Monthly Archives: October 2009

Mango’s Cafe, a vegan haven in Houston

People talk a lot of smack about Houston. Maybe it is because I live in Austin, but, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say anything positive about Houston ever. But look at this sandwich.

It is beautiful and bursting with vegan goodness. With some notable exceptions it is rare that you find a sandwich in Austin that is good much less one that has the perfect filing to bread ratio and a ton of vegetables. And I can’t think of one single sandwich that is fresh tasting AND you can have with a side of tots. Austin we have a problem.

This sandwich is “The Hulk” from Mango’s Cafe. It is fried tofu with a creamy cilantro sauce, avocado, cucumber and a whole mess of greens. They have a ton of different sandwiches there and it was hard to choose one! Mango’s is a tiny little place that also serves as a live music venue. Everyone there was ridiculously friendly and nearly everything could be made vegan. I couldn’t decide between the Hulk and the Tofu “Viet Now” sandwich. I asked the guy at the counter and he told me that the Viet Now used to be his favorite sandwich but then he tried the Hulk that day and loved it! It was such a tough decision. They also had a BBQ po’ boy, wingz, veggie wraps, and something called the Big Baby Jesus! And good beer! It was all too much. I forced my friend to take me back the next day and I got this Cuban Pizza. It should have come topped with vegan queso but I wanted it on the side in case I didn’t like it. I needn’t have worried because it was good! Just like the queso you get at Wheastville or Bouldin. The pizza was topped with a black bean sauce, plantains, chopped pecans, and fresh cilantro. I am totally going to borrow this idea and make my how Cuban Pizza because those are all of my favorite things! It was good at the restaurant but too skimpy with the topping. Luckily, that way I wasn’t too full to order dessert. They had a whole array of vegan confections but I chose the chocolate cream filled cupcake.

It was a good choice.

After Mango’s we went to the park for a sing-a-long.And I got to hang out with the Maska (Dinger’s feline brother)

So my opinion of Houston is that it is kind of awesome. But, that is just me….

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Chez Rolez Gumbo & a day at the farm

In the past, I have participated with several different C.S.A.s by paying for my box of food every month. With a sick dog money has been tighter than ever so I decided to volunteer with my friend Andrea at a local farm in exchange for a box of food. Now this is a pretty extreme action for a lazy smurf such as myself to undertake. I had to wake up at 7 am on a Saturday to do 5 hours of manual labor! Usually I spend Saturday morning cuddled up with beagles and eventually mustering up the energy to make some brunch around 1 pm. With the sun just peeking its little head out of the night sky and a large coffee in my hand I drove to Johnson’s Backyard Garden to start of day of picking vegetables. We started with eggplant.Even though it is the middle of October the plants are still producing like crazy and some of them were too small to pick. After filling our baskets with eggplant it was off to the pepper fields to pick a wide variety of peppers. This was my favorite part because they smelled so good and were really fun to pick, especially since each one is unique and came in a different shape.After picking peppers we moved into the string bean field and this is when the serious work began. I found out that green beans are so labor intensive to pick that farmer Brenton said even if he charged ten dollars a pound it wouldn’t be cost effective. But since people like them so much (and he does too) they decided to start a small crop a couple years ago.

if you look closely you can see Andrea down there

if you look closely you can see Andrea down there

It takes forever to pick the beans, they grow like crazy all over the plant and you have to pull everything apart to get to them while being very careful to not compact the ground or step on the plant. After a couple of hours of work I still didn’t have a quite a full basket and had done maybe a third of my row.

So now I have even more respect for farmers, and I already had a lot! I spent the whole day thinking about my grandparents in their old village, migrant workers, slaves on cotton plantations, the true cost of food, and, of course, what I was going to make for dinner. When we got back to the farmhouse we each stood by a type of vegetable and filled them all into boxes assembly line style. It was really fun! I started to get so hungry because by then it was after noon and all I had to eat was a couple string beans! Note, if you ever volunteer on a farm bring a freaking granola bar or something because it is really hard work. So finally we got our boxes and headed home. I got so many organic vegetables I couldn’t believe it. Eggplant, peppers, hot peppers, amaranth greens, bok choy, arugula, basil, green beans, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, butternut squash, and lots and lots of okra! Here in the south okra is like zucchini in the north. It grows like crazy in the summer and people are always giving you some.

