Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dining Out in New York City - Cafe Gitane

Logo for Cafe Gitane NYC
Vegan Veega Blog Avocado Toast - Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Chili Flakes - Cafe Gitane
Avocado Toast - Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Chili Flakes - Cafe Gitane

My favorite vegan chef, Chloe Coscarelli inspired me to dine at Cafe Gitane, with two locations on Jane Street and Mott Street, I visited Mott Street in Nolita. It's a buzzing cafe with a European feel.

It's not the type of place where you feel overly welcomed as a guest, at least for me. In fact, I sometimes felt like I was inconveniencing our waiter just being there, but when you reach a certain level of popularity I guess it just doesn't seem necessary to treat your patrons like valued customers. It also could have been that I wasn't the model or celebrity they may be used to for diners. We grabbed aggressively stalked a seat at the bar, because the wait for a table was 45 minutes. Be warned it's small and often crowded, especially during brunch hours. Our bar stools were actually great because we had an up-close and personal view of the cooks at work preparing beautiful lattes and gourmet food. 

Vegan Blog NYC Moroccan Couscous - Cafe Gitane
Moroccan Couscous - Cafe Gitane

I knew immediately I'd be ordering their famed Avocado Toast, but chose to be kind and split this with my boyfriend. The seven-grain toast is covered edge to edge with mashed avocado then doused in lemon juice and olive oil with a generous sprinkling of chili flakes. I liked it, but I've got to be honest, I've made a better version at home. I like when the toast is crunchy and this was softer with a heavier lemon flavor. Sharing left me with enough room to test another other vegan-friendly dish, the Moroccan Couscous, which definitely was not a sample size. This heaping tower of couscous is a work of art, speckled with color from the red peppers, raisins, toasted pine nuts, potatoes, and topped with hummus and eggplant. It's served with a vibrant green oil and two small pieces of bread with more red peppers. For $14 you get a full meal. I loved this. It was hearty, filling, flavorful, creamy, nutty, and fresh-tasting. I took home half of it, but ate that later in the day. In addition to my meal I got a Latte, but was disappointed to find they only serve soy milk, for some reason I figured almond milk would be in their supply. It was still great quality coffee. 
My boyfriend got the Baked Eggs Sandwich and thought it was pretty darn good. We would come back, but not during peak hours.


Cafe Gitane
242 Mott Street
New York, NY 10012

Latte with Soy Milk - Cafe Gitane NYC Vegan

Latte with Soy Milk - Cafe Gitane

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dining Out in New York City - Beyond Sushi

Beyond Sushi NYC
Spicy Mang & Sweet Tree Rolls - Beyond Sushi Vegan Blog Veega
Spicy Mang & Sweet Tree Rolls - Beyond Sushi

It took me so long to try this delicious all-vegan sushi spot, with locations throughout New York City. I went for dinner on a weeknight with my non-vegan friend who I know is open-minded and willing to try new restaurants! My hesitation with going before wasn't about the food, although going to an all-vegan sushi restaurant would deter me from inviting a number of my friends to join me, but I delayed going because it's a very casual almost counter-service only setup, so unfortunately you can't make much of a dining-out experience with it. 

What really sets this place apart is the creative and colorful menu that truly highlights vegetables in all their glory. The servings are huge and very reasonably priced. It's true you're not paying for fish, but you do get a specialty roll with eight pieces that would normally cost more than $10 at a traditional sushi place. You can and should take a peek at their menu online with high quality, gorgeous photography of each item. They also offer veggie bowls, salads, fresh wraps, juices, and premade desserts. You can order combo meals as well to pick and choose rolls, individual pieces, and wraps. 
Spicy Mang Roll - Beyond Sushi

I ordered the most popular Spicy Mang Roll, with black rice, avocado, mango, cucumber, spicy veggies and a toasted cayenne sauce and the Sweet Tree Roll with six-grain rice, avocado, sweet potato, alfafa sprouts and the same toasted cayenne sauce. Both rolls were delicious! I loved the creamy dressing on top, especially paired with the Spicy Mang Roll, because it did have a medium level of spice that hits you after your first bite. I also was a big fan of the unique whole grain rices that brought a richer, nuttier flavor than the typical sushi rice. I would have liked more fresh ginger on the side, but I'm sure I could have gotten that if I asked! :) I would order both again and two rolls was more than enough for a meal.

