Monday, February 28, 2011

Sweet and Sour Seitan from scratch. Almost.

I have had a horrendous schedule of late and today, the last day of the month, is only my 6th day off.  My wife has taken to buying seitan of late.  I can't fault her for this as she's the penultimate carnivore, (so she says), but of late has given up eating beef and her cooking has more and more of a vegan bent to it.  Don't remind her but like I say, one step at a time.  Of late.  

The product looks incredibly like the picture in the ad!
I have Hodgson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten on a recurring order through Amazon and it's almost too inexpensive to stop but I have 2 cartons of 8 boxes plus 6 boxes laying around so I stopped the subscription for awhile.  Hodgson Mill, Vital Wheat Gluten, 6.5 OZ (Pack of 8) Just in case you want to buy some RIGHT NOW I've magnanimously inserted these links.  If you buy it through these links it also will help me make a few bucks to support my extravagant order-two-different-dishes-even-though-you're-not-that-hungry-but-you-have-a-blog habit.

I also saw a video on Everyday Dish TV that mentioned some seasoning mixes and some pre-made seitan mixes called Bill's Best.  (I don't get anything if you click here).  I admit that I copped out in a way, usually I just add my own mix of "secret" spices to the vital wheat gluten and make up a batch of my "secret" stock and cook away but this recipe was made with Bill's Minit-Meat Beaf.  They have secret spices AND secret herbs.  It also is pretty incredibly simple and took about 30 minutes.

I really wanted to just avoid buying a batch of commercial seitan.  This stuff came out pretty good to be honest.

Sometimes I just start cooking with no clear direction and tonight was one of those times.  Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Philly cheese steaks, Italian?  I had no idea.
But I also had some leftover rice I was looking to use up too.

I knew I wanted to pan fry the seitan but was feeling kinda lazy.  I should have cranked up the mini deep fryer but it uses A LOT of oil so I went with the pan fry instead.  My grandmother used to use the word, "Patchke," when she referred to playing with something.  It's a cross between tinkering and playing. I'm not sure if it's Yiddish or Russian but I'm sure I'll get a comment clarifying it.

Most meals are pretty simple and straight forward, cut some stuff, get a pan, add heat, make pan sauce, add starch, eat.  So a meal like this, even though pan frying is pretty simple, adds another layer of prep ... and cleanup.

I had onions and garlic working in another pan but no clear idea yet.  You can go in a lot of directions from here.

I grabbed some peanut oil and a non stick frypan, and set it on medium heat.  I tossed some corn starch in a mixing bowl, added some salt and pepper and paused.  My eyes wandered back and forth as if on an instrument scan going down to minimums trying to beat out a snow squall, and they settled on ... 5 Spice powder.  I now had direction.  That went into the corn starch mixture too.  I cut the seitan cutlets and tossed them to coat in the corn starch mixture and started frying them up.
You can just hear the sizzle.
Now really, this could be Buffalo Wings in a heartbeat, couldn't it?

I added ginger and a sweet red pepper.  I threw in some brown sugar and then I deglazed with mirin, a sweet rice wine made from sake.  I reduced that, added some stock and let that reduce a bit.  I tossed in some Shan Jah Beng, plum wafers which rounded out the sweet side of the dish.  Two arbol chilies needed to take a swim in that pool and a few dashes of rice wine vinegar cut through the sweet with the 
Add caption
I was going to add some mushrooms to the dish but honestly, they were lost in the back of the bottom shelf of the fridge and I ain't stickin' MY hand back there.  I heard a bark come out of there once.

OK, I forgot the mushrooms.  I had some leftover corn starch and made a slurry with some water, added that and within seconds the sauce thickened up and started to sheen.
You can't buy better than this folks.  Look at those crispy yet slathered pieces of seitan.
The seitan had a nice crispy outside yet had absorbed some of the sauce.  It was a meaty seitan, just right for a hearty dish like this.

I nuked the rice and dinner was served.

