Friday, May 31, 2013

Finishing up Vegan on the Cheap

Somehow it is almost June. With the new month comes a new VegCookbook Club selection, Meatless: More than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes by Martha Stewart. This should be interesting!  

Meanwhile, here are the last items that I made from Vegan on the Cheap, May's club pick. This book has been rather anti-Martha Stewart. That is to say, there are no glossy photo spreads or elaborate food stylings here. Just short, to-the-point recipes and pragmatic cooking advice, similar to what you can find on Robin Robertson's own media empire.  
The beans are hidden inside.
Nacho Taco Salad
This was a fun, creative recipe, one I'd never heard of before this cookbook. There is memorable greasy taco salad in Joe Hill's short story, "You Will Hear the Locust Sing." That one features "big flaps of lettuce, soggy with taco juices." This is a much fresher take, assembled right before serving. Plus it has "nacho cheese."

Basically, you layer a shallow bowl with tortilla chips. (I used Garden of Eatin' Red Hot Blues but an unflavored chip would suffice.) Then you layer a mound of spicy hot beans, prepared with salsa and chili powder. Next you pour on some warm Cheezee Sauce, using the same great recipe Robertson uses for the Wheatball sandwiches. Finally, you add your salad and any other nacho toppings that suit.

The recipe calls for iceberg lettuce but I went with Russian red kale for my salad, plus extra chopped tomatoes, jalapeños, and onions. I also added more Cheezee Sauce to the top, because I thought the sturdier greens could handle it. This recipe would be great at a buffet-style dinner because each person could tailor it to taste.      
Inner Goddess
Inner Goddess Dressing
I'm not a fan of pasta salads but this dressing (from the recipe for Garden Rotini and Chickpea Salad) was also listed as an all-around dressing and sounded worth a go. It uses cashews, tahini, and some vegan milk to add creamy Goddess-style flavor. I'm not sure if it would please true die-hard Annie's fans. It could use some chives and parsley.
Beware of the blob.
House Salad Dressing
I also tried the mustard vinaigrette variation for this basic house salad dressing recipe. It was very oily but quick to throw together. As instructed, I stored the dressing in a tightly covered container. However on the second day, the dressing congealed into a strange blob. I've never had that happen with a dressing before.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Piola WDC's soft opening

I went to the soft opening of Piola WDC this week. This new spot on 14th Street, located at 2208 14th ST NW to be exact, is right next door to Dynasty Ethiopian. For the soft opening this international Italian restaurant chain was offering half-off their menu items.

From the menu, the Ortomisto pizza looked to be the most veg-friendly of their 12" pizzas, so my boyfriend and I ordered that style, hold the cheese. We got the whole-wheat crust option but I think the ratio of whole wheat to white is 1:5. The Piola pizza has a paper thin crust with lots of char and a thin layer of tangy tomato sauce. The pizza toppings are added after the pie comes out of the hot brick oven.

The Ortomisto
Our delicious veggie pie came topped with thin slices of roasted eggplant, cooked spinach, roasted peppers, and broccoli. The pie was also supposed to have cherry tomatoes, which we totally forgot about until our attentive server brought them out as a side. We put some of these perfect tomatoes onto the pie and forked up the rest.

I neglected to photo the large salad that we also split. It was full of arugula and other mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, and scallions. The server brought us olive oil and balsamic vinegar for the dressing, when we said we were vegan. He wasn't too sure about ingredients of the house-made dressings.
close-up with cherry tomatoes added
The multi-level restaurant space is interesting, with the raw, exposed look and fresh construction/new wood smell of many modern restaurants. However the acoustics are horrible. It's true that some diners enjoy the cacophonous din that a busy restaurant creates. This place had that heightened, on-the-scene noise level on a slow, soft opening night. Perhaps their outdoor roof deck will provide some respite?  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sweetgreen's new 14th & W location

