February 22, 2011

Restaurant Shoutout - Counter

One of our favorite restaurants in New York is Counter in the East Village. It is a vegetarian bistro that focuses on organic and local food. The best part about it is that it isn't exclusively vegan - they still serve eggs and cheese, but the dishes that use dairy are clearly marked on their menu. This means that omnivores are more easily persuaded to give it a try than a vegan restaurant, but there are still a TON of options for me. The result is that we've eaten there way more times than any other restaurant in the city and we always take out-of-towners there for brunch.

Unfortunately, they are closing this month after eight years of operating which seriously brings a tear to my eye. They have not announced an exact date yet, so run on down there if you can and experience it for yourself. The owner is going to focus on her other business, Body & Soul, which sells baked goods at the Union Square Greenmarket so make sure to get down there and support her! I hope that more restaurants begin catering to ALL diets. It's so hard to find a place that omnivores and veggies can both enjoy without one group feeling very deprived.

I took these pictures there this past weekend while having brunch with my mother-in-law. We'll miss you, Counter! 

I love the decor, the chairs have seen better days, but they're still so pretty!
I always loved this strand of oversized prayer beads.
This probably would have looked more appetizing if I'd taken the picture BEFORE I started eating.

My favorite dishes included vegan biscuits and gravy (just like Grandma used to make!), homemade tempeh bacon, vegan french toast (the best I've ever had), the peach BBQ tofu with polenta and greens that they had in the summer, and the warm apple semolina cake that was served in a mason jar with ice cream on top!

Johnny's favorites were the egg, tempeh bacon and biscuit sandwich, the tea-smoked tofu crispy panini, and the apple cake. I'll have to try to recreate some of this stuff at home!

Vegan-friendly Gifts

Hello, hope everyone had a great extended weekend! New York went from 67 degrees on Friday to SNOW yesterday. I can't keep up with this weather! Oh well, guess I'll have to wear my Jambu Colorado Vegan snow boots for a few more weeks. :-)

Just wanted to take a minute to give a few shoutouts. We've been receiving a lot of unexpected gifts lately from friends and family and it's been so nice! I love when the UPS guy comes and I'm puzzling over what the heck I ordered and forgot about, and it turns out to be a nice surprise from a loved one! 

This is a lovely Valentine's Day basket that my parents sent us from Sun Flour Baking Company. What an awesome company to support! All of their products are vegan and they offer lots of wheat and gluten-free treats, too. This basket had three gluten-free Cinnamon Twist cookies (but I had already eaten two by the time I took this picture!) and some chocolate hearts. I'm amazed at how delicious the cookies are, they are made with pinto bean flour which seems like it would have a strange taste, but if I didn't know these were vegan or GF, I would never have guessed it. Thanks Mom and Dad!

This is a truly indulgent tea set that Johnny's parents sent us from Teavana. There is a location at La Encantada in Tucson and they have stores nationwide. We received a beautiful cast iron teapot with two matching cups and coasters and a huge assortment of teas with reuseable tin canisters. Wow! I am trying to make the move from coffee to tea because I hate the feeling of being addicted to caffeine and tea has so many health benefits. We tried the Swiss Vervaine Melange Herbal tea last night and OMG. I am in love! It looks a bit like potpourri, but the taste is fruity and slightly sweet. Really, really good! Thanks so much you guys and it was awesome to see you this weekend!

And finally, we got a huge surprise yesterday from our great friends, Jen and Dave. We got a massive assortment of goodies from Cherry Moon Farms including oranges, apples, pears, candied walnuts, pistachios and jelly beans...

And also from Cherry Moon Farms, I got a beautiful assortment of Lavender Fields of Provence bath items! I have to say, fruit is an awesome gift! I had to go grocery shopping right after we got this and it was made so much easier when I didn't have to buy a bunch of fruit for the week. Not to mention, if you're not sure if someone has food allergies or restrictions, you're pretty much always safe sending fruit. Yum! And the bath stuff smells amaaaaazing, I can't wait to take a long, relaxing bath with a cup of tea and a vegan cookie.

