Thursday, March 25, 2010

Date Night

Though I traditionally consider Saturday to be "date night," I went all crazy a couple Fridays ago and invited Special-Someone over for dinner on Friday. I do wild things like that every once in a while. S.S. is NOT anywhere close to vegan, and had serious doubts about any sort of culinary-Switzerland we would be able to establish. Of course, I took this as a challenge, and turned to my old friend, Tal Ronnen and his wonderful treasure-trove, The Conscious Cook.

My pal Tal, did not let me down. My date however....well, let's just say he'd been celebrating St. Patty's Day a little early. I'm not certain if he remembers much about the meal. Actually, I hope he doesn't, or else I'd not be able to understand his spilling wine on my carpet or nearly falling in my kitchen. Unreal.

But, let's focus on the positive, shall we?

I was engrossed in work all day, preparing to be gone for three weeks. Around 5pm my mother called and told me to stop whatever I was doing and get to work on my cheesecake. I had no idea the work involved! But, I will tell you, Mr. Ronnen's pecan crusted cheesecake with maple-bourbon glaze (it was supposed to be made with another liquor, but I had bourbon) put a smile on my face, and I'm not kidding around. Seriously, it was unreal-good.

The main meal was prepared about 30 minutes prior to my date's arrival. I made mashed potatoes with cashew cream. To the basic mashed potato recipe in The Conscious Cook I added a little horseradish, and didn't peel my potatoes. They were delightful with Gardein picatta. I also made a side of my standard kale (sauteed in a vegetable broth, chopped shallots, olive oil, and rice wine vinegar).

My guest licked his platter clean, and then ate two large slices of cheese cake before finishing off the entire bottle of wine (save the 1/2 cup I'd used for the picatta). Oh, good times!

The Gardein picatta and cheesecake recipe I'll keep. The jury is still out on Special Someone.

I'm dying to know how those who participated in the 21-Day Vegan Kick Off fared. This Friday will be spent catching up on the Vegan Tomato blog. But honestly, with food that is as easy and delightful as those dishes in Conscious Cook, anyone would love vegetable-based cooking. I really encourage everyone to try it...even if you're not ready to give up the critters. And if you write Gardein, they will gladly send you wonderful coupons to get you started. Win-win!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Make a Wish....

Clearly, I've been M.I.A. for a few days. My very best friend invited me and my sister to her lovely home in Florida and we had a ball. I flew down on my 42 birthday, and have spent the last 5 days celebrating treasured memories of the past, the person I am right now, and all the wonderful things I hope to experience in the future.

I've jotted down a few Birthday Wishes for my coming year, that I'd love to share:

1. I wish for peace on earth and I wish it to start with me. For any of you who may have attended Episcopal school, this will be especially meaningful.

2. I wish for less bad news. I know it sells ad spots, but it's killing our dreams, hopes and perspectives. Bad things happen, and have always happened. There is more good than bad. Just look.

3. I wish that more people would consider consuming less animals (or no animals). I've already given you all kinds of reasons this will make the world, and our hearts better. It just will. No debate. I'm right on this one.

4. I wish to use my life for something greater than I could without Divine intervention. And yes, I stole this from Oprah, but I love her and it's a fantastic wish, and I wish it with everything I am.

5. My profession is creating good spaces for people to be, and my passion is eating great food and drinking great wines. I wish for everyone to eat, drink and find their place.

6. I wish everyone I know, love, and even those I don't know yet, will find the peace I have found in my soul. But hopefully they'll find it a bit more quickly and land with fewer scratches and scrapes. I want to be your nightlight, on your journey to the fridge for a drink of cool water.

6. I wish for a Sweetheart.

7. I wish that no living creature will have to endure unnecessary pain and suffering. I know that's incredibly big and perhaps unrealistic. But, I can't help but believe, if enough people make a wish, it will come true.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Goodness Sakes, I'm Embarrassed!!!

I feel like such a jackass for going this long without writing on my blog (no offense intended to my long-eared, heavy-hooved, mule friends!). So many distractions and deadlines, but I'll be in the airport a good deal tomorrow and have three amazing dining experiences to share and a home-cooked meal (thank you Tal Ronnen) that was the very best part of my date last Friday. Also, getting ready for a vegan dinner party where I'm the only one who actually doesn't eat animals.

I hope everyone participating in the 21-Day Vegan Kick Start is surviving and thriving. I made the curried lentil soup today (ate a huge bowl then made little containers for the freezer)and it was really amazing. As usual, I modified the recipe a little, but that's the beauty of soup, right.