Ask Your Doctor About Meat™

One of the most clever parodies of the moronic drug ads seen on tv. IMHO of course.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Case For Fake Meat (Omnivores, We're Looking At You!)

I totally agree with Kathy. Not everyone we meet is going to just flip the switch and go vegan overnight but many will make the changes gradually and and an awful lot of those people will, just like Harpo people, keep on truckin' down a healthier, more environmen­tally sound, and compassion­ate road.

Had the meat industry not been overcome by greed in the last several decades perhaps cheap, nutritiona­lly void, environmen­tally detrimenta­l meat would never have become the issue it is today. But they did and it is and things need to change. And they are.

I applaud Bittman for bringing this issue to light but hope one day he makes that last connection to veganism. I don't think he will but he's still putting the thought in many many minds.


Marty's Flying Vegan Review


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Zen Palate UWS, NYC

A quick date night at Zen Palate on 105th St and Broadway.  I was so sad when they closed their Broadway and 75th St location, (I think that 's where it was, right next to a popcorn store actually), but here it is back on the UWS.  Having only an hour to eat before picking up our daughter, (including getting there and finding a parking spot),I figured either we'd totally blow it or have to stuff our faces like two people who hadn't eaten in weeks.

My favorite dish on the whole menu was the Autumn Roll, a crunchy outside with a wonderful soft inside.  There is a degree of mushiness but there are still textured pieces of veggies.

Served with a sweeter rather than spicier dipping sauce.

Our next appetizer was the grilled seitan.  There is a nice crust on the pieces with will give you pause as to whether they were actually fried.  The hoisin sauce is the perfect compliment to the smoky flavor.
I think they should just serve this in one big hunk of seitan wrapped around something the size of a Lincoln Long.
The sizzling medallions are seitan served in an orange sauce.  It's a sweet dish and the sauce is a bit gloppy but that's not a bad thing in my mind for certain dishes.  This being one of them.  The seitan is chewy and although a few pieces might have almost been too chewy I'd love if my seitan came out like this.  One thing you should know is that if you're shy this dish makes a lot of noise and attracts a lot of attention.

As you can see in the video the decor is a bit spartan and although I'm no interior designer, (or exterior actually), the concept of a big glass wall and a "garden" room is kinda neat.  I think just like cleaning the bathrooms though, you should send someone out to remove plastic bags from the fence and perhaps cover up all those old kitchen shelves with ... something ... if you're trying to create a zen like nature-ish scene.  I actually hadn't noticed this, it was someone else's comment.

This is pretty much why I'm thinking of asking for donations.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lemon Cafe, Vegan creativity on Turks and Caicos with a Mediterranean Flair.

With many of the restaurants offering only a gratuitous pasta in marinara sauce, pasta primavera or pasta putanesca, and the other pilot not having an preference at all, the Lemon Cafe was a no brainer.

I didn't take any pics of the restaurant, probably because I was so hyped up from having just cheated death whilst driving on the wrong side of the road.  There are two sections, one outside and the other indoors, although indoors in the caribbean is not exactly accurate as all the windows are, well, non existent and it's really al fresco but not under the stars.  I actually went back the next day and took a few pictures.

The walk leading up to the restaurant.  Dining "room" to the left, patio to the right.

Looks much more romantic at night.  Not that I'm looking for romance.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!  Not me I mean.  I mean romance.  I mean ... never mind.

Dining room.  I can see where I sat from here!

I spoke briefly to the hostess about my vegan desires and at one point she asked if I could have chicken so there was a slight disconnect there although she was gracious and very nice.

John, the manager/chef, was next in line and very helpful.  He slipped once and mentioned, (well, he mentioned that he mentally slipped and was going to mention, but then told me the thought so actually ended up in reality mentioning), some filet.  I'm not the squeamish kind of vegan who flips out at the mention of something 97% of the world eats without thinking but probably could have done without the reminder.  We're reminded of it anytime the person we're with isn't vegan and orders some animal.

