Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Victoria Vegan Vodka Sauce

I have a minor obsession with pasta sauce. I've been known to eat it straight from the jar. Often. My favorite kind of pasta sauce (besides the 365 brand original pasta sauce from Whole Foods) is vodka sauce, but since I've gone vegan, I haven't had too much of it since it's typically made with cream. I make a decent vegan spicy tomato cream sauce myself, but I don't always have time to whip up a sauce from scratch.

I always look for new vegan foods when I'm wandering around Whole Foods and I stumbled upon Victoria's Vegan Vodka Sauce a couple weeks ago.


Victoria Vegan Vodka Sauce
This sauce is amazing. Creamy. Flavorful. And you would never, ever, ever guess it's vegan. We liked it so much that I made a big batch of pasta for a party and served it up to non-vegans. I got a lot of compliments on the sauce and no one could even tell that it wasn't made with real dairy. (cashew cream is so versatile, isn't it?) 

Like most cream sauces, this isn't a "healthy" food by any means, but once in awhile a little gluttony won't kill you. And I've noticed that a little bit of this sauce goes a long way, so if you're counting calories like I am, you probably don't even need to use one whole serving on your pasta.

We tried a creamy pesto sauce from Victoria and I wasn't nearly as impressed, but I still plan on trying some of their other vegan options. This is definitely worth checking out if you love vodka sauce and don't have the time to make it yourself. It's so good that no one will guess it's vegan - or from a jar.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Surprisingly Cheese-like - Kite Hill Truffle, Dill, and Chive Vegan Cheese

Since I went vegan last year, I've been on the hunt for good vegan cheese. As you might imagine, it can be pretty hard to find. Most of don't taste like cheese, don't melt like cheese, or are just plain old nasty. I've gotten creative and can make some great cashew cream "cheese" sauces, but...in terms of eating a big old hunk of cheese, most of the kinds of vegan cheese I've tried have fallen short. (unless they're homemade - I know some folks who make a mean vegan cheese in their own kitchens)

Until I tried Kite Hill cheese over the weekend. Now, this isn't your typical hunk of vegan cheese. It's "artisanal nut milk based cheese, " which means it's high quality, and high priced cheese. (one container will run you about $11.99 at Whole Foods)


Kite Hill Truffle, Dill, and Chive Vegan Cheese

There were 3 varieties of Kite Hill cheese available at my local Whole Foods. I decided to try out the truffle, dill, and chive variety. My non-vegan fiance and I tried it out on some crackers. You could definitely taste the dill, but it wasn't overpowering. The texture was a little different than I expected. My fiance compared it to ricotta cheese. I was surprised at how light and airy it was. I expected it to be a bit denser. But it was definitely flavorful and a great substitute for "real" cheese. I think it would be great crumbled up and put in a pasta dish or on a salad. Or probably even on a pizza. I wonder if it melts? The only bad thing about this cheese is the packaging, I think. It comes in a non-sealable container, so if you don't plan on eating the whole thing, you'll have to get creative and find a good way to store it. 

It makes me happy to see that there's a market for high quality vegan cheeses. As more and more people embrace a plant based lifestyle, I can't wait to see what other good "fakes" are developed. 

Do you have a favorite non-dairy cheese?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hand Feeding Chickadees at the Brecksville Nature Center

I saw a blurb on Twitter awhile back about hand feeding chickadees at the Brecksville Nature Center and ever since then, I'd been dying to try it out. My friend Christine is an avid bird watcher and told me that it was a really cool experience and that I needed to try it out. My fiance and I attempted to go near the holidays, but we were pretty busy and when we finally did have a chance to go, the weather was too bad and we decided that driving in a snowstorm just to feed birds wasn't a good idea.


Hand Feeding Chickadees at the Brecksville Nature Center
Last Saturday we made the trek out to Brecksville even though it was super cold. On the drive to Brecksville, my fiance asked me how this all worked. I explained that the birds fly up to you and eat seeds from your hand. Being from Florida, he didn't know what a chickadee is, so in his mind, he thought we were going to something similar to a petting zoo and we'd be hand feeding small baby chicks. Oops. No wonder why he didn't seem all that excited about feeding chickadees!

When we got to the nature center, there was a nice man next to a huge container of sunflower seeds who explained the process to us. Basically, you take a handful of seeds, place them in your palm, stand in a specific area, stay still and quiet, and hope for the best.

We positioned ourselves away from the other people attempting to feed birds and were underneath a tall pine tree. My fiance was closer to the tree and the birds were more interested in him at first. It was kind of neat. The little birds would fly nearby to scope us out. Once they determined that we weren't huge cats who were about to eat them, they'd gently land on your hand, make eye contact, and then take a seed and fly off to eat it. I really can't put into words how neat it is to have this tiny wild creature land on you and trust you enough to take food from your hand. I felt like I was Cinderella and all of the wild creatures were my friends for a brief minute. I even had a bird land on my head. That was interesting. Had it not been so cold I could have stood out there for hours. 

