Friday, September 30, 2011

Veggie Goodness on Work Trips

If you wonder why I've been eating out so much, it's because I'm basically traveling non-stop for work right now.  Traveling always makes eating more interesting for me, since I really have to search out vegan food.  I also bring a lot of applesauce cups, rice cakes, Larabars, dried mango, etc., to supplement eating out, which can get costly after awhile.

Last week I found three amazing restaurants in Northern California that cater to vegans and vegetarians.  I always love seeing actual vegan options on menus, and especially love ENTIRE vegan menus!  It's so wonderfully overwhelming.

Goji Kitchen: Santa Rosa, California
The menu classifies this restaurant as Asian Fusion.  It features Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine which are two of my favorite types of foods ever.  I stuck with the no-fail option of vegetable pho.  The menu even called it "Vegan Vietnamese Noodle Soup."  I mean, how can you go wrong with that?  Not only were the vegan items specified on the menu, the whole restaurant was organic!  Love, love, love this place.  The pho was amazing.  Exactly what I wanted, even though it was practically a hundred degrees outside and not really soup weather.  That's okay.

East West Restaurant:  Santa Rosa, California
This was a fun dinner with Aunt K and Grammy at another great restaurant in Santa Rosa that features vegetarian food!  I seriously love this town!  Again, there were so many vegan options at East West, and I was torn between the Thai Tofu Salad and the Tostada Delight.  In the end, I got the Tostada and Aunt K got the Thai Tofu Salad.  When the dish came out, I was happily shocked when an entire serving tray of fresh veggie goodness was placed before me!  WOW!

Cafe Gratitude:  San Rafael, California
This one was perhaps the most interesting vegan dining experience I had that week.  I really don't know where to start with describing this place.  Here, just read this description from their website:

"Café Gratitude is our expression of a world of plenty. Our food and people are a celebration of our aliveness. We select the finest organic ingredients to honor the earth and ourselves, as we are one and the same. We support local farmers, sustainable agriculture, and environmentally-friendly products. Our food is prepared with love. We invite you to step inside and enjoy being someone who chooses: loving your life, adoring yourself, accepting the world, being generous and grateful every day, and experiencing being provided for. Have fun and enjoy being nourished."

My vegan black bean tacos with homemade cashew cheese were good and all, but I don't think I really fit into the whole hippie "life affirmation" vibe of this place.  All the menu items were entitled with catchy little phrases like "I am transformed" (which was my bean tacos) or "I am joyful," "I am rejuvenated," "I am enlightened," etc.  I guess we are supposed to feel like whatever the title says if we order that dish?  When I ordered my entree and wheatgrass-ginger-lemon drink, the organic cotton wearing waitress practically bowed and said "You are Transformed and You are Effervescent."

Um, okay.  Thanks?

While I waited for my transformative and effervescent meal, I reminded myself that pulling out my smart-phone in a place like this must certainly be frowned upon.  Afterall, wasn't I waiting to be transformed?  Instead, I thumbed through the stack of affirmation cards that conveniently rested in a basket on the table.

"What do you have an abundance of that you are not committed to or don't enjoy?  For example:  worry, concern, debt, wanting more, etc?"

How bout all of the above!  How is this supposed to be affirming?

"Being grateful always shifts your attention to what you have already been given."

Wow!  That's a wonderful thought!

"Albert Einstein once said, 'Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistant one.'"


Thank goodness my food came and it was very tasty.  The vegan cashew cheese was so creamy and good!  How do they do that?

Did I feel transformed or effervescent afterwards?  Actually, I was kinda in a rush to get to the airport...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Whole Foods Love

Can I just live at Whole Foods and eat every single meal here?  I love this place so much.  It has provided so many a veggie-goodness meal for me while on my weary travels.

Let's just talk about the salad bar, which is my favorite thing in the whole store.  I usually go crazy here and load up on all the fresh veggies, cous cous salads, tofu, rice, etc.  By the time I'm done filling my little bio-degradable brown carton, the salad ends up costing around the same as a tank of gas for my car.  Costly, yes, but it is indeed fuel for my body.  (Get it?)