Sweetgreen, a rapidly expanding Georgetown-born salad chain, recently opened their seventeenth location at 14th and W ST NW. (The actual address is 1315 W Street NW.) Unlike many of the other popular salad shops (like Chop't), Sweetgreen touts sustainability, offering up local and organic ingredients.
In this shiny, sterile warehouse-inspired space, you'll find a giant chalkboard that proudly lists their local produce purveyors. The large yet spare menu is also posted, with "V" for vegan options, under exposed CFL bulbs. (An even more detailed ingredient and nutrition run-down is available from Sweetgreen's online menu.) Below the menu is a well-staffed counter, where you place and follow your order assembly-line style.
The chic p
My boyfriend and I ate here on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We were interested in trying their wraps, but wraps didn't seem to be an option. Instead we had two salads with gratis sides of bread. My boyfriend got the Chic P, a mix of mesclun and spinach with crumbled falafel, whole chickpeas, cukes, peppers, and pita chips. It came with a lemon hummus tahini dressing.

You do get to specify your salad dressing amount at the tossing station. (Or ask for it on the side.) My boyfriend went with medium but thought that selection netted a rather skimpily dressed salad. In fact, he declared the entire salad bowl to be a light snack by his definition.

The spicy sabzi
I ordered the Spicy Sabzi, which had a kale and spinach base. It came with some quinoa, broccoli, carrots, raw beet cubes, sprouts, and tofu cubes. I went with light dressing, a ho-hum carrot chili vinaigrette. But I asked for heavy Sriacha sauce, which helped add some flavor.

It is hard when eating salads out at restaurants, not to compare them with your favorite healthy, large, and affordable homemade salads. I think if you were a salad newbie, these Sweetgreen salads would please. You may want to b.y.o.f., "bring your own fork," as the compostable flatware makes it difficult to spear some ingredients, like raw beets.

My boyfriend and I also split a Sweetpress juice, called Purity. This green juice blend has apple, kale, spinach, cucumber, lemon, and ginger. It was very light and fresh. Juice is something I still don't make at home, so this was a treat.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wheatball Mania

Plate of wheatballs
A new job has been keeping me busy and away from posting about my VegCookbook Club cooking experiences. However I did find time to tackle one "Basics" recipe from Robin Robertson's Vegan on the Cheap, the May cookbook. Introducing...The Wheatballs.

This quick recipe requires a food processor and a skillet. You make the balls from chickpeas, mushrooms, bread crumbs, and vital wheat gluten, adding various Italian spices. (Also soy sauce, which I was out of, so I subbed lemon juice.) After two minutes of kneading the dough mixture, you pan-fry the balls. The finished wheatballs are light and airy, not dense and "meaty."    

Minestrone with wheatballs
The wheatball is a "component" recipe that works with other recipes in the book. So I tried using it two additional ways. First, I used it in minestrone (above). This is a freestyle minestrone, but Robin Robertson does provide her own recipe in the book. She suggests adding small wheatballs to the bowl. I had made regular size wheatballs, so I just halved them. I liked this addition to the soup and never would have thought of it on my own.

Next I made a wheatball sandwich (below) because how could I not? I began by whisking up the fast, tasty, and healthy Cheezee Sauce. It is an oozy nutritional yeast-based sauce that thickens with cornstarch. Then I warmed up the wheatballs in jarred marinara sauce--a suggested convenience "splurge." 

Assembling the sandwich on a roll was easy. Eating it was not. What a mess! (I think this was because the balls became even softer in the tomato sauce. Or maybe the bread was too crusty?) It was the kind of sandwich that just went "splurt!" all over the plate. I recommend serving it with a fork and knife. 

Wheatball sandwich with Cheezee Sauce 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Union Station kiosk to the rescue

My boyfriend and I ended our Norfolk trip with an early return (via thruway bus and train combo) to DC. When we arrived at Union Station, located at 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, it was lunchtime and we were starving. Luckily, Union Station has some good vegan options, especially of late.

For hungry travelers in a hurry, Sunrise Caribbean Cuisine now operates a handy seasonal outdoor kiosk. This kiosk can be found on the west side of the station, near the exterior escalator.

The friendly operator warned us that he only had a few vegan menu items on hand at the kiosk. Next time, he suggested that we should check out their food court stand, located on the station's lower level, for greater variety. (I didn't even know about this excellent food court addition!)

It looks like Sunrise also has a full restaurant, located at 107 Kennedy Street NW, and a catering company. Sunrise Catering is owned by Alisa Plaza, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, but self-identifies as a "world citizen."

