Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Product Review: Kite Hill White Alder vegan cheese

 I am so excited! My local Whole Foods just got Kite Hill cheeses.

Kite Hill is cultured and aged using traditional cheese-making methods. It's the first vegan cheese to be featured in Whole Foods' specialty cheese department. Up until recently, it was only available in California, but it's slowly rolling out to other places. Now it's finally reached South Florida.

Look at this:

This gorgeous circle of creamy goodness is the white alder variety. It has a soft rind, but the inside is as creamy and smooth as any dairy cheese could be. The flavor is very mild - to the point that on it's own I thought it was slightly too mild, but combined with a touch of salt from a cracker it just comes alive.

This is a very expensive product. (This 6 oz round cost me $13.99) It's not an everyday item, for certain. But  for special occasions or those little luxuries we all occasionally need... it's so worth it!

Perhaps more importantly, it proves it can be done. It proves that a vegan cheese can be a genuine equal of a dairy cheese. You'll have to try it to believe it, but believe it you will!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Vegan on the Road: Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is old-school South. It's the home of Paula Deen's restaurants, where cheese and pork products invade every vegetable dish. It's Low Country - a region whose most famous cuisine involves throwing a passel of sea creatures into a pot and boiling them. It's not a place where you'd expect it to be easy to eat vegan.

To a degree, this reputation is still well-deserved. At the event that brought me to town, I was with a vegetarian coworker. I knew I wouldn't be able to eat at the buffet, but I thought perhaps she could - the menu included macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green beans, and salad with ranch dressing. I asked the catering staff which of the dishes were vegetarian and was met with unabashed horror. "We weren't told there were any of them coming!" Each of these typically vegetarian dishes contained meat... or at least lard.

But with the help of HappyCow.net and my dear sister - a Savannah local - I managed to find some terrific vegan food, too. 

There are two main areas to know as a vegan visitor to Savannah: the first is the plaza at the 1800 block of E Victory Dr. Here, on arrival, I met my sister for lunch at Zoe's Kitchen, a vegan-friendly Mediterranean chain. I had veggie kabobs, braised white beans, and a Greek salad (hold the cheese). It was fresh and affordable. Also in this plaza, you'll find a Chipotle and a Whole Foods Market. (This became essential knowledge after the buffet disaster. We had just enough time to make it to Whole Foods for lunch, and to pack up dinner for the plane.)

That evening, my travel companion and I went to Green Truck Pub for dinner. This restaurant, voted Best of Savannah three years running, boasts a house-made veggie burger that is definitely award-worthy. In fact, I'd say it was downright amazing. Combined with a side of vegan chili and fries, it was an incredible meal. (Did I mention that the pickles and the ketchup were house-made too? And amazing?) The major drawback was that the place was packed. Granted, it was a Friday night, but they told us to expect a 35-45 minute wait for a table. Instead, we ordered to-go at the bar, so you don't get to see a photo of this masterpiece of burgery. Burgerdom?

On Saturday morning, I got up early to check out The Sentient Bean, in the Forsyth Park area. Turns out this is the second area in Savannah for a vegan to know. 

The Bean is a very indie sort of place, with chalkboard menus, eclectic decor, and a looooooong line on a Saturday morning. But it's completely worth the wait for some truly amazing vegan pastries. (They also have actual breakfast foods, like tofu scramble and vegan breakfast burritos, but I can eat healthy at home, right?)

$9 worth of vegan goodies. Worth every penny.
I bought three items to sample, all of which had disappeared by the time I got home that night. They were apple currant bread (soft, moist, with a slight sugar crunch on the top), peach cobbler (ooey-gooey fruit in the middle and sugar-crisp on the outside), and vanilla cake with peanut butter frosting, (oh, my stars! the peanut butter frosting!) It's rare I find vegan baked goods that I think are better than I can make at home, but this is one of those cases.

Across the street this Saturday morning was the Forsyth Park Farmer's Market.

The farmer's market was really that - actual farm stands. Fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers predominated. There were fewer of the little artisan booths that typically populate farmer's markets at home, but there were some - including fresh made breads, pastas, and my favorite, jams and fruit butters!

The Vegetable Kingdom booth was fantastic. Dozens of different freshly-canned jams, jellies, fruit butters, and soups. (Only one of the soups was vegan.) I bought caramel apple butter, burnt sugar pear butter, watermelon raspberry jam, and thick cut orange marmalade.

(A word to the wise, as I later discovered, TSA considers jams to be liquid. Unless you're traveling by car or checking a bag, plan to mail any purchases you aren't eating in Savannah back home. My collection of jams did make it home, but at the expense of checking my bag and getting patted down and swabbed for explosive residue twice.)