Roll of the Month - Beyond Sushi NYC Vegan
Roll of the Month - Beyond Sushi
To get the most out of my first visit I also tried the Roll of the Month which had black rice, braised saffron-infused pigeon peas, sweet pea and mint sauce, topped with chopped walnuts. This was a larger, single piece so I had to take one big bite to eat it all at once. It was good, but I preferred the bright flavors of my other rolls. Finally, because I was getting over a cold I added on a premade juice from their cooler, the Orange Coconut Juice. I enjoyed it, but it was a little watery, and not very sweet. My friend ordered the Strawberry Kiwi Yuzu Juice and enjoyed it more. She also got the Nutty Buddy Wrap instead of an individual roll, but after two full rolls she was too full to try it and brought it home!

Orange Coconut Juice - Beyond Sushi Fresh Juice Vegan
Orange Coconut Juice - Beyond Sushi
Nutty Buddy Wrap - Beyond Sushi NYC Veega Blog Vegan
Nutty Buddy Wrap - Beyond Sushi

Though I loved the food, the major flaw to the Beyond Sushi chain of restaurants is lack of seating. They present such elegant, beautiful dishes you'd expect the dining environment to match that, but sadly you're left fighting over table space with only three high-tops and end up elbow-to-elbow with strangers. Seems a waste to do takeout, but I guess that is the better option. I will be enjoying their food in the future, but likely as delivery, takeout, or an office catering order.

Beyond Sushi
229 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003

Outside Beyond Sushi NYC Blog Veega
Union Square Location

Dining In - Curried Lentil, Squash and Apple Stew

Vegan Stew Recipe Blog Veega Lentils Squash Apple
Curried Lentil, Squash, and Apple Stew - Chloe's Kitchen

This hearty, colorful stew would be great during the fall, but worked just as well as an entree for the end of winter, too! I was in the mood for a "Chloe recipe" and cracked open Chloe's Kitchen to see what I had left to test, as there are few recipes that have gone untouched. You can find this recipe and others in Chloe's Kitchen (buy your copy here). The protein and fiber from the lentils make this dish both filling and satisfying. I loved the sweetness of the butternut squash and apples, and with a decent amount, possibly too much, salt it was a great combination. My boyfriend and I enjoyed this as a full meal, eating a larger portion, though the recipe says it will feed 6 as a smaller bowl. 

I would make this again! The prep was easy enough and once you've got your ingredients thrown together in the pot you can leave it to cook; this was pretty low maintenance in my opinion. Allow at least an hour for the cooking process. 
Trader Joe's Spices - Blog Veega
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, large, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 teaspoon ginger, grated and diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I might cut back next time because the vegetable broth adds a lot of salt already)
1/2 cup lentils, dry
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 1/2 cups fresh butternut squash cubed
1 apple, diced, skin on
5 ounces fresh baby spinach

Precut Butternut Squash Cubed
Precut Butternut Squash
After prepping your vegetables (I cheated and bought precut butternut squash, see photo), begin by heating the olive oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. Add onions and carrots and cook until they soften.

Next add to the pot the garlic, ginger curry, salt, stir and cook for a few more minutes.

Vegan Stew Recipe
Onions, Carrots, Garlic, Ginger, Curry Powder and Salt Cooking in Large Pot

Add in dry lentils, vegetable broth and tomato paste. Stir again and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. 

Add in butternut squash and apples, stir, cover again and cook for an additional 25 minutes on the same heat setting. Check that the vegetables are tender then remove from heat and add in fresh spinach. Stir together so the spinach is heated and wilted. That is the last step! 

Serve warm.

Before the last step, adding in spinach next!

Veega Vegan Cooking Blog - Stew Recipe

Monday, March 2, 2015

Celebrating My Three-Year Vegan-niversary!

Happy Veganniversary to me!

