Monday, November 24, 2014

Dining Out in Minneapolis - Ecopolitan


Raw Taco Pizza (Half Order) - Ecopolitan

After trying out the raw vegan cuisine in Chicago (at Chicago Raw) the week before, I thought why not give it a try in Minneapolis where I was for my next business trip? I found the Ecopolitan, a 100% organic raw vegan restaurant not far from my hotel so I hopped in a cab and went for lunch.


Dining Area - Ecopolitan Vegan Raw Minneapolis
Dining Area - Ecopolitan
It was peaceful and quiet for a weekday lunch hour, which didn't surprise me as it's not very centrally located to many offices and didn't have the quick service, fast food vibe. The dining area is basic with a handful of wooden tables and chairs and it has a small area with pre-made desserts in a cooler case along with various supplements and powders for purchase. You can also just walk in for a quick juice or smoothie from this area versus sitting and waiting for service. 

I asked the waiter what the popular items were which included mainly full size entrees like Rawvioli, Mac and Cheese, and the Nachos Supreme, but knew I was going for a smaller meal and didn't want to break the bank. 


Vegan Raw Greenway - Coconut Smoothie - Ecopolitan Minneapolis
Greenway - Coconut Smoothie - Ecopolitan
I ordered the Raw Taco Pizza in the half size and started with a coconut smoothie called Greenway, made with coconut water, banana, pear, spinach, seasonal berries, and vanilla. It was thick and creamy. The flavor was refreshing and not too sweet or too "green" tasting. I would order this again and again. The Raw Taco Pizza was marked as spicy, but I first confirmed that it wasn't too hot, as I can only stand a little. It was made with macadamia-cashew cheese, lentil taco meat, tomato, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, cashew sour cream, and hot sauce. It packed a lot of bold flavors. The veggies were fresh and helped keep the saltiness down; I often taste a lot of oversalted raw foods. I liked the creaminess of the nut cheese to offset the sharp tang and kick of the lentil meat. The full size would have been too much because this was much heartier than it looked and kept me full for a while. It was a little odd that it was served with a side of raspberries, but it was a nice sweet bite to end on, and I am one who always needs a little dessert to finish a meal, out of habit sadly. 

I would dine here again to give at least one of the full entrees a try. There were many other juices and smoothies I would have liked, as well so it's worth a return visit. I probably wouldn't bring a non-vegan here unless they are very open-minded and prepared for raw food!


Ecopolitan
2409 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55405

Ecopolitan Raw Dining BlogVegan Raw Ecopolitan Minnesota Veega

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dining In - Oreo Cookie Balls

Oreo Cookie Balls Made Vegan! Blog Veega
Oreo Cookie Balls Made Vegan!

As some may know, Oreos are vegan! The food company Mondelez actually supplies us with quite a few surprisingly vegan food products like Swedish Fish, Wheat Thins, and BelVita. This popular holiday recipe is simple - only 3 ingredients and no baking! I made my first batch of these for work and they were a hit! I had my boyfriend taste test and his reaction said it all, "Whoaaaa." I love the smell of Oreos, a sweet vanilla, chocolately scent that translates into its taste. When combined with cream cheese (vegan or not) it's a creamier version of an Oreo that's been coated in chocolate for a rich, velvety bite. I especially love when the cookie crumbles are big enough to leave a little crisp and texture in the truffle. For how quick and easy this process was, I'll be making them again for sure. Here is original recipe from the brand's site.

Oreo Cookie Balls Recipe - Vegan
1 package Oreo cookies, regular variety
1 8 oz. tub of vegan cream cheese, softened (I used Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese)
1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips, dairy-free


Leave the cream cheese out to reach room temperature or microwave for 30 seconds or less on low power. 

Start by using a food processor to pulse and crumble the full package of Oreos. 

Oreo Cookie Balls Recipe - Veega Blog Oreo Cookie Crumbles - Recipe

Pour into a large bowl and add in cream cheese. Blend together until incorporated and you have a dark, wet batter. 

Roll dough into about 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheet. I found it was easier to freeze these before coating in melted chocolate to avoid them falling apart. 