Below are photos of the lunches that we wolfed down. While these Styrofoam containers don't look pretty, this meal was amazing. The food was fresh, flavorful, and comforting. Even the mock chicken dish was full of veggies. I'm hoping to hit Sunrise every time I am traveling through Union Station, especially after wearying journeys.
Curried Potatoes and Chickpeas, Curry "Chicken," and Collard Greens
Peas and Rice, Curry "Chicken," and Collard Greens  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Norfolk, VA bites

Amtrak recently extended its North East Regional service to Norfolk, VA. My boyfriend and I love to explore cities via train, so we decided to make a mini-trip to this new end of the line. An otherwise sleepy, Southern city, Norfolk has one of the most active ports I've ever seen. We gawked at the naval vessels, rode the free ferry for kicks, and spotted Peta's headquarters on the Elizabeth River. And, of course, we sampled some of the vegan fare that Norfolk has to offer. Here are some highlights:
In the Ghent neighborhood, we split a sandwich at Cogan's Pizza, 1901 Colonial Avenue. This vegan "chicken" Philly sub (above) was a delicious mouthful. I think Gardein and Daiya have been discovered big time in Norfolk. The sandwich was packed full of these mock products. It also had sautéed onions and peppers. There was a high charge for our vegan substitutions ($4). However, the friendly staff split the sandwich into two baskets, each with pickle and chips. Cogan's has a good beer selection and ample outdoor seating in their welcoming front patio area.  
In Downtown Norfolk, we visited Hell's Kitchen for dinner. Located at 124 Granby Street, Hell's Kitchen is convenient to the light rail and not far from the waterfront. This chill bar/restaurant/live music venue has a small vegan menu with some pricey items. (However, they have no hidden vegan tax.) I ordered the BBQ Grilled Burrito. I asked for black beans but it came with fake chicken instead, which was fine. This tasty burrito featured a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce. I thought the provided steak knife was a joke at first but it really was helpful for cutting.

My boyfriend had the Buffalo "Ficken" Wrap (below). This wrap was less inspired, with limp lettuce, dry tomatoes, and, you guessed it, more Gardein. As for the side veggies, the asparagus was great, the broccoli terrible. I can't recall when I've had broccoli that tasted so much like cardboard. Still, it was nice to have green sides after all the processed food.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Vegan on the Cheap for May

My library hold has arrived for the May VegCookbook Club selection, Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson. The first recipe that I have made from this cookbook is an affordable and simple one. This recipe also appears for free, on Robin Robertson's Global Vegan Kitchen website.
Penne-Wise Peanutty Pasta  
Although this was a budget dish, it tasted rich and decadent. First you prepare an easy Asian-style peanut sauce, with peanut butter and silken tofu. I subbed almond milk for the soy milk and added extra garlic and red pepper flakes. Next you cook your whole-wheat penne and veggies.

I wasn't a fan of the cooking method for the broccoli and carrots. I worry that boiling them in the pasta water loses some nutrients. However it is quick trick, for when you are short on time, as well as money. For garnish I used more green onions instead of herbs and extra peanuts. I liked this dish but thought it could be tweaked. Maybe you could use less peanut butter too?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Quick empanada fix at Julia's Empanadas

This isn't your coworker's Hot Pocket.
Looking for quick street food in Adams Morgan? Julia's Empanadas is the spot. Located at 2452 18th ST NW, this humble take-away shop offers up a variety of handmade South American-style empanadas, including their vegan/vegetarian option. This special menu item changes weekly and is affordably priced (~$4) for an impressively-sized savory pastry.

According to Julia's online menu, the veggie empanada dough is made with puréed butternut squash. I didn't pick up on that flavor but did enjoy what was stuffed inside the thick, crusty shell. It was a lightly curried mix of pinto beans, cauliflower, collard greens, onion, and carrots. A satisfying, fresh, and fast fix.

They also had vegan black bean soup when I visited and some good-looking packaged salads. Julia's is open late night in Adams Morgan. Sadly, their Columbia Heights location closed recently. (It was too close to Sticky Fingers for me.) But they still have establishments in Dupont and Brightwood.

Julia's Empanadas