3rd Anniversary 3rd Birthday

It's now been THREE years since I decided to switch to a vegan diet. I just read my post about my one year "veganniversary" and what I said then holds true today. I hadn't set an end date for myself on when I might switch back from being vegan, but I've had no health issues (only health improvements) and although the lifestyle creates challenges (just ask my boyfriend), I've become an expert on how to read a menu at a non-vegan restaurant and an ingredients label on packaged food. I'm still enjoying new foods and vegan-friendly restaurants across the country and the world, most recently Thailand and Vietnam. In fact, my move to New York City refueled my love of dining out and I've discovered some incredible vegan meals in my new home (my favorite place is still Candle 79, but check out all of these NYC spots I've tried too!). This blog has really helped me to stay adventurous and I believe because of it, I'm not getting stuck in a vegan rut. It's also been incredible to see the shift in nutrition and health to support a plant-based diet over the past three years. I've lost track of the articles I've read from national magazines and news sources that share the value of vegetables! There are so many new vegan products on the market.

For those who are just starting out, I will say for me it's been worth the extra effort because of the way I feel. Others may not understand why you can't just have one cookie with milk and butter in it or why you won't try that cheesy meat-filled appetizer because it's "soooo good," but do what feels right for you. There are ways to be vegan and be more flexible, but it's also okay choosing a stricter diet. I'm excited to see what the next year brings.

Thank you for your support in reading my blog! I'd love to hear about your experiences with trying out vegan meals or transitioning to the diet. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dining In - Pecan Bars

Vegan Pecan Bar Cookies Chloe Coscarelli - Veega Blog Desserts
Pecan Bars - Chloe's Vegan Desserts

Ohmigod were these good! Sticky, messy, and dense sure, but what a treat. There is something about the buttery taste of toasted pecans that brings upon happy feelings! It's easy to get addicted to these and when I shared a batch with my boyfriend's family it was only a matter of time before they were all gone. You start with a nibble, then another, then cut yourself a square, then half the pan is gone! Watch out for that. I traveled on a plane with these and word to the wise - don't put them in your checked luggage. By the time I unpacked them, all of the pecan topping had melted and slid off the shortbread so they needed to be reconstructed. Luckily this did not impact the taste! You can find this recipe and others in Chloe Coscarelli's dessert cookbook, Chloe's Vegan Desserts (buy your copy here). 

Packed up and ready to go!

Makes 16 Bars (or more if cutting into smaller squares)

Earth Balance Vegan Margarine - Veega
Shortbread Crust
1/2 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance) 
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pecan Topping
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons vegan margarine
1/4 cup agave
2 tablespoons almond milk
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toasted Pecans

To Prepare Shortbread Crust:
Pecan Bars - Shortbread Crust - Veega Blog
Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper. You could also attempt to coat with oil, but warning I have not tried this.

Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until combined and crumbly. Pour into pan and press down firmly to flatten evenly. I noticed this layer was a little too thick and because it cools and hardens it was a challenge to bite into. I may use a 9x9 inch pan or reduce the crust batter next time. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool. 

To Prepare Pecan Topping:

In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, stir together and boil brown sugar, sugar, margarine, agave and almond milk. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes. 
Vegan Pecan Bar Cookies

Remove pan from heat and stir in pecans and vanilla extract. Spread the topping over the shortbread with a spatula and press down. Let cool completely. It's also recommended to allow them to chill in the refrigerator overnight so the topping hardens. Remove from pan if you can by pulling up sides of parchment paper, or cut while in the pan into 2-inch squares.

Chloe's Vegan Desserts - Pecan Bars

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dining Out in Charlotte - Fern, Flavors from the Garden

Fern Restaurant Logo
Laughing Buddha Bowl - Fern, Flavors from the Garden Vegetarian
Laughing Buddha Bowl - Fern, Flavors from the Garden

Inside Fern
I visited Charlotte, NC for the first time recently for a business trip. Per usual, I didn't have much free time to explore the local vegan dining scene, but I did quick research to see what was close to my hotel for a vegan lunch. Under 2 miles away was Fern (or Fern, Flavors from the Garden, its longer name), a vegetarian restaurant with many vegan options. I cabbed it over with two of my colleagues for what turned out to be a truly delicious, comforting meal. The interior of the restaurant was so pretty - a sophisticated, rustic look with mason jars, reclaimed wood, and live plants throughout. It was the middle of a weekday so we had the benefit of being only one of two parties dining in. 