Today, by some miracle I managed to stay under a pound at the salad bar.  Sadly, I did have to pass up some yummy looking items, which I knew only added weight (such as the artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, and grilled tofu squares.)  I did however opt for the addition yellow beets and heirloom tomatoes, hello yum!  I partnered the salad with an organic sourdough baguette and a piece of Lake Champlain dark chocolate!  Perfect lunch satisfaction.  Have I mentioned that I love this store?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forks Over Knives

A couple weeks ago we found out that Jimbo’s was hosting the movie Forks over Knives and then, partnered with a new vegetarian restaurant in town, serving free vegan samples after the movie!  The whole thing was free, and I’ve been wanting to see this movie, so we went.

There was a crowd of about 350 when we arrived right on the dot, which made me very happy that so many people were about to be enlightened. I was especially glad to see that one in attendance was a very overweight man guzzling a barrel of soda.  He definitely should be seeing this movie.

The premise of Forks over Knives is a study conducted on about four individuals suffering from chronic/terminal diseases such as diabetes and cancer.  These people worked with Dr. Letterman and Dr. Pulde who both specialize in the idea of healing by food not medicine.  They advocate a whole food, plant based diet.  Needless to say, by the end of the study (and the movie) these four, sick individual’s had completely reversed their diseases and were now living completely healthy lives, free of all pain and medication.

Need I say more?

A vegan diet is life changing and LIFE SAVING.

This two-hour movie of course contained shocking statistics and focused on studies conducted in other countries that eat more fruits and vegetables than do Americans.  In one clip, Katie Couric announces, “Western diet is taking a toll.  The only thing that is growing – is us.”

Furthermore, it has now been proven that heart disease and cancer are the two biggest killers in America, and this could change if we simply changed our eating habits.

Hippocrates said over 2000 years ago, “Let food by thy medicine.”  The doctors in this movie proved that, indeed, food can be more healing than any medicine prescribed by a doctor.  Healing foods include vegetables, fruits, and grains.  After all, the cholesterol that causes high blood pressure and heart disease is only found in meat, eggs and dairy.

I don’t know why, but towards the end of the movie, I was actually feeling a bit emotional.  Okay, I’m a sucker for shock value and totally fell for it with this movie, but it’s only because it’s something in which I so strongly believe!

“People who switch diets lose weight, beat cancer, lower cholesterol drastically,” the narrator said as they showed a vegan firefighter climbing UP the pole in the firehouse.  With each higher grasp of his hand he chanted:  “Real.  Men.  Eat.  Plants.”
I appreciated this little segment in the fire station because it just shows that the vegan diet isn’t just for trendy girlie-girls who want to be skinny.  Everyone can benefit from eating more plant-based foods!

I’m not going to argue with die-hard meat eaters, but all I have to say is that if you’re going to eat meat, eggs, or dairy – fine.  These food items should just be treated as something “special.”  Like ice cream or cake.  Something you only eat once in awhile for a special treat, like on your birthday or on vacation.

Hooray for veggies!

The free samples after the movie were delicious too.

Cabbage Salad and Soy Chicken Drumstick

Lemon Sesame Kale Salad

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vegan Dining In and Out

This is a busy time of the year for me due to my job which requires a lot of travel.  I haven't had a lot of time to cook any "fancy" recipes at home; but when I do cook, here are some of the meals we have been enjoying lately:  (Sorry, no pictures.)

--Rice and beans
--Rice and stir-fried veggies
--Rice and grilled tofu
--Rice and vegetable salad
--Rice and avocado with soy sauce
--Rice and garden tomatoes with Tapa Tio

Okay, so you get the idea.  We eat a lot of rice.  It's the quickest, easiest thing to make and still manages to taste good!

Other popular meals lately include some kind of pasta with Trader Joe's Traditional Marinara Sauce and artichokes.  Oh and salad.  A lot of salad.  

Anyway.  When we're not eating rice, beans, tomatoes or pasta, we are eating at vegan-friendly restaurants.  Here are just a few of the fun places we've gone lately and what a vegan can eat there:

Le Papagayo:  Leucadia, California

W looked at the menu ahead of time and excitedly announced that they had a vegan option of Pasta Primavera.  Yes!  That's exactly what I was craving!  However, when we arrived at the restaurant for a birthday dinner, the menu said "Vegetable lasagne and veggie wrap with hummus."  Um, not vegan, hun, but thanks for looking out.  I instead asked for a gnocci that was made in one dish with the putanesca sauce made in another.  It turned out to be really delicious!

