuChai that we went back twice. I'm half-Thai, and a pretty tough judge of Thai food, so I'm telling you, this food was really good. Even though I enjoy and frequently eat vegan Thai food, I do think it is often missing a depth of flavor that is very hard to recreate without the use of ingredients like fish sauce or shrimp paste. The food at ChuChai was some of the most creative and authentic-tasting vegan Thai food I've ever had in a restaurant. Please forgive the really terrible quality of these photos, but it was dark in there and I only had my camera phone with me both times we went.

The first night we went we started with the "duck" salad. What set this apart was that the faux duck pieces were really nice and crispy, the way the real duck version would be. The rest of the salad was a perfectly balanced combination of sour lime juice, hot chilis, and fresh, cooling mint leaves. Heavenly.

For our entrees, we had "chicken" with peanut sauce and crispy spinach. Ok, so maybe the crispy spinach isn't really authentic (or maybe it is? I don't know!) but this peanut sauce was fantastic. Not too sweet, with just the right amount of heat. It's hard to make brownish food look interesting, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.

We also shared some veggies in green curry. Like pretty much all Thai food, Thai curries are all about the balance of flavors - hot, sour, salty, and sweet. This green curry was perfection, I almost wanted to dunk my head in it. The veggies were lightly steamed so they still had a nice firmness and bite to them. And perhaps best of all, there weren't any baby corns lurking around in there.

The second time we went, we started off with an appetizer our server recommended - crispy fried mushrooms that were in a tangy, sweet chili sauce. The mushrooms were really meaty, and it almost reminded of a General Tso's-type dish. Very tasty, but strangely it came with fried basil leaves, which added nothing to the dish. In fact, frying seemed to have the effect of removing almost all flavor from the basil, what a shame.

We had to try the classic noodle dish, Pad Thai, which is pretty much the measure of any Thai restaurant. We were not disappointed by this one. It came with some fried tofu chunks, fresh bean sprouts, a wedge of lime, and a healthy sprinkle of crushed peanuts on top. Delicious!

And because the "duck" was such a hit the last time, we got the duck in red curry to share as well. With chunks of pineapple, obviously this curry is a bit sweeter than the green version, but had a really nice heat to it as well. I wanted to dunk my head in the green curry, but I wanted to take a whole bath in the red one. I'm not crazy about tomatoes in my curry, but my husband liked them, so that's that.

In addition to Aux Vivres and ChuChai, a couple other places worth mentioning (where we stopped but didn't take pictures) were Le Commensal, which has several locations and offers a vegan lunch buffet; Yuan, where we ate the night we arrived - they have a great $20, all you can eat vegan Chinese menu, although the service really sucked; and La Faim du Monde, where we had just a smoothie and some tea, although their menu looked really great. There are plenty of other veg-places in Montreal, but 3 1/2 days just wasn't nearly long enough to try them all. I'm already making plans for where to eat when we return.

4088 Saint Denis Street
Montréal, QC H2W 2M5, Canada
(514) 843-4194

Monday, July 26, 2010

VGT On the Road: Weekend in Montreal (Part One)

I am back from a very lovely and relaxing long weekend in Montreal, a city that any Francophile, including this one, would love. It was my husband's first time there, and I had only been once before for a work trip, a visit all too brief that had left me yearning to return and see more. With the metro, bikes everywhere, cafe culture, and of course the French language, it felt like we had escaped to Europe. It was almost a bonus that we got to discover some incredible vegan restaurants while we were there.

Montreal seems to be quite a veg-friendly city, although the majority of veg places seem to be concentrated around and along rue Saint-Denis, a bustling street with lots of shops, places to eat, clubs, bars, and theaters. Saint-Denis stretches into a neighborhood called the Plateau Mont-Royal, which reminded me of the Oberkampf/Bastille area in Paris, and perhaps the Williamsburg area in Brooklyn, which is to say that it is a working class neighborhood that has been inhabited by many students and artists, with a bohemian vibe and lots of trendy but casual places to go out.

There were two all-vegan restaurants in Montreal that we loved so much, we went back twice. One of them was Aux Vivres (for the other restaurant, stay tuned for Part Deux), a casual vegan restaurant and juice bar. We were amazed at the quality of food there.

They had only a few options for the weekend brunch, but what they had was really, really good. We got a tofu scramble with tempeh bacon, sweet potatoes, and cornbread. I thought you had to be Southern to know how to make good cornbread, but damn if those Canadians didn't prove me wrong.

 We also shared this dish of fried polenta with refried black beans, served with guacamole and salsa. It might not look like anything out of the ordinary, but it was very nicely spiced and so good!

On our next visit we started out with some veggie pâté. I'm not sure what they made this out of, but it was rich, smooth, and seemed to have plenty of herbs like sage, thyme, and possibly rosemary. In fact, it actually tasted a lot like Thanksgiving stuffing, which for me is a compliment of the highest order, as I love Thanksgiving food more than just about anything. In fact, I could just change this blog to Vegan Thanksgiving Things, and happily write about Thanksgiving food year round. But I digress. The veggie pâté here was incredibly delicious, even if it was served with dill pickle slices instead of cornichons, which I'll let slide, but just this once.

