Happy August

I’ve been trying to save money for an upcoming trip so I haven’t been eating anywhere interesting. I haven’t even been buying breakfast tacos!  I’ve been focusing on summer produce from the garden and local farms. My tomatoes are dying from the heat now but they were so beautiful this year.

I’ve been making lots of easy tacos

I also made my first ever blueberry cheesecake and I couldn’t believe how good it was. I should make another one this weekend. I wonder if cherries are still around (recipe from Vegan Pie in the Sky)

I’ve also been cooking quite a bit from Vegan Eats World. This Mango Avocado Salad is the perfect summer food

And I grew the most beautiful yellow eggplants. Here they are in a stew with okra, tomatoes, and corn. This recipe is from Herbivoracious. I want to try his seared watermelon this weekend.

I got to go to the beach in Port Aransas. I sure wish I could spend a week there.

On that same trip we saw the biggest tree in Texas!

I had to take a million trips to Chicago this year but at the last one I got to see some terrific concerts and all was right with the world.

Now that it’s August I’m just trying to make it through the dog days. Hopefully with lots of toobin’ trips

And of course, the best way to stay cool.

I think it might be time to bust out my kiddie pool.

“Taco ‘Bout It” goes all vegan & creates the first vegan trailer park in the world!

UPDATE 8-26-2014 – Due to unforseen circumstances the Northloop trailer park is no more. Taco ’bout It had to shut down, Red Rabbit moved inside Monkeywrench books, and Unity & BBQ Revolution are still looking for new spots. Trailer parks really have a way of breaking your heart :(

Vegan Trailers BBQ Revolution, Unity Vegan Kitchen, and Red Rabbit Bakery opened one by one at the Northloop House and Yard. The taco trailer “Taco ‘Bout It“, also at the park on North Loop, offered one simple vegan friendly taco right when they opened. But, as vegan trailers opened around them, they started adding more exciting vegan tacos to the menu and they watched their vegan sales outpace their meaty counterparts. The owners realized it would be more profitable to go 100% vegan and thus the first all vegan trailer park in the world was created.

This might be my favorite story ever.

I want to send it to every taco joint in town.

If you make us tacos WE WILL COME! Check out Taco ‘Bout It’s menu:

The first vegan trailer park in the world, right here in Austin Texas!
There is BBQ Revolution where Blake Newman is smoking tasty vegan proteins and serving up traditional sides like mac & cheese and potato salad.

They’ve even been running a deal with the Americana Tattoo parlor next door (it uses all vegan ink BTW) that if you get a BBQ Revolution tattoo in a visible place from Dean Mitchell you get a free meal once a week for life!

Next door is the best doughnuts in town from our favorite anarchist collective Red Rabbit Bakery. They have their standard vegan doughnuts most days like Mexican Chocolate and Maple Glazed with Walnuts but then they also have specialty doughnuts like the Austin Cream Pie (Vanilla glaze with chocolate pudding filling) and rotating specials made with seasonal ingredients like Hill Country Peaches. 

Next door to them is our beloved Unity Vegan Kitchen run by one of my favorite vegan chefs in town, Leslie Nelms. This woman can cook! She first came on the atxvegan scene at VegFest 2013 when everyone was completely blown away by her cashew lasagna. Since then her trailer has gone on to great success, pleasing pretty much everyone with a menu that has everything from muffalata sandwiches to healthy spring rolls packed with vegetables and garlicky quinoa. Last week she was even running a Chickn’ and Waffles special. This Saturday they are celebrating their one year birthday!

It’s great to watch the community around the Northloop House and Yard develop. They regularly throw Vegan Riots with live music and all sorts of vendors and sometimes even a pig or two will stop by like they did at the 4th of July party! You know it’s a vegan party when a pig shows up.

The big events also bring in tons of other favorite organizations. At the last event, Action For Animals, Bistro Vonish, Vegan Drinks, Sweet Ritual Ice Cream, and Skull & Cakebones were all selling their wares and promoting the cause.

