Vegan Italy

Last week Shawn and I went to Italy! He was the best man in a friends wedding that took place in the town of Cortona. It was an amazing trip, a beautiful wedding and an awesome experience all together. I love Italian food as much as the next person but I have to say I was a bit worried about getting meals that were totally vegan especially since I don’t speak any Italian whatsoever. Quite the contrary to what I had feared, I had some truly unforgettable vegan meals.

The wedding was a full two day event with multiple five course dinners, not to mention lots of wine, hor d’oeuvres, and breakfast treats. Lucky for us, we had our own special vegan menu. The majority of the meals were vegetarian to start with and minor adjustments were made to accommodate us. Everything was insanely delicious. All the vegetables were so fresh and delightful. The tomatoes were like nothing I have ever had before and courses dressed with olive oil were to die for. I still can’t get over how delicate and fresh everything was and how well all the flavors complimented each other.

After the wedding, we spent the remainder of our time in Rome as neither of us had ever been before. We managed to see a great deal of the city by foot, on bicycle and on a brief Smart car tour (which I’ll get back to later). We walked through the Colosseum, hiked through the ruins of the Roman Forum, drank beer on the Spanish steps and threw coins in Trevi Fountain. It was a bit unreal. And of course we sampled some of the city’s vegan offerings. Our first stop was the Beehive Cafe. This small vegetarian restaurant, located inside the Beehive Hotel, is cute and comfortable. They have a handful of vegan options and a very accommodating cook who helped us put together our meal. They use a sliding pay scale and no set portion size so you only get what you want to eat and only pay what you feel you should (of course there are recommendations).

We started with a large vegetable soup filled with zucchini, peas, tomato and orzo. This soup was unbelievable. This could possibly be one of the best soups I’ve ever had. It was hearty and rich, full of vegetables but not overly heavy. There was a touch of sweetness to it and each vegetable was able to shine. I could eat this soup for days. In fact I could go for some right now. Paired with some fresh bread this stuff was like heaven.

We also got a plate of hummus, vegetable patties, salad and some mixed vegetables. The hummus was also superb. There were two different veggie patties available the day we went and we chose one with chickpeas, nuts and spices. They were a little bit crunchy on the outside but soft and perfectly spiced on the inside. I really enjoyed the flavor of these but they were a bit dry on their own. I would have preferred these as actual veggie burgers but they were quite good mixed with everything else on the plate.

I highly recommend trying this place if you’re in Rome as it has a really nice atmosphere and they are very helpful and speak English too so that’s a plus. The food is unique and well thought out and is a good alternative to traditional Italian meals.

We also tried the only other vegetarian restaurant that I new of: Il Margutta. We stopped here for lunch, where instead of their normal menu, which has it’s own vegan section, they have a buffet with options of how many add-ons you’d like. While I enjoyed the food here and thought it was well crafted, I wasn’t blown away. Looking back, I would have preferred to order one dish than sample a bunch. I will say the seitan in one of my dishes was really great, but I only had a small serving. We decided to get the dessert option (despite the fact that I was convinced they weren’t going to have a vegan cake) and they did in fact have both a chocolate and carrot cake. These cakes were obviously made of quality ingredients and were overall pretty good but they were a bit grainy and oily. I was happy to have them anyway but they weren’t amazing either. I will say this place was packed for lunch and it was a pretty good deal overall, whereas the dinner menu is much more pricey.

Just for a second though, let’s talk about my favorite thing in Italy: ESPRESSO. I am without a doubt a caffeine addict. I make myself a soy latte every morning and usually can’t get through the day without something in the afternoon as well. I also have a fairly sensitive stomach, which means me and coffee don’t really get along. Through the years I’ve found ways to manage this like drinking espresso instead of coffee, always having it with soy milk, etc. In Italy though, I am able to just have espresso with a bit of sugar and I’m set. It’s so rich and delicious and doesn’t have the same caffeine jolt as the stuff over here. It is more flavorful and much less abrasive. It baffles me that people don’t want to drink stuff this good here and instead prefer bitter, watery coffee. It is a mystery! In any case, I had a week of sweet deliciousness and feel so lucky that I did.

But wait there’s more…come back tomorrow for a surprise find of a fully vegan restaurant and adventure tour that ensued…

Vegan Sushi Birthday Party!

Los Angeles is burning. I just thought I’d start with that. Ok, Los Angeles itself is not burning, but there happens to be a number of huge fires burning right next door, filling our city with a thick layer of smoke. Air quality has actually reached hazardous. Let’s not forget, the temperatures have repeatedly hit triple digits. Needless to say, this is not the part of summer that people relish in.

