Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mom and Dad's culinary tour, Twinkie Cupcakes, Rue Cler

So my parents made arrangements to come down this weekend, and we had a blast.
First order ofbusiness was Duncan (and technically Joe) from HNMTF's joint birthday, which happened to be the same day my parents came to town. Ever the troupers, Mom and Dad helped me bake cupcakes to Duncan'sspecifications, and herequested, and Iquote "strawberry those twinkie things, with the coconut, you know?"
Well, I do know. I can only imagine he's thinking about snowballs. And who, as a 10 year old, did not love snowballs. So I set to work. For the base, we made a hearty yellow cupcake. We let the cupcakes set while we had dinner at Dale's on 9th street. My parents did the chicken tikka, but I went old school with Channa Masala. I have to say, I know it's easy to make, but I'm a whore for someone else making me Channa Masala. When we got home, I whipped up a fresh tofu strawberry mousse (to be injected) and lastly, a lightly coconut flavored buttercream, then dyed some flaked coconut pink, rolled the cakes and garnished with strawberry slivers. The cupcakes (all 24) were eaten that night. Score!
The next day, we got up reasonably early and had lunch at the Thai Cafe down the street. I tried their eggplant red curry lunch special for the first time. It is definitely an acquired taste-- the texture of rice noodles in a curry sauce somehow feels wrong to me. My folks ended up going salad and salmon routes. They enjoyed it.
That afternoon we went and saw The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin's Facebook creation myth, which I thought was enjoyable, maybe not as good as his TV shows (although did anyone else see a hellofalot of Matt Albie happening in the "Mark Zuckerberg"?). A lot of other people hated it, but the opening scene's breakneck, trademark Sorkin dialogue had me from the get go. Monday night we hit up Sage Veg Cafe in Chapel Hill. They have added their Sabzhi to the regular menu now! Sabzhi is an herb stew flavored with dried lemon and containing beans, lentils and some sort of meat (traditionally lamb, but in the case of a vegetarian cafe, tempeh). It is served over rice and SO good. That's really all I can say about it. After dinner, we settled into a quick game of the awesome scrabble, then rest.
On Tuesday, we did a little furniture browsing, having gotten a jump on the day. We headed to Classic Treasures, Once and Again and Habitat to see if anyone had a decent small sized desk for me to work at. We found a beautiful used pedestal desk with an espresso stain that fits in very nicely. We hit up Mint for lunch,because my dad wanted to try it. We all know I would kill for some Lime & Basil Summer rolls in my life on the daily. The vegan offerings were pretty slim at the Mint Buffet, but I like lentil soup and love pakoras, so it ended up alright.

We saw Secretariat that afternoon, wandered around the mall and play
ed a little scrabble before the big event: Rue Cler. Oh, can I sing the praises of Rue Cler? I can, but first I will relay a story to you. I've been to Rue Cler before. I've had french fries and a mixed green salad. I've never thought of it in any particular way except a place I don't really eat but that seems pretty popular. When we showed up, with a reservation that I had confirmed twice, we had to wait. Like, a long time. They told me this was because someone wrote the reservation wrong in the book, but finally we were sat. I was kind of annoyed by the waiting ordeal, since my folks had been nice enough to concede to me which "fancy" restaurant we would go to (my dad loves Nana's and the Fairview) and this was not helping the Rue Cler case.

Fortunately, we were given a table and we immediately ordered drinks-- Shiraz for the folks and
a Triangle Imperial Amber for me, which is now my favorite Triangle Beer, but could be because I'm just on a huge Amber kick. The nice thing about the vegan prix fixe meal was that my parents were sort of able to eat parallel to me. My father ordered the regular frisee salad and my frisee salad with homemade vegan bacon, fries and vegan cheese (I am gonna call it out, omfg FYH!) croutons with a roasted shallot vinaigrette was THE BOMB. It was so good. I like salad, but this outdid salad. My dad even tried to convince me that his non-vegan frisee salad was actually the vegan one because mine looked better.