Meals by Genet:  Los Angeles, California
I had never been to an Ethiopian restaurant, but after this experience I am hooked!  I love this food!  There was another veggie lover at this meal, so we shared the vegetarian combination dinner.  I don't really know how to describe it other than it's a huge plate covered with Injera bread and tofu and about a dozen vegetable "dips" or relishes.  You rip off pieces of injera bread and use that to grab some of the relish.  It is sooo good.  I want to go back.  There are a bunch of Ethiopian places here in San Diego, so I'm anxious to try them.

Cosmic Cafe:  Dallas, Texas
I have a long story about finding a vegan restaurant in Dallas, but I won't go there right now.  Fortunately, I finally found this place and ravenously devoured this entire plate in under fifteen minutes.  This was an exclusively vegetarian restaurant and only a few items on the menu had dairy in them, so I was happy to see I could eat almost anything!  I ordered the Buddha's Delight which pretty much covered everything: curried vegetables, dahl, samosa, pappadam, rice & naan.  Even the naan was vegan!  Yum to everything!  Thank you Cosmic Cafe!

Don Carlos Taco Shop:  La Jolla, California
Okay, so yes this place is just a little hole-in-the-wall taco shop, but it has an amazing menu with tons of vegan options.  It's advertised on all the vegan websites for good places to eat in San Diego, so of course I had to check it out.  W was a little skeptical and insisted we could just go to the taco shop down the street from our house.  "But that place doesn't have tofu and soyrizo and guaranteed lard-free beans and tortillas!"  So to La Jolla we went.  And it was GOOD.  I got the soyrizo and potato burrito which was packed full of veggie goodness and smothered in guacamole.  Delicious.

Of course at places like this I always get overwhelmed with so many vegan options!  There were mushroom tofu tamales, veggie burrito bowls, tofu burritos, and basically anything on the menu without cheese and sour cream!!  I am going to have to go back.  La Jolla is a pretty fun place too.  See below:

Cups:  La Jolla, California
Vegan Cupcakes. That's all I have to say here... but I'll say more.  This was a cute little loungy-type place that looked served only CUPCAKES!!  I love cupcakes so much we had them instead of a traditional cake at our wedding.  The week before my birthday I bought all the ingredients to make my own vegan cupcakes, but then it turned out to be the heatwave of the summer and then we had that blackout and so cupcakes were never made.  One week later, we went to Cups to get my vegan cupcake fix and it was everything I dreamed it would be.  Mmmmmmmmm...

P.F. Chang's:  Riverside, California
Okay, so this is a chain restaurant, but it's not so bad.  P.F. Chang's has always offered a ton of vegetarian options and is always a good choice.  We went here with the family for a joint birthday dinner (mine and Grandma's!) and it was really good!  The table shared two orders of the vegetarian lettuce wraps which are always amazing.  The dish I ordered for myself was Ma Po Tofu.  It's my favorite at Chang's and what I always order, so I was satisfied.  Funny how everyone else at the table at first poo-pooed my choice and then when they all tried it they loved it.  Hmm.  You know, tofu really isn't that bad if it's made with the right ingredients.

That's pretty much been what's been happening in my vegan life lately:  easy, quick meals at home and lots of vegan eating out.  Maybe once I'm done traveling (in December) I'll look at some of my cookbooks again.  Sigh... oh cookbooks, how I miss you.

Mac and Cheese Once Again

I think I've blogged about this at least three times already, but only because it's a really, really good dish and one of our favorite things to eat!  Therefore, I don't really have any new praises or self-adorations to declare! :)  I just followed my original recipe from this post and used tri-color quinoa pasta this time.

I mean, seriously if you're reading this blog and haven't tried this recipe yet, you need to.  Now.

Mac and Cheese, September 2011 version

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A smorgasbord of salads

Over Labor Day Weekend, which was also the weekend before my birthday, we went sailing with some friends.  Everyone was supposed to bring some food to share with the rest of the boat, so of course I made a variety of salads, and brought chips and salsa, and carrots and hummus. 

Salad 1:  
Citrus Soy Quinoa Salad.  In case you forgot, I made this just a few weeks ago for my book club.  It is so delicious I wanted to make it again.  Even The Husband likes this salad, and he normally isn't a fan of anything with the words "quinoa" or "cous cous" in them.  (Although, I am pretty sneaky with quinoa pasta... but that's another story for another time.)  Click here for the original post and recipe for this yummy quinoa salad.

Salad 2:
Star Pasta Salad.  I've also made a version of this before, and it's very similar to Israeli cous cous salad but with star pasta instead of the cous cous.

