Friday, July 30, 2010

Vegan Rhubarb-Almond Shortbread Bars

Fruit and shortbread need not come out of a vending machine. Does anyone else make that unfortunate association because of those wacky cellophane wrapped cookies? (I'm looking at you, Knott's!)

Shortbread is easy enough to make, and it's easy enough to make vegan. Who needs butter when you have Earth Balance? Cut down on the amount of sugar used in a typical shortbread recipe, and you'll have a treat that will leave you feeling way less guilty! I was inspired by a recipe I saw on that used rhubarb and almond, but I mixed walnut and almond, and I'm sure peach and pecan would be a great combo as well!

I'm not so ashamed to add that I donated a batch of these to a friend's bake sale, and they totally sold out. Besides, hasn't that cupcake trend run it's course?

The Whats:

* 6 cups of 1/2 in. pieces of rhubarb
* 1/2 tsp. orange zest
* 1 cup granulated organic sugar
* 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 tsp. baking powder
* 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
* pinch of salt
* 1 cup (16 tbsp) Earth Balance butter
* 1 tbsp. canola oil
* 2/3 cup mixed unsalted almonds and walnuts, chopped

The Hows:

1) In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the rhubarb and half a cup of the sugar and cook until rhubarb releases some juices, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook rhubarb for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft. Scoop rhubarb into a bowl and allow it to cool.

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining half cup of sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Scoop tablespoon sized pieces of Earth Balance into the flour mix and rub between your fingertips until ingredients form a crumbly dough. Add oil and using hands, combine until dough forms large, crumbly chunks. Shape dough into a large disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.

3) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. After one hour, remove dough from refrigerator. Coat a 13x9 baking dish with a few extra teaspoons of Earth Balance to prevent sticking. Evenly press pieces of the dough into the dish to form the shortbread crust. Evenly sprinkle chopped nuts over the top and press lightly into the dough. Using a slotted spoon, spread rhubarb evenly atop the nuts and dough. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, until shortbread has browned and rhubarb is bubbly at the edges. Allow rhubarb shortbread to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Goodness in the Finger Lakes

I'd like to say that there are benefits to being dragged along to a gas guzzling event in Watkins Glen, NY, really- the fact that there are wineries, fresh eats, and fresh air! 

After visiting the Watkins Glen/Seneca Lake area last year, it was love at first site. Sure, I was still in New York State, but with rolling green hills and wineries surrounding beautiful Seneca Lake, I sometimes had to wonder if I had been transported to the German countryside. Why Germany? As someone in the Chateau Lafayette Reneau winery told us, our climates are so similar that the rieslings, gerwurztraminers, and other German wines made in the Finger Lakes region have actually won European wine contests. I won't argue with that, so cheers to some good, dry white wines!

More importantly, I've found it's easy for vegetarians and vegans to eat up here, MUCH more so than other parts of upstate. We revisited the delicious Stonecat Cafe in Hector, where last year, I saw the wait staff picking fresh herbs from the back garden and bringing them back to the kitchen (I know!!) and enjoyed a hearty maple tofu entree. This year, I've got a new resto to rave about- Suzanne's Fine Regional Cuisine in Lodi.

I know, I also wanted to make a joke about upstate's "regional cuisine"- when a town's popular joint is called "Mr. Chicken", you have to worry- but Suzanne's highlights all that is seasonal and locally grown. Guaranteeing that there's always at least one vegetarian entree on the menu (and they seemed flexible enough where if you called ahead about vegan items, they would certainly make something!), I knew I'd at least have one option, and Suzanne's exceeded my expectations for that option. The restaurant itself, a landmark home built in 1903, is it's own beautiful, unique fine dining setting (my boyfriend and I had the entire "library room" to ourselves and perused old Alice Waters cookbooks as we waited for our meal!) and if you can snag a reservation for the front porch, you'll be treated to a picturesque view of Seneca Lake and a romantic sunset if you time it right!

I enjoyed a tomato-fennel salad appetizer drizzled with balsamic- so simple, yet because the ingredients were so fresh, that's really all you needed to make a fabulous appetizer. My entree was a vegetable lasagna, which easily could've been made vegan if they omitted the cheese on top. The awesome part? There was no cheese or pasta in the lasagna- fresh zucchini, yellow squash, spinach, and herbs were layered with tomato sauce and thin, crispy potato slices rather than pasta layers and served in a little thick tomato broth. It was definitely the most creative take on lasagna I've had, and likely, a lot healthier than any other lasagna I've eaten. I'll definitely be attempting this at home! Though Suzanne's is pricier than most other restaurants in the area (entrees started at $22), it's certainly worth it for a romantic night out or a special treat. Not that a weekend of wine tasting isn't a treat enough, of course!

