Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Week

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today I'll be preparing caramelized onion sweet potatoes and butternut squash tamales to share at Josh's parents' dinner tonight.  More on that next week ...
But I've been in a Thanksgiving state of mind all week, preparing all sorts of fall dishes.  Josh's mom plans to make a vegan apple pie (for me) and a regular (non-vegan) pumpkin pie for everyone else.  Since I didn't want to miss out on the delicious pumpkin festivities, I decided to make this vegan pumpkin pie from Chocolate Covered Katie's blog, and I've been enjoying a piece (or two!) every day since.  It's sooo good.  It was just as creamy as she promised, plus it was super easy to make.  I know I'll be making this again and again all winter (and probably into summer!). 
When it comes time to plan Thanksgiving food, Josh always advocates for burritos.  His dream is to have all Mexican food for Thanksgiving and ditch the traditional stuff.  Obviously, I tried to appease him slightly by coming up with butternut squash tamales.  But I also tried to take the sting off of the non-Mexican Thanksgiving by making a batch of poblano soup Monday for dinner.  I got the recipe a couple years ago from a Mexican cooking demonstration we attended at the Mexican Cultural Institute and tweaked it a bit to make it vegan - which was easy peasy (sub in almond milk and veggie broth). 
Once I'd roasted and skinned the poblanos everything came together so quickly.  Sautee white onion in butter and oil.  Add poblanos then defrosted corn, salt, and pepper.  Sautee for a while before adding broth, then milk, heating through, and serving.  I kind of wished we'd had some sour cream for garnish, but somehow we survived ... In fact, we both ate two big bowls and seriously thought about a third.  But we managed to exercise restraint ...
Yup, pre-Thanksgiving eats definitely rivaled the big day this year.  But I'm still excited for tonight!  Hope your feast is fantastic! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baltimore Visit

Two weekends ago Josh and I spent the weekend in Baltimore.  We visited his parents, friends, and some of our favorite Baltimore dining establishments.  Of course at the top of our list was Cafe Spice in Timonium.  We ordered tons of food and enjoyed the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.  Mmmmm ... Indian breakfast! 
For lunch Sunday we stopped by Land of Kush right by our old apartment.  I got my favorite plate of food: lentil burgers, mac 'n cheese, and kale salad.  Again, I got more than enough to save for lunch the next day. 
We're lucky we're not so far away from Baltimore that we can still make these little trips on a pretty regular basis.  Because nothing compares to these places.  And I hope the owners never close them down! 

Boloco Dinner

After climbing for a bit at the gym, Josh and I decided to head out to dinner at Boloco (short for Boston Local Company), a burrito place that has migrated down to the Mid-Atlantic from New England.  In addition to all sorts of interesting burrito flavor combinations (think Asian, Indian, and even a special Thanksgiving burrito!), they also have quite the odd ordering experience.  You order on a touch screen (and have to have a credit card to pay), then sit and wait for your order to be called.  An easy way  to make sure your order is correct - plus it cuts out the pesky expense of cashiers. 
Otherwise the place resembles a sports bar, with comfy booths and big TVs playing on the far end of the room.  They even have a Boloco channel playing programming about their weird burrito flavors.  Very odd. 
Since it was my first Boloco experience, I went the traditional route and ordered a normal Mexican burrito.  (Hey, you have to compare apples to apples to really judge a place!)  I also ordered a berry smoothie that was really good.  What I appreciated most was that both the smoothies and the burritos come in varying sizes, so you don't have to get a monster drink or burrito, but can actually have a normal human-sized portion.  If it weren't so hard to park in Bethesda, I'd be frequenting this place a lot more.  But I'm sure we'll be back soon enough.  Next time I'm thinking ... Indian burrito!  Isn't that just a chaat?  That's not a bad thing ...