Rabbit Food Grocery had a popup shop selling us everything from the new Earth Balance mac & cheese and Bee Free Honey to vitamins

Maximum Salad made an awesome video where you can see the whole thing. (We are clearly all way excited about the pigs)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jIMP_NkHVc

This Friday BBQ Revolution is even running a fundraiser for the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary which was robbed so please go check it out if you can!

Who robs an animal sanctuary!?! Help the Austin Zoo!

I read this morning on Hipstercrite that the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary was robbed! I know vegans are opposed to most zoos, with good reason, but this one is a non-profit sanctuary that “assists animals in need through rescue, rehabilitation and education”. Some of the animals are sick and can’t live in the wild. Others were abused and rescued by the Austin Zoo. According to the official site:

On the night of July 3-4, a burglary resulted in excess of $25,000 dollars in losses to the Zoo. Burglars caused extensive damage to Zoo facilities and installations, and made off with office electronics, cash, and equipment used to monitor and care for its animals. Please help the zoo recover from this tragic event by making a donation today and sharing this site with your friends and colleagues. Thank you to Lyra Kalish Swinney, a member of The Junior League of Austin, for generously creating this “Go Fund Me” page.

I can’t even imagine what kind of people would do this but it breaks my heart. So please donate if you can, and share this info with your social networks. Otherwise I’m going to lose all faith in humanity.

Babe, a former 4H project and survivor of the slaughterhouse who now gets to live another day at the Austin Zoo. Photo used with permission from Hipstercrite.

And check out Lauren’s post of her recent trip to the zoo for more animal pics!

Chicago-grams: The Summer of Seitan

I’m pretty sure Chicago has the most meaty vegan food of any town in the Union. I love it. This time I was back for my sister’s wedding reception. In between getting ready for the Skup Svatova (our Serbian bridal pre-party) and catching up with tons of family I still managed to squeeze in tons of tasty vegan food. I started the trip on a rough note, there were storms at O’hare and my plane was 16 hours late getting there. After spending 8 hours on the plane I thought it couldn’t get worse, until I saw all the folks passed out and set up like a refugee camp in the terminal at 4 am. I’ve been there before. I was so happy I was able to sleep in a bed.

The next day I woke up starved and headed straight for Native Foods because my sister had told me that they had a muffalata on special. As a life-long olive fanatic the muffalata has long been my favorite sandwich and I was sad they didn’t have any vegan versions in New Orleans! It was great but probably not quite as good as the one you can get here in Austin at Unity Vegan Kitchen. The best part was when the waiter asked if I wanted ranch dressing for my fries, I used to love that and it was so nice to just say yes since Native Foods is 100% vegan. Their Italian seitan was delicious and thinly sliced, I think it just didn’t have the sheer number of olives that I require.

Later that night I had another Italian sandwich at Santullo’s that was really good too! Wicker Park has gotten ridiculously vegan friendly in the last 5 years or so. It’s such a big difference from when it was just Sultan’s Market, now you can eat just about anywhere and have several awesome vegan choices. When my friends Sandra and Adrian got in the next day Sandra wanted to go directly to Handlebar and so we did. I got the Pepita Tofu Scramble which had fried onions on top and actual green vegetables. I also had a beermosa!

The best part about this trip to Handlebar was that they had tons of amazing Star Trek Art up on the walls.

Later we went down to the Wormhole for coffee. I was sad that I missed the vegan doughnuts again but happy to show Adrian all their 80s memorabilia. 

For a wedding present, Sandra, Adrian, and I decided to make cupcakes for the reception. I don’t think I’ve ever even double batched cupcakes and this time I made 141! We made Golden Vanilla with a fresh blueberry topping and Pineapple Right-side Up Cupcakes, both from Vegan Cupcakes take over the World. They were a hit!