Melt chocolate chips in a double-boiler or the microwave on medium-power for about a minute, stir, heat for another minute. 

Using a fork coat each ball in chocolate and place back on baking sheet. Freeze the coated balls until hardened. Then serve or package up as holiday gift baggies!  


Vegan Oreo Cookie Balls
Coated and Uncoated Oreo Cookie Balls

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dining Out in Minneapolis - Pizza Lucé


Sign for Pizza Lucé

Athena Pizza, Gluten-Free & Vegan - Pizza Lucé Veega Blog
Athena Pizza, Gluten-Free & Vegan - Pizza Lucé

I visited Minneapolis for the first time earlier this year on a business trip. I knew my options would be limited for vegan dining, but I was happy to find a vegan-friendly menu at a local pizza chain, Pizza Lucé. The food wasn't anything to write home about, but I was fed and enjoyed seeing a menu well labeled, meeting the needs of dietary restricted diners. I first dined in with a friend.  Our waiter was friendly and was able to speak to the vegan options. We started with an app, the Veggie Meatball Appetizer, with veggie balls smothered in thick red sauce seasoned with herbs and served with garlic toast. These were hearty and good, probably the highlight of the meal. 


Vegan Veega Menu Options Pizza Luce

Vegan Blog Veega Minneapolis - Pizza Lucé
Mock Muffeletta - Pizza Lucé
For my entrée I had the Mock Muffeletta Sandwich. It was okay, but the bread to filling ratio wasn't quite right, as you can see in the photo. It came with BBQ sauce and seasoned mock duck, similar to seitan texture, with Muffeletta olive mixture, red onions, and Rinotta, their homemade vegan cheese made with tofu and cashews. I would and did skip this the next time. We finished out the meal with two desserts, because the prices were so cheap and I wanted to try as much of the menu as possible! We ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars and the Molly Bar. The Molly Bar (both gluten-free and vegan) was supposed to be a brownie, but it so dry and chalky we actually told the waiter we didn't want it. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars on the other hand were very good. It reminded me of a Rice Krispie treat, but made with peanut butter. It was topped with a layer of chocolate and powdered sugar garnish. These were very crumbly and flaky, but not dry in a bad way like the Molly Bar. 

Molly Bar, Gluten-Free & Vegan - Pizza Lucé

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar - Pizza Lucé

The second time I ordered delivery to my hotel room. Unlike Galatic Pizza, Pizza Lucé offers free delivery! I treated myself because there was no way I was stepping outdoors again in the -15 degree temperature. Nothing quite like pizza delivery to your hotel room, lounging in PJs, and watching reality TV after a day's work! I ordered the Athena pizza with a few modifications to make it gluten-free and vegan. Typically it includes fresh spinach, tomato, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, red onions, Greek oregano and toasted garlic with light mozzarella on Bianca sauce. My order was: 1) gluten-free crust 2) no feta 3) swap out mozzarella for vegan cheese and 4) no olives (I'm just not a fan). Again, it wasn't anything outstanding, but it satisfied my craving and was more than enough to fill me up. I much prefer the vegan cheese (it might be Daiya) over their Rinotta homemade vegan cheese, which does have a grainy texture like ricotta. 

All in all I would and have gone back to Pizza Lucé when in town because my options are so limited, but it's been hit-or-miss so far. I think I'll stick with the vegan cheese pizzas or appetizers.


Pizza Lucé
119 North 4th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dining In - Hostess-Style Crème-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

Vegan Crème-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes Hostess, Veega Blog
Hostess-Style Crème-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes - Chloe's Kitchen

Veega Vegan Blog - Hostess Cupcakes
Plastic Wrapped Cupcakes vs. Homemade?
This recipe is a clear winner!
For a friend's birthday, I cracked open my Chloe's Kitchen cookbook and went straight to the desserts section for a recipe that hadn't been checked off yet and that wouldn't require walking the whole city to discover the appropriate ingredients. I'd never made a "filled" cupcake so I was intrigued and ready for the challenge. Whether or not you liked them growing up, who doesn't remember Hostess cupcakes? It was fun to get a little nostalgic and bring these back, but in a much improved, and of course vegan, way to share with friends. There wasn't a single negative comment in the crowd. Even the waiter at the bar I brought them to begged to have two! You can find this recipe and others in Chloe's Kitchen (buy your copy here).  