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Monser San Fran Trip Post

I've been quite delinquent in my blogging lately, and a lot of that has been a direct result of a recent trip Josh and I took to San Francisco for six days.  Though I took tons of pictures, I didn't blog while I was there, so I definitely got out of the habit.  And once you're out of the blogging swing, it's pretty hard to get back into it. 
And then of course once you want to get back on track, you're stuck with a sh*t ton of stuff and photos to recap just to catch up.  San Francisco was full of Mexican food, delicious vegan food, plenty of sweets, and good times with friends!  So without furher ado ... I bring you one monster post to recap our six day trip. 
Day 1:
Potbelly Mediterranean sandwich minus the feta.  (Yeah, this was breakfast at the airport ... You take what you can get). 
Rubios burrito.  Huge A+ from me.  This was my favorite burrito of the trip ... and there were many.  The proportions are all perfect, and when I asked for no sour cream the cashier actually suggested I add extra avocado in its place.  Um, yes please! 

Indian dinner at Kennedy's with friends.  I tried to scale back a bit by *just* ordering a vegetarian chaat sandwich.  Yeah, it was still huge ... But oh so tasty. 

Day 2:
Yet another burrito.  This one's from Orale Orale, and was my least favorite of the bunch.  For some reason they went way light on the beans, but heavy on rice and lettuce.  They also don't add salsa to the burrito, so you have to sit there pouring it on every bite.  Too much hassle for my burrito preferences. 
Dinner at Millennium with Josh and a friend of mine from high school was epic indeed.  We went all out (and paid generously for it - both with busted guts and wallets!).  We split a bottle of wine and appetizers, each ordered an entree, and split one dessert between the three of us. 
Unfortunately their menu online doesn't show the entrees we ordered, so I can't share the specifics.  I know the second appetizer was a raw "risotto", which wasn't my favorite. 
My entree, on the other hand, was an entirely different story.  I ordered the Potato & Chard Roulade, which had cashew Florentine filling with smoked onion and sundried tomato, mushroom Madeira cream sauce, seared broccoli di cicco, red wine, beet & fennel reduction, roasted maitake & lobster mushrooms.  It was amazing!  As was dessert.  I didn't get a picture of the Chocolate Almond Midnight - almond cashew crust, mocha chocolate filling, raspberry sauce, and white chocolate mousse - but trust me, it was delicious. 
Day 3:
Josh and I started the third day of our trip by heading to the Ferry Building for a quick breakfast.  Sadly, I couldn't partake in our favorite empanadas (I just took a generous whiff of Josh's to get jealous), but I did indulge in vegan doughnuts!  That's right, that's doughnuts - plural.  I picked up one pumpkin pie and one salted caramel doughnut from Pepples Organic Donuts.  My eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach, so I saved one for breakfast the next morning instead.  They were both delicious - even the one that sat around for a day!
We grabbed Thai lunch with a friend in Oakland, splitting an order of avocado spring rolls between the three of us. 
For my own lunch I got the mock duck curry, which was tasty and smoky - and not something I'd had before.  Basically, you can almost never go wrong with Thai curry in my book, so I was pleased. 
For dinner on the third night Josh and I had a little break from all the socializing with California friends and headed out to dinner just the two of us to one of our favorite restaurants - Cafe Gratitude.  We had scare a while back thinking this place was going out of business, but fortunately for us not all the locations closed, so we rushed into their Berkeley location extra "grateful" that they were there!   
Their menu items are all named a bit "uniquely", so bear with me ...  We ordered the "I am Honoring" - raw nachos - for our appetizer to split, which were so incredibly delicious.  We were so sad it only came with a few chips, so we had to gobble up the rest of the nacho toppings with our forks. 
Then we each ordered the same entree, the "I am Extraordinary", which is a BLT with their own maple coconut "bacon".  This is maybe our favorite dish ever.  We order it almost every time we get to a Cafe Gratitude.  Mine came with a strangely oily bun (like they'd accidentally set it down right in a bunch of oil - and Josh's wasn't like that), but even with that I still loved it. 
For dessert we decided to try their vegan carrot cake (I am Rapture - I couldn't even bring myself to say that to the waitress), which unfortunately was really underwhelming.  Actually, I would say it was almost bad.  And it's pretty hard for me to dislike any kind of dessert.  I wish we'd just gotten another "I am Extraordinary" ...
Day 4:
After starting the day with my day-old but still delicious doughnut, Josh and I drove out with a friend to Pinnacles National Park to go hiking, rock climbing, and caving!  It was a beautiful day and we grabbed snacks on our way out to tide us over while we enjoyed the outdoors.  On our way back to the East Bay, we stopped by La Plaza Bakery and Cafe, just outside of the park. 
I ordered my third burrito of the trip - a simple veggie burrito with no cheese and no sour cream.  While I waited for my order I spent a fair amount of time drooling over the bakery selection, but didn't think there was probably anything I would be able to get, so I didn't even bother to try to ask.  Fortunately the burrito came out quickly and it was quite good. 