Anyhow, I don't know what the heck we've done to deserve such great gifts (and people in our lives), but we truly appreciate each and every one of you! Have a great day!

February 20, 2011

Recipe Review - Super Veggie Lentil Taco "Meat"

Good morning, peeps. I wanted to share a recipe with you from one of my favorite blogs, The Ordinary Vegetarian. It's written by a lovely young lady named Sarah from the Chicago area. She was a vegetarian when she started the blog in 2009, but made the switch to veganism in January 2010. I have tried and loved several of her recipes including the Pumpkin Black Bean Chili (seriously good) and the Super Veggie Lentil Taco "Meat". Sarah has been nice enough to let me share her Taco "Meat" recipe with you all!

Let me just say, I know it sounds strange - lentils and tacos generally don't go together. As someone who grew up a stone's throw from Mexico, I know what authentic Mexican food tastes like and I'm sure everyone in Tucson must think I've gone all "east coast" by suggesting that lentils can taste good in a Mexican recipe. But suspend your disbelief because you'll be blown away by how satisfying the end result is! And if you've never cooked with lentils before, don't be scared! They are available in any bulk-food section and are cheap as can be, or you can buy them canned. I love the fact that you don't have to soak them overnight like you do with dried beans, it makes them that much easier to prepare. Lentils are little nutrition bombs, they are low in calories and fat, but full of fiber and many vitamins and minerals. They are also a decent source of protein for all of us vegans and vegetarians. ("Hello daddy, hello mom I'm your l-l-l-l-l-l-lentil bomb!")

In this recipe, the lentils are simmered just long enough so that they're not crunchy, but they stay firm enough to make it a bit toothsome. The spices are spot on, it totally tastes like the seasoning you would get on ground beef at any Mexican restaurant. Smoked paprika works wonders, this is far and away my new favorite spice - if you don't have any, I would invest in some. I got a nice jar of Spanish sweet smoked paprika from Whole Foods for about $7 and I think it'll last awhile because a little goes a long way. The best part is that there are a TON of veggies in here, but they are incorporated so well that you hardly even notice them. And it uses no fat or oil so it's very low-cal and virtually fat-free. 

I wanted to share this particular recipe because it is so adaptable. When I cooked this, we made "burrito bowls" like you would get at Chipotle. I layered some brown rice, taco "meat", and simple guacamole (avocado mashed with canned green chiles, lime juice, and salt), and then I made a toppings bar so Johnny and I could put on what we wanted. I chose chopped tomato, cilantro, and Tofutti Cream Supreme (a pretty good sour cream substitute). Johnny isn't a fan of sour cream so he just used tomatoes and I'm happy to report that he loved it! He said this was by far his favorite Mexican-type dish that I've prepared as a vegan, and was better than even Soyrizo or fake meat crumbles. This recipe made a lot of "meat", so the next day I just ate it with some tortilla chips as a snack. It would also be great in burritos, tacos, on top of tostadas or nachos, or even in a quesadilla with some Daiya non-dairy cheese. I also wanted to share this because it is a nice way to avoid all those processed fake meats you can buy at the grocery store. Don't get me wrong, there can be a time and place for those products, but I try to steer clear of anything processed as much as I can. Plus this is soy-free for anyone who wants to or needs to avoid soy. Have I convinced you to give this recipe a try yet?? C'mon, you know you want to!

This was my finished version. I want some more right now!
Super Veggie Lentil Taco "Meat"
from The Ordinary Vegetarian
(stuffs about 10-12 tacos)

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over (I used french lentils because that's what I could find)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 large bell pepper, chopped (any color)
1 cup sliced mushrooms (any kind)
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
2 ribs of celery, sliced
1-1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 bay leaf
dash cayenne
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp lime juice

Heat 1/4 cup water in a large skillet. Saute onion for 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes. If the pan starts to dry up and the contents start sticking, add a tablespoon or two more of water. Add in the lentils, carrots, celery, chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, bay leaf, and cayenne, and saute for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the mixture starts drying out, add 1/4 cup water or broth.

