Wednesday, October 6, 2010

five courses of joy

a fantastic vegan meal at tayst restaurant

Last week, we joined a roomful of Nashville vegans for a sold-out event at Tayst restaurant, which we were fortunate to attend as guests of the chef. We'll take you through a play-by-play of the evening, but before reading any further, you might consider picking up your phone right now and calling in a reservation for next week's encore dinner. The food was phenomenal... bring an omni guest and let the power of inventive, well-executed vegan food blow his mind.

Okay, you've got to be ready for some photos and commentary after that statement. Here we go...

Quinoa and pea cakes with spaghetti squash, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and pomegranate
The opening course welcomed us with the flavors of late summer easing into fall (at last!). Delicate field peas were the star, their smooth texture distinctive in each bite of earthy quinoa and starchy squash. The restrained brushes of bright pomegranate glaze and pesto emulsion complemented, but did not overshadow, the warm, subtle character of the cake. 

Smoked pumpkin bisque with polenta fritos and arugula
This was Danielle's favorite dish! The soup was first experienced as a bold, smoky aroma, then filled the palate with deep, complex sweetness, with just enough acidity to prevent it from becoming cloying. Its texture was smooth and velvety, but without the tongue-numbing thickness of a dairy-based bisque. The flavor was perfectly balanced, divulging no ingredients other than the smoked pumpkin that it billed. And our table wanted a bottomless basket of the crisp, golden polenta fritos! 

Almond gnudi, toasted almonds, almond froth with sorrel pesto and pepper sauce
Crystal loved this elegant tribute to the almond. The dumplings were tender and succulent, a perfect bite with a dip of bitter-savory pesto or piquant pepper sauce. And the almond froth was no gimmick: its airy presence delivered a sweet hint of creamy almonds. Our table agreed that this dish deserves a spot on the regular menu.

Marinated, grilled tofu with carrots, eggplant, crispy shallots, roasted cucumber, tobacco potatoes, beets
This preparation of tofu and vegetables plays on the idea that vegans only eat... well, tofu and vegetables. But in this case, the tofu displays deeply caramelized grill marks, its warm interior fairly quivering with custard-like density. The presentation of the vegetables suggested that each should be savored on its own, so that its individual preparation could be studied: a dessert-like beet sauce, cucumber with a hint of seafood (sorry, that is the only way to describe it!), and potatoes with the sweetness of marshmallows. The result was an intriguing dish that makes the diner appreciate the facets of vegetables to which we are usually oblivious.

Warm flan with cashew cheese, apples, chestnuts, and dried cherries
The intensely savory creation described as "cashew cheese" fascinated and perplexed us. It bore no resemblance to the simple, light spreads that we've made, and was surely fermented, or maybe cured like a pâté? Chef Barlow revealed nothing, and seemed pleased to hear the observation that the dish was like a cheese course and dessert on one plate. The flan was not overly sugary, and was a nice foil for the sour-sweet cherries.

Finally, we had a meal in Nashville in which the use of plant-based ingredients was central to its creation, not an inconvenient, limiting factor. We didn't have to choose among different combinations of seitan and tempeh (which are, on occasion, delicious and desirable), or omit the dairy from a dish that was designed to have it. We went out and tasted food that we couldn't devise quickly or recreate at home easily. And the dining room was full of other people who seemed to feel the same way. Did we mention the dinner was sold out?

There is another Veganstravaganza dinner at Tayst on Wednesday, October 13, with another possible event in November. We hope that the success of this concept will inspire other Nashville establishments to offer vegan menu items and events. And we hope that Chef Barlow and the staff at Tayst will further commit to vegan dining by giving Full Menu Status to some of their outstanding vegan creations.

Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar
2100 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Veganstravaganza at Tayst

food to get excited about

Check out this menu:

Quinoa and pea cakes with spaghetti squash, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and pomegranate
Smoked pumpkin bisque with polenta fritos and arugula
Almond gnudi, toasted almonds, almond froth with sorrel pesto and pepper sauce
Marinated, grilled tofu with carrots, eggplant, crispy shallots, roasted cucumber, tobacco potatoes, beets
Warm flan with cashew cheese, apples, chestnuts, and dried cherries...

... with wine pairings!

This is the feast that co-blogger Crystal and I will be sharing at Tayst next Wednesday evening. It is the most intriguing line-up that I've seen in Nashville. I am delighted that Chef Jeremy Barlow is committing to vegan food for the evening, and am very grateful to be invited to attend. 

Check back next week to read all about the roasted cucumber-y, almond foamed goodness!