Before starting our meal we were offered cucumber water and it was so refreshing! We then began our meal with two appetizers, the vegan Spicy Glazed Cauliflower (image below on left) and the non-vegan Fern Bruschetta (image below on right). My dining buddies were amazed at how great these first dishes were. Given my vegan history I had tried dishes very similar to the Spicy Glazed Cauliflower. It closely resembled the Gobi Manchurian at Red Lentil in Watertown, MA and the Frito Misto at Sublime in Fort Lauderdale, FL with its General Tso's look and taste. The dish is fried cauliflower florets coated in a sesame balsamic glaze and it's just fantastic. The Fern Bruschetta contained parmesan cheese (so I couldn't try it), and seasonal vegetable ragu on charred garlic bread,  the verdict on this was "sooo good!."

For entrees, I was really craving a salad, but to make sure I got a taste of the most popular dishes I went for the Om Burger, topped with smoked tomato, pickled cucumbers, pepper aioli served on a sesame bun and I added avocado to it. I also ordered Kale Chips for my side. Besides an extra bready bun that I trimmed down, the burger was full of flavor, not too mushy and filling. The Kale Chips were mildly seasoned, but could have been a bit more crispy. Both of my colleagues got the Laughing Buddha Bowl, described as a unique daily balance of the essentials: legumes, rice, greens and vegetables. This one wasn't labeled vegan on the menu, but I'm sure you could request it. 

Om Burger with Kale Chips - Fern, Flavors from the Garden

Vegetable Bowls Vegetarian Fern Restaurant
Matching Laughing Buddha Bowls!

At the end of the meal all of us said we would return! The restaurant was the OpenTable Diner's Choice winner in 2014 and I can see why.

Fern, Flavors from the Garden
1323 Central Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28205

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dining Out in Boca Raton - Darbster

Vegan Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Blog Veega
Meatloaf - Darbster

The last time I visited Boca Raton on vacation, this vegan restaurant didn't exist, and that was only 2 years ago! Needless to say, I was excited when my boyfriend's mother told me she made reservations for us to try it out for dinner on our recent trip. We went on a rainy night, but sat outside on the covered patio area. We were accompanied by a handful of other families, so it looks like a popular place, despite the not so desirable location in a small shopping plaza.

As the "vegan queen" I requested that my boyfriend's family try as much of the menu as possible so I could get a good sense of the food and taste test it all ;). With drinks in hand, we started with appetizers. We ordered one special which was the Nacho Flatbread Pizza and the popular Palm Cakes. I preferred the Flatbread over the Palm Cakes, but both were delicious. The Palm Cakes were similar to a crab cake, but made with hearts of palm, caper remoulade, tahini served over baby greens. The special Nacho Flatbread Pizza had all the fixings of (vegan) nachos served on a flatbread split into four servings, vegan queso, black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream. I would definitely get this again; it was creamy, crunchy, and filling.

Hearts of Palm Appetizer, Vegan Palm Cakes, FL Boca Raton Restaurant
Palm Cakes - Darbster

Vegan Nacho Flatbread - Darbster FL Veega Blog Pizza
Nacho Flatbread (Special) - Darbster