Ok, have to hit the pillow, but I do have oodles of great meals and ideas to share. I'll drop this tidbit: If you are ever in Chicago do make a reservation at Green Zebra. Just got home from celebrating with one of my BFFs and our meal was sublime!

Sweet dreams!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flyte is Fantastic

I hope anyone who finds themselves in Nashville will take a little time away from all the standard spots and give Flyte a try. No matter what your dietary persuasion, Flyte is truly a find. I had a fantastic meal, and scratched a few wine-sipping-itches I've been having for a while.

I'm trying to make this quick, but I could go on and on about the stellar ambiance, the dynamic and mindful menu, and the exceptional wine list. Every detail seemed to be attended to, including the interesting music which mixed up acid-jazz, something that sounded North African, and more traditional tunes.

As I walked in the door, one of the two hosts asked if I was a restaurant critic. Is that what I look like? I explained I was just a moonlighter!

I have to mention my server, Todd. Todd should actually give lessons on dining-experience-management. His wine suggestions were thought out, and he immediately latched on to my grape-tastes. With all the fantastic by-the-glass choices, as well as reasonably priced bottles, he had a virtual library to select from.

As soon as I was seated a little antipasti list was placed before me. I found this to be such a great idea for someone who enjoys tiny bites of different tastes. It was a great alternative to ordering one entry and perfect munchies to go with a glass of wine, if you weren't having a full dinner.

The menu consists of local, seasonal items. I started with the most divine roasted pear salad, followed by the winter harvest platter. In addition to all sorts of yummy roots and greens, my entree included sweet potato cakes. They had a great flavor, but I could have gone with a few more mushrooms or greens. I should mention that they were willing to alter some of the omnivore entrees to accommodate a vegetarian diet, which I appreciated.

The dessert was unreal. It was some sort of coconut jell, with some brittle and a light sauce.....I honestly had had a couple glasses of wine by then, but it was light and perfect. There were so many amazing desserts, I wish I'd ordered more than one. I learned the pastry chef used to be at Everest in Chicago. I wonder if she could be bribed back???

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day One in Nashville - I'm so tired!

Another short post, but I have to share what I dined on last night. I went to The Sunset Grill, which I found on Happy Cow, and thought would have plenty of vegan options. Well, I was a bit disappointed, however they were very kind to modify dishes to suit my diet. My main attraction was the 50% off wine list! I guess they are clearing out their older bottles, but I had a very decent Cote de Rhone for $5.50! But, back to the food...

There salads all looked amazing. For some reason I was craving Caesar, but of course, that has cheese, eggs and anchovies, typically. Sunset Grill's version included toasted pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes. So, having the salad with a simple vinaigrette, with croutons, but no cheese, was still a yummy bet. And they have this incredible flax-seed bread they serve with olive oil that was excellent!

Disclosure: I fell hard off the wagon, and onto the most fluffy expression of regional cheddar gnocchi in a brown butter sauce. On the side were some greens, tomatoes and bits of fresh sage. Perfect with the gnocchi were toasted hazelnuts. I'm thinking this would be great with plain gnocchi, or the sweet-potato gnocchi I've been thinking of making.

Last, and possibly worst, was dessert. Judge me if you will, but any time a chef puts chilies in his desserts I can't be held responsible for my actions. Actually, that's not true. I do feel a wee bit guilty, but mostly inspired to come up with an equally wonderful vegan version. So, enough of my attempts at self-redemption:

Butterscotch-habanera bread pudding with white chocolate sauce. No raisins. Now other embellishment....just spicy, creamy, white-chocolaty goodness. I ate 1/4 and truly thought I would explode.

So, vegetarian, yes....vegan/healthy, absolutely not. But, inspired I am, so read on.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Happy about Hummus

Really quickly, as I've got to catch an early plane for Nashville in the morning. But, I wanted to say, I've never made hummus before. Why bother? I mean, there are so many great ready-made hummus options at any grocery store. However, I gave the homemade version a shot.

makes 2 cups

1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
2 Tbsp. tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice (I added a bit more)
3 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. really green olive oil
salt to taste

Throw everything in a food processor, except the green onions. When well blended, top with onions. I also added toasted sesame seeds.

This is so easy, and so yummy. Can't wait to get creative by adding oil-packed roasted tomatoes, spinach, chipotles and anything else I can come up with.