Back across the street, next door to The Bean, is Brighter Day Natural Foods, a handy little health food store where I popped in to get a natural soda. They had a variety of things I would've found handy had I been staying in town, for example vegan cheese and mayo, which would've made a lovely lunch with the fresh bread and vegetables I'd have liked to have bought at the farmer's market! 

One final note, we weren't staying in Savannah, but in nearby Port Wentworth. Other than Subway, I didn't see anywhere in Port Wentworth to get a vegan meal. If you're not staying in Savannah proper, be prepared for a drive.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vegan on the Road: Natural Food Grocery & Deli, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

The jewel-blue waters of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
I wrote before about what a vegan-friendly experience I had on Celebrity Cruises. This most recent cruise - departing from Miami and visiting Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten - was similarly accommodating, if not quite so seamlessly as the ship leaving out of the Port of Seattle I traveled aboard last year.

Still, after several days aboard, I was ready for some food choices I didn't have to think about. But after a lengthy excursion to St. John, I had little time in port to look for vegan friendly restaurants. Imagine my delight to spot this, just one block over from the dock:

Yes! A natural food store and deli, with a vegan menu! They offered vegan soups and chili, salads, and sandwiches - including veggie burgers, tabbouleh wraps, or straight-up veggie subs.

I stopped in for a bowl of lentil soup (only $3!) and a bag of raw almonds that took care of my snacking needs for the rest of the trip. My traveling companion grabbed the soup too, as well as a package of gluten-free vegan cookies.

It's a small store, there is no seating, and to-go is the only option. But the food was homemade and hearty, inexpensive, and the store offered a good cross-section of vegan foods and products. If you find yourself docked in Charlotte Amalie, it's a handy place to know - a little oasis on a distant shore!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Green Spot Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, FL

At 8:24 a.m., I wondered who could possibly be texting me. (Most of the people who ever text me were with me inside the house at that moment.) It turned out to be my mother-in-law, letting me know that she'd run across a new restaurant with vegan options nearby my office. I thanked her profusely and decided I needed to check it out immediately.

Green Spot Kitchen is what was classically called a 'health-food restaurant', but rather than being attached to your local vitamin shop, instead takes the form of a trendy bistro. They serve juices, smoothies, wraps, sandwiches and salads - with an on-trend twist. (For example, kale, quinoa, and agave feature prominently in the menu.) The decor is sort of coffe-house chic except with fruit rather than coffee touches, and there's a small outdoor area with a table and chairs under an awning.

Vegan meal options include vegetable ceviche tacos, house-made veggie sliders with chili lime aioli, and the omnipresent hummus plate. I tried the Green Spot Wrap, which had mounds of perfectly grilled zucchini, onions, carrots, and kale with avocado and oven cured tomatoes. It was served with a side of pickled vegetables that included cabbage, kale, zucchini, carrots, and onion. It was perfectly fresh, perfectly prepared, and I would absolutely buy it again. (Although next time, I may have to try those sliders.)

Prices for the vegan options range from $8 - $13. While I would prefer a wider range of vegan choices (or honestly, an all-vegan menu), the food was a decent value for the price, and the service was friendly and reasonably quick. The one thing that surprised me, considering their 'green' focus, was that the take-out was served in styrofoam boxes. Next time, I'll plan to eat in. 

So yes, for me, there will be a next time. I would be unlikely to go out of my way as I would for an all-vegan restaurant (like local gems Green Wave Cafe or Darbster's), but as it's conveniently located, Green Spot Kitchen will definitely be my spot for lunch.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shay's Strawberry Tart

My little sous chef arrived the other day with a notebook in which she'd copied down recipes from a children's cookbook she'd checked out of the library. She was so excited to show me and to ask we could cook one. One problem... her notes didn't actually contain any measurements!

Rather than disappoint her, I decided to take the basic premise of one of the recipes and wing it. In the end, I was able to simplify it so much that this nine-year-old chef was able to do it entirely on her own (with careful supervision, of course).

Shay's Strawberry Tarts

1 pkg mini graham cracker crusts (the Keebler ones are accidentally vegan)
1 qt fresh strawberries
1 sm jar all-fruit preserves

Spray the crusts lightly with baking spray and pre-bake according to package directions. Cool five minutes. Slice strawberries and arrange in crusts. Place preserves in a saucepan over medium heat until melted. Pour into strawberry-filled crusts. Cool tarts in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes until preserves are set. Top with vegan whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fool-proof no-fat vegan banana bread

I couldn't find my family recipe for banana bread, so I decided to wing it. This turned out awesome. It's less like a traditional crumbly quick bread and more like a nice dense breakfast bread, but with all the delicious banana bread flavor and none of the fat. (Well, there's a negligible amount of fat in the banana itself, but not enough to count - less than a quarter of a gram per slice. And you do spray the pan. Still, I'm comfortable calling this 'no-fat'.)