As far as wineries are concerned, we loved the fact that we could spend $6 (for the souvenir glass pictured, $5 for a regular glass) and taste 17 different wines at Chateau Lafayette Reneau (again, I know!!) We sampled a few more great, dry whites as well as beer at Wagner Vineyards, which is both a winery and a brewery with the communal beer garden seating that I adore, and we even sampled some good reds at Castel Grisch, though I probably won't go back to the restaurant again- a Gardenburger with a side of bacon potato salad (seriously, why would you pair this with a veggie burger?) was not the most interesting veggie option I've had, and $10 for a Gardenburger, why?

I'm hoping that it's not another year before I head back up to the Finger Lakes- it's officially my favorite part of New York outside of the city. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Restaurant Week Roundup! A Voce and Rouge Tomate

My goals for this summer's Restaurant Week? To not break the bank, of course, and to find some new favorites. I figured one lunch and one dinner would be easy on my purse strings, and since I made my reservations on the first day possible on OpenTable, I scored my top two choices: A Voce in Columbus Circle, which serves up modern Italian cuisine, and Rouge Tomate on the Upper East Side, whose modern American menu focuses on sustainable, local food.

What to try and what to avoid? Check it:

Evidence: Italian should not be pricey. A Voce is. Hence, why I am visiting during Restaurant Week. And though it's a lovely, modern restaurant with an exceptional view of Central Park- and one of the best places, I think, to take your out of town guests- I don't know that I would visit outside of Restaurant Week. The food was excellent, and though the menu had vegetarian options for Restaurant Week, there were no vegan options, and vegans be warned, there are only some vegetable sides for you to consume. (though many of these do sound quite yummy!) Vegetarians will find a couple pasta dishes, salads, and fresh veggie sides to enjoy, all prepared with a creative twist on traditional Italian. I started with a spicy melon salad- cantaloupe, watermelon,  and honeydew topped with just a touch of olive tapenade and drizzled with chili oil. The sweet and spicy combo was unexpected and delicious, and I loved it with the brininess of the tapenade. My ricotta-eggplant ravioli entree, however, was swimming in butter sauce (isn't this more typical of French food?) and though at times I did get some earthy eggplant essence in my ravioli, I wouldn't have guessed that there was eggplant present in the dish- am I crazy to think that my veggie ravioli should've been filled with, um, veggies? Dessert was as quickly devoured as it was brought out- dark chocolate gelato with sea salt, olive oil, and a chunk of pignoli brittle. It could be that I'm a gelato addict, but it was the highlight of the whole meal.

Verdict: Overall, a great Italian restaurant, but it doesn't compare to my all-time Italian fave, Lupa (aka- the House of Batali resto to which I unfairly compare all other Italian places to).

A Voce, 10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor, 212-823-2523

Oh, this lovely heirloom squash salad? Just a little bite of heaven at Rouge Tomate.

Evidence: Modern, sustainable, delicious is everything a resto should be. Good vegetarian and vegan options are a must. Though I was surprised that Rouge Tomate, a Michelin starred establishment that prides itself on local, sustainable cooking, didn't offer more vegan options, I'm sure some of their vegetarian dishes can be made without cheese... and though the vegetarian options on their regular menu are not numerous, the ones I sampled for my Restaurant Week dinner will have me coming back for more. I couldn't even identify all the squash varieties in my hearty heirloom squash appetizer; served up with a savory sweet garlic & tomato vinaigrette and basil pistou, this salad was fresh, innovative, and filling. The sweet corn farrotto entree took a spin at being a fresher, more colorful version of risotto- with chewy, creamy farrotto, peppers and corn that truly were sweet, and just enough cilantro to lighten up the dish, I finished the whole plate (not an easy task!) and I'm eager to attempt this dish at home! Dessert was a fresh plate of melons, and though melon is always delicious, I was clearly missing out when I saw my dinner companion's banana-chocolate pudding cake with peanut butter gelato. But no worries at my end- I figured I would definitely be back here! 