We also got the vegan waffles, because hooray, they're vegan waffles! These were topped with some cashew cream, fruit, and maple syrup. They went kind of heavy on the vanilla in the batter, but that's ok with me. Definitely one of the best waffles I've ever had.

But this, this is what I've been dying to share with you. Behold - the MOST AWESOME, MIND-BLOWING, INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS, I'M STILL DREAMING ABOUT IT BLT IN THE WORLD!

What's it made out of, you ask? Well the "B" in the BLT is made out of SMOKED COCONUT! Whaaat??? I know, smoked coconut! It's crazy! It was crispy, like extra crispy bacon, smoky, savory, and more bacon-flavored than any other faux bacon I've ever tasted. Up until now I've been a Lightlife Fakin' Bacon kind of gal, but now I'm team smoked coconut all the way. In your face, smoked tempeh!

I desperately tried to get a recipe out of server for the coconut bacon, but all she would divulge was that they took unsweetened coconut flakes, added tamari and "maybe some maple syrup" among other spices, and baked it for a really long time at very low heat. I will make it my mission to recreate this smoked coconut. I will! I will figure out how to make this myself! This was truly the holy grail of vegan BLT's. We even picked up another one to go for our drive home.

Stay tuned for Part Deux: Vegan Thai Food in Montreal!

Aux Vivres
4631 boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec, Canada
(514) 842-3479

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Weekend Update: A Puppy Birthday & More Recipe Testing for The Blissful Chef

 Bella gets a veg birthday treat from the Paw-tisserie.


It's Bella's birthday! Happy birthday Bella!!! Well, it's her approximate birthday. It's actually the anniversary of the day we rescued her from the shelter and brought her home with us, one year ago today, which makes her approximately two years old. We just call it her birthday because it's more fun that way. I can't tell you how much love & joy Bella has brought into our lives, and the past year with her has been a year of learning, laughing, and lots of wet puppy kisses. In a word, it's been blissful.

And speaking of blissful (see what I did there?), the past week I've done even more recipe testing for The Blissful Chef. It hasn't left me with much time for my own cooking, unless you count that Field Roast Apple Sage sausage I put on a bun and topped with sauerkraut, but I didn't think that really warranted a blog post of its own. That's ok though, because yet again, we had some real good things to test:

Tofu "Eggs Benedict" with Vegan Hollandaise (served with a side of Fakin' Bacon)

Blissful Mediterranean Salad

A lovely salad with Vegan Caesar Dressing

Indian Pizza with Homemade Mango Chutney

Almond Butter Mousse Parfait with crumbled Ginger Snap Cookies & Sliced Banana

Everything we've tried has been really delicious, and I'll be super excited when The Blissful Chef's cookbook comes out. And speaking of super excited, here's another picture of the Bella pup with her new monkey, which she gleefully carried around all day today.

And we're also super excited to be heading up to Montreal this week for a few days. I've been doing my research on the Happy Cow site, and I'm eager to check out Le Commensal, ChuChai, and Aux Vivres. Does anybody else have any tips (food/shopping/sites) for vegans in Montreal?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weekend Update: Rocky Road Ice Cream & Recipe Testing for The Blissful Chef

Hi everybody. I realized that I hadn't posted anything this week, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy whipping up delectable vegan creations over here. Oh no. While my husband has been glued to the boob watching the Tour de France* and the World Cup**, I've been a busy bee testing out recipes for The Blissful Chef, who has a new cookbook coming out in the near future. Oh, and I also made that amazing looking Rocky Road ice cream above with vegan marshmallows from Sweet & Sara, using the recipe in Lick It! Creamy Dreamy Vegan Ice Creams Your Mouth Will Love, which has become a sort of bible ever since we bought our ice cream maker a few months ago.

Because these recipes are forthcoming in her book, I can't print them here, but I can post some photos to whet your droolbuds until the new Blissful Chef book is out.

Oil-Free Baked Falafel with Vegan Tzatziki Sauce

Springtime Lemon Bars

BBQ Seitan (which I topped with some grilled peppers & onions)

Tempeh "Fish" Tacos with Mango Peach Salsa

Coming up this week from The Blissful Chef test recipes: Blissful Mediterranean Salad, Maple Pecan Scones, and MORE! Be sure to check The Blissful Chef's site for updates on her cookbook release.

*That isn't him in the green suit. I swear.
**Also not my husband.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Weekend We Adopted a Pig & Ate Lots of Raw Food

I hope you all had a great holiday weekend. We managed to squeeze quite a lot of park time with Bella and socializing into our schedules, when we weren't at home trying to escape this stifling, oppressive heat that is otherwise known as summertime in NY.