It also happens to be birthday season. You all know that everyone gets busy between Christmas and New Years so this happens to be a popular baby week. Guess what that means…birthday parties! My friend Jannatha’s birthday was this week and we had a sushi party (which is probably one of the best parties you could possibly have). I think it’s been about a year since I’ve made sushi myself, and though that was good, these veggie rolls were amazing.

Since there are tons of places to find instructions on how to make sushi yourself online, I’m going to just give a few hints to making your sushi even more awesome. First and foremost, I insist you try something new. Being that I’m an LA native, I’ve been eating sushi since I was two years old. Yet, somehow I’ve never had a sweet potato roll. How is it that I’ve missed out on such an awesome kind of sushi? It’s so freaking good. Sauteed and sprinkled with a bit of brown sugar and hot sauce, it rivals my sushi favorite (avocado, is still the best though I think). So on your next sushi excursion, throw in a vegetable you haven’t  yet tried wrapped in rice and seaweed.

My next suggestion perhaps goes a bit against conventional sushi wisdom. Put loads of veggies in your rolls. This can potentially make your rolls fall apart a bit easier, especially when dipping in soy sauce, but do it anyway. More veggies mean more great flavors. Try different combinations of crunchy and soft. Try different colors mixed together. Just make sure you press your rolls extra tight.

Don’t forget the extras. One of the things that makes going out to a sushi dinner so special is not just the sushi itself, but all that comes along with it. Get some Japanese beer, perhaps some sake too. Whip up a little bit of miso soup. Many Japanese snacks are vegan too. I’m personally totally addicted to some seaweed crumble things that are sweet and salty and to die for. Definitely don’t forget the wasabi. If you’re afraid of wasabi, get some anyway. Mix a little in with your soy sauce and try it out. Even if you have too much, it stops being spicy after a second. Honestly, just try it.

Last but certainly not least, stuff your face with sushi! I guess you should save some room for dessert though. We had red velvet cake, as every birthday needs a good cake (or cupcakes). Despite the summer heat and fires and ash falling on us, the evening was cool enough that we could eat outdoors. The best part about sushi is that besides the rice, you don’t have to cook anything if you don’t want to. You end up with a cool summer meal that is much more filling than a salad, and generally speaking, way tastier. Now get to it, go make some sushi!

p.s. Thanks to Jannatha and Kyle for not only being awesome sushi party hosts, but also for letting me steal photos from them. 🙂

vegan bake sale at handmade nation craft fair

Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know Vegan Bake Sale will be selling cupcakes at the Handmade Nation premiere craft fair this Saturday. So come get a cupcake (or two) and check out the other crafts and demos. The craft fair is from 2 – 6 pm and is free to the public. Handmade Nation looks like a great documentary too, so I would recommend seeing one of the showings as well. Get advance tickets and info at the Cinefamily site. Hope to see you there!

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater

611 N Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, 90036

Saturday August 15th 2009

2 – 6pm

the elusive vegan brown bread ice cream

When it comes to vegan ice cream, I’m a huge fan of Scoops. Many vegan ice creams fail in their attempts at creaminess and flavor but Scoops seems to get it just right. Yet, Scoops is by no means perfect. My biggest complaint about this great ice cream shop is that while they have four vegan flavors to choose from daily, they also have about 12 non-vegan flavors as well. Usually, this wouldn’t bother me (at least we get the vegan flavors!) but then my eyes glance over to the non-vegan offerings and I always get jealous. Lemon Hefeweizen ice cream. Thai Iced Tea ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great vegan flavors as well, but still…there are about 12 vegan combinations in rotation and sometimes I just wish there were more. And then there’s the brown bread. There is always a tub of brown bread ice cream on the non-vegan side. While all the flavors change daily, this flavor is so good that they have it every day. Not for us vegans though. Shawn claims that once upon a time, when the ice cream shop was still new and more experimental he tried the vegan brown bread ice cream, but those days seem to be long gone.

Today, ladies and gentleman, I bring you the answer to the elusive brown bread. There may be other versions of this treat, but this is what I imagine you’d get at Scoops if they did decide to make it. I overheard some of the secrets to what makes it so special and you may be surprised. You may be delighted.