The soup on the menu was ginger coconut but the soup that day, John said, was actually a mushroom and squash soup.  Both were vegan and I went for one actually being served that night.  The appetizer was an antipasto, redone by John to eliminate the non vegan options and include something not even on the menu yet, which was enough for 2.  (We're both decent sized guys with pretty good appetites.  It was nice to share but I'm guessing we each could have finished one of these).

The plate consisted of hummus topped with an olive tapenade, a red pepper, walnut and pomegranate mixture, (the one not on the menu), a small ramekin of olives and babaganoush.  Put that new item on the menu John, it belongs there, no need to have something with Feta cheese if you can offer this tasty vegan option.  I asked for more bread and this is a little peeve of mine but a) wasn't told and b) was charged $1.50 for 1 cut up pita.  My personal opinion is that either you should charge for every single thing in a meal, (Oh, you wanted a spoon with your soup?  There's an additional 25 cent charge for that.  That can get ridiculous ... oh, did you want a bowl with your soup...?), or just add a buck to everything on the menu and eliminate the nickel and dime-ing).

The soup of course came first and that was a very nice combination of earthy mushrooms and creamy squash and had just a hint of heat.

Although the taste was there the plate might have benefitted by some type of colorful garnish.  I garnished this bowl with my spoon. 
For my entree the chef came up with a mushroom risotto.  John said initially it was made with a vegetable stock as were many of his dishes but by eliminating the cheese the dish might loose much of its creaminess.  (It didn't).  Actually, risotto gets it's creaminess from slowly cooking the starch out of the rice and continually adding stock.  I can't remember the last time I had risotto but this was an all around success.  The rice was cooked to a perfect consistency and the stock combined with the starch from the rice to come together in a perfect "creamy" sauce.  It was combined with some grape tomatoes, (I think grape), roasted red peppers, and wild mushrooms.

I suggested John actually advertise and focus on a few vegan dishes since there was no real vegan option easily found on the island.  Every place will omit the meat, (wow, again, see my rant about merely eliminating meats from dishes and calling them vegetarian), if you talk to the waitstaff/hostess but you still have to play the 20 questions about hidden ingredients.  We have the potential to actually create a vegan inspired dish or two at a restaurant on Turks and Caicos.

We're breaking through the wall.  My hat is off to John and I'd go back to the Lemon Cafe in a heartbeat.

Just one negative comment.  It's too dark.  Since 9/11 I have never left my house without a pocket flashlight of some sort and I, (and another group of diners my age ... no wait, I think they were younger.   Yeah, that's it, they were kids.  It's not our old eyes at all, is it?), might never have seen the menu without it.  It's also hard to see exactly what you're eating so just a tad more light and a tad less mood would be my only suggestion.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cool Al's. Vegan Fast-ish food in Jackson, MS

Jackson, Mississippi.  Not exactly the mecca for vegan fare but I had eaten at the coop years ago, (I never forgot that I didn't get the recipe for the beet burger as promised),  so when Cool Al's popped up with a few variations of a vegan burger I was all for it.

It's a couple of blocks from the highway on a not too well lit street.  There were lots of empty tables so I really wasn't sure if it was open or not but the people inside sort of clarified that.

Inside it looks like your typical burger joint.  The area to the left looks like it was used for something in a past life and there's sort of a little bar area and to the right is the counter where you order.  Walking up to the counter I noticed my sneakers sort of sticking to the floor.  I mean, they came up with each step but there was a definite, "thuuuuuuwp," each time I picked a foot up.  Must have been a heck of a beer spilling lunch party.

I ordered 2 burgers, not because I was so hungry but I wanted to sample as much as I could and the prices were pretty reasonable.   About $5 per sandwich, $2.75 for a beer and $5.00 for the onion rings.

The chicken sandwich looked like it was a Boca Chicken Patty although it might have been another brand.  It came with lettuce and tomato and vegan mayo.  The roll was soft and sweet, (I asked, they said it was vegan), and the whole combination just reminded me of those days of old when I ate fast food.  This isn't health food or even healthy food, although it might be healthIER food but it was so so satisfying in some bizarre way.  