Chloe's Kitchen Recipe for Crème-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes Vegan
The cupcakes made their way to the bar!
Chocolate Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
1 cup cold coffee
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
teaspoon vanilla extract

Creme Filling
1 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
3 cups powdered sugar
2-5 tablespoons of almond milk

Chocolate Ganache
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (dairy-free)
1/4 coconut milk
2 tablespoons canola oil


To Prepare Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with about 15 or 16 liners.

In a large bowl, combine and sift together all dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, bowl and stir together all wet ingredients: oil, coffee, vinegar, and vanilla. 

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix well, but don't overdo it. Pour batter into cupcake liners until about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. 
Veega Vegan Chocolate Cupcake Batter
Bake for about 16-18 minutes and check that they are cooked through with a toothpick. Allow them to cool completely before filling. 


To Prepare Crème Filling:

In a medium bowl use a stand or handheld mixer to smooth out non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening. On a slow speed add in powdered sugar and alternate with one tablespoon at a time of almond milk and the vanilla extract, until frosting is not too thin and not too thick.


To Prepare Chocolate Ganache:

In a microwave or using a double boiler, melt down chocolate chips and coconut milk in a small bowl and stir them together. Add in oil and continue stirring until combined and smooth. 


To Assemble Cupcakes:

Once cupcakes have cooled, fill a pastry bag with the white crème filling and use a round tip. Poke the tip into the top of the cupcake and push down a little, squeezing in filling. With no way of seeing how much goes in, count 3-5 seconds and watch as the cupcake puffs up a little and the filling starts to come out the top. Wipe or scrape away any excess white filling so it doesn't mix in when you coat with the Chocolate Ganache.

Next use a frosting knife and coat the cupcakes with a generous helping of Chocolate Ganache. I froze mine after this step to allow the coating to harden before piping the decorative loops.

Veega Blog Hostess-Style Crème-Filled Chocolate CupcakesAfter the chocolate has hardened use your pastry bag and a small round tip to create 3-4 loops of white crème filling to resemble the original Hostess Cupcakes! 

Voilà - Share your hard work with others.

Dining In - Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes


Veega Blog - Recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcake
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcake

I made this decadent cupcake recipe for a friend at work who loves pretzels. The pretzel buns served in the bread basket are her favorite part of our office lunch! There aren't a whole lot of dessert recipes that incorporate pretzels, even though popular dessert snacks are chocolate-covered pretzels and peanut butter filled pretzels (I love both! It's that combination of salty and sweet that always gets me). I originally found the recipe through a search on Pinterest and discovered this link


Vegan  Veega Pretzel Crust Cupcake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Pretzel Crust Cupcake with Peanut Butter Frosting
In the future, I would swap out the cupcake recipe for one of my tried and true Chloe Coscarelli cupcake recipes to get a moister cake and better flavor, but I may have simply over-baked these. I'm still wondering how to prepare them so the bottom pretzel crust layer is crunchy, because unfortunately after being buried in wet batter it ended up a little soggy. The peanut butter frosting was yummy, but didn't whip up like a buttercream as I expected so I spread it on with a frosting knife instead of using a pastry bag and piping it. Regardless of the minor issues, they looked pretty incredible, and tasted rich and peanut buttery!

Pretzel Crust
1 1/4 cups pretzels, crushed
1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine, melted

Chocolate Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
2/3 cup strong cold coffee
1/3 cup almond milk


Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes - Veega Blog Recipe

Peanut Butter Frosting
1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine
1 18 oz. jar of creamy peanut butter (not natural variety, unfortunately) - I used closer to 3/4 of a jar!
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Garnish
Mini or large thin pretzels
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate or dark chocolate chips (dairy-free)



Pretzel Crust in Cupcake Pan
To Prepare Chocolate Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with about 15 cupcake liners.