I grew up on a big piece of land and spent lots of time outside. Mainly reading books, but...I was still outside. I was an only child and we didn't have neighbors, so I spent a lot of time using my imagination and I always wished the animals in our yard would want to play with me like in cartoons. I had bunnies and squirrels and raccoons get close. (I did get to feed raccoons and squirrels by hand) But...I was never able to make friends with the birds. Feeding chickadees this past weekend brought one of little Roxanne's dreams to life and was really one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. Hands down.

Chickadee feeding takes place every weekend (Saturday and Sunday) from 10 am until 12 pm at the Brecksville Nature Center from now until late February. Weather permitting, obviously. This is a really fun (and free!) activity to try out and would be great for kids, too. No matter where you live in Cleveland, this is 100% worth the drive. Just be sure to bundle up and bring your patience with you and you'll have an experience of a lifetime!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Recipe: Vegan Hoppin John Redux

A few years ago I attempted to make vegan hoppin John for New Years. To this day, I think that was one of my biggest cooking fails. It was smoky, gritty, and awful. I never thought I'd attempt to make the dish again. Until I saw a seemingly easy (and liquid smoke-free) version posted at Hot From the Kettle.

My fiance is a good sport and is always up for these types of cooking adventures, so a few days after ringing in the New Year, I decided to whip up this dish for dinner. It took a bit longer than I expected to cook and was hotter than I wanted it to be (I toned down the spices because I'm a big wuss when it comes to spicy foods) but I really like how it turned out. My fiance thought it was too spicy, but...he really can't tolerate any heat. When I make this again (and I will because I liked it so much) I'd probably omit the rice. It really isn't needed. The veggies and beans make a hearty meal on their own. For some added protein, I think you could add some vegan sausage to the mix. (some meat based Hoppin John recipes call for bacon and sausage)

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock + more for cooking diced vegetables
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less if you're not into spicy food)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 large bunch collard greens, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2+ cloves garlic, minced (original recipe called for 2 cloves - I really like garlic so I used ~8)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 1 can cooked black eyed peas
  • 1 1/2 cups rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hot sauce, optional


Vegan Hoppin' John


Method:
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, agave nectar, 1 tsp. olive oil cayenne pepper, spices, salt and vegetable stock. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic and cook for about 8 minutes, or until translucent. Add vegetable stock as needed to prevent vegetables from burning/sticking to the pan. 
  3. Stir in tomatoes and juice and then add the collard greens, vinegar-agave nectar mixture. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to put handfuls of collard greens in at a time until they cook down a little. 
  4. Cover, and cook 10 minutes, or until greens are tender. (covering is very important! the greens won't really wilt otherwise!)
  5. Stir in the beans and cook until heated throughout. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve over rice and top with hot sauce, if using.
Another thing to note is how much food this recipe makes. I have a pretty hearty appetite, but this could have lasted me for days on my own, and there was definitely enough for another meal even after I had two heaping bowls the first night and my fiance had a small bowl. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What's Cooking In My House for Thanksgiving

Disclaimer: this post has very little to do with food.

I'm pretty excited to be hosting my first (of many) Thanksgiving dinners in my house. This isn't my first rodeo, and ironically, I made mostly vegan foods in years past, so I'm hoping everything goes smoothly. I have a double oven now which makes cooking/baking so much easier, and I'm looking forward to less oven Tetris, where you try to jam in a dozen things at once on one small space.

Last year I don't even know what I did on Thanksgiving. Cried and drank wine, probably? I'd already put an offer in on my house and my mom had promised me (to try and make me feel better, I think) that  I could host Thanksgiving again in my new house going forward. I just wasn't feeling Thanksgiving last year, so I stayed home and wallowed. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone, honestly. It's extra depressing to be alone on a holiday when you're already depressed. (I don't even want to tell you what I did on Christmas last year...weep womp)

But what a difference a year makes, huh? As everyone told me - time heals all wounds. And as I've told myself repeatedly - nothing bad lasts forever. The past year of my life was trying, to say the least, but I'm happy to report that I've come out on top. I learned who my real friends are. I've gotten some exciting new responsibilities at work. I live in the house of my dreams. I've traveled to some new places and met some amazing people. And I've found a relationship with a man who loves me for who I am. Unconditionally. My life is far from perfect, but I can honestly say I'm in a better place than I've ever been in my 32 years on this planet. Progress not perfection.

So whether you're having the best year of your life or are hoping for brighter tomorrows, remember to be thankful for what you have. And maybe even be thankful for what you don't have. Sometimes things in life don't go as we want them to or as we've planned, but bigger and better things are probably in store for you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: Best Vegan Brunch Ever at Grovewood Tavern

This past weekend was fun and exhausting all at the same time. I'd worked 12 day straight and was pretty pooped by the time Friday rolled around. I spent Saturday out east at the wineries celebrating the marriage of two of my friends. And I drank about 7 bottles of wine. Not really, but it felt that way on Sunday morning. Oops. 