I became obsessed with the idea of making gumbo. I had recently seen an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown made a dark roux using his oven instead of the stove top. I had been waiting for some okra to appear in my life to try the method and finally the time had come. I also made some Andouille sausage testing a spice combination from the ppk but it didn’t work out at all, the sausages were good enough to put in the gumbo but I will have to work on the Andouille recipe. You could use any other vegan sausage or other legumes in the gumbo, it will still be good. In fact, it will be so good that you might be inspired to sing about it. The Gumbo recipe is mostly from the Veganomicon, but it is really enhanced with the roux and the fresh stock.

Chez Rolez Gumbo

For the Roux, Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Whisk together
4 oz of flour (by weight)
4 oz of vegetable oil
bake for an hour and a half, whisking four or five times throughout the process. You want it to be a dark brick red without any black flecks.

For the Stock

add to stock pot on medium heat
8 cups of water
1 onion
1 leek (with green parts)
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
2 smashed cloves of garlic
handful Parsley
dash of Thyme
Simmer for 40 minutes or so. If you are making sausages you can steam them over the stock pot!

For the Gumbo
Put the Brown Roux on the stove top over medium heat
Saute for 10 minutes with
1 onion, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
2 bell peppers or equivalent (I used a whole mess of sweet and spicy peppers), chopped
Add
1 stalk celery, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 lbs okra, sliced
Cook for another few minutes and then add
5 roasted red peppers, sliced
1 recipe sausage or 1 can beans
the strained stock (about 6 cups)
1 cup of Ale
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
2 bay leaves

Cook for about 40 minutes and then add

juice of a lemon
Cayenne to taste
salt & pepper to taste
fresh thyme, oregano, and parsley

Serve with a pile of rice in the middle and some garlic bread on the side and Enjoy!

Soupa Za Moju Babu (soup for my grandma)

Last week I was cooking for my Baba and other family in Merrillville Indiana. The area isn’t know for its’ fantastic health food stores but the options are getting better all the time. Nonetheless, I have learned it is better to keep ideas pretty simple. My uncle bought me a head of lettuce so that I would have something to eat while I was there, isn’t that cute? It is sweet that he tried, but I have never been a fan of lettuce, especially by itself! I went to the store and I bought a ton of vegetables so that I could make the healthiest soup possible. It was good and it suited every taste and everyone was excited about trying turnip so the next time you are cooking for a family consider this soup!

Soupa Za Moju Babu

Caramelize

2 chopped onions
2 Tablespoons Earth Balance or oil

Saute

1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 turnip
4 cloves garlic

After the vegetables are browned Add

2 cans of white beans
box of frozen spinach
box of frozen corn
2 bay leaves
red pepper flakes
water to cover

In another pan Saute

1 package of chopped mushrooms
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance or oil
cook until the mushroom liquid has evaporated and add
1 teaspoon of rosemary

Add the Mushrooms along with

juice of a lemon
salt & pepper
Serve with Parsley and Green Onions

Enjoy!

*Let me know what you think of the format I have been writing recipes, it is kind of the short hand way I do it in my notebook and a lot of times I copy recipes that way so you don’t have to list all the ingredients, and then later list them again. If it isn’t clear though I can go back to doing it the traditional way.

Chicago’s VEGANMANIA and a trip to Soul Vegetarian

When I landed in O’hare on October 10th you could feel the anticipation for Veganmainia in the air. I took the El to meet my good friend Becky at one of those crazy 5 way intersections that they have in Chicago to confuse the hell out of everybody. After searching for a couple blocks I could tell we were hot on the trail.