Veganstravaganza Dinner
$45 for five courses with wine pairings
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
6:30 pm

Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar
2100 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

vegan ice cream recipes

churning our way through A La Mode*

Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Danielle says:
So satisfied have I been with my repertoire of banana shakes and green smoothies that my ice cream maker has spent most of the summer shoved behind the fondue pot.  My freezer was so crammed-full of frozen bananas, nuts, and leftovers that it could scarcely accommodate the freezing apparatus.  Fortunately, an important event stirred me to correct both these situations, and when the machine was plugged in and the bowl duly frozen, a cadre of recipes awaited in Hannah Kaminsky's e-book, A La Mode.

I made three batches over three days; it was easy with a little planning! Twenty-four hours before ICD (Ice Cream Day): find ice cream freezer and stash that baby in the, well, freezer. You can't cheat thermodynamics, so don't even try! At least 12 hours in advance: make ice cream base. Since most recipes require cooking in this step, you must allow time for the base to chill before adding it to your machine. Again, love and respect the laws of physics! Then, the fun starts.

The first recipe that I made, Peanut Butter Bombshell, turned out to be my favorite: its texture was so smooth and rich, its flavor so intensely gooberlicious, that I will definitely return to it. I used Trader Joe's chocolate Cats Cookies (yep, they're vegan!) and omitted the peanuts. Though the author notes that the cookies add "depth to this otherwise one-note ice cream," I might just leave them out next time and not tell her. Salted Creamy Peanut Butter Ice Cream, anyone?!

The perfect mate for PBIC has to be Jam Ice Cream, no? And it was a simple recipe to boot: all of three ingredients and less than five minutes of cooking time. If I have six minutes next time, I'll add a little starch to give this ice cream the custardy consistency of Hannah's other recipes. Strawberries 'n' Cream, here we come!

I couldn't put the ice cream spinner away without making something chocolate. I used this recipe, which calls for coconut milk, to produce a heavenly batch! Try it for yourself as a preview of the fantastic, frozen creations that are included in A La Mode. The recipes I tried were delightful, and the crowd of vegans and omnis who devoured them at my house seemed to agree! Next, I plan to make a batch of French Vanilla to accompany the luscious strawberries and peaches that find their way to my kitchen!

Chocolate Ice Cream
Crystal says:
I was so excited to receive A La Mode to review that the day it arrived in my inbox, I put my my ice cream maker's freezer bowl into the freezer. I had to wait 24 hours for the bowl to freeze completely so I thought it would be a good idea to get started on the ice cream as it too would require time to chill in the fridge before churning.

For my first recipe, I decided to make the German Chocolate Ice Cream. The ice cream base looked so thick and creamy I couldn't stop myself from trying a little spoonful before putting it into the fridge. It was absolutely delightful. Over the course of the next 20 or so hours, I frequently found myself going back to the fridge to devour to test the temperature of that chocolatey goodness. It eventually turned into a delectable pudding and, honestly, at that point, there was no need to even bother with the ice cream maker. But, for you my dear readers, carry on I did.

In the book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the author Harold McGee says that the mark of a well-made ice cream is one that is, "creamy, smooth, firm, almost chewy." I am pleased to say that Hannah's chocolate ice cream base is all of the above. However, it is not for the faint of heart. This ice cream is the richest ice cream I have ever eaten and that is exactly why I love it. Other ice cream recipes I've tried produce a delicious product but a little bowl always leaves me wanting for more. With Hannah's recipe I was able to have just a few spoonfuls and feel completely satisfied. It is a great way to enjoy a sweet treat without all the guilt and pain that comes from consuming too many sugary calories.

I have made it many times since then, altering it slightly each time (omitting the coconut swirl, adding instant coffee crystals to make it a mocha ice cream, adding little brownie bites) and every variation has been just as scrumptious as the first. The picture above shows the mocha variation.

Eventually, I decided it was time to try out another recipe (for what kind of tester would I be if I only tried one of them?). I was recently in Oklahoma visiting my family and one day we took my niece, Sydney, to an ice cream shop. Sydney ordered her favorite flavor, Birthday Cake and they scooped her up an artificially colored and flavored cone full that she happily devoured.

It was with my sweet niece in mind that I made Hannah's Birthday Cake Ice Cream (pictured at the beginning of this post). I loved the idea behind it and her method for making this ice cream but, in all honesty, it was a little too sweet and thick for me. However, it's probably perfect for the little kiddos and you can feel good about serving them something without all the artificial junk. I know that my niece will LOVE it and I can't wait to make it for her the next time I see her.

* We both received free e-copies of A La Mode to review.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

happy birthday, crystal!

say it with ice cream

Today is the birthday of my good friend and co-blogger, Crystal! To celebrate, I made three kinds of ice cream and assembled the funnest ice cream cake I could dream up (Mom: I know that "funnest" is not a real word).

The ice cream recipes were created by Hannah Kaminsky, cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire.  Check back soon for Crystal's and my review of her e-book, A La Mode. If you just can't wait to try one of her decadent delights, click on over to Bittersweet blog to find the chocolate ice cream recipe that I used (sans chocolate chips, and it was still awesome).

