Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sesame Chik'n Fingers

A vegan take on another game day snack- chicken fingers. Statistics show that 90 to 100 million pounds of chicken are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday alone. Sounds pretty insane to me, especially since you can find more humane and equally addictive snack options.

Now this isn't the healthiest snack I've ever made, but I'll make the exception for Game Day- if you can't beat 'em, join 'em with something vegetarian. For these "chik'n fingers," I sliced some Gardein filets into strips, and since I rang in Chinese New Year with takeout, I decided to season my chik'n batter with Asian elements like sesame seeds, ginger, and garlic- you could also choose to add some five spice powder, ground star anise, or chili powder if you like! I tried both baking and frying the chik'n fingers to see which I liked more, and actually, I preferred the fried chik'n fingers- the spices in the batter came through more than with the baked ones. 

Dare I make the pun, but if you're going head to head with some omnis at your Super Bowl party, you'd better make these part of your play book.

Oh yes, and let's go Packers!

The Whats:

* 1 pkg. Gardein chik'n filets (about 3 filets), sliced
* equivalent of 2 eggs (I used Ener-E)
* 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
* 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
* 1/4 cup unbleached flour
* 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
* 1 tsp. ginger
* 1 tsp. garlic powder
* hefty pinch of ground black pepper
* canola oil, for frying

The Hows:

1) In a small mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In another small mixing bowl, mix together Ener-E or other egg replacement. In a medium saucepan, heat canola oil over high heat until it reaches frying temperature- I used the wooden spoon test to check. (stick the end of a wooden spoon in the hot oil, and if bubbles form around the end of the spoon, the oil is hot enough)

2) Dip Gardein slices in egg replacer until coated; dip into mixed dry ingredients until coated. Add each slice to the pan; fry for about 3 minutes on each side, or until browned. Remove from pan and let drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Vegan Game Day Layer Dip


Super Bowl Sunday is coming up. What are you making?

A healthier version of ANY traditional Game Day snack is a good start. But since I couldn't choose between all the types of dips involved, I figured a layer dip was the indecisive person's way out.

Besides, who doesn't love all the flavors in a layer dip?

I went for a rainbow layered look: a red salsa layer, the orange cheese layer, the, well, clearly not yellow refried bean layer, a green guacamole layer, a blue layer of crushed blue corn tortilla chips, and the equally not violet seasoned black bean layer. I had nothing in my kitchen that was naturally (I stress naturally, of course) purple or yellow, though a great yellow layer could be chopped yellow squash with yellow bell peppers, with some low-sodium jerk seasoning. I also opted out of putting a layer of vegan sour cream on top, but you can feel free to do so with yours. The proportions in the recipe will depend on the size of the container you're using to hold the dip, along with the amount of people you're trying to feed- again, feel free to upgrade as needed.

The colors and the variety makes for a great presentation- your omni pals might not abandon their hot wings, but they'll sure clamor for this tasty, eye-catching dip!

The Whats:

* 3/4 to 1 cup of fresh salsa
* 3/4 to 1 cup cheddar Daiya vegan cheese
* 1 cup refried pinto beans
* 1 cup fresh guacamole
* 3/4 cup crushed low-sodium blue corn tortilla chips
* 1 cup refried black beans, or 1 can black beans, drained, seasoned with lime juice and cilantro

The Hows:

1) Prepare refried black beans  and refried pinto beans as directed. While beans are still hot, spread evenly at the bottom of a large, clear glass bowl. Spread an even layer of crushed tortilla chips over black beans; evenly spread guacamole over tortilla chips; repeat with warm refried beans, Daiya layer, and then fresh salsa layer. Heat in microwave for 30 seconds if cheese needs to melt more. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Showin Love to Hodo Soy Beanery

Maybe it's a sign that I need to go back to the Bay Area, but in the course of one night, I just watched two different videos on the Hodo Soy Beanery, an artisanal tofu factory in Oakland that uses special, organic soy beans to make their high quality tofu, yuba, and soymilk.

Unfortunately for us, in order to maintain the freshness, they do not ship to New York (and also unfortunate, they don't ship their nifty "Who's your soy master?" t-shirts either!). I could, however, comfort myself with this sad fact by watching these videos all about Hodo, which include footage of their factory tour.