After a long night of baking I was so pleased that there were ton’s of places still open to eat. We set out for Dimo’s pizza since I read they had a vegan option. I had no idea though, that their vegan options were going to be so over the top! When I asked what slices were available and they told me BBQ chicken, Philly Cheesesteak, and several others I couldn’t believe it! Chicago is amazing! My BBQ pizza even had french fries on it!

We ended up getting a hotel in Greektown and I was surprised to find that Karen’s on Green was right around the corner. The next afternoon we headed there for brunch and I was pretty excited to order Belgian Waffle sliders that had tofu eggs, seitan bacon, and almond cheese. I wanted the waffle to be a little crispier and the home fries were too oily but other than that it was a great sandwich. Their tofu egg is amazing, it’s not at all like a scramble. I wonder how they make it.

The reception was crazy fun. We danced all night and Sandra learned how to do the traditional Serbian Kolo dance. I was up way too late and so hungry by the time we got to my all-time favorite restaurant, the Chicago Diner, for brunch. When I saw they had chicken and waffles on the menu, served with peaches, I couldn’t resist! In fact, I don’t think I considered resisting. It was so freaking fantastic. I did wonder if I could also have a milkshake and decided against it.

After that I don’t think I needed to eat again the rest of the day but I grabbed a Upton’s Sandwich at the Go Grocer for the trip home. The Leftover wasn’t as good as the Aurora but I was sure glad I had it! I wish some of our awesome Austin places would stock the grocery stores with sandwiches, mac & cheese, and BBQ like they do in Chicago. It’s so nice when you are in hurry.

I’ll be back up there next month for my cousin’s wedding so I think by the end of the summer I’ll get to try every single Upton’s sandwich. Maybe I’ll even make it to the breakroom, I have to try the Elvis which has Bacon Seitan with sunbutter and grilled banana on multigrain bread.

New vegan menu options at the Alamo Village!

The other day I was considering moving to a different part of the country. Obviously, there are so many horrible parts to moving. Like, I can’t imagine leaving my friends and family here, or selling my house. I started thinking about what I would miss the most about Austin itself like the shiny happy people and the anything goes anywhere dress code. But there are three things I just can’t even imagine how I would even live without. Tacos, Barton Springs, and the Alamo Drafthouse.

My partner and I are big movie/TV nerds since childhood and since our first days back at the original Alamo on 4th and Colorado the Alamo movie theater has been our favorite place. For Christmas we get Alamo giftcards and that’s where we go for birthdays and when we have friends in from out of town. I’ve gone from my first Mister Sinus theater experience of the Lost Boys, to wandering around the park between the four video screens for each of the four tracks of the Flaming Lips Zaireeka, to drinking Romulan Ale at the Star Trek premiere, every SXSW, Karaoke at the Highball, and seeing Leprechaun with Doug Benson every St. Patricks’s Day. I even got to see my friend chase James Franco down the alley behind the Alamo Ritz yelling “Mr. Franco”. It’s always just been a place that seemed meant for me.

Except for one gigantic problem.

While everyone around me is chowing down on movie themed specials and five dollar milkshakes I’m stuck with either the hummus plate, the veggie burger, the cheese-less pizza, the salad without half the stuff, or the plain popcorn. AKA the most boring vegan food in the world. Over the years they have added better vegan items like the Kick-Ass Tofu sandwich and the spaghetti squash pomodoro and then taken them away. The things is, when I go to the movie theater to laugh and drink beer I usually don’t want a meal. I want bar food. Snacks that go with beer. Things that are tasty and deep fried. Or if I’m having coffee and have already eaten I want something sweet. I look at their ice cream list every time, longingly, hoping that something has changed but alas, these snacks never come. Since the day I got twitter I feel like I’ve been harassing the Alamo to come up with something better for us. Once I even came up with a veganized menu that would be at my dream Alamo. It’s an obsession that I had pretty much given up on.

