Vegan Road Trip: Part 3

The East Coast and more

We made it to the East Coast just in time for Christmas Eve with Shawn’s family. We relaxed for awhile, ate some home cooked meals, went to the movies, had a vegan taco night and played lots of Little Big Planet. While there was snow on the ground when we arrived, it rained all of Christmas day, so no snowmen were made as I had hoped. Though we had planned to head in to NYC from the New Jersey suburb where we were staying, we opted to stay home and stay dry.

Luckily this meant we got to try out a (new to us) vegan Chinese restaurant, Veggie Heaven. Oh and it was heaven. I have enjoyed some fabulous vegetarian Chinese restaurants but there was just something about this place that has me dreaming about it. Maybe it was the sushi. Okay, so that’s not Chinese specifically but I’ve never had such amazing vegan sushi. I love sushi. Hey, I’m from Los Angeles, I’ve been eating sushi since I was two. As soon as I saw the fireball roll on the menu, faux spicy tuna with avocado and a signature spicy sauce, I knew it was the one thing I had to have. My goodness, it was divine. But it wasn’t just the sushi, we also had a great wonton soup and some fantastic crispy duck. So good, I can’t wait to go back…

Soon enough we were on the road again, heading to Asheville to pick up our backseat companions. I should mention that this is probably around the point where I was far enough from home and a computer that I forgot about taking photos of much. We went to some really neat restaurants and it just never even occurred to me to take photos. These things happen when you just enjoy your trip and forget about blogging for a bit.

After getting stuck in traffic on the horror that is the I-95, we were ecstatic to find the Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, Virginia with a bar that was open late  (we drove through at about 11pm) and yummy vegan sandwiches. Also, I should mention I now have a deep affection for Hampton Inns. After staying in the creepiest Motel 6 ever, and after one of our more stressful driving days, it was so nice to fall asleep in a clean room (and watch Animal Planet). Not to mention, their complimentary breakfast actually has a few vegan options.

Asheville ended up being one of the surprisingly awesome stops on our trip. We spent most of our time exploring the amazing Biltmore House, but also had the opportunity to try a couple restaurants including Green Sage, where the reuben you see above is from, a cafe with a bunch of vegan options clearly listed on their menu. We had an amazing pizza with a super thin crust made from beer mash at Barley’s Taproom. And get this, Mellow Mushroom in Asheville has Cheezly vegan cheese! This isn’t true for all Mellow Mushroom locations either. As far as I know, it’s only Asheville. Did I mention that Asheville has the most craft breweries per capita in the US? Oh I didn’t? Well it does.

I’ll have one more episode of our road trip tour, featuring my favorite stop: Austin, Texas. In the mean time, I recommend you check out Shawn’s beautiful photo sets from our trip here and here. You can see much more of the places we stopped, some of our crazy antics and not just food.

Vegan Road Trip: Part 1

Heading East

The Sunday before Christmas we packed up my little VW wagon and hit the road heading east. (Let me just tell you, you don’t realize how small your car is until you fit four people and a load of luggage and gifts in it.) Shawn and  I were off to visit his family for the holidays and decided to finally take the road trip I’d been dreaming of, well sort of. I never meant to take a road trip in winter but the weather treated us rather decently.

Our friends Jannatha and Kyle piled in with us heading for North Carolina. Lucky for us, they’re both vegetarian and put up with our crazed searches for vegan pizza and obscure restaurants along the way. The first place we decided to stop was Flagstaff, Arizona, high up in the mountains, covered in the first snow of the trip. Shawn had located a pizza place with vegan pizza. Unfortunately we arrived to find it closed. Lesson one, call ahead.

We drove around looking for an alternative and when our other option was found to be boarded up for the winter we just asked someone walking down the street. Lesson two, don’t be afraid of people, go ahead and ask. Being from Los Angeles, you forget people often will be glad to help you (just not so much in LA).

We ended up at Macy’s Vegetarian Coffeehouse. It was a cute place with a comfortable atmosphere. There were a number of items on the menu that were vegan or could be made that way, but I went for the basic veggie blt with tempeh bacon. This is something I usually wouldn’t order, because I am all too often let down by tempeh bacon, but this sandwich was truly satisfying. First of all, it was huge, and the bread was simultaneously soft and crunchy, with a really great flavor. All the fillings were fresh and crisp and the tempeh was the perfect nutty compliment to the greens and tomato.