On Saturday we stopped by the Farm Sanctuary Potluck "Pignic" in Central Park. In addition to adopting a pig named Stacey, who is located at the CA shelter, we got to eat lots of yummy vegan food, and made some new friends too. I made the Swiss Chard Tofu Quiche and Edamame Succotash Salad. I really love that Tofu Quiche recipe, but I have to confess that this wasn't my best version of it. I think I probably should have cooked it a little longer, but hey, at least there aren't undercooked salmonella-ridden eggs in there! The quiche disappeared very quickly, so hopefully that's a sign that it wasn't too bad. The Edamame Succotash, on the other hand, I was very happy with. It's a simple, colorful salad that is delicious and perfect for barbecues and picnics. I followed the recipe but added a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the end.

Swiss Chard Tofu Quiche. Not my best version of this.

Edamame Succotash Salad. Fresh corn, edamame, tomatoes, onion, and fresh basil. Perfect summertime salad.

Serving #1 at the Farm Sanctuary Potluck Pignic. I went back for 2nds and 3rds...

Vegan photographer extraordinaire (also my handsome husband) Anthony Two Moons enjoying the picnic

Me, with a lemon soda

Look at all that vegan food!

Many lovely vegans picnicking

Our actual 4th was fairly laid-back. Instead of doing the usual barbecue thing, we actually celebrated with a dear friend from Lebanon who just got his American citizenship. What better day to celebrate such an event, right? So instead of barbecue and baked beans, we had a lot of hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli salad, pickled vegetables, and spinach pies that they very considerately made for us without any cheese. We could see the Macy's fireworks display from their balcony, but from a distance. It was a lovely evening with a many warm friends.

And today, we enjoyed our day off from work by treating ourselves to lunch at the renowned raw food restaurant Pure Food & Wine. Pure Food is definitely one of our favorite places in the city (or anywhere) for dinner, and we were thrilled to hear that they recently began serving lunch too. Unfortunately, the lunch menu is only slightly less expensive than the dinner menu, but everything is so good there and it's entirely worth the occasional splurge. What they do with raw food will blow your mind.

We started off with some guacamole and chips. The chips are dehydrated (I didn't write it down so I can't remember what they're made of) and were really flavorful, with lime-chili seasoning. Guacamole is pretty hard to get wrong, and of course their version was perfect.

We met our friend Leanne for lunch, so the three of us shared our different entrees. I ordered the taco salad, which had taco "meat" (nut-based) crumbles and came with sides of guacamole, tomatoes, and some nut-based "sour cream." It might look like it's just a big salad, but it was loaded with flavor and so filling that I ended up bringing a good bit of it home, even after all three of us picked at it.

Anthony ordered their famous zucchini and tomato lasagna. This dish is simply amazing. It has a basil pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato sauce, and macadamia pumpkin seed ricotta. Such a vegan good thing.

And we also shared the "tuna" salad sandwich. Again, I should have taken notes because I can't remember what this was made of, but it was also very flavorful without tasting too fishy, like some mock tuna salads can be. The caper berries on top were a nice touch too.

But the piece de resistance, and ok, my ulterior motive for planning a visit to Pure Food in the first place, was this...behold, the Pure Food Classic Sundae:

Vanilla and chocolate ice creams, chocolate sauce, cherry framboise sauce, candied sliced almonds, vanilla cream, and sliced banana. This. Sundae. Is. The. Best. Thing. Ever. And it's all raw!

If you're ever in New York, your trip won't be complete without a stop by Pure Food. It will put a dent in your wallet, but if you can get only one thing - get this sundae! We definitely felt like we were on holiday, sitting on their beautiful backyard patio, enjoying this incredible food.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Tofu Pudding

Is there any better combo than chocolate & peanut butter? I've been sitting here trying to think of a better flavor combo, and I'm just not coming up with anything. Nope, chocolate & peanut butter is pretty much as good as it gets.

Last week I had some houseguests staying at our place, and they were rather terrified of vegan food, and tofu in particular. My friend Brian over at A Thought for Food suggested this recipe for Mark Bittman's Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding. It looked really tasty and easy to make, so I tried it out, and it was a huge hit, even for the tofu-phobes. The look on their faces when I told them it was tofu after they'd already scarfed down most of their servings was priceless.

The Mexican chocolate recipe is divine, and I highly recommend you try it out. The silken tofu gives it an amazingly smooth and creamy texture, and the hint of cinnamon and chili powder adds just the perfect amount of spice to the chocolate. This will definitely become one of my standby recipes when we have guests over.

But I wanted to tinker with the recipe, of course, so I came up with this peanut butter variation. It's basically the exact same recipe, minus the spices, plus peanut butter, but I'll print it below for you anyway. The smooth peanut butter only adds to the creaminess of the texture. I guarantee you'll be licking your spoon and dishes clean.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Tofu Pudding
makes 6 servings

3/4 cup sugar
1 pound silken tofu
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup natural peanut butter, smooth
Soy whipped cream (optional)
Chocolate shavings (optional)

1. In a small pot, combine sugar with 3/4 cup water; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

2. Put all ingredients except for soy whipped cream and chocolate shavings in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 6 ramekins and chill for at least one hour. If you like, garnish with soy whipped cream and/or chocolate shavings before serving.