And what was the foundation of all this deliciousness?  It was the Simply Wonderful White Cake from Alisa Fleming's excellent resource and cookbook, Go Dairy Free. We have more to say about that book, too, so stay tuned!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

tasty ways to cook cauliflower

appreciating a versatile vegetable

Last week, I took several dishes to work to celebrate that underrated, sometimes-maligned, but potentially delicious vegetable: cauliflower.  Like other brassicas (I'm thinking of cabbage and Brussels sprouts specifically), cauliflower, when carelessly under- or over- cooked and thoughtlessly seasoned, can become bland, soggy, and odoriferous.  However, when cooked properly, cauliflower can acquire a deep, rich flavor or exquisitely creamy texture, depending on the preparation used.  This versatile veggie would be more popular if people tasted a few delicious cauliflower dishes, and learned how simple they are to prepare.  With this goal, I offer the following recipes:

  • roasted cauliflower, with savory, caramelized flavor and lovely crispy bits.
  • cauliflower soup, which has a creamy mouthfeel, but is dairy-free.
  • basil hummus with cauliflower, a smooth dip in which the vegetable replaces most of the olive oil.

The simplest method to showcase the glory of cauliflower is roasting, and I've found the following steps from Cook's Illustrated to produce the best results.
Roasted Cauliflower
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

One head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 475 F.
  2. Wash and trim one head of cauliflower and cut the stem flush to the bottom.  Place the cauliflower on the cutting board, stem side down, and gently cut it, through the stem, into eighths.  This will result in eight, wedge-shaped pieces.  Spray or gently coat all sides of each wedge with a thin coat of olive oil, and season with salt.
  3. Place all wedges onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover tightly with foil and place in the preheated oven for ten minutes.
  4. After ten minutes, remove foil and return pan to oven for 8-12 minutes.  When cauliflower starts to brown, remove pan from oven.  Gently flip all wedges and return pan to oven for 8-12 minutes more.  Remove cauliflower from oven when all wedges are golden brown (total cooking time: 30-40 minutes).
If that recipe proves how tasty cauliflower can be, the next one shows how creamy. It's a soup that, if served to me under the name of vichyssoise, I would swear contained potatoes and cream. This recipe is also adapted (and veganized) from Cook's. I have to tell you, the texture that the cauliflower achieves after being in the blender for a minute is jaw-droppingly smooth and creamy. Typically, I try to get away with "pureéing" soups with my immersion blender to avoid cleaning the jar blender.  However, if ever there were a reason to wash an extra tool, the pudding-like consistency of this soup is it!  Use your favorite combination of aromatic veggies to make your broth, or use a good brand of low-sodium vegetable broth (I like Trader Joe's brand, which tastes like the vegetables have been roasted).

I've included some ideas for variations that came to mind as I taste-tested the soup after blending.  I haven't tried these combinations, but I'm not worried about it.  After all, this is soup we're talking about, not rocket science baking.

Creamy Vegan Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes two quarts

1 head cauliflower, about 2 lbs.
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth, optional
6 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning (or other coriander- or cumin- based spice blend)

  1. Trim leaves from cauliflower and cut in half. Chop florets into walnut-sized chunks, and stem pieces about half that size. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion to the pot with a pinch of salt. Sweat the onion, turning the pieces and not allowing them to brown, until it is translucent.
  3. Add the wine, if using, and stir until it has evaporated.
  4. Add the chopped cauliflower to the pot, turning to coat with oil.
  5. Add 4 cups of vegetable broth to the pot, cover, and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 12 minutes.
  6. Purée the soup in several batches by carefully ladling the cauliflower and broth into a blender, filling the blender only half-full. Blend to purée, then set aside puréed soup and complete the remaining batches.
  7. Return puréed soup to soup pot and add vegetable broth to achieve desired consistency. Add seasoning blend to taste.
  8. Warm over low heat to desired serving temperature and enjoy!

Variations: substitute two leeks, chopped and cleaned, for yellow onion; use 2 T of yellow curry powder as seasoning; or, add one handful of cleaned and chopped watercress, arugula, or spinach to cauliflower during final two minutes of simmering.

The final recipe is my version of the Cauliflower Hummus from Veganomicon. Instead of adding half a bottle of olive oil to your hummus to achieve a smooth texture, why not use cauliflower? It's lower in fat and higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber!  Veggies for the win!

According to Cook's Illustrated (again), the secret to smooth hummus is breaking down the chickpea hulls as much as possible, and then adding the fats gradually in the final step.  Love those test kitchen gurus (even if they are un-veg-friendly).