The Verdict: Rouge Tomate bills itself as an urban retreat, and this is one of the few occasions the resto lives up to what it's selling. The menu skims the line of being pricey, especially on the appetizer front, but for delicious, quality food that you know is coming in locally, Rouge Tomate is worth it, and that little Michelin star too.

Rouge Tomate, 10 E. 60th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, 646-237-8977

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Baked Lentil Chips!

I didn't specifically seek out gluten-free chips, but when I saw these in my local Food Cellar market, I figured that a few bucks was a small price to pay to either discover a new favorite or something new to stuff in a bird feeder.

And sure enough, these chips didn't end up as bird food... heck, you had to pry these out of my hands- they're even better than those addictive Pop Chips you find in every store now! If you're not a fan of lentils (yum!) or adzuki beans (meh), you'd never know that these light, airy, and crunchy gluten-free chips were made from them. The four grams of protein and zero cholesterol per serving makes them an even more worthy snack!

I love a good, crunchy snack in the afternoon, and sometimes they're not always the healthiest foods to put in your body... but at least with these, I figure the damage will be minimal, and leave room for the hummus or salsa to dip these in!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pan-Fried Zucchini Flower Tacos with Herbed Fresh Ricotta

So I really lucked out on my most recent market visit to prep for my last taco recipe of the series- delicate zucchini flowers, heirloom cherry tomatoes (I know!!), and fresh herbs. I had never cooked with zucchini flowers before, and was excited to experiment with them... and not just resort to the "batter 'em and fry 'em" typical Italian mode of preparation, though the way the blossoms puff up from frying is pretty intriguing. Other ideas for the flowers? Putting them in a risotto, a frittata, a quesadilla, or stuffing them with tofu.

The part I did not luck out with, however, was how few zucchini flowers I purchased, not fully realizing how much were needed to fill a taco... so if you find yourself in front of a zucchini flower display, stock up if you're planning on cooking with them the same night- they're only best when they're fresh! This recipe can easily be doubled (and easily made vegan if you omit the ricotta for crumbled tofu!) and if you prefer, you can add some tofu for a bit of protein. Either way, call it my Italimexican twist on tacos!

I hope you enjoyed my taco series! If there's anything else you'd like to see or anything you'd like to hear more about, leave a comment or email me! Thanks so much for reading!

The Whats:

* 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 
* 8 zucchini flowers, halved with pistils removed
* 1/2 a small yellow onion, sliced
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 1/4 cup fresh ricotta (you can easily substitute with tofu ricotta to make this vegan!) at room temperature
* 1 tsp. cilantro, finely chopped
* 1 tsp. parsley, finely chopped
* salt & pepper to taste
* 1/4 cup sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes
* 2 flour tortillas
* frisee and cilantro for garnish

The Hows:

1) In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, cilantro, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover and set aside.
2)  In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes until slightly softened. Add zucchini flowers and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until flower edges just start to brown and crisp. Remove from pan.

3) Top tortillas with pan-fried zucchini flowers, ricotta, tomatoes, and frisee and additional parsley, if using. Makes 2 servings.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Best Vegan Blogs

I love inspiration, and I hope this gives you some kitchen inspiration as well! As seen on Healthy Happy Life, I'm sharing their list of the best vegan blogs. Some of them are familiar names, and others are sure to be great resources on the rise. My blog is not exclusively vegan, as regular readers know, but one day I hope to find this blog on a list of great vegetarian blogs :) A girl can dream!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

New! Calendar Page

Hey all! I finally stopped my cave painting equivalent of event posting (a monthly post of events) and instead, learned how to make fire with a new Google calendar app. Instead of searching through monthly event blog posts, you can just visit the new Calendar page and see the choice veg foodie and eco events going on for the month!

The Friendly Veg loves being a social veg, and the more events the merrier, so if you know of an event that belongs on the calendar, I would love to post it! Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter or my Gmail!

Tofu Tacos al Pastor

When I read about pork/carnitas al pastor, I immediately took to the sweet-spicy combo of pineapple and various chili peppers. My favorite! Well, minus the marinated flesh on a spit, obviously. Instead of marinating veggie chik'n or seitan, I decide to crumble some tofu for this recipe.

Now the ingredient list may look lofty, but if you're in NYC, you can skip out on the usual hunting down of ingredients in Trader Joe's or Gourmet Garage and seek out the chili peppers and such in your local Mexican grocer. Save the leftover hot peppers for another recipe... another taco variety, a spicy masala, or a homemade salsa. In some traditional al pastor (which translates out to "shepherd's style") recipes, more liquid ingredients are used to marinate the meat; I thought this might be too much for the already moist tofu and cut out the orange juice and copious vinegar. I cooked the tofu until the liquid had mostly cooked out of the tofu and had just started to brown.