Next course was a remoulette (I think) basically a sweet-ish vegetable paste served with sesame crackers and an arugula salad. I liked this course a lot, flavor-wise, but I feel like its analogue, a pate dish, made more sense, since pate is rich and hard to eat in large amounts, whereas this stuff should've been given to me in a pint tub with a spoon.

Last course was a house made lentil sausage with a spinach and (very large, forgotten name) bean ragout. This was the course that astounded me. Mainly because, frankly, NOBODY else stepped up and made a protein. And these guys did. While the seitan texture wasn't perfect, the flavor was so good that it didn't matter at all. The proportions of the dish were right on. Just the right amount of spicy sausage for a forkful of soothing ragout. To be truthful, that ragout could easily have been a meal on its own, but the added protein made it feel like it was special and for us, not just a tossed together veggie plate of random sides.

After dinner my parents retired to the hotel to get ready to leave in the AM and I hit quiz. All in all, I think Rue Cler may have won my heart (and votes) tonight with their salad and main course. Oh, and their lighting is the jam.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

BCVC: Vin Rouge and Dos Perros, ALSO a trip to KY!

BCVC Updates for those who value my opinion!
I hit up Vin Rouge a while back but have just not gotten around to blogging it, although that is no reflection on the quality of VR's offerings. I met Anne Gomez (of noisy-proggers Cantwell Gomez and Jordan) to try the Ratatouille ravioli and have drinks. We sat at the bar and the bartender was very nice and helpful (he checked on the ingredients in the bread and olive tapenade oil). The beer list at Vin Rouge is kind of awful, but their wine list looked pretty impressive, so I can't fault a restaurant called Red Wine for having a lot of wine and not a lot of beer. So, I ordered bourbon!

Anyway, the ravioli came out, and it was wonderful. Three vegetables in an extremely light, delicate, almost translucent pasta shell, surrounded by a pesto and carrot sauce. Due to a camera malfunction, I do not have a photo! It is a truly tasty little dish though, and I recommend saving some bread to sop up the rest of those sauces.

Pink Flag took a trip to Lexington KY last weekend, and stopped on the way in Charleston WV. I think it is the only big city in the state, and it's not really a big city at all. However, if you're a pastoral camping type, I think WV might be your new favorite state in the union. Trees and
mountains oh my. Anyway, we tried to go to an Indian place that was closed and ended up at BlueGrass Kitchen (courtesy of Happy Cow). Bluegrass Kitchen was really cute; kind of hippy atmosphere, playing Bjork. Dork and I each ordered the veggie burger. Mine came without a bun, since there were no vegan breads available, but it was still pretty darn tasty. Also, the fries tasted EXACTLY like what I remember Burger King fries to taste like. Sick confirmed that they did taste like BK fries.

Dork had the flu, and 16+ hours in the car with its uncirculating air etc meant that we all got Dork's disease. Fortunately for me, I have the secret of Persia in my pocket! I recently bought the Sage cookbook and whipped up a HUGE batch of Osh, which I have had for like, every meal since.

I wanted to try the pot pie, too, in the slowly coldening air. Fortunately, this time I called Nosh and they confirmed that they DO NOT have the pot pie for lunch, which means, friendly vegans, there is no lunch offering at Nosh.

We hit Dos Perros got hit up last Thursday. I ordered a rye beer. We had the tamale to start and it was
wonderful. Really creamy, small bits of delight soy nuggets that weren't overpowering. The Pipia Rojo was an incredible sauce, and the rice and beans were amazing. The only problem was that the delight nuggets overpowered the sauce. The next time, I got it "gluten free" style, with sweet potato instead of delight nuggets and, keep in mind that I despise sweet potatoes, it was AMAZING. It was also huge-- I got two whole meals out of it each time I went. As a sidebar, I'd never been to Dos Perros before and the food was really good; I think I might head back if they have vegan friendly food on their regular menu as well.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

BCVC: Caffe Beyu and Nosh

Dork and I were really excited to try the Nosh specials, but apparently they do not serve any of them at lunch, so sorry Nosh, you're getting skipped. I am not going back again after waiting in line for 15 minutes and getting nothing.