So when you’re on the road, you often don’t eat at anyplace special at all. Sometimes you eat only the entire contents of bag full of car snacks. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, you get altitude sickness and don’t eat anything but saltines. So let’s just skip right along ahead to Columbus Ohio! You weren’t hoping to hear about anything between there and Flagstaff, were you? Didn’t think so.

Shawn was super excited to take me to Benevolence Cafe in Columbus as he remembered it having been there forever. Surprise, surprise, it was closed (possibly for renovations, possibly forever, I’m not sure). Back to Lesson one, call ahead. This ended up being for the best as we instead found On the Fly Street Food. This small cafe is part of the upscale Dragonfly Neo-V. Both restaurants are all vegan. On the Fly is open during the day with an awesome selection of delicious street style foods and great beers.

We couldn’t resist the empanada, which was stuffed with a rich mushroom filling. The crust was just as buttery and flaky as you could wish for and the cheesy sauce on top was just the right amount. I also ordered the chili and cornbread which was equally, if not even more delicious. The chili achieved a magical balance of beans, sauce and “meat.” With a hearty taste that wasn’t too spicy, it was the perfect thing for a very cold Ohio day. Oh and the corn bread, it was delicious; moist and soft, just right for spooning into your chili. It had a lovely cakey consistency and wasn’t mealy at all. So good!

Though we failed at our earlier vegan pizza attempt, Columbus came to the rescue at Circus. This bar and performance venue, decorated with old-school circus paintings, has two vegan pizzas to choose from, the regular vegan and the vegan crow. Since you can order half pizzas, we went ahead and got both. One is a pretty standard cheeseless pizza piled high with tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and seasonings. The other has a cashew cheese, corn and caramelized onions. Both were superb. The really great thing about these pizzas is that they have a super good crunchy crust that is just thick enough to hold the tons of toppings without being too thick and mushy. The veggie to crust ratio was about 1:1, which is pretty amazing if you ask me. See, pizza isn’t all bad for you.

Overall, Columbus was pretty awesome in the vegan department, it even has an all vegan bakery which I’ll get to in the next post about all the vegan desserts we devoured. Just had to tempt you a little…

Beer crust pizza

I think there is a rule that upon becoming vegan you must also instantly become obsessed with pizza. Perhaps it is the seemingly elusive nature of the delicious vegan pizza, but every vegan I know goes crazy for the stuff. I mean, pretty much everybody loves pizza, but it does seem that it’s like crack for us vegans. Nowadays there are tons of vegan pizza options, you can even go buy yourself a slab of daiya drenched pizza at Whole Foods, so there isn’t a problem finding a decent slice somewhere.

There is still something tremendously satisfying about making your own pizza though. You get to top it with just the right ingredients exactly how you like it. While pizza is a common occurrence here (Shawn and I are pros), I wanted to try something a little different than the usual. I found a great recipe for beer pizza crust and was smitten. I topped it with this great sauce from Vegan Yum Yum that has a rich cashew flavor so there was no need for additional cheese. The simplicity of this pizza lets the full flavored crust shine through without being boring. The beer gives it just a little more excitement than a typical pizza crust and is crunchy on the the outside and fluffy on the inside. The recipe makes enough for two crusts so you can experiment with your toppings. Of the two I made the one pictured above was by far the best with just tomatoes, sliced olives and garlic.

If you love pizza and you love beer you have no excuse for not making this crust. It’s easy and completely enhances your pizza experience.

Beer Pizza Crust

from King Arthur Flour

4 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp active yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp salt

2 Tbps olive oil

12 oz room temperature beer

Mix and knead together all ingredients until they form into a smooth even dough. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 500° with the pizza stone inside. If you don’t have a pizza stone you can use a cookie tray but you will not need to preheat it.

Divide the dough in half to make two crusts. You can freeze the dough if you’d like to save for later, just make sure to defrost in advance.

Spread out the crust on a piece of parchment paper or your oiled cookie tray. Stretch it until it is 10 to 12 inches across or toss in the air if you’re coordinated enough. Brush the crust with olive oil, covering completely, and sprinkle with any pizza seasonings you might like. Place the parchment paper on your pizza stone or the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven and top with sauce and any other toppings you might want. Put back into the oven and cook for 7-10 minutes. The crust should be golden and not too brown. Remove and let cool. Slice and devour!

Kitchen gadgets

vegan spritz cookies

I have a weakness for kitchen toys. While some people crave new electronics I like to fawn over kitchen supply catalogs. There’s always that one thing that would make the coolest dessert or the best presentation. I mean doesn’t everyone secretly want a sauce drizzler? Luckily I’m fairly good at keeping myself in check and not spending away my life on gizmos.