You could certainly cut down on the peppers if the dish is too spicy for you. Maybe it's the masochist in me, but I like to think the tears streaming down my face were those of joy rather than intense heat. Save those leftover pineapple chunks for a post-taco cool down!

The Whats:

* 1 pkg. firm tofu
* 1 tsp. ground cumin
* 1 tsp. smoked paprika
* 2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
* 1 chopped guarjillo chili pepper
* 1 tsp. orange zest
* pinch of cinnamon
* 2 large garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 small red onion, diced
* 2 tsp. lime juice
* 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
* 1/3 cup chopped pineapple
* 2 tsp. olive oil
* 8 flour tortillas
* jack cheese (or vegan cheddar) and pico de gallo for serving

The Hows:

1) Drain tofu and squeeze out excess moisture. Crumble tofu into a large mixing bowl. Add all spices, garlic, onion, and pineapple, and mix until tofu is well coated.

2) Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add tofu to the pan, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tofu starts to crisp. Remove from heat, and serve on flour tortillas with desired toppings.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Basic Black Bean Tacos

I took it back to basics for this recipe- black beans! They go with everything, and they're an easy choice for quick taco fillings. Rather than emphasize spice for these, I kept the flavors clean and simple- just a touch of red pepper, garlic, and a hint of lime to brighten the dish- after loading on various flavors and seasonings, I just wanted something cleaner and healthier, with less sugar, fat, and other no-nos that you'd find at your local taco joint.


The Whats:

* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 1/2 red onion, diced
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
* 1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
 * 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
* salt & pepper, to taste
* 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
* 2 tsp. lime juice
* avocado slices, chopped lettuce, queso blanco (or vegan mozzarella) and scallions for serving
* 8 corn tortillas

The Hows: 

1) In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, cook onion and garlic cloves for two minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, bell pepper, and red pepper flakes; cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until tomatoes start to release their juices.

2) Stir black beans into the pan. Stir in lime juice, salt, and pepper, and cook for an additional 5 minutes- canned beans will already be soft, and you don't want them to become too mushy! Re-season if desired. Remove from heat, and serve beans in corn tortillas with avocado, scallions, lettuce, and cheese.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jerk Chik'n Tacos with Caramelized Mango & Pineapple

Why should chicken or pork have all the fun in the Caribbean sun?

Corny jokes aside, I was craving veggie chik'n and some spice, and this seemed like the next logical step in the taco project.

I know I could've easily mixed my own spices to create a jerk seasoning, but instead, found it much easier to pick up jerk seasoning from Fairway and cut down on my prep time. (If you want to create your own, mix together some thyme, allspice, cayenne, cinnamon, black pepper, salt, and garlic) Lucky for lazy little me, Fairway's spice blends rock!

Adding caramelized mango was a necessary fix for my sweet & spicy tooth. I tend to add extra cayenne to my dishes, so mango was the perfect cooldown!After cooking the fruit, I let the slices sit on paper towels for a few minutes to absorb some of the extra juice- I'm not a fan of soggy tacos, though if you were making this without the tortillas, I bet it would be fab! If you want to put this on the grill, leave the veggie chik'n whole and then slice it into strips. Either way, hopefully you'll get a taste of the tropics... even if the only Caribbean around is just your loud neighbor blasting Bob Marley.

The Whats:

* 3 tbsp. olive oil
* half a small red onion, diced
* 2 tbsp. jerk seasoning
* 1 pkg. of your fave veggie chik'n patties (I used Quorn in mine!), cut into strips
* 1/2 a container each of fresh mango slices and pineapple chunks, thinly sliced
* 8 corn tortillas 
* 1/4 cup guacamole and chopped arugula, for serving

The Hows:

1) In a medium mixing bowl, toss together the veggie chik'n strips with the jerk seasoning and 1 tbsp. olive oil until coated.

2) Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and jerk veggie chik'n to the pan and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until veggie chik'n is golden and crisp. Remove from pan.