I don't think this "chickn" patty was home made.
As I've said before, I don't think everything in a restaurant needs to be made inhouse from scratch and I appreciated the texture and taste of the chickn sandwich.

The burger to the right is a West African burger.  I thought the flavors were on the subtle side but there was a nice sear on the outside.  When I eat a veggie burger one of the things I look for is an undefined ratio of bread, (bun), to texture.  I know this isn't making much sense but when you bite into the bun it shouldn't squeeze the burger out the opposite side.  This burger met with about a 50% shmoosh ratio.  It was a black eyed pea based burger.  I'd only eaten those in a vegan Hoppin' John I made once and really didn't find any distinctive taste in the burger.  The texture was excellent on the outside, nice crunch, and a tad soft on the inside but the bun was soft so it sort of worked.  (If the bun is too hard or too crusty it's just going to squeeze the burger out like it was a piping bag).  What I really wanted to try was the Jamaican Jerk burger but they were out.

I wish all veggie burgers had a crust like this.

The onion rings were beer battered using a vegan batter.  They had a slightly burnt flavor.  They weren't burnt and I'm not saying burnt in a bad way but like a strong hickory smokey flavor.

My buddy had a standard burger with the yam fries.  I think any kind of potato that is deep fried is great once it passes a pretty low barre.  (Can't be mushy, oil laden or flavorless).  These sweet potato fries, according to him were great.  I thought they were pretty good, but fries hold a subordinate position in any meal if there are onion rings to be had.

The place doesn't get many points in esthetics but the food was decent enough and the people there were helpful and indulged my questions.  There are all kinds of online comments about the wait but we were there when it was less than busy and waited about 5 minutes for the first order to hit the table.

I especially want to try the burger I missed.  With few vegan options available I'd give Cool Al's a second go around.  I give credit to any burger joint for putting up vegan options but and I know there were awards all over the walls for Jackson's best veggie burger but I thought what I ate was not really, "knock your socks off," fare.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chow Down the movie

Did anyone get to go to the Chow Down movie screening last night?  I got in from Turks at 5:30 and made it into the city by 7:30.  I missed the first screening due to work but made it the second attempt.

Just wondering.


Vegan Turks and Caicos, Coyaba Restaurant and Caribbean Paradise Inn

Turks and Caicos is a beautiful island in the Caribbean.  (Actually more than one but if you're interested there's always Google Maps.)

On final approach surrounded by blue green ocean.

But ...

There are NO vegan restaurants on Turks and Caicos.  Nothing on Happy Cow.  Nothing on Google.
There is a place that comes up on a search called Gecko Grill which advertises vegetarian fare in addition to their regular menu but no one seems to know of it.

The hotel I'm staying at is the Caribbean Paradise Inn.  It's not on the water and although I am working I must say that if you're coming all this way, (my last visit was a family get together almost 3 years ago and we stayed in Beaches), you might as well buck up the few extra dollars and enjoy the waterside lodging.
View from my room onto the pool
I know, I know, you're all surrounded by the cold and I'm complaining about being in the Caribbean.  The hotel facade is under construction and with the storm shutters pulled down this is what it looks like at night.  The restaurant is just to the right.

Keep coming, there's a door somewhere to the right.
I finally gave up my search.  Not finding anything remotely vegan and with the front desk saying the restaurant closed in an hour plus the fact I had no car compelled me to just walk next door. 
I asked about a table.  It was 8 pm and was told the best I could hope for was 915.  So I went to the bar and had a beer, listened to some podcasts and at 910 was shown to a table.