Cordon Bleu - Darbster
For entrees, my boyfriend ordered the dish highly rated by Yelpers (and non-vegans) the Cordon Bleu. From his cleared plate and the one and only bite I was allowed, I think it was a winner, with lots of yummy things going on: soy ham with crispy Gardein roulade, spinach, Daiya mozzarella, roasted tomato b├ęchamel, mashed Yukon potatoes, and tarragon broccoli. His father, also a meat lover, ordered the Meatloaf. He also cleared his plate and from my bite of this, it's something I would order next time. It was a bacon and cheese meatloaf as the core, served with smashed potatoes, garlic haricot vert, crispy leeks, with a vegetable demi glaze. My boyfriend's mother ordered the Avocado Curry Stew, one I had been eyeing. It's served cold because it's raw, and was made up of avocado, almond milk, ginger, garlic, lime, raisins, crunchy sprouts, carrots, onion, cayenne, and spiced cashews. She enjoyed it. I also went with a gluten-free, raw dish because I was on a health kick that week (up until dessert... when I spiraled out of control), although the name of my dish doesn't really suggest it's healthy, Bacon Cheeze Burger. This was an herb burger, topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, cashew cheese, dill cashew mayo, eggplant bacon, on sprouted buckwheat bread, with a mixed green salad on the side. It was flavorful, hearty, and easier to eat than some other veggie burgers I've tried that are mushy and fall apart. I loved the creamy dressings on it and was immediately full.

Vegan Avocado Curry Stew - Darbster Blog Veega
Avocado Curry Stew - Darbster

Vegan Dessert Strawberry Layer Cake
Strawberry Layer Cake - Darbster
Now onto dessert, the Strawberry Layer Cake is to die for! The serving was enormous, like shockingly enormous, and even more so when I shockingly almost finished it, leaving only a crumb on the plate! I admit I had a little help from my boyfriend and his dad, but let's face it I was hoarding it. What I loved was the dense, moist cake that wasn't overly sweet with layers of subtle strawberry-flavored frosting. My boyfriend's mother ordered the special, it was Mexican Horchata Chia 
Pudding, a chia seed pudding, with burnt cinnamon, raisins, black figs, coconut flakes topped with coconut whipped cream. I took a few bites of this beautiful looking, gluten-free dish and loved it. She did as well, and noted the next morning that the chia seeds really do give you energy, unfortunately it kept her up all night!

Horchata Chia Pudding - Darbster Boca Raton
Horchata Chia Pudding - Darbster
We almost went back just a couple days later, but instead dined in. With so much variety and a satisfying experience that left my taste buds happy, I will be back for sure!

6299 N Federal Highway
Boca Raton, FL 33487

Darbster in Boca Raton Florida - Veega - Vegan Restaurant

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dining In - Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups - The Kind Life, The Kind Diet

Thank you, Alicia Silverstone for giving me Reese's Peanut Butter Cups back! These were easy and fun to make, especially because I was so eager to try the end result. Alicia's recipe and photos show a full-size muffin pan for a larger serving, but I opted to use a mini cupcake pan (despite what's in the photo to the left!) for a bite size cup, knowing I could very easily overindulge. When I say these were like Reese's they were, but definitely more natural tasting and the peanut butter layer had more texture to it from both crunchy peanut butter and crushed graham crackers. Mine came out a little softer, than I would have liked. I think the peanut butter had too much oil, making it a little more liquid than your typical Jif brand. The chocolate layer still hardened nicely. Check out the original recipe on The Kind Life website, at this link.

Makes about 28 mini-peanut butter cups
Earth Balance Soy-Free Margarine (Vegan) VeegaNatural Crunchy Peanut Butter - Veega Blog

1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine
3/4 cup peanut butter, crunchy, natural, unsalted
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chips, non-dairy
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped

Crushed Graham Cracker Crumbs Veega Vegan BlogPeanuts Chopped on Cutting Board, Knife 

Line two mini-cupcake pans with mini cupcake liners.

Over medium heat, melt the margarine in a small saucepan. Add peanut butter, sugar, and graham cracker crumbs and stir well. Remove from heat.

Peanut Butter Filling - Vegan Homemade Peanut Butter Cup Veega BlogDivide evenly among cupcake liners, about 1 tablespoon per cup (or just about halfway). Put in refrigerator or freezer to cool and harden.

Over medium heat, melt chocolate chips with almond milk. Stir and watch carefully until chocolate has melted. Remove from heat. Spoon enough chocolate to cover peanut butter filling in each cupcake cup. While still melted top with chopped peanuts. 

Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. 

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