 The weekend prior, my boyfriend and I were in Baltimore. I was there for work and happened to have a later shift on Sunday morning and we tried our darndest to find vegan brunch options for me with no luck. Since all I really think about is food, I decided to do some research once I got home to see if I could find a new place for us to check out close to home. And through the power of the interwebs, I discovered that Grovewood Tavern is now serving brunch. (again)

Apparently Grovewood Tavern used to serve brunch. Award winning brunch. Not sure when that stopped, exactly, but I hope they never stop again. 

The best vegan tofu scramble I've ever eaten
As any good vegan knows, you need to do your homework before you go to any kind of restaurant to see if they have options for you. Grovewood Tavern takes the guess work out of ordering by having their menu on their web site and has all of the vegetarian, vegan, and veganize-able options clearly labeled. Score!

We arrived at Grovewood Tavern around 11:30 and were surprised to see that it was pretty empty. They've only been serving brunch for a short time, though, so I'm not sure word has gotten out that they're open on Sundays now. Plus, it was Browns versus Steelers day, so...half of the city was probably out drinking at that time. 

Our server seated us as soon as we walked in and promptly gave me the gallon of water I requested to attempt to undo the damage I'd done to my poor body the night before. I'd hoped to order some coffee, but they didn't have any non-dairy milk to use as a creamer. Weep womp. I hadn't eaten dinner the night before, so I was ready to gnaw my arm off so I was thankful when we were able to place our orders ASAP. Too bad I wasn't in the mood for drinking because they offered up an extensive menu of boozy brunch beverages. 

I ordered a vegan vegetable and tofu scramble. I generally like tofu scrambles, but...they can be a little lacking in flavor sometimes. Not this scramble! There were peppers, and onions, and kale, and peppers, and crispy breakfast potatoes all jumbled up together in a delicious heap. On the side, I got toast with house made fig jam. I'm not even the biggest fig fan, but this jam was pretty incredible.

My boyfriend ordered the breakfast biscuit. Clearly, with sausage, eggs, and a cheesy biscuit, it ain't my cup of tea, but he said that his meal was one of the best brunch meals he's ever had. Hands down. Also important to note, he was a big fan of their coffee.


Overall, we were really impressed with our brunch and hope to go back sometime soon. I was happy to see a notation on the menu that said they try to use local produce, eggs, meats, etc. whenever possible. I'm really interested in checking them out for dinner some night because they have a few vegan options on their dinner menu, too. And any restaurant that wants to cater to my lifestyle deserves my business, I think. Give Grovewood Tavern a try if you're in search of a new place to fill your belly on Sunday morning. 


Monday, November 25, 2013

Recipe: Quick and Easy Vegan Sausage Pasta

In recent weeks, I've been flexing my culinary muscles more because it's a little challenging to find decent vegan grub in my neck of the woods. Sure, I could eat french fries everywhere I go, but...I've been trying to get back on the running wagon lately, and my body needs good fuel for my workouts.

A couple weeks ago I decided to re-make a recipe I'd tried out earlier this year - Simple Vegan Italian Sausage and Pasta Dinner - from one of my favorite bloggers/cookbook authors - The Shannons. If you're not familiar with Dan and Annie, they're a husband and wife who set out on a culinary adventure to veganize Betty Crocker's cookbook. Which was no easy feat because Betty liked her butter, dairy, and eggs. I own their cookbook - Betty Goes Vegan - and I think it offers up some great recipes for people who miss meals they used to have in their pre-vegan days or for people who are trying to cut back on meat a little and aren't sure where to start.

Vegan Sausage Pasta
I mentioned that this was the second time I made this recipe, right? My first attempt was back in the spring. I followed the recipe to the letter and then realized that I like garlic more than most people and that this concoction needed more flavor. I also used Tofurkey sausage the first time. I love me some Tofurkey sausage, but it just wasn't cutting it in this recipe. This time I used Upton's Naturals Italian Seitan. It's crumbly, and flavorful, and really made this pasta dish turn out better, I think. (although I think anything by Upton's Naturals makes just about any recipe better - all of their products are SO good)

Ingredients:
  • Pasta shape/type of your choice (I used leftover farfalle that had been hanging around in my cupboard) - adjust the amount of noodles based on the number of servings you need
  • Vegan sausage - crumbles or sausages sliced into coins
  • 5 quartered Roma tomatoes
  • 1 package sliced portabella mushrooms
  • 2 cups raw spinach leaves
  • 2+ cloves garlic, minced (I used about 6)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Method:
  1. Prepare the pasta following the directions on the box. Set aside once cooked
  2. In a skillet/saucepan, heat the oil.
  3. Brown sausage in oil - be careful to not overcook.
  4. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, wine, and spices. Stir frequently until tomatoes and mushrooms begin to soften.
  5. Add spinach and basil and cook until leaves start to wilt. 
  6. Slowly add pasta to sausage/tomato/mushroom/spinach mixture and stir to coat noodles with sauce. 
  7. Serve and enjoy!
All told, this recipe came together in around a half hour. My boyfriend and I each has pretty substantial portions and he was able to eat the leftovers at lunch for most of the week. (I definitely used too many noodles) I really think the slight tweaks I made to the recipe (mainly adding more of each of the spices) really jazzed it up a bit. I'll definitely be making this recipe again!