Fool-proof no-fat banana bread

4 over-ripe bananas, mashed
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash bananas and add wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and pour batter into pan. Bake 55 minutes or until golden brown and pulling away from the sides. Cool in pan on a wire rack for five minutes, then remove from pan (or cool completely in pan).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vegan MoFo: Antipasto Sub (a.k.a. Sub in a Jar)

You know how sometimes you don't feel like chopping? You just want to eat salty, briny stuff from a jar? No? Just me then. But still, you'll seriously love this delicious sandwich.

Antipasto Sub

4 individual sub rolls or one large French or Cuban loaf.
1 small jar of mushrooms
1 small jar of artichokes
1 small jar of roasted red peppers
1 small jar of olives
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pesto (or herb spread, garlic spread, or Italian dressing) - optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split bread and spread with pesto or dressing, if using. Layer veggies and top with basil leaves. Wrap in aluminum foil and cook 8 - 10 min. or until heated through. Serve hot.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Vegan MoFo: Easiest Ever Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cake

You would think that by now I'd be through psyching myself out of trying new things in the kitchen. After all, being vegan is all about trying new things! I can't even count the new fruits, vegetables, grains, and new types of dishes that I've tried. Yet, it's been about 6 months since I bought the ingredients to try gluten-free vegan baking. I knew in theory that it shouldn't be that tough, but when push came to shove, I always resorted to the familiar.

Well, that's over now! I finally had a reason strong enough to motivate me to try, and you know what? It's utterly foolish to be intimidated by these things! It's absolutely no harder than conventional baking, which in the case of this recipe is just so easy.

Based on this fabulous recipe from Plant Based on a Budget with just a minor tweak, it only takes 3-5 minutes to prepare and a little more than 30 minutes in the oven. Cool for a few minutes and sprinkle with organic powdered sugar, and in under an hour you've got fresh-baked cake!

Easiest Ever Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (I use Bob's Red Mill)
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup organic sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract (or half vanilla, half almond)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 tbsp canola or other light-flavored oil
1 cup warm water
Organic confectioner's sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift first six ingredients into an ungreased 8x8 cake pan. Add sugar and mix. Create three wells in the dry ingredients. Add vanilla to one, oil to another, and vinegar to the third. Pour warm water and top and mix until well blended and reasonably smooth. There may still be some small lumps, but make sure when you scrape the bottom there's no dry flour showing. Bake 30-35 minutes, until center springs back when touched gently.

Cool 10 minutes and top with confectioner's sugar. Serve warm (or let cool completely and omit confectioners sugar topping if frosting).

Vegan MoFo: Nacho Salad

All the nacho taste, none of the bad-for-you stuff!


You love 'em, right? Everyone loves nachos. But conventional nachos don't love you back. With all that salt and fat, they're hypertension on a plate. So try this scrumptious salad for a tasty nacho flavor and crunch without the fat.

Nacho Salad

2-3 cups shredded romaine
1 cup shredded kale and/or spinach (I use half each)
1/3 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup Spanish rice (great use for leftovers!)
1/3 cup refried beans
1/4 cup taco sauce
1/4 cup crispy tortilla strips

Toss in a bowl, mix, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vegan MoFo: Green Breakfast Smoothie of Champions!

Nutrition in a glass!

Awhile back, I reviewed a book on green smoothies for This Dish is Veg. I didn't realize it at the time, but I learned quite a lot from it. Chief among those things was the simple reason why blended fruit and vegetable drinks are better for you than juicing - you're not losing anything. It's whole nutrition in a cup.

The other thing I learned was the perfect ratio for taste in a green smoothie: 40% vegetables, 60% fruit. But sometimes it's hard to translate that into real terms, since we're comparing leaves to chunks, so to speak. So I find a recipe can be helpful.

This is my recipe for the ideal beginner's green smoothie. I know folks like to get fancy with it, adding everything from dandelion greens to cayenne pepper but that stuff is intimidating if all you want is a green drink that's palatable and maybe your kids would stomach.

So here is my non-vegan-kid (and husband) tested recipe for a delicious smoothie. It tastes of strawberry and banana, and that's pretty much it. It's a great place to start, or a great base to build from if you want to get adventurous.

Strawberry-Banana Green Smoothie

1 large kale leaf, stemmed and torn (or two smaller ones - should equal about 2 loose cups in blender)
1/2 cup coconut water, chilled
1 small ripe banana (or half a large one)
4-5 frozen strawberries

In a blender, add torn kale leaves and coconut water. Liquefy (about 10 seconds). Add banana and frozen strawberries and blend. Serve!

How sweet this is will depend on the ripeness of the fruit. If it's not sweet enough for you, add 1 tsp agave.