I want to know if you have a different/better recipe. And, if you've made creative flavors, what were they? I've already made my big hummus sandwich for the trip tomorrow, loaded with veggies. But, I enjoyed munching on my platter of fresh veggies for a wonderful lunch, along with a cup of Amy's vegan black bean soup.

Ok, sweet dreams!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Feeling the Love

First off, I'm so excited for those friends and family who are joining me for the 21-Day Vegan Kickoff. I love hearing about your challenges, accomplishments and discoveries, along with all the other complicated emotions that bubble up when you're trying to let go of something safe and comfortable. Fear of the unknown is something I struggle with so often. I always say, I hate change. But the truth is, my life is constantly in flux, as is the life of most modern Americans.

But, I've been introduced to a new favorite eatery, here in Chicago, that brings me great big huge amounts of comfort. Karyn's in Lincoln Park has long been a spot to go for a raw meal or to pick up to-go items for a situation where I'm the only veg-only eater. As I've said before, though I dig raw food in stops and starts, my body doesn't handle it well long-term. I appreciate all the good things eating raw does, but for me it just isn't where I want to be.

So, now there is Karyn's Cooked! And I couldn't be more delighted. I came upon this gem under especially exciting circumstances. My newest crush asked me to attend a wine tasting with him. He's kind of a huge deal with the local wine scene, so I knew the event would be fun. Nevermind it had been a week since I'd seen him, and was delighted to hang out again.

In order to accompany him to the tasting I had a lot of work to do prior. So much work, in fact, I didn't take time to eat. I took time for yoga, and running and answering e-mails, and planning trips and shipping samples, and looking at blueprints...but while changing into something more "date like," it occurred to me I'd had no food.

I quickly created the green shake I'd seen on Kimberly Wilson's video blog and drank about half before dashing out to find a cab. Wine was amazing. Guy is amazing (I mean, really so ...well, I'll try to focused). But after the last glass had been poured I confessed to my need of food.

He took me to Karyn's (another reason he is wonderful)and we pigged out. I had the taco wrap, which was absolutely the perfect combo of spicy, with a little sweet and oodles of green. We both order a side of greens and my date got the raw plate. Ironically, he said he prefers the raw plate at this location to some of the dishes at Karyn's Raw. Regardless, it was all amazing.

We went really early, but as we are early in the dating stages, we sat for a very long time and chatted over tea. As the night went on, people poured in. The cocktails looked amazing and they have a very decent wine list.

I often talk about how great it has been for me to go to omnivorous restaurants and have chefs make something off the menu. I also feel it's important for omnivorous restaurants to have more vegan options on their menu, beyond a steamed veggie plate or a veggie burger. Initially, I would have had a difficult time ever seeing my friends if the only place I wanted to go was Chicago Diner.

However, it is a REAL joy to go to a place that all my friends would actually appreciate, AND I can order whatever I see on the menu, that my little heart desires. I love, love, love Karyn's Cooked!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Eat My Peas with Honey...

Do you know that poem? Always what I think of when I'm making black-eyed peas. Today's menu on the 21-Day Vegan Kickoff included a Hoppin' John salad tonight. So, last night I soaked and cooked the peas, but they were so good I just wanted to pair them up with some of my other favorite southern comfort foods.

Let me warn you, this is no frills, southern-comfort food. You may not feel any connection whatsoever to these dishes, but they totally remind me of a typical lunch when I was little. Slice up a cantaloupe and a vine-ripe tomato and pour me a glass of sweet-tea and my accent would get so thick you might not understand me!

Black-Eyed Peas

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 chopped garlic cloves
1 vegetable bouillon cube

Soak dried beans overnight. Drain and rinse. Heat medium sized pot and add canola oil. Add garlic and sizzle until cooked, but not brown. Throw in peas then add double the water (about 4-5 cups). Cover and simmer for about an hour, or until really tender. Sweet-lord, these are good. Add salt if you need to, but I found the vegetable cube did the trick.
(I actually don't eat them with honey, but I do eat them with ketchup or tomato relish)

Hot Water Corn Bread

1/3 cup rough ground corn grits or polenta
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance

Bring water and salt to a simmer and add polenta. Turn down heat to simmer and let cook until the polenta pulls away from the sides. Pour out on cold plate and let cool and harden. Slice in wedges. Melt Earth Balance in pan and fry polenta until golden. Once you get this recipe down you could add things, like a little chipotle, some toasted frozen corn, some green onions, sun dried tomato bits, let your brain go nuts.