Plus as soon as we got back (a two plus hour drive later) we were heading to dinner with friends at their house.  When I'm a guest in someone's home I don't like to snap pictures constantly of the food, so I have no pictures to show from that evening.  But the spread was amazing.  They went out of their way to make everything vegan for me - which was so thoughtful I couldn't believe!  They had all sorts of appetizers - fruit, hummus, bread, crackers, olives, and baked chick peas.  For dinner they served a salad, pasta, and roasted brussel sprouts - all delicious!  And for dessert our hostess made a beautiful orange cake - which I loved, but unfortunatley not every guest cared for :( 
Day 5:
Winding down the trip ...  For brunch on Sunday of our trip we headed out with friends to Burma Superstar in Alameda.  We started with one of their famed dishes - the tea leaf salad.  It was so tasty and not overly salty (which it can apparently be). 
We all also snacked on lotus chips while we chatted and waited for our food.  They are so addictive you have to be careful not to eat the whole basket by yourself!  Fortunately there were a bunch of other people vying for the chips too, so there wasn't much chance of that! 
I wasn't terribly hungry (maybe all the food from the trip was finally catching up with me?), so I ordered the samosa soup as my entree and shared a bit of Josh's curry.  The soup was plenty filling and (like everything else) was delicious. 
For dinner we met Josh's sister at A16 for tasty Neapolitan pizza.  I talked everyone into ordering their own pizza, so I had a marinara pizza (naturally vegan with no cheese!) all to myself.  And, yeah, I finished it ...  Definitely no dessert after that huge meal. 
Day 6:
Before heading to the airport on our last day, Josh wanted to make sure we got chaat from his favorite spot in Berkeley.  Unfortunately, when we arrived we found that they didn't actually open for a half hour, so with a little time to kill we headed into a little cafe nearby, Bittersweet
Their signature hot chocolate is naturally vegan - actually made with hot water rather than milk, though they offer both soy and almond milk for an extra charge.  Though the hot chocolate was quite good, I think I'll try it with almond milk if I ever stop in here again - for the added creaminess. 
After briefly stalling with our hot chocolates, we finally stopped into Chaat Cafe.  We each got a chaat to go and quickly ran off to the airport, where we actually got to enjoy our food.  My chaat was so good I almost wished I'd had two! 
Especially when it got a little closer to our flight and I realized we'd be in the air for five hours with no meal service (not even a snack offered on flights anymore - cheapskates!).  So Josh and I ducked into an airport store to grab food to go.  While Josh went the sensible route with spring rolls, I grabbed a vegan Pumpkin Apple Cupcake, which I enjoyed a few hours into the plane ride.  It didn't exactly fill me up, but it kept my stomach from grumbling too loudly until we got home. 
Whew!  Any time we go to San Francisco I know we're in for some epic food adventures.  The city (and area) is home to some of our favorite restaurants, and whenever we plan a trip we make sure to plan a way to hit all our most beloved spots while we're there.  This trip was no exception.  (Hence our down-to-the-wire trip to Chaat Cafe on the way to the airport.)  But we also got the chance to see great friends and have tons of fun, which is what the trip is really about anyway ...  That and the food!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chili ... Mac?

Josh's work has catered food all the time, and recently they brought in a chili bar from a local chain called Hard Times.  Fortunately for us, they have many chili options, including vegetarian!  Since Josh enjoyed it so much at work, we decided to head to their Rockville location after climbing one night.  We enjoyed it so much we were back there again about a week later after climbing.  This may just become a climbing ritual for us - like Baja Fresh used to be at our old climbing gym. 