While I am wary of any place that misspells the word "cafe," I felt compelled to check out the 3 course meal at Caffe Beyu for BCVC. Dork and I headed over there on Friday for some eats.

We went in and were seated at a teensy tiny table, but whatever, I'm not looking to put together a puzzle, I just want to eat. They do have Brooklyn Brown on tap, which is a surefire way to my heart (I <3 Brooklyn Brewery!). Dork ordered a Mocha Stout from French Broad, and we each ordered the 3 course prix fixe.
The Gumbo, which was the draw for me, was tasty if a little bit thin. I suspect that it will be too spicy for some tastes, but for me it was welcome and lovely. The chunks of mushroom really made it for me. Dork was not quite so impressed, but I think her standards are higher, her being from LA and all.

The entree was made up of baked apples and sweet potatoes, a walnut-craisin wild rice blend, a couple of baked artichokes and bathed in a balsamic reduction. If that sounds like it would be overly sweet, it is. Aside from the fact that I just straight up don't like sweet potatoes (Dork got to eat most of mine), the balsamic acidity did not help to cut the sweetness but rather compounded it. Then, the rice was interspersed with craisins (more sweetness). The artichoke, however, tasted great with the balsamic reduction and the rice. I appreciated the effort (it was pretty) but the chef just sort of...missed. Some kind of protein with some reduction of one of the sweet ingredients could have made this dish stellar instead of just okay.
The last dish was an avocado chocolate pudding, and it was the winner. The chocolate was rich and tasty and the raspberry sauce hidden at the bottom of the martini glass cut the chocolate nicely. The pudding was topped with coconut cream and mint, which offered another good complement to the richness. As we were getting ready to leave, we saw Eleni and Rob (Beloved Binge) and they mentioned they were coming from Rue Cler and hitting Beyu for dessert. If I were a little bit more of a chocolate fan, I would do the same. However, I recommend all chocoholic vegans to hit Beyu for that pudding because it's a fancy little treat.

I would like to shout out our server. I don't remember her name but she was really great; enthusiastic about the menu (especially hyped about the vegan challenge), made sure to drop off voting cards, explained all of the dishes and was friendly and attentive. Caffe Beyu, she is turning 21 this month, and was working Oct 8. Someone buy that lady a beverage!

On the flipside, when we were seated, we were told that we would not be charged an "entertainment fee" unless we stayed for more than 40 minutes. Considering that our food took more than 40 minutes to come out (and nobody can reasonably expect someone to down 3 courses in less than 40, including ordering) I think it's kind of shitty that we were charged for the entertainment, which honestly, detracted from my experience. I mean, I love live entertainment. I like going to rock shows or even having a live pianist at a nice restaurant. We were seated close to the jazz band and I had a half stack turned up to volume 7 during a dinner conversation. I don't want to eat dinner at a concert. That's why pretty much every venue that is worth its salt DOESNT sell food. I'm just griping, it was only $3, but it was just added to my bill and I would've been happier sitting further away from the band and actually able to talk to my dining companion. Just sayin'.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eating Cabbage, eating at work.