Remove from heat and carefully drain off any extra liquid (a little bit of liquid is fine, excessive liquid is not desirable). Remove bay leaf and stir in tomato paste and lime juice. Transfer to food processor or blender and pulse a few times, until a crumbly texture is achieved--do not puree (*note - watch yourself here. I got distracted and was looking somewhere else while pulsing and I almost blended it too much!). Serve hot.

Nutrition info per serving (based on 10 servings): Calories 85, Fat 0.1g, Saturated Fat 0g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 143mg, Carbohydrates 15.8g, Dietary Fiber 3.8g, Sugars 3.2g, Protein 5.7g, Vitamin A 48%, Vitamin C 53%, Calcium 3%, Iron 7%.

February 15, 2011

Restaurant Review - Candle 79

Hello! Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day! My feelings on celebrating this occasion have varied over the years. It can be tough to be single on V-Day, but also fun to gather with your friends and have a "few" drinks while ruminating on the lamer points of love. Being in a happy relationship certainly makes the day much more palatable, though I am still weary of the shallowness of it all. I guess any day of the year that encourages people to recognize their partner and focus on their relationships can't be all bad.

This year I tried to cut down on the wastefulness and expense of the day by wrapping Johnny's gift in leftover paper and ribbons I had around the house and by making his card from scratch. I tend to go to the drug store and buy wrapping paper and cards everytime I give a gift, so this was a fun little way to be creative and to spend less money. A few weeks ago he had mentioned that he wanted a locket with my picture in it, so I had one made for him that included a quote inside from one of our favorite songs. Romantic!

Pretty flowers to make my cubicle happy!

And while I try to keep it simple, Johnny tends to go a little overboard. :-) He sent me flowers at work which are simply gorgeous and also bought me Wii Fit which I've been wanting forever! (We were laughing at how we just watched "Funny People" and he talks about Wii Fit taunting him for being fat and he's like "Video games made me fat! Now you're turning on me??") He also bought me a blu-ray combo pack of "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and "Groundhog Day" - who knew two such awesome movies could be paired together?! And he went to One Lucky Duck (the takeaway shop for the restaurant Pure Food and Wine) and bought me an insane assortment of raw, vegan chocolate items! I got truffles, chocolate truffle sauce (squee!), chocolate hearts, their famous chocolate macaroons, and two kinds of cookies. WOAH. You can order a lot of these items by going here. I am going to do my best to make this stuff last because I know it wasn't cheap, but from the few items I've tasted, it was worth every penny! I know it sounds like I'm bragging, but sometimes a girl's gotta sing the praises of the man in her life. Thanks baby!

Shwag from One Lucky Duck. And I feel like one, too!

And now for the main event... We made reservations at Candle 79, which is one of the most well-known and fanciest vegan restaurants in NYC. It was tough to get a reservation and the place was absolutely packed the whole night. Pretty cool that a vegan restaurant is so in-demand. They had a special Valentine's Day menu, but I liked the fact that there were still options. It was a four-course meal and it was nothing short of divine! Here's what we ate:
Soup/Salad Course:

I had the Saffron-Red Pepper soup with vegetable dumplings. The dumplings were fried, which was a nice bit of sin in an otherwise saintly bowl of tomato-y vegetable soup. Very hearty and satisfying.

Johnny had the Arugula Salad with delicious grilled hearts of palm, avocado, and other light vegetables in a meyer lemon dressing. Excellent.

I had the Grilled Portobello with crispy polenta, tofu cheese, spinach and romanesco sauce. This dish was insane! The plate was layered with sauce, spinach, polenta, mushroom and the tofu cheese was off to the side. It was fun to get a bit of each component to make a perfect bite. The polenta was airy and crisp, almost like a fritter, and the mushroom was really meaty. The spinach was a bit tough, I might try to recreate this at home and use a more delicate green like kale. So creative and tasty though.