As we approached the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse the air was palpable with excitement for the celebration, finally we saw the big banner and knew we were about to be at the vegan event of 2009.The idea of veganmania was to celebrate Chicago’s vegan scene by having lots of free food from area businesses, a fashion gallery, an art gallery, speakers, and different activist groups all in one place. We got there a little late so a lot of the free food was gone but I did get to try cookies from the Chicago Diner (crunchy), chili with Match Meats (unfortunately burned but has potential), Chocolates from Cru Cacao (healthy tasting), 5 different cheeses from Ste Martaen cheeses (they had olive!!!) and some collards from Soul Veg ( mmm, southern). I also got some lemon lime lip balm that I love from Ethically Engineered. It was funny because every single booth that we went to mentioned that their product was vegan. In fact in the big hall you could hear the word “vegan” over and over in the general murmer.They also had musicians and dancers and I learned how vegans rock Chicago,It was a lot of fun and we laughed a lot, next year I want to volunteer to do their sound and my friend Becky wants to make baked goods! After sampling a lot of food but not having a whole meal we decided to drive across town to go to the actual Soul Vegetarian East. It is an entirely vegan restaurant that has an emphasis in soul food. We couldn’t decide what to order because everything sounded really good. First we got the tofu bites with barbecue sauce which were a meal in themselves. In a word; succulent. I have never had tofu that was so crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, it was delicious. The barbecue sauce was really good too.For my entre I got corn on the cob (you have to eat corn in Illinois) and the Southern Seitan BBQ sandwich. There was also another BBQ sandwich but this one was promised to be on a whimsical roll. My roll wasn’t very whimsical but it was an awesome sandwich. There was peanut butter in the sauce! I will have to try that. When we first arrived we decided we were going to eat light so we could get dessert but it turned out we couldn’t control ourselves in front of all that protein and we went home stuffed. I loved the restaurant, everyone seemed so relaxed and though it took forever to get our check it was one of those places where you don’t mind whiling away the hours. We went into a food coma and missed my friend’s art opening but then we made it to my other friend’s 30th birthday party. We got him a balloon that played “rapper’s delight” when you hit it! Look how happy he is!Happy Birthday Borgia! I love you Chicago, I’ll be back when it isn’t so cold that I am worried my eyes will freeze in their sockets.

Koriente- A healthy vegan oasis in the debauchery of 6th St

Did you know that Austin is considered the live music capital of the world according to…. Austinites. If you didn’t, than that is probably because you don’t live here. It is a phrase I rarely go a day without reading. Like, when I lived in Springfield IL and it was all about being the Land of Lincoln.  Or how whenever anyone complains about anything at my office people say “it is an old building”. Anyway, we do go to a lot of shows which leads us into the 6th street and Red River area which is a combination of frat guys, drunk girls trying and often failing to walk in high heels, tourists, hipsters, partiers, and lots and lots of police. The other problem with 6th st is there aren’t that many vegan options. I usually go to Habana or Casino El Camino, and now there is Hoboken Pizza as well. If you are looking for actual vegetables, though, there is really one option. Koriente was opened by a woman who thought restaurants should have affordable healthy food and I think they have certainly succeeded in that goal. It is truly a nice little place next to Waller Creek right by the Beauty Bar. You order at the counter and almost everything on the menu can be veganized. Also, you can have all you can eat soup and salad with lunch or dinner. The miso soup is nice and it doesn’t have any bonito flakes in it. They also have quite a few different teas and bubble tea. They assured me that the pearls are vegan and many of the dairy ones can be made vegan using soy milk.Sadly the food is, so far,  a little disappointing. I have tried many of the items on the menu because and although some are better than others nothing has yet had a wow factor. The summer Rolls were actually disappointing. They didn’t seem to have any herbs in them and were made of just greens and avocados. I love greens and avocados but you have to do something to them! I ordered the noodle garden because I am kind of obsessed with the version at Lulu B’s but it had the same problem as the spring roll although I liked it more. It didn’t seem like they had really enhanced the food with herbs, other flavorful vegetables like peppers and onions, or preparations like marinating or dehydrating.  Most recently, I had Silk Tofu described as “Tender pan seared tofu with button mushrooms, broccoli and carrots, served with steamed rice.” They should have said “with soy sauce and sesame seeds” because that is pretty much it.The tofu seemed very homemade, kind of plain not even pressed and the vegetables were adequately seasoned and had some sesame seeds. It is the kind of food that you would expect in a vegan cafeteria if such a thing existed. The curry was a little better and what I will have again. But I do still go there all the time, the people are very friendly, you get a lot of food for your money, and it is very healthy!