So I worked on Saturday Night (Oct 2) and even though BCVC went into effect 10/1, the kick off party was 10/3, so as a sort of pre-kick off present, Chef Micah at the Federal let me try the BCVC pakoras a day early. The pakoras are really tasty, although Micah and I had a lengthy debate about what a pakora implies-- for me it is veggies rolled around in chickpea flour and deep fried. Later in the week, he conceded and now we have an agreement on delicious pakora goodness.So the pakoras at the Federal have received some heat from taste testers for their price. Theywere recently made cheaper, so nowthey are $9. We have also sold out of them pretty much every night they run, and I know for a fact that many of the people ordering them and enjoying them are not vegan, so get your butts over here, vegans! The chutneys are the star of the dish obviously. Micah put them in "stoplight" colors. Red is bombay red chutney, and the spiciest. Yellow is mango chutney and is milder. Green is a macadamia mint chutney and is more of a creamy sauce than a spicy chutney. You have to keep in mind that I am a huge whore for spicy food, though. I paired the Pakoras with the French Broad Rye Hopper (no longer on draft) but think the Great Divide Hoss Rye Lager would be a good complement (I like the flavor of rye with the mace and curry flavors). Now that the pakoras are priced at $9, I think they're areasonable dish (they're much higher class than your traditional curry house pakoras). I know that I may seem biased because I work at the Fed and am friends with Micah, but I am mostly friends with him because HE COOKS AMAZING VEGAN FOOD. Trust me, it was our bond during a trying time.

The Federal also is offering lime shortbread cookies that I got to go the other night. They are okay. I like shortbread cookies as much as the next person, but they're shortbread cookies.

I've also been trying to figure out new ways to use cabbage,
since it's cheap and all this eating out is not great for my budget (even more since when I'm eating, I want to drink something that is better than PBR). So anyway, I've been basically just stirfrying with tofu, eating it raw, puttin it on sandwiches. Does anyone have any good ideas for cabbage, the world's possibly most boring vegetable? I'm sick of using it as filler for soups (kinda too sweer) and if I make one more cabbage tofu scramble, I think the vegan police are gonna come pick me up. For the love of Isa Chandra, help!

Speaking of Isa Chandra, the kind of meh sandwich options got me thinking about my "ultimate" sandwich. Obviously, the "ultimate" is a toss up of the trifecta: Blossom Southern Seitan, Candle Cafe Cajun Seitan and Red Bamboo Soul Chicken. Yes, I know this is 3 versions of the same sandwich. It's SO GOOD. Honorable mention goes to anything faking a chicken parm or meatball sub. But, the other old standby of all vegan restaurants is, of course, the tofu club. Everyone has his or her version, and now kids, beer as vegan has one too!

Beer is Vegan Tofu Club Sammy
rye sourdough bread
marinated broiled tofu (Vcon recipe this time)
sliced roma tomato
mixed baby salad greens
lightlife smart bacon
celery salt (it's my secret ingredient).

The key is fresh bread, not overtoasting and stacking perfectly. Obviously, it's not the best sandwich I've ever made, (I think next time, I'd go with the lightlife tempeh bacon, sacrificing crunch for taste).

I'm also still working on a veggie burger recipe to be revealed at some point later in the year. It is still a trainwreck, though. Ideally, I'm looking for a grillable patty, instead of a fryer. We shall see! :)

Friday, October 1, 2010


One of the greatest ideas to hit the city of Durham since the now-defunct but still beloved Soul Good: The Bull City Vegan Challenge. My friends Eleni (a tireless vegan crusader responsible for the documentary film Seeing Through The Fence as well as tons of vegan outreach) and Shirle' (a personal chef and shameless vegan sympathizer, responsible for the awesomeness that is the vegan brunch!) had an idea to challenge a whole bunch of local restaurants to run a vegan item for one month. They'd tell vegans and foodies about it. The public would vote.
The ladies got together and posted photos of all of the competing dishes. Some of them look fantastic. Some of them are going to get their asses handed to them. (Note to chefs for future reference: seriously, don't ever give a vegan "salad" as an option when you're trying to impress us; we eat a lot of salad. it's not special food. Ditto "vegetable plates." You can make a vegetable plate, but if you call it that, it just sounds uninspired.) Follow BCVC on twitter to get updates and such. And if you're a vegan who was planning to come to Durham ever, come to Durham in October! It'll be FUN!