Brown Bread Ice Cream

1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup soy milk, separated
2 cups soy creamer
2 Tbsp arrowroot

½ cup soy milk
1 cup grape nuts

Caramel Sauce

½ cup Earth Balance
2 cups brown sugar
¾ cup soy creamer, separated
2 Tbsp arrowroot

Take 1/4 cup of the soy milk and mix with 2 Tbsp Arrowroot. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, mix the sugar and vanilla extract. Cover the bottom of the pan with the sugar mixture and start to melt over medium heat. As the edges of the sugar turns brown, stir gently until all sugar is melted and turns to a dark caramel brown.

Carefully pour in the soy creamer and soy milk. Be aware that the caramel may sputter and pop. Continue to stir until the caramel disolves into the cream. Bring to a boil and mix in the arrowroot mixture. Stir until it noticably thickens. Pour into a seperate bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.

To make the caramel sauce, again mix the arrowroot with 1/4 cup soy creamer and set aside. Melt the Earth Balance in a small sauce pan. Add the brown sugar and combine. Next add the remaining 1/2 cup soy creamer and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. At this point, add in the arrowroot mixture and stir until it thickens noticably. Put this in another container and refrigerate until cool.

Once the two mixtures have cooled, about 4 hours or so, mixt the grape nuts and the remaining soy milk together. Make sure they are fully coated and let sit.

Next, make your ice cream according to your ice cream maker’s instructions starting with the cream/caramel mixture. As the ice cream begins to solidify, pour the grape nuts in. Once these are mixed in, drizzle in a bit of the caramel sauce to make swirls.

You can eat right away if you like your ice cream soft. I recommend putting into containers, drizzling a bit more caramel in, topping with any leftover grape nuts and freezing.

This is without a doubt the best ice cream I have ever made. Unbelievably delicious. Sweet and slightly savory. The caramel sauce adds a bit of buttery sweetness. You should go make some. It is so good I can’t even describe it to you.

Vegan in Arizona:Green

Just two weeks ago, we went on a very quick road trip to Arizona. I’d never been before and was hoping to explore some of the vegan options. I wasn’t expecting much, and with the 115° heat, food wasn’t the first thing on my mind when we got there. Still we searched for something different than the usual vegan choices on regular restaurant menus. We were directed by friends to Green in Tempe as the place to check out. Finding some free time on our hands, we made the extra journey to scope it out.

As soon as I took a look at the menu and the various vegan items they had for sale in their mini-store I was ecstatic. Not to mention the extensive list of Tsoynami (think vegan blizzard) flavors listed on a chalkboard. The atmosphere of the place was charming and creative, with tons of space and very vegan vibe.

Shawn got the original “g” spicy poboy which was so amazing. Essentially it’s a vegan buffalo chicken sandwich. I want to eat one of these every day. It was spicy but not overwhelmingly so. The mock chicken was the perfect consistency, not overly fried or chewy. I got in big trouble for stealing the last bite of this sandwich. Oops!

I ordered the texas mooshroom poboy because I was so in love with the idea of espresso bbq sauce. Of course I was so distracted by the idea of mushrooms slathered in bbq that I kind of forgot that I don’t like peppers which this guy is full of. I ended up taking them out and the poboy was damn good anyway. If you like peppers it would probably be fantastic. The thyme fries that came with it were absolutely fantastic. I’m not really one to go nuts over fries, but these were so good, thin and crunchy and flavorful.

Let’s be serious here for a second though and talk about this ingenious treat at Green known as a Tsoynami. This is a vegan soft serve dream come true. Not only is the soft serve itself creamy and delicious, they have so many items you can mix in you would not believe it. They have a bunch of combinations for you to choose from but you can also choose your own mix ins. Shawn got one with coffee bits, chocolate puffs and chocolate syrup (that I unfortunately forget the name of, but that you can see above). I went for coffee bits and newman-o’s, which is my favorite soft serve combo. Despite the fact that I was stuffed after our lunch, I still gobbled down then entire tsoynami and loved every bite. This is the kind of dessert that doesn’t leave you feeling gross afterward. It’s also perfect for the Arizona heat. These things are 10 times better than a shake or an ice cream sundae.

Living in Los Angeles, we’re pretty spoiled with good vegan restaurants, but damn I wish I could go to Green all the time. This is the kind of place with a really nice relaxed atmosphere and artistic decor that we’re missing out on here. There are a ton of places to get great food in LA but not many of them have such a great vibe. Green not only had awesome food and really nice people working there, they also had a bunch of vegan items for sale to go, from Teese to bike tube wallets to recipe coloring books to copies of Earthlings. This is also the kind of restaurant you could take non-vegans to and they would still be thrilled; the food is just great. I can’t wait to go back and try more items off their menu! If you’re ever in the Tempe area you must go here, I insist.