I sat on a couch in a little sitting area.  Strange but I sat there with my iphone plugged in listening to Gary Francione.
My order was taken by a very knowledgable hostess.  I'm not sure what you call her but she seemed to be the greeter, question answerer and order taker.  She also was the checker of how things were going.
When I said I was a vegan it wasn't the most enthusiastic response but she powered through it and dove in.  There was a mushroom stuffed ravioli in a tomato sauce with tossed arugala that I thought might have had my name on it but no, that wasn't vegan.  She initially suggested a few sides but I asked her to see what the chefs might be able to whip up.  I was given the all too familiar, "People with special dietary needs usually give us a little notice."  (Hmm, up for a challenge?  I don't get much notice in my job regarding where I'm going or when, btw, and we still found the island.)

A plate of carrots, celery, and pita was placed before me.  I queried the waitress and she told me the dip in the middle was coconut milk mixed with cream cheese.  So close but yet so far.

I did start with 2 sides as my appetizer, the sauteed spinach and the truffle fries with mango ketchup.

My two side appetizer.
The sides weren't the highlight of the meal although they did have some high points.  The spinach was more steamed than sauteed and was pretty much just a mold of bland over-cooked spinach.  The onion rings on top added a nice flavor and texture contrast but I asked for salt and pepper to season the spinach after the ORs were gone.  They had a smokey component which was almost a pleasant burnt flavor.  Not a charred flavor but more a very smokey one.

The fries did have a nice truffle hint but I found they were inconsistent.  Some had a waft, others were intoxicatingly intense.  The ketchup might have had a hint of mango but just might.  The fries were actually mostly cooked with about half having a nice crunch.  (I used to pick the really really crispy ones out for my mom and to this day think fries in the US are basically undercooked mush.  To me a french fry has to be ... well ... fried.  To a crunch.)

Intermezzo?  Now you know it's a classy place!
Of course the intermezzo had a creamy coconut flavor and when I asked one of the bus boys if it had milk he said yes.  I was later told it didn't and was just coconut milk for the lactose intolerant guests.

So far the meal was just ok and anything but stellar.  

The entree blew me away.  It was three perfectly cooked artichoke hearts sitting in a pesto.  When I asked yet another question of one of the passing waitresses, (Is there parmigiana cheese in the pesto?), the next thing I see when I look up is Chef Martin who with an English accent told me all the ingredients in the dish.  That's how I know there's not parmigiana cheese in the pesto).

This is a "wow" presentation.
First bite is of a corn, beet, (I don't think they were pumpkin but some kind of roasted seed), arugula salad with cilantro and a surprise hit of Sriracha.  The fried plantain had a nice crunch and then the deep tomato, onion and carrot ratatouille which filled the heart.  The pesto on the bottom just rounded out an amazing burst of flavor.  This was one of the best cooked vegetable dishes I've ever had in a mainstream restaurant.

The flavor profile just grew with every bite but remained balanced throughout.
The heart in vegan pesto
 I knew the prices were sky high when I perused the menu.  This was way over the top expensive but sometimes, when you're on the road you just don't have a choice, especially in resort locations.  But hey, I can only be a working stiff for so many meals in a row.

Holy Shnikees, Batman!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Thanks to all my readers this blog has just passed 4000 visits and over 10,000 page views.  Who'd a thought that many people care what I have to say?

Amazing.  And thanks.


Dao Palate, Brooklyn, NY Vegan Asian

I have been dying to get to V Spot for a while now and finding myself with Valentine's Day off, ("What," you say, he NEVER gets days off), I just had to do something other than veg and with a few convincing words convinced the wife to go off with me on a local culinary adventure.  

When you live in Manhattan, leaving the few square blocks of your "neighborhood" is considered traveling and taking the subway is really leaving your stomping ground.  Actually traveling to another borough, (to do something other than commute), is really hauling butt.  I'm from Brooklyn so please don't tell anyone, but I always feel like I'm home when I cross the river.

After a 6 block walk I can see the small white sign with the green V.  Mecca awaits.

Barstools on the tables were my first indication of things going awry. 
I don't call ahead and I don't ask for directions.  And V Spot was closed so there, that'll teach me.  Probably not but it's Valentine's Day and what restaurant closes on V Day.  Especially V Spot.  Especially since they should a known I was coming.