And today, the competition begins. I actually kind of forgot that it was the 1st, but then I remembered after I had already agreed to go to Parker and Otis for lunch/dinner. I went in and ordered the challenge. I also got a Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray (because I have NY homesickness).

It should be mentioned that P&O is a lunch option for me most of the time because the #14 (white bean spread, onion, avocado, tomato and sprouts on sunflower) is vegan if you switch the sunflower bread for sourdough and pay a $2 surcharge to get a side salad instead of the slaw (ps P&O-- this is bullshit. you should just give people a non-mayotastic salad for free).

The special (which is like #49 or something crazy!) is made up of an artichoke spread (tastes like bean paste with artichoke processed in), carrots, roasted red peppers, red onions, spinach
on a panini pressed wheat and served with a sweet corn, grape tomato and red onion salad. First thought: this salad should be part of the regular menu. I know I've already griped about it, but I will continue to do so because I hope that Parker and Otis's owners (who seem cool and nice) will read this and consider offering some option besides cole slaw! The corn salad was really nice (I love corn though). The sandwich was good. The artichoke spread was tangy and tasty. However, there were some problems. The red peppers were a little too slimy and caused the sandwich to drip when I ate it, then comingled with the paste and caused it to slide out of the sandwich. I liked that there was spinach, a good choice of green that isn't distractingly crunchy, tough or bitter, but bitter enough to stand up to the strange flavor of artichoke. Ultimately, my trouble with the sandwich was balance. The artichoke is good, but I think it overpowered all the other stuff in there. The reason it's not getting my vote for the win? Because #14 is better. And on the menu all the time. And for that, P&O, I salute you.


Overall, I'd recommend hitting up Parker & Otis this month to let them know that we vegans appreciate their support and trying the sandwich-- if you're more of a fan of red peppers than I am, you might be more partial. They also have the best coffee in town (Seriously, their iced coffee is the jam) and a very healthy selection of upscale/gourmet foodstuffs and products, as well as a decent beer selection. Their porch is a nice place to waste an afternoon reading the paper, and either sandwich (although #14 gets the BIV stamp of approval) will satiate your hunger and probably force you to finish it even though you're not really hungry anymore :).

*it is also Vegan Month Of Food (vegan mofo!) I think? Every october, right? Vegans out there in veganbloggerland?

So in celebration of the (3rd) vegan mofo in which BIV has sort of participated, here's a recipe for my delicious brussels sprouts. Even brussels sprouts haters can get down with it. It's also fast, which is one of my favorite things about it.

You will need:
a bag of brussels sprouts (like 15-20, or more, or less, whatever!)
3 cloves garlic
~1 tsp rosemary
~1 tsp oregano
~2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Set your oven to 400 and let it preheat. In the meantime, clean your sprouts. To clean, I chop off the bottom and then peel away the outermost layer that's wilty or spotty or whatever. It will come right off once you've chopped the little root part off. Then cut in half lengthwise and drop into a bowl. After you've chopped all of them and dropped in the bowl, mince your garlic as small as you can get it (I find doing the chef knife smash 2-3 times, then finely chopping leaves you with the sort of chunky paste type thing you want). Drop your garlic in with the sprouts. Drizzle with oil. Rub the rosemary and oregano between your hands to break it up (I use fresh herbs at the end of their growing season. If using dry herbs, this works best. If using super fresh herbs, you may need to chop a little). Use water to get the remaining off your hands. Add salt and pepper (I use about 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper, but it's yr call-- taste and make sure it's salty enough!). Mix the bowl all together. Cover a cookie sheet in foil, then dump the sprouts and their herby garlic juice on it. Spread them so they're not all touching, but they don't have to be all face down or anything. Pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes (depends on size of sprouts). They'll get all caramelized and burnt at the tips and where there's large amounts of garlic and aromatic and awesome in the middles. Trust me. Oh, and if you're feeling cheeky, try adding some balsamic instead of water and cutting back the salt. Happy sprouting.