The restaurant doesn't look like much, but the staff was really friendly.  And the chili ... and the mac.  The signature dish at Hard Times is the chili of your choice served over pasta (it's not really "mac" so much as regular spaghetti) and topped with your choice of tons of toppings - onions, tomatoes, beans, jalapenos, cheese, and sour cream.  Obviously I got the first four toppings and no cheese or sour cream.  It was a ton of food - more than enough to save some for lunch the next day.  I still prefer Josh's chili to this version, but considering the convenience I'm certain this is going to become a regular spot for us now. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pumpkin Bread

I'm so delinquent on posting, it's ridiculous.  I don't even actually remember now when I made this pumpkin bread.  It was definitely a Friday.  Not last Friday ...  Maybe the Friday before?  I really have no idea.  If I gave it enough thought I could probably figure it out, but I won't bother.  What I do know is that before I actually got around to using this mix, it had been sitting in the cupboard for probably almost two years.  Can pumpkin bread mix go bad? 
It was a gift, and it was one of those things that I never bothered to actually make because I figured it would keep and I'm always scouring the Internet for all sorts of other tasty and fun dessert recipes so this always managed to fall by the wayside.  Needless to say, since it came into our house before I was concerned about veganism it isn't an entirely vegan mix - the dry mix itself had buttermilk.  But I did go about veganizing the rest of the recipe by making using vegan substitutions for the add-ins.  And I think it came out quite tasty indeed.  Especially warmed in the microwave and with a little Earth Balance spread on top ... Yum!  This definitely became both dessert and breakfast for a few days straight.  Maybe I'm a pumpkin bread convert now ...  Which means I'll have to go back to the Internets to scrounge up a vegan version of this fall treat.  Not a bad homework assignment. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sandwich Love

About a week ago Josh and I found ourselves on a huge sandwich kick - indulging in both old favorites and new over and over again.  

First on our agenda was one if our favorites - vegan tuna with bread and butter pickles on rye.  This one really never gets old.  I hope Asmars stays in business forever.  They are the best fake tuna we've tried - and we've definitely tried a few.  Needless to say, we ended up eating tuna twice for dinner last week.

Our second sandwich if the week was a new discovery - Tofurky, green apple, grilled red onion, vegan pepper jack cheese, and sun dried tomato vegannaise on sour dough bread.  It was inspired by a sandwich Tina talked about a while back on her blog, Carrots 'n Cake plus by the fact that we had Granny Smiths from apple picking the previous weekend.  Obviously I had to veganize this one heavily, but it turned out great!  On our second go around with this one I added facon, but I don't think it added much.  This sandwich is so great there's not much you can do to improve it!  Definitely keeping this recipe.

Chipotle Sofritas!

In case you hadn't heard, Chipotle launched a new vegan menu item on October 21 - sofritas!  So far you can only find the shredded, seasoned tofu burrito and taco filling in select locations, but fortunately for me that includes Maryland and DC!  Though we didn't make it in the first day, Josh and I stopped by a Chipotle in Rockville after climbing a few days after the launch and ordered ourselves a couple of sofritas burritos. 
The sofritas is used just like the meat options as a filling that can be paired with rice, beans, salsa, and any other filling you would normally want on your burrito.  Since the vegetarian burrito allows all of these other fillings as well, it is a step up from the vegetarian in that it doesn't just take out the meat, but actually gives you something to replace it with - so you end up with a heartier, more filling meal option.  (Not that a vegetarian burrito isn't usually plenty filling in my book, but I suppose some people might find it lacking.) 
Even better than adding calories and density to your Chipotle meal, though, I thought the best thing about the sofritas was that it actually added spice as well.  The added kick was a great way to add some flavor intensity to my burrito, beyond what you can get from the hot salsa.  Even Josh, who normally finds Chipotle bland and way over-hyped compared to tastier but less popular competitors, said he would be happy to return for another sofritas burrito.  And for me, anything that gives more options to vegans - and recognizes that they even exist - is a win in my book!