Johnny went for the tomato ravioli which he liked, but didn't love. The homemade pasta was stuffed with cashew cheese and it was served with a roasted tomato truffle sauce. I had a taste and thought it was excellent, but Johnny wasn't digging the sauce. Roasting a tomato makes it more earthy and deep, whereas your standard tomato sauce has more zest, which is how he likes it. Zesty. Cashew based creams and cheeses are so awesome and easy to make. You really just have to soak cashews in water until they've softened quite a bit, then blend them in a food processor until smooth. I'll try to post a recipe using this sometime soon.


I had the Soffritto Seared Tempeh with plantains, farro, kale, red pepper sauce and pickled jalapenos. Wow! Definitely impressive. I actually still wasn't sure what soffritto meant so I just looked it up. "A mixture of seasonings and finely chopped vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and celery, that is sautéed in olive oil and used as a base for many Italian dishes." Basically a mirepoix. I'm still not sure how you can "soffritto sear" something, but the tempeh was very tasty whatever the heck they did to it. If you've never tried tempeh I would highly recommend it. It's not hard to prepare at all and is very versatile. It's made of fermented soybeans that are pressed into thin blocks and, like tofu, it takes on the taste of whatever you marinate it in or cook it with. The texture is nutty and you can crisp it up by frying or baking it. In this dish, the plantain added an unexpected sweetness and the pickled jalapeno gave a mild spice and bitterness. It ran the gamut of flavors which is exactly how I like my food!

Johnny, in a predictable move for a pasta lover, followed his appetizer pasta course with the House made Tortellini with seasonal veg, trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms, and saffron-cashew cream sauce. This was the dish that least impressed us both. I tried the tortellini and the consistency was off - it seemed a bit dried out - and it just didn't seem to come together. The veggies were in a large dice and there wasn't much sauce. It felt like the chef wasn't sure which direction they were going when they conceived this dish and they never really figured it out. Oh well, on to dessert to redeem us all!


I had the vanilla flan with dulce de leche ice cream and pralines. WOAH. I'm not gonna lie, this bowl of goodness made me wanna whip my hair. The textures of the flan and ice cream were a bit too similar to be paired together IMHO, but on their own they were each outstanding.

Johnny was back in love with Candle 79 when the "homemade ice cream sampler" arrived in front of his face. The boy loves ice cream, what can I say? He dove face-first into the caramelized banana, raspberry, and chocolate marshmallow trio and he exclaimed "This is the best ice cream I've ever haaaaad!" in the same voice Oprah uses when she announces her guests. (Though to be fair, I think he says that about all ice cream he eats.) It was not an exaggeration though, this was a platter of manna from the heavens! Not sure what type of "milk" they used (coconut or cashew would be my guess) but there was none of that slightly strange taste or texture you sometimes get with soy ice cream. This tasted like honest to goodness fattening ice CREAM. A great splurge for a day of decadence.

This being our first trip to Candle 79, I have to say I was very impressed. The staff were all very hospitable and efficient, every table was full but they managed to get the food out pretty quickly and remained calm and friendly. They are also very accommodating - the one thing Johnny dislikes about vegan restaurants is that they never have diet soda, because he sometimes allows himself to eat a sugary dessert, but he refuses to drink sugar-laden soft drinks or sweetened teas. The server excitedly told us that they make all their own sodas and that they could in fact make him one using stevia, the natural no calorie sweetener! She talked him into trying the homemade ginger ale which had fresh ginger, lemon, mint, and sparkling water. It was so delightful!

To me, this is what a NYC restaurant is all about: creativity, service, fresh ingredients, and atmosphere. I love that vegan cuisine can be so upscale. And there is just something zen about sitting amongst a bunch of vegans and enjoying a calm, quiet meal. I'm confident in saying that we'll be back soon. You had us at "homemade ice cream sampler", Candle 79... you had us at "homemade ice cream sampler".