Check out the Hodo videos on Chow and on Food Curated, a great (though not a vegetarian or vegan) site that gives you behind the scenes glimpses at small producers and how they're impacting the food scene.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's February!

For as much as I moan & groan about how much I hate snow, I actually really like the month of February. Though certainly not because of the weather.

Selfishly speaking, it's my birthday month, and it means I get to plan a fun weekend where I have an excuse to drink through most of it! :) I've got a lot of pals who are February babies too, so there's always people to see and places to go every other weekend of the month. Anyone have any great cake recipes?

But outside of cocktails and (shivering in) cocktail dresses, there's always a lot going on food-wise in February that generates lots of possible blog material. There's the Super Bowl, and the healthy takes on typical greasy Game Day snacks. There's Chinese New Year- dumplings are good luck, and even better luck for me that I get to eat them. Lots of them. The Oscars usually fall in February, and catering an Oscar party is just as exciting as betting on who will be taking home awards. And love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is as good a reason as any to experiment with some chocolate recipes, or at the very least, indulge in a couple chocolate martinis while cursing Cupid.

Cheers to an event-packed month! Is there anything that you look forward to in February?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Vegan Pizza Day: Sweet Chili Bok Choy Pizza

Anyone a fan of gettin' popped in the mouth by their pizza?

By that, I of course mean putting red pepper flakes on pizza, hands down my favorite condiment for pizza of any kind. Cheese, sauce, and carbs are great, but they really need a little punching up!

So goes the inspiration for my second pizza for Vegan Pizza Day on January 29th. I had another ball of whole grain dough, and with the idea of using an unconventional spicy "sauce" for the pizza and topping it with greens, I made up a Thai-style bok choy pizza.

I initially par-cooked the bok choy with garlic and sesame oil for some added flavor, but after I baked the pie, I realized the veggies would've been much crunchier if I had just piled them on raw- the oil and sauce softened them up too much, and I could've done without the extra oil anyway. Outside of that, this was fun to make AND eat- think of it as being able to combine your fave Thai takeout with your fave pizza delivery! I'm posting the revised version here:

* Spread about 3 tbsp. of Thai sweet chili sauce over your dough.
* Spread about 2 stalks of chopped bok choy over the sauce.
* Top with some chopped smoked tofu (aka- leftovers from my other apple-smoked tofu pizza!)
* Sprinkle about a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger and chopped scallions (about 2 stalks worth) over the bok choy. Sprinkle with a bit of grated garlic, if desired.
* Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes until crust is crisp.

Hope everyone else had a rockin' Vegan Pizza Day!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vegan Pizza Day: Apple & Smoked Tofu Pizza

So yesterday was Vegan Pizza Day... and if for some reason you must ask why, it's because pizza is so awesome, it deserves to have a special vegan version. And vegan pizza is so special it deserves a celebratory day of its own!

So since I can't argue with pizza of any kind, I took the kitchen to make my own version.

As much as I love my basic marinara sauce & mozzarella variety, I needed to make something fun with contrasting but complimentary flavors. So here comes apple and smoked tofu pizza:

* Start with a whole wheat or whole grain vegan pizza crust. Spread thin apple slices over the dough.
* Sprinkle a 1/4 cup of Daiya cheddar, or your fave vegan cheddar over the apples. Since Daiya tends to be a little on the oily side when heated up, I just stuck with the 1/4 cup; but if you prefer more, by all means add more!
* Spread a few thin slices of smoked tofu over the vegan cheddar- I used half a block of the Wildwood brand smoked tofu.
* Top with caramelized onions- you can easily have these cooking while you spread the dough and start arranging the toppings.
* Sprinkle pizza with some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of chopped tarragon.
* Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, and enjoy some sweet, smoky, melt-y goodness!

I experimented with one more recipe- a bok choy variety- and I'll post that tomorrow! Enjoy!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

At Vermilion

Date Night must be balanced out by Ladies Night, and so the girls and I made our own Restaurant Week plans at At Vermilion, an Indian-Latin fusion resto in Midtown East.

The upstairs dining room is decorated with oversized black and white portraits on the wall and outfitted with modern, minimalist dining furniture- it's a pretty setting, but seems typical of fusion places. I always thought Latin and Indian flavors were a winning combo, borrowing similar spices are herbs, like cumin and cilantro, and complementary flavors, like tamarind and ancho chili. Here, you'll find it in both the food and the drinks, like the pear-chili vodka cocktail I enjoyed.