And then, last week, out of the aether I got the message I’ve been waiting for. “We heard you” and want “to extend an invitation to our first ever vegetarian and vegan food tasting and new menu reveal.”

It turns out that one of the kitchen workers at the Village is vegan and rode in the MS150 with Alamo owner Tim League. After a long and difficult training ride their team was scarfing up pizza and he couldn’t participate so Tim decided then and there to come up with some menu items! Finally! The best part, as a vegan blogger, is knowing there is a vegan at the kitchen and I can be certain that the bread and the tortillas are vegan without harassing the staff. And they have a little v for vegan on the menu. I couldn’t be happier. Well…unless they had deep fried olives and Sweet Ritual parfaits.

When I got to the Alamo Village last night there were already a million people there waiting to taste the food. That’s a good sign! We grabbed the four different items and found a seat. 

I think I started with the “Cherry Tomato & Avocado Bruscetta” served with basil, lemon vinaigrette, crostini, and a balsamic reduction.

I loved this dish, it’s like what I eat all summer when tomatoes are in season. The creamy avocado was a big yes for me. When they serve it at the theater you will get a big bowl of the topping and then slices of crostini. I love this idea and I am glad they are executing it so well.

I couldn’t believe the main dish was tacos, or in other words: my favorite food.

Even though they were called “Spiced Tofu Tacos” I was surprised by how spicy they were, definitely the spiciest tofu in town. The spice was balanced a bit with the avocado and I loved that the extra crunch was with fried tortilla strips instead of something like lettuce (I hate shredded lettuce) but I felt like these could have used another vegetable like baked squash or potatoes. They were a little understuffed but when you order them you get three. I wish there was a corn tortilla option because their flour one was just so-so. I really liked them regardless and I’m so happy to have a taco for when I’m there at breakfast!!!

Next I tried the Samosas that were served with a peach and mint chutney. Now, I’ve never met a samosa I didn’t like and this one was no exception.

They were pretty good sized and chock-full of filling. The crust was both soft and crunchy, just how it should be. I really liked the chutney too although I usually prefer some sort of tamarind sauce. You get three of these in an order and they are seven bucks so I can see myself getting these quite a bit and I’m sure they will go over especially well with the omni crowd.

Finally, I begrudgengly tried the Oatmeal Cherry Cookie, it didn’t look or sound like something I would like but hot damn, that was a great cookie! It was warm and soft with perfect texture and flavor. It might have been our favorite! That or the Bruschetta. The only thing about the cookies that they could improve is adding some ice cream.

And Jesus Christ get some nooch for the popcorn so I don’t have to sneak my own in. Where are we, North Dakota?

The new menu is available at the Alamo Village only right now, I beseech you to head over there and support it so that it spreads to the other locations. I think now I’ll finally be able to see Chef since I’ll have something to snack on during an entire movie about food.

PS. I’ve never beseeched anyone before and it was really fun. I’m going to start saying it all the time.

 

A review of A-OK Chinese

I hate writing bad reviews. I try to give a new place every chance. I don’t check out a restaurant until it’s been open a couple weeks (unless I just can’t help myself!) and then I try to go a couple of times with different people both vegan and omnivore. Even then in my review I always try and focus on the positive because I know not everyone likes the same kind of food and running a restaurant can be a real struggle. I was a waitress for many years and I know restaurants have bad days. But I can’t recommend A-OK Chinese at all, and judging from their yelp reviews I don’t think they will stay open that long unless they really retool their food.

At first I was really, really excited to have a Chinese restaurant in South Austin that focused on fresh local food, had craft beer, and was right between work and home, my favorite place for any new restaurant in Austin! When they told me that most of the dishes (with the exception of the Broccoli and Garlic) would be vegan if ordered with tofu I was sure it would become a go-to favorite. Currently, the only really vegan friendly Chinese that I eat at with any regularity in South Austin is Hao Hao which hits the spot for cornstarch heavy American Chinese food but isn’t a place I would recommend for a great meal but hey, they deliver. I thought A-OK would be the opposite with fresh Asian vegetables, light sauces, and then thick crusty tofu like you get at the best Chinese restaurants. Alas it wasn’t to be.