Start by crushing the pretzels in a bowl and stir together with melted margarine. Scoop out about a tablespoon of pretzels and press into each cupcake liner (my pieces may have been too large for this step).

In a medium bowl combine all dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda salt. In a separate bowl combine wet ingredients: vanilla extract, vinegar, oil, coffee and almond milk. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until well combined, but don't over mix. Pour cupcake batter into each liner until about 2/3 or 3/4 full. 

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out without batter on it. Remove from pan and allow to cool before frosting.


To Prepare Peanut Butter Frosting:

In a medium bowl use a mixer and cream together butter and peanut butter. Slowly add in powdered sugar and blend together. Add in vanilla extract and blend well until smooth and creamy. 

Use a pastry bag and tip to pipe or use a frosting knife to cover each cupcake. 


To Prepare Chocolate Covered Pretzel Garnish:

In microwave or using a double boiler melt the chocolate chips. Carefully coat half of each individual pretzel and lay flat on a parchment paper on a baking sheet. Put in freezer for at least 15 minutes to cool and harden. 

Place pretzel on each cupcake for a pretty garnish. Use any leftover melted chocolate to drizzle over the cupcakes with a spoon or fork.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dining Out in Chicago - Chicago Raw

Raw Chicago - Veega Blog Vegan

Spaghetti + "Meatballs" - Chicago Raw Veega Blog Vegan
Spaghetti + "Meatballs" - Chicago Raw

I've only visited a few all raw vegan restaurants, but am beginning to see more raw dishes show up on menus at vegan-friendly spots. I would like to eat more raw meals to freshen up and liven up my diet, but when the temperature begins to drop outside it's difficult to feel as satisfied eating cold veggies. It doesn't help that buying prepared raw meals puts a dent in your wallet. I was still eager to give Chicago Raw a shot earlier this month. I escaped the office for a quick lunch pick-up at the W. Huron Street location. The great thing about Chicago Raw is that everything is prepared and pre-packaged so there is no wait when you grab a meal here. There is something a little off-putting about selecting a cold meal from the fridge in a plastic container, but at least I knew the ingredients were fresh and healthy. 

Signature Sampler Platter - Chicago Raw Veega Blog
Signature Sampler Platter - Chicago Raw
I would only have one chance to try the food here during my stay, so I grabbed the Signature Sampler Platter for $13 to get the most variety and try out the most popular menu items. It comes with Spaghetti and a "Meatball," Ravioli, Garden Burger, and a small dessert sample. I also picked up a couple of other dessert samples at the checkout counter - Apple Pie and Carrot Cake. Raw food can really fill you up and I was stuffed after devouring this large sample box. Starting with the Ravioli, these were small and fragile, filled with cashew cheese and wrapped up with turnip rounds. They were served with a shared side of Marinara (also for the Spaghetti) and Parsley Relish. They were a little too plain on their own so I enjoyed the mix of sauces with them. I could have eaten a bowl of these. Next I dove into the Garden Burger, a thick, hearty patty with a variety of seeds and vegetables - no nuts or oil! This came with Red Pepper Ketchup and Mustard smothered on top. I enjoyed this one a lot, but kept thinking how good it would be served warm with a bun and some fixings! Lastly was the Spaghetti and Meatball, a bowl of fresh zucchini shreds, a seed-based meatball that was similar to the Garden Burger, and a chunky basil and green olive Marinara sauce. I expected the noodles to taste watery and plain, but they didn't. I liked it. My favorite out of the three was the Garden Burger. They also threw in a mini dessert which I believe was the My Lucky Truffle, a minty chocolate ball. The two sampler desserts on the side were the Apple Pie - gala apples, dates, raisins, cinnamon, and the Carrot Cake - carrot, apricot, nuts blended with cinnamon. They reminded me of Larabars in their simplicity and were a nice way to finish off a satiating meal.