Despite the veg-friendliness of Indian cuisine and the flavorful vegetarian options you'll sometimes find in Latin cuisine, At Vermilion doesn't actually have any vegetarian entrees on their regular menu, which seemed pretty shocking to me. I was relieved when I found out that they had one veggie option for each course, but I couldn't understand why their veggie entree (heart of palm and paneer paella) wouldn't have been on the regular menu. I'd barely put my drink order in before realizing that I would never be coming back here.

Which, actually, is all well and good. I started with the artichoke fritters- fried artichoke hearts, served in a banana leaf- and though the fritters themselves were just as described and nothing more, they arrived with a chili dipping sauce that added some needed zest to the artichokes. My entree, the paella with heart of palm, was served in a thick ancho chili sauce with sauteed onions and paneer over basmati rice. More of a Latin-style curry than a paella, it was pleasantly spicy. I'm sure they chose to add hearts of palm to the dish to fancy it up, but still, I'd have preferred if they used a different vegetable, as poaching trees for hearts of palm has driven the plant to near extinction in parts South America- a dangerous delicacy! The desire to make the dish more upscale than it was didn't pay off- heart of palm seemed so out of place and overwhelmed by the ancho chilies. Dessert was a more successful fusion- mango flan with coconut foam and a crust of pink peppercorns. Light, tropical,  delicious, and quickly devoured! I wished the elements of the rest of the meal came together so well!

I imagine other items on the menu are hit or miss as well, and in a city with some of the best Indian food and Latin food one could find, a restaurant that can't do either cuisine well enough doesn't warrant a return visit, especially when obvious vegetarian possibilities are completely overlooked on the regular menu.

However, I'd say if you were near the Grand Central area anyway, their lively, flavorful cocktails are perfect for dealing with the fusion of cranky, overworked personalities you'll find on your train ride back home.

At Vermilion, 480 Lexington Avenue at E. 46th Street, 212-871-6600

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Oak Room

There may have been 20 inches of snow outside, but I wasn't giving up my Restaurant Week reservation for The Oak Room in The Plaza Hotel. After all, it's not very often that a venerable NYC institution offers veggie items on their prix-fixe menu. And, weather as it was, it's not very often that you don't have to deal with crowds in NYC landmarks.

The Oak Room and Oak Bar were built in 1907, and though renovated in 2008, they still retain turn of the century New York grandeur. I spent just as much time staring at the intricate woodwork on the dining room columns and the tile patterns on the floor as I did gazing at my honey (sorry Honey!) It's worth feeling like a tourist for an evening and sitting at the bar for people watching.

Beauty, of course, is not always indicative of good food, so we were eager to see if the Oak Room lived up to its reputation. For their Restaurant Week prix-fixe, there were two veggie options for appetizers- a vegetarian tomato-fennel soup and mixed baby greens, which could be made vegan by omitting the goat cheese- and a solo vegetarian entree, spaghetti with chickpeas, oven-dried tomatoes, and arugula (ask them to leave out the parmesan if you want to make it vegan). Very simple options, but certainly a shift from the tastes of the steak and potatoes crowd that you might expect from older, established restaurants.

I started with the tomato-fennel soup- creamier than I thought it would be (turns out creme fraiche was added), it was rich and warming- just what one needs after commuting during the blizzard. My spaghetti was solid, quite good, but much simpler than what I was expecting from an upscale restaurant. From a little Italian neighborhood joint, sure, but not The Oak Room. Still, it was savory, with just a touch of some red pepper flakes; and with the chickpeas, the pasta was quite filling. Dessert managed to be decadent yet modern- "The Oak Bar", with a chocolate wafer layer, peanut butter nougat, and caramel, with gold leaf pressed into the top of the bar, and served with a scoop of maple ice cream. And yes, it was insanely delish as it sounds.

Though not the most creative options I've had for Restaurant Week, I give The Oak Room credit for putting some healthier, vegetarian items on a menu that's dominated by the usual surf and turf offerings. It's about time. And if anything, embrace the fact that it's not just about the food. Kind of like the Empire State Building- whether you're an NYC native or a tourist, there are many places in the city that you just need to experience.

The Oak Room, 10 Central Park South, 212-758-7777