Basil Hummus with Cauliflower
makes 3 cups

2 cups chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, cooked and drained  
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
2 cloves garlic (roasted if you've got it!)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
salt and pepper
  1. Steam cauliflower florets until tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. In a blender or food processor, add chickpeas, cauliflower, garlic, lemon juice, and basil. Blend until smooth, adding a tablespoon of water if needed to get things moving.  
  3. In a small bowl, combine EVOO and tahini by whisking with a fork.  
  4. With the blender running, add the combined fats gradually by pouring in a slow stream through the top of the blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with basil leaves, sesame seeds, EVOO, etc. Will stay fresh and green for several days, tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

main squeeze café

a delightful lunch stop

I wasn't born a road warrior, but I recently realized that my life is headed that direction: my husband just bought a 1970 slide-in camper for his almost-classic Ford F150.  The camper needs some improvements before I'll call it my vacation home.  In the meantime, I've been acclimating to the asphalt-loving lifestyle, which kicked off with our recent trip from Nashville to Santa Fe, NM.

We drove the westward leg in one go, stopping regularly to walk our dog and stretch, and completed the route (almost exclusively on I-40) within one day.  I had brought a hefty supply of cold salads, PB&J, and favorite snacks from Trader Joe's, so we didn't face the challenge of trying to find vegan food at truck stops along the way.  After spending a fantastic week in Santa Fe (more to come on that topic), it was time to pack up the car for our return leg, which took us north through Colorado before heading east on I-70.

Our decision to take a less-direct route was rewarded: the Colorado countryside and rolling green fields of Kansas were worth the extra hours on the road.  And then, my thoughtful husband suggested a stop in Columbia, Missouri, which he thought was the kind of town that might have a vegetarian restaurant.  A quick look at this resource confirmed his suspicion, and we pulled off the Interstate in search of Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café.

Main Squeeze was perfect: the vibe was warm and fun, the decor was funky and creative, and the menu offered a variety of yummy-sounding sandwiches, salads, and wraps, in addition to fresh juices, smoothies, and baked goods.  The staff were friendly and helpful, and all of the customers seemed peaceful and content, enjoying their healthful lunches while chatting or reading.

I ordered the Tempeh Ruby sandwich, which would be my first Reuben-style meal ever, vegetarian or otherwise.  It was totally delightful, with mildly spiced soft tempeh, crisp and tangy sauerkraut, and sweet, creamy dressing.  The soft, savory rye bread from Uprise Bakery completed the combination (or should I say, made it complete).  The freshness of all of the ingredients was palpable, and the flavors were perfectly balanced.  I wanted to order another Ruby to take home, but knew that a second helping couldn't provide the same satisfaction.  So I simply savored the moment, pausing to enjoy my perfect company and the wonderful handmade goodness that we were served.

Charles had the Sunshine Burger, a vegan patty topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, and Russian dressing and served on a wheat bun.  I could tell by how few words we exchanged how much he enjoyed it.  We each had a cup of (vegan) creamy soup with local greens, smooth and satisfying.  We agreed that the meal was the perfect respite from our long car trip, and returned to the counter to further reward ourselves with dessert.  About half of the desserts were vegan, and they ran the gamut from full-on-sugary cupcakes to heartier bar cookies and muffins.  I opted for the latter, choosing a chocolate coconut bar.  It was tasty, but I could tell that Charles would've preferred something of the sweeter variety.  I'll have to let him choose, next time!

I loved our visit to Main Squeeze, an establishment that seems to address all facets of being a responsible restaurant.  In addition to using organic produce almost exclusively, and local produce when available, they offer filtered water, avoiding the packaging and inhospitable expense of bottled water.  The restaurant's waste is minimized by composting, recycling, and use of earth-friendly to-go packaging.  They also support the community by participating in fundraising events and providing space for local artists to sell their work.  According to their website, the mission of Main Squeeze is to be a sustainable business, basing their decisions on this question: "Is this the very best that we can do for the health of our planet, our employees, our customers, our community?"

Clearly, Main Squeeze made a happy customer out of me, and I highly recommend that you check it out, whether you're a local or a cross-country traveller.

Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café
28 S. 9th Street
Columbia, MO 65201

Sunday, June 13, 2010

a kombucha experiment - growing a scoby, part 2

daily status, in pictures

Last week, I blogged about my experience with kombucha. Every morning for the past 9 days, I excitedly checked on my little experiment and have watched my jar of tea rapidly produce a healthy SCOBY.

If you look really closely, you can see a small whitish spot in the center of the jar. That is the start of my SCOBY! I was so excited when I lifted up the towel and found it had actually started to grow.
By day 4, there was a very noticeable film across the entire surface of the tea.

By day 9, I thought my SCOBY was thick enough to transfer to a new batch of tea and start my very first brew! I'm a few days into it now and anxiously waiting for the 5th day so I can bottle it with fruit juice and begin my double fermentation.