3) Add the mango and pineapple slices to the same pan. Cook over medium-high for about about 5 minutes, turning slices halfway, until fruit slices are browned and caramelized. Remove from pan. Serve in corn tortillas with guacamole, chopped arugula, or pico de gallo, if desired.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sweet Potato Tacos with Spring Veggies

Do you really need to ask why I've been on a taco kick? Who doesn't love just rolling up their meal and devouring it? The spices, the heat, the varieties- I could eat veggie tacos all week!

Well, that's the plan- I'm dedicating my next several recipes to one of my fave Mexican foods!

Foodie-lauded fillings like pork and beef tongue may be the current attention-getters, but you really don't need to look any further than the fresh produce at your local greenmarket for flavorful fillings. At my fave taco places in the city, it's not about beans, cheese, and jalapenos, but the carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, cactus flowers, and zucchini flowers in the mix. Way more variety than pork or beef, right?

Inspired by the satisfying sweet potato enchilada I enjoyed over Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to expand both the flavor and the texture of the dish. I diced the potatoes instead of mashing them, and added some paprika and coriander- I figured these would complement the sweetness of the potatoes! And rather than resort to just onions and peppers as my taco veggies (how boring!), I decided to use the spring veggies that my local market had to offer- asparagus and fresh radishes for crunch, a few garlic scapes for some earthy flavor. I didn't add it in this recipe, but if you'd like some added heat with your taco, feel free to add a teaspoon or two of your fave hot sauce. This recipe serves 4, but you can certainly double it if you're hosting a taco night!

Tacos con carne? No, por favor!

The Whats:

* 2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
* 2 tsp. sherry
* 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup for cooking
* 1 tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika
* 1 tbsp. ground coriander
* juice of 1 lime
* 1/2 small bunch asparagus, chopped, with tips reserved
* 2 garlic scapes, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
* 1 small yellow onion, sliced
* about 5 radishes, sliced

The Hows:

1) In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with all the ingredients. Allow veggies to marinate for one hour, covered, in the refrigerator. Reserve the asparagus, garlic scapes, onion, and radishes.

2) In a large, heavy skillet, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil; cook the potatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and crisp on the inside and browned and crisp on the outside. Mix in the reserved veggies and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

3) Remove from heat. Serve with sprouted grain tortillas (I used the Ezekiel brand), baby spinach, and some guacamole, if desired.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Times: Officials Euthanize Nearly 400 Geese in Prospect Park

I know New York City geese have been viewed as a "problem" since a couple flew into the engines of the U.S. Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River last January, but mass slaughter? This is not the right solution.

I was saddened to read in the Times City Room blog that this is the plan for all geese within seven miles of LaGuardia or JFK airports. Four hundred geese were removed from Prospect Park and gassed (hardly as gentle as the term "euthanasia" implies) and it won't stop there. I hope the goslings I've come to love on the LIC waterfront are still there when I walk by this week!

So why are the geese being punished for doing what they've always been doing- flying around the Hudson? And does anyone else think that maybe, just maybe, airplane manufacturers should have safeguards against something flying into the engine? The engine, of all things?? Not just for geese, but for anything that could come near a plane engine- I don't know much about airplane design, but this seems a bit shortsighted on a designer's part.

My favorite comment at the end of the blog? Someone who asks" "So when NYC officials get too large in number (and I think we're there already)- what are we gonna do about them?" Ha. But seriously, make those officials work and phone or email your local rep and tell them that this needs to be stopped!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Grist: "Why Eaters Alone Can't Transform the Food System"

A good perspective via as to why speaking out with our wallets might not be enough. I'm a big believer in consumer activism of sorts- boycotting stores or making a point of purchasing specific products and spreading the word in my social circles- but if the right infrastructure needed to make small farm owners successful isn't there, my consumer activism might not be enough. We need to petition our local representatives on behalf of the CSAs and the small farms we see and love at our local Greenmarket.

Definitely worth a read if you want some basics on the issue!

I'm back!

Apologies to my dear readers for not updating for more than a month- between an incredibly busy day job, several long weekends, and just not making enough time during the week, I've really fallen behind on posts, and I'm sorry about that!

I'm revamping my sched so I can post regularly again, and I've got four yummy taco recipes coming your way next week- black bean, jerk chik'n with caramelized mango, sweet potato, and tofu al pastor! I hope you'll enjoy them!

Also, I've started twittering! My Twitter handle is TheFriendlyVeg- please look me up and let's tweet!

As always, I love hearing feedback and suggestions, so feel free to email me at and drop some comments on posts you like! Thanks everyone, I hope to hear from you soon! :)