First, the interior is really cute, although it’s the fast-casual style where you wouldn’t want to linger. They have really nice decorative touches like stacked up cans from China and a giant photo from Nixon’s trip to China. You wait in line and order from the register. Or, in my case you order, then the cashier takes off to help someone else. Then you try and order again, and she stops you to give a to-go order to someone that just came in. Then you try to order a third time and she says “what” and you order again and then she repeats the order back to you all wrong. That it took four times for me to place my extremely simple order when it wasn’t busy at all (there was maybe three tables, no one behind me, and another cashier) was a bit dispiriting. If I was George Costanza I would have been sure she hated me.

Sesame Tofu looks better than it tasted.

I ordered the Sesame Tofu and it quickly came out. It looked pretty good, but it was utterly tasteless. After a couple of bites I got up and grabbed every condiment they offer in an attempt to make it tasty but the food really couldn’t be saved. The rice was mushy. The tofu was completely bland, dried out, and pointless. I didn’t notice any spices, just an abundance of carrots which doesn’t work in this dish at all. Then when researching this post and looking at the menu again I see that on the menu online it’s titled Honey Sesame. So it’s not even vegan. URGH.

at least they knew to serve a hefeweizen with an orange

On another trip a few weeks later I tried the Orange Sweet & Sour which is usually my favorite dish and it was even worse than the Sesame, the orange sauce was just like straight up orange juice except it was also really bitter. I couldn’t finish my meal and saved the leftovers and then I couldn’t bring myself to eat those. Dan ordered the Kung Pao and was really disappointed too, he said it wasn’t spicy at all even though the menu would have you believe it’s very spicy.  I really don’t know what is going on at this restaurant. All four of my different dining companions were just as unsatisfied as me. Oh and the worst part was that it was considerably more expensive than your standard Chinese restaurant. I spent 20 dollars for a bowl the bowl above plus a beer and tip. Yikes! I’ll be sticking to Hao Hao for now. A-OK? No way.

GIVEAWAY and review for Vegan Finger Foods

Recently I was contacted by Tamasin Noyes and Celine Steen about receiving a review copy of their new book Vegan Finger Foods and doing a giveaway as well. I excitedly agreed. I love the recipes I’ve tried from their earlier Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day and Tami’s American Vegan Kitchen. With a bakesale and baby shower coming up I knew that I’d get a lot of opportunities to try out recipes.

Upon cracking the book open the first thing I noticed was all the lovely photos take by Celine and the very modern ideas. I had a hard time deciding what I would try because so many different recipes were appealing. I think the recipes in this book would appeal to all the different kinds of vegan diets out there. There are recipes that feature whole foods, are soy free, soy heavy, gluten free, bread based, raw, baked, complicated, easy, cupcake heavy, sugar free, comfort food, or chocolate based.

The first chapter is a short primer on finger foods and any types of special ingredients they use. Then it goes into “Veggie-Centric Finger Feasts” with recipes like “Kale Cucumber Cups” and “Snacking Chickpeas” these were all vegetable heavy and on the easier side. Next was “Stuffed and Dipped” with recipes like “Sauerkraut Stuffed Seitan Rounds” and “Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites” which I think most excited me. Then “Bread-Based Bites with recipes like “Pull Apart Pesto Bread” and “Spinach Swirls with Quicky Marinara” and finally “Sweet Little Somethings which includes recipes like “Creamsicle Ice Lollies” and “Goji Berry Cacao Bites”.