OK, Vegout to the rescue.  I see Dao Palate is only a few more blocks away and hey, damn, I'm taking my wife out for Valentine's Day and feeding her vegan if it kills me.  Besides, I love to walk.  Got to get the Bodybugg step counter to 10,000 a day anyway.

Typical Brooklyn scene except there's a vegan restaurant somewhere in the picture.  Where's Waldo?

OK, Mecca II awaits.

It's a very warm and welcoming interior.  Lots of wood.  And if you notice the tables have enough room to squeeze by without sliding your ass in someone's entree.  What this means to me is that they COULD have stuffed another 3 tables inside but wanted a certain ambiance more than they wanted to make more MONEY.  I already like this place.

Looking out.

Looking across.  (Semaphore signals over my wife's shoulder?)
Looking in.
For appetizers we ordered Seitan Skewers in satay sauce.  The dish was good but I thought more of a hoisin oyster-y-ish sauce than satay which I always thought of as peanut based.  The seitan was actually not chunks but very flat seitan rolled up.  It had a nice consistency and later I found out it wasn't made in house but marinated and prepared in the back.
Seitan Skewers ..... 5       Grilled seitan, onion & bell peppers in satay sauce
Yes, that is hot sake.  I did mention I was OFF?

You can see how thin the roll up is on the piece lower left.
I ordered the spinach shumai because I was looking forward to empanadas at VSpot.  So that translated into dumplings but I had dumplings in my last few asian meals so Spinach Shumai was close but different.  They were filled with spinach, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and ground up soy protein which added a very nice change to the standard veggie filling texture.  The veggies weren't overcooked and there was a nice crunch along with softness of the spinach.  The sauce was a sweet soy vinegar.

Spinach Shumai... 5      

Japanese style steamed shumai w. vinaigrette 

soy sauce

I liked the presentation also.

The miso soup came as part of the lunch special.  I didn't think it was anything special and tasted more of seeweed than miso and if anything was a bit undersalted.  I think that's sort of hard to do with miso soup.
The two entrees we ordered were Lunch Specials
Comes w. miso soup, spring roll & brown rice
(L13 thru L16 without rice)

L 2. Mango Soy Protein .... 8
L 4. Smoked Teriyaki Seitan .... 8

The portions are more than adequate and every dish was beautifully plated. 
Both of the dishes were good.  I enjoyed the contrast of the chunky veggies and seitan dish with the pure "meaty" intent of the seitan.  The mango dish was of course very sweet and the veggies consisted of celery, red and green peppers, mushrooms and soy protein.  The spring rolls were pretty standard commercial rolls and with the chili dipping sauce is pretty much what you expected.  The smoky teriyaki was just that and the seitan is a very dense chewy,  (not tough), bite.

The peas were shaped to match the seitan which is very common in asian preparation.  This dish I thought was a tad light on the either the quantity of protein or diversity of the textures.  After finishing the seitan there wasn't much to offset the sameness of all of those peas.  So I went back to eating my wife's dish.
All in all I'd say if you want vegan asian food and you're in Brooklyn this is a good place to find yourself.  I have Gobo a few blocks away from me and Zen Palate just opened up a restaurant on the Upper West Side (Upper West Side - 239 West 105 Street), so there are closer places to me for this kind of food.  I also have mixed feelings about seeing things from May Wah on a menu.  Aside from sitting down, being served good food in flavorful sauces, I always hope for something much much better than I can make at home by heating up commercially available foods.  I won't put 5 different things on a plate for lunch, nor will I prepare 4 different dishes, and that alone is a great reason to eat here but I will always give an extra point to a place that makes more in-house than buys from a wholesaler.  It's sort of a funny point because in my meat eating days I never insisted that someone raise their own animals but if I can make my own seitan how hard is it if you have a commercial kitchen?

That being said it was a wonderful meal in a relaxing setting at a reasonable price.