Over the holidays though, I did manage to acquire some neat toys in gift exchanges that I wouldn’t have otherwise purchased for myself. Since they’re definitely specialized, I hadn’t even busted them out till now to test them. The first test was a cookie press for making those adorable spritz cookies. I really had no occasion to try this, despite my desire to see how the tiny cookies would come out, until a late night sweet craving took me over and they just had to be made.

Using the cookie press is definitely one of those processes that must involve some sort of technique; one that I definitely don’t know. While about half of the cookies that came out were adorable, the other half were a bit more blobular. The main problem I had was making the dough stay on the pan ones it was squeezed out of the press. In the end, I usually just arranged the pieces together with my fingers. Luckily, no matter what each cookie looked like, they all tasted amazing. Absolutely perfect little treats that would be perfect for a party or gifts (or a late night snack). I can’t wait to incorporate some fruit or jams into the recipes, or of course, chocolate. Recipe for vanilla spritz cookies can be found below.

chocolate fondue
Another product I got to try out was a ceramic fondue warmer. Ok, so perhaps fondue is a little out of style, but it seemed like a tasty idea to me. The warmer is only heated by a small tea candle, so I thought it probably wouldn’t really keep the fondue that hot at all, instead it made the chocolate I pre-melted bubble even more than on the stove top. Amazing what conductive surfaces can do.

The great thing about making chocolate fondue for a dessert is not only how easy it is, but how amazingly satisfying. I simply cut up some apples and nectarines, and melted some semi-sweet chocolate with a dash of soymilk and it was ready to go. The result was fantastic. It’s easy to forget how sweet and tasty fruit is when there are so many prepared desserts out there, but combined with the dark chocolate it was absolutely divine. In fact, I’m craving it now, just writing about it. The important thing is just to have fresh ripe fruit and good quality chocolate.

While I would have to say that having the fondue warmer increased the fun factor by at least 10%, it’s totally not necessary to enjoy this simple dessert, just put the melted chocolate in a bowl or mug and it will stay warm for quite awhile. Another option would be to dip the fruit in the melted chocolate and refrigerate and harden for a cool treat later on.

spinach pesto pizza
Of course I had to include at least something savory, and of course, it’s pizza. In an attempt to make a simple but different (sort of) dinner one night, I collected some remaining ingredients in my kitchen to come up with a spinach pesto. To my surprise, it turned out insanely good. I’m generally the type that is good at following recipes, but when I just throw things together, there is a high risk of things going horribly wrong. I suppose it’s not hard to get it right when you combine such tasty ingredients though. I tried to keep the pizza uncomplicated and left off any other toppings besides vegan mozzarella. The result was a crispy, garlicy, spinach extravaganza. The pesto recipe is below.

Vegan Spritz Cookies
adapted from Wilton

3/4 cup earth balance
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tps egg replacer mixed with 1 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp soy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder.

Cream sugar and earth balance. Add egg replacer and beat till slightly frothy. Add soy milk and extracts to combine. In another bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Slowly add liquid mixture and mix until smooth.

Put mixture into cookie press and press cookies onto cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Spinach Pesto

1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup walnuts
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1/4-1/2 tsp salt

Put the almond, walnuts and garlic in a food processor and blend till you have a coarse meal. Next add the spinach, oil and salt and blend until combined. Spread on pizza dough and bake away!

Since this recipe has raw garlic, I recommend using it for baked items. Otherwise, roast the garlic beforehand and add to the blend.


pizza and cupcakes

I would say that the two most commonly baked foods in this apartment are pizza and cupcakes. We eat a lot of pizza. We eat enough pizza to have two pizza stones and an individual pizza oven. The recipes are pretty standard though.

I tried to make a pizza that was a bit different than usual even with the same ingredients. I don’t usually cook with onions unless a recipe calls for it, but this time I decided to go all out and cover the pizza with caramelized onions. I also roasted some garlic and sauteed the tofu in a mix of rosemary, nutritional yeast and soy sauce.

Sometimes I experiment and things don’t turn out so well. This was not one of those times. This pizza was so delicious.

So of course I tried out some cookies and cream cupcakes. Something easy that I had been craving and wanted to test out. The thing with cupcakes is that there is always a bit too much batter and icing left over. Not enough to make another batch….just enough, I discovered, to make a mini cake. Just a bit bigger than a cupcake, but perfect dessert size. I think I’ll be making more of these.

Also, I’m going to try my best to post as much vegan goodness as I can for the month of October and veganmofo. Should be a lot of good fall treats to make. I’m excited!