1 package Goya star pasta cooked according to package
1 tablespoon vegenaise
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
1/4 cup sliced green olives
1/2 can artichoke hearts, quartered
2 teaspoons lemon/pepper seasoning
Salt to taste

Cook the pasta first, drain and then mix all the ingredients together with the pasta.  Let it chill overnight and taste the next day.  Add any additional seasonings as needed.  I think I added a little bit more salt. 

Salad 3:  
Tri-Color Italian Pasta Salad.  Another classic salad, perfect for a vegan picnic.  You can really make this however you like, but this is my favorite way.

1 package tri-color pasta
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 cup peppercini peppers, cut into pieces
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup Tuscan Italian dressing (Trader Joes)
2 tablespoons Goddess dressing
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all together and enjoy!

These salads really make a filling meal on their own or are great additions to any picnic or potluck.  The added bonus is that you get leftovers for lunches during the week too!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Street Tacos

There's a popular type of food around this area called "Street Tacos."  At least that's what my husband calls them and they are these little open-faced tacos usually made with grilled meat and served from a street cart in Baja California, Mexico.  Living within miles of the border, you can understand why they would be popular around here.  Apparently they're really good, but I wouldn't know...

Since we had all those leftover corn tortillas from the "Huevos" Rancheros, I decided I wanted street tacos and I was going to make them, vegan-style.

I had a block of grilled tofu from a BBQ the night before so I chopped it up into thin rectangular pieces.  In a pan, I sauteed some chopped onions in olive oil and added some salsa and chili powder, salt and pepper.

Sorry, there are no exact measurements here.  With things like this you kinda just have to go with what you feel like is the right amount of ingredients.  Isn't that what makes cooking so much fun anyway?

I threw the tofu in the pan and mixed everything all together and let it simmer for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile I heated up some Cuban-style black beans and a black bean soup from Trader Joes.

Made some rice and chopped up an avocado and tomato.  Added a salad on the side.

Finally I put it all together with the corn tortillas and sprinkled Tapa Tio over everything. 

Street Tacos are amazing.

I Heart Vinh Loi Tofu!

Even though my work territory has changed a little bit, I will occasioanly still have to travel on the 101 through The Valley.  Much to my delight, this still brings me within only two miles from the best Vietnamese place ever!  Last week I happily detoured down Reseda Boulevard to enjoy lunch at Vinh Loi.  I wrote about this place back in April when I first discovered it and I've been dreaming of it ever since.  It's all vegan!  I mean, hello, can you blame me?  It's my dream restaurant! 

This time I ordered the Seaweed Roll and BBQ Duck with Sesame and brown rice.

This place is amazing and I want to eat there every day.  I am salivating just thinking about it.  Can I go there for my birthday in two days? 

Side note:  As I was driving away after my meal, the car shook violently at a stoplight.  I worried that my car was breaking down, but once I started to go forward I didn't notice the shaking anymore.  Later I found out there was a 4.2 earthquake in Reseda!  Craziness!  Good thing Vinh Loi Tofu is okay. 

Tuscan Style Pizza

According to The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen cookbook, Tuscan style pizza means a pizza made with beans.  I had never heard of anything like this and researched if this is really a traditional dish of the Tuscany region of Italy.  I wanted it to be true since this pizza was so good, but, alas, I found no recipes involving bean spread on pizza.  Oh well.  This was still a really good recipe and I will definitely try it again.  I am just going to assume that cannellini beans are what makes it Tuscan Style.

I have to admit I didn't make the pizza dough from scratch or even pounded out a pie from a pre-made dough.  Nope, I have bad luck with dough.  I'm just gonna stick with my Pizza Parlor Crusts that advertise "5 Pizzas in 5 Minutes!"

Anyway, here's the recipe as I made it:

2 Pizza Parlor Crusts
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoons vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
3-4 ripe Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Preheat over to 450.

In a saucepan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring for two minutes.  Add the beans, brother, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until mixture is thickened and very creamy, about 10 minutes.  Stir in half of the basil and take off heat.

Carefully spoon the bean mixture into a food processor or Tupperware Chop N Prep.  Blend together for just a few seconds so that the beans are mushed but not completely soupy.  You want them to form a thick, lumpy paste.

Spread the bean paste evenly on the pizza dough.  Place the tomato slices on top of the bean mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle the remaining oil over everything.

Bake for about 7 minutes.

This pizza is so good you don't even miss the cheese!  Especially when you eat the Tuscan Pizzas outside in what some people have called the Mediterranean of California.  (By some people, I mean me.)