The first recipe I tried was the Tahini Caramel Popcorn. The first batch came together like magic. The second batch went awry when I dropped my fork into the caramel and then tried to retrieve it with my fingers. I learned that you NEVER put your fingers in hot caramel, it sticks right to your skin and burns burns burns. So, while I  was dealing with that, I wasn’t stirring and  the caramel cooked too long. Also, I think because of the humidity here I had trouble with the caramel really solidifying because the popcorn never became rock hard until I tried putting it in the fridge. So, I ended up selling them as Tahini Caramel Popcorn Balls at the bakesale. They were a hit! The tahini really added an interesting element. My friends that tried them loved them and they are GF so a perfect bakesale treat.

The one recipe that kept calling my name every time I flipped through the book was the Nacho Potato Skins. I found this recipe a bit overly complicated for me, like instead of calling for a small chopped onion they call for something like a half a cup of finely chopped onion. I know most folks prefer this kind of precision but for me, in something like a black bean salad, I just want it to be super simple. But then, I also thought the step of coating the potatoes with adobo and then crisping them again seemed like an unnecessary step but I am so glad I didn’t skip it. Just that little bit of flavor and crispness made the recipe for me. We used big russet potatoes and had one each for dinner. Dan couldn’t believe I ate mine with my hands but I told him it was a Vegan Finger Food! They were totally delicious and hit that junk food note even though they were, dare I say, healthy nacho potato skins using fresh vegetables, beans, and homemade vegan queso. They were very fresh tasting and had lots of flavor, I loved them.

Next, I had to decide which recipes to use for a taco themed baby shower. I wanted things I could mostly make ahead of time but that would go with the overall menu. I knew that my guest of honor is way into jalapeno poppers so these were definitely in from the start. Actually, this recipe probably turned out to be my favorite from the book and I would definitely make it again. I even used their tip of using gloves when dealing with the jalapenos (whenever I’m doing a cookbook review I try to actually follow all the directions). Somehow, I had never used gloves before. As an incredibly lazy person I always thought it was easier to be super careful when de-seeding hot peppers than to find some gloves. Boy, was I wrong. With gloves you can go a thousand times faster. And you are probably a lot less likely to touch your eyes (or other sensitive areas) with gloves on accidentally. For this recipe you hollow out the jalapenos, make a cashew cheese, plop a tablespoon of it in each jalapeno half, and then invert it onto a plate of panko and cornflakes, and bake them in the oven. They had all the crunchy cheesiness of traditional poppers without having to deep fry or use cheese. And they were super easy. A total win.

Finally, I decided to also make the Baked Lenteja Taquitos instead of the Pulled Jackfruit Mini Tacos because I figured that growing baby would need some extra protein. These seemed super easy; you cook up french lentils and then mix them with some mashed potatoes and spices, roll the filling in tortillas, and then bake them in the oven. When shopping at Fiesta I came across their homemade corn tortillas that were nopale flavored so I kind of had to try them. They did not work well at all in this recipe, however. I think fresh flour tortillas or even store-bought corn tortillas would have held up much better in the rolling process. They tasted good though! And they were crowd-pleasers as well.

There are still many recipes I want to try! The Brewpub Cauliflower Dip, Tiny Tomato Pies, and the Portobello BLTs are all going to be coming out of my kitchen sooner rather than later. And if you are worried about getting the book because you don’t entertain, never fear! Many of the recipes can easily be scaled up for dinner (like those BLTs) or used as side dishes like the Green Beans Jalfrezi. It also seems like a GREAT book for coming up with things to bring to a potluck, and God knows, if you’re vegan you have to go to potlucks all the time. They back section of the book has sample menus like “Hot Summer Nights” and “Extra Easy Entertaining”. You can check them all out on the Amazon Preivew. I really do think this book has something for everyone. I think some vegan millionaire should buy a ton of copies and send this book to every bar because bars here never have interesting vegan options. 

Giveaway Closed!

If you would like to win a copy please comment below and answer this question: If someone was throwing a party for you, what would you want on the menu? Make sure you add your email when you leave the comment in the form so that I can contact you if you are the winner!