travel rant and a sick dog

You can skip this rant

I was flying back from Chicago to Austin and they took away my peanut butter. It made me so freaking mad (don’t worry, I internalized the rage and gave up the peanut butter without argument). It seems I always get into these stupid disagreements with the TSA about if things are a liquid or a solid. I have taken humus through O’hare plenty of times. Sesame paste, still in a sealed bottle, was taken away from me in St. Louis. Teese was OK. My olives were taken from me in Portland (they were more solid than the brine, which I offered to pour out, but they still threw them out) and today O’hare stole my freaking peanut butter. What the hell is the physical difference between humus and peanut butter? I just hate the waste of it all. At least, they could give it to a homeless person. I ate my orange and my luna bar but damn it, the crackers were dry. I also bought a soy latte from the Starbucks and it cost $4.91, I uttered “Jesus”, and the cashier said. “Welcome to O’hare”. Did you notice how they never say “fly the friendly skies” anymore? It is because they aren’t friendly anymore. And I don’t buy that all of these precautions have any effect on terrorism whatsoever. They just cause a lot of hassle which was probably one of the aims of the terrorists anyway, to make our country less free. So the terrorists won. Good job Homeland Security.

What kind of food do you guys like to take on through the airport?

Rant Over

So, I was also in a bad mood because after spending the last couple days taking care of my Baba Dinger developed a lot of problems with his hind legs, he wasn’t jumping up and he could hardly walk so he spent the last couple days at the vet. They still don’t know what is wrong but his x-rays showed that his spine is OK and they don’t think it is neurological. He is going to stay on pain medicine for a couple weeks with bed rest and we will see what happens.

They put him out with anesthesia which made me really nervous. He’s just a little guy! I have been so worried about him. I am just crazy about this dog. Even the doctor and nurse really liked him! They said he was an angel, aw.

Prijatno – Pumpkin Shell Casserole

I have been taking care of my Baba here in Merrillville Indiana outside of Chicago for the last few days. Growing up, I always thought “baba” meant grandma. It wasn’t until I went to visit family in the Croatia a few years ago that I learned that Baba actually means “old woman” to them. The funny thing is that all my American  friends always called her Baba too, like it was her name, and I always thought it was silly that they were calling her Grandma, but really they have been calling her old woman! She has a giant dog named Bear and they are best friends.

So I have been here cooking and taking care of her. Usually when I come I have to make do with eating typical vegetables and grains but this time when we went to the store I found Earth Balance, Almond Milk, Silk Creamer, and a wide assortment of greens! It sure is exciting that vegan products are becoming more available along with healthy vegetables.

I have been looking through an old cookbook called Prijatno and writing down recipes that sound interesting. It is a cookbook written by St. Sava’s Serbian Sister’s Circle in the 1970s. My Baba and her family were a part of St. Elijah but my Dad’s family all went to St. Sava so some of my other Grandma’s recipes are in the book. It makes me feel like a part of a long tradition of writing down recipes and sharing them with friends and family.

I came across this recipe and though I haven’t tried it, I thought I would print it out because I think it would be a perfect holiday recipe and I have been thinking a lot about what I am going to make this year. It is freezing here so I already have winter on my mind. I will be happy to get back to warm weather!

Pumpkin Shell Casserole

1 small pumpkin, 7 inches in diameter
2 cups peeled and chopped apples
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash & dry pumpkin. Slice off the top for a lid. Scrape out the seeds. In a bowl, mix all the other ingredients. Fill the pumpkin and return the lid. Place on a cookie sheet. Bake until the apples are tender. Begin testing after 45 minutes. It may take as long as two hours. Serve from the shell, spooning some of the pumpkin with each portion.
Enjoy!

I think when I make it I will add some figs too and maybe toast the seeds and add them back in as well.