2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 bunch of kale, rinsed and de-stemmed, and torn to bits
2 cups of water
1 vegetable bouillon cubes
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
few sprinkles of Louisiana Hot Sauce

Heat the oil and put the onions in. Cook until clear then toss in kale. Pour water over and crumble bouillon cube around. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Uncover and stir, then add the vinegar and hot sauce. Let cook another 30 minutes. Done!

After pigging out like a little, happy cow, I've topped everything off with a cup of my wonderful Mexican hot coco, made with vanilla soy milk. I'm all better now!

By the way, below is what I had for lunch, and it was delightful. However, it goes through you quickly as there is no fat in this meal. I got the recipes off of the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart menu, and was really impressed. But, by dinner-time I was starving and a little wobbly. About 4pm I toasted a 1/4 cup of almonds, tossed in olive oil and cajun seasoning to munch on before dinner with a huge glass of water. Eating some healthy fats will not only satiate your hunger, but also improve skin, hair and attitude.

Great and Not Sure....

Really quick: I wanted to wait until my birthday and ask for Alecia Silverstone's book, The Kind Diet. I love her and have heard so many great things about this book. She had some of her recipes on Oprah, and they looked fantastic.

In a weak moment I bought her book Sunday and devoured it on the plane ride to and from Kansas City yesterday. Read the last few pages around 11pm last night. Part was great and the other part, I'm not so sure about.

I love her attitude, and found a like-minded spirit in her approach to introducing vegetable based eating as a consideration, rather than more dogmatic approaches. I was so turned off when people tried to "guilt" me into not eating animals, or showed really horrible statistics and photos from PETA. Didn't work on me at all. (note: PETA does some good work, but their tactics are often crazy to me)

Also, Alecia offers 3 options for diet plans, including an introduction level (called flirting), a vegan level and a macrobiotic level. This is genious. I loved her menu plans, and will definitely be incorporating some of the macro goodies into my bag-o-tricks.

However, I'm curious to know if other people found some of her recipes kind of unfortunate sounding? Is it just me? Totally could be. Her desserts looked delicious, but honestly, some of the pasta and main course recipes reminded me of something I might have thrown together in college when I truly had no money.

So, if you've cooked any of her goodies (I believe Carolyn made her peanut butter cups, which sounded incredible) I'd love to know what you thought. Again, I'll be passing this book to family and friends, as she is just great up to the actual recipes. Would definitely recommend for this purpose, but have other favs on the recipe front.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How's Your Journey?

Today was "day 1" of the 21-Day Vegan Kickoff. I spent last evening making the confetti couscous salad listed on the 3 week menu. I've decided I'm going to give this meal plan a shot. I went to the store with grocery list in hand, and left an hour later with a cart FULL of groceries and only spent about $50. I have enough to cook for 4-6 people, all week, and only spent $50. That's pretty great, right?

(by the way, isn't that picture of the little fella' on his journey adorable? I just found it on Flikr and fell in love. Wherever he's going, I want to go too!)

Anyway, my day didn't go quite as smoothly as planned. I had a flight this morning to Kansas City, and though I thought the flight left at 7:45am, about 5:30 I realized it left at 6:45am. Damnit. So, grabbed my things, called driver-guy and ran out the door. Forgot lovely, vegan lunch. And wouldn't you know, the architects I was meeting with wanted pizza for lunch. No breakfast for Sallie yummy coucous salad, and they want drippy, cheezy pizza.

But, I made the best choice I could; I opted for eggplant parmesan with no cheese, and a side salad. It was fine, but heavy. Still, I was proud I didn't indulge in the pizza.

As I type, you see the amazingly delicious plate of the couscous salad I made, sitting here beside me. I'm happily munching away, while trying not to fall asleep on the keyboard. The menu paired this salad with carrot and red-pepper soup, but I'm just too tired to cook. There is plenty of salad, so I'll make the soup tomorrow for lunch.

The menu has all kinds of really flavorful, easy recipes. In the spirit of quick, healthful "one plate" meals, I wanted to share my yummy taco salad with you. This is my comfort food. It's a beautiful mess I throw together when I'm hungry and tired and want comfort food. I love Lightlife Smart Ground Mexican for all kinds of Mexican dishes. Black beans work just as well, but this is an option.

Doesn't it look just like ground beef, cooking in the pan? I add a wee bit of red pepper, just to give a bit more spice. Actually, I added some pickled jalapenos in this batch. I made a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, shredded carrots, olives and some salsa. I tossed all this in vegan ranch and dumped the salad over the chips and soy. Vegan ranch is great, but I also love catalina or french style dressing. Amazing!!