Dessert Samples - Chicago Raw Apple Pie Carrot Cake Vegan Blog
Dessert Samples - Chicago Raw

Chicago Raw Vegan Veega Blog
In the refrigerated cases you can also find condiments and sauces to purchase and incorporate into your meals at home. They also sell other packaged dry snacks and smoothies. Overall it's an overwhelming variety of healthy, raw, vegan foods to choose from in a grab-and-go style store. I appreciate the passion and focus that the two women who opened Chicago Raw share and I will likely be back when I return to Chicago and need to stay far away from any vegan deep dish pizzas (surprisingly I still have yet to find this by the way...)!



Vegan Tuna Sandwich Veega Blog
Mock Tuna Pate Sandwich - Chicago Raw

Chicago Raw
51 W Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Chicago Raw Website

Chicago Raw W Huron St Vegan Veega Blog

Friday, October 31, 2014

Dining Out in Chicago - Native Foods Café

Vegan Native Foods Cafe Chicago
Wrap and Fries at Native Foods Cafe Chicago - Veega Vegan
Twister Wrap with Sweet Potato Fries - Native Foods Café
I was so excited to try Native Foods Café because the menu immediately reminded me of Veggie Grill, a vegan chain I fell in love with in Portland, OR. They describe themselves as "the premier chef-crafted vegan restaurant." The large menu spanning from salads, to wraps, to burgers, and desserts should satisfy any craving. The interior and setup also reminded me of Veggie Grill in that it's casual quick service dining for eating in or taking out. I tried it both ways. 


Glossary of Mock (Native) Meats - Native Foods Café

Side of Vegan Ranch Dressing!

I arrived in Chicago for my first of two business trips this month and grabbed a co-worker to join me for lunch at the Native Foods Café on S Clark Street. I went with the popular choices for my first try - Twister Wrap with Crispy Native Chicken and Sweet Potato Fries with Ranch Dressing on the side - I ignored the diet for this meal! The wrap has fresh greens, avocado, cucumber salsa, creamy chipotle sauce and crispy Native Chicken wrapped in a whole wheat wrap. The beloved Sweet Potato Fries were unique in that they had more seasoning and were less fried and crispy than you might find at other chain restaurants, but nonetheless yummy. The wrap was delicious, not too spicy, lots of flavor and a bonus that I opted for crispy Native Chicken (I didn't hold back this time!). The mock meat was very close to the real thing, especially in texture. 


During my second trip to Chicago, I checked into my hotel and went straight out to pick up lunch at Native. I opted for a healthier, gluten-free meal this time and ordered the Rockin' Moroccan Earth Bowl with marinated tofu, grilled vegetables, steamed quinoa, raisins, and almonds served with a red Moroccan sauce. I couldn't stop there, so I decided to reward myself for my healthy entreé choice with a Peanut Butter Parfait. Sadly I was underwhelmed by the Rockin' Moroccan dish. It could have been because I ate it luke warm, a takeout order that got too cold, but it just tasted like steamed veggies, plain quinoa, plain tofu, and a sauce that somewhat saved it. I hardly noticed the raisins and almonds until the end, they were too sparse. It was a huge portion and certainly filling.



Rockin' Moroccan Earth Bowl - Native Foods Café

Peanut Butter Parfait - Native Foods Café Gluten Free Vegan Veega
Peanut Butter Parfait - Native Foods Café

The Peanut Butter Parfait was a winner. It's a cup of whipped peanut butter filling layered between banana bread crumbs and mini chocolate chips. I'm a huge fan of these flavor combos. Anything with peanut butter and chocolate and/or banana - Yes yes yes! The filling was smooth and creamy and not too sweet. I wish there was more of the banana bread. As a cake lover over ice cream I needed more of a dessert that I could "chew" on. I would still recommend it though, especially if you're going gluten-free!


Native Foods Cafe - Vegan Gluten Free Takeout VeegaNative Foods Cafe Peanut Butter Parfait


You can only find a Native Foods Café in California, Oregon, Colorado, DC, and Illinois, but I'm sure they will expand just as Veggie Grill is!

Native Foods Cafe Twister Wrap Sweet Potato Fries Vegan
A Delicious, Vegan Meal in Chicago!

Native Foods Café
218 S Clark Street

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