Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Night Out at The Pulse Cafe - Somerville, MA

Oops, I did it again!  Obligatory self-explanation paragraph.  My last blog post, where I was explaining how stressed and busy I was, should have been an indication to me that I needed to slow down before I made myself sick, but I didn't figure it out until too late.  Last Friday, I left work early for some R&R, but within 3 hours I had a fever and chills and felt generally terrible.  I got smacked down by a flu/evil sinus infection combo that had me completely out of commission for four days.  Then John got it too, but only the flu part. He's better for the most part, but I'm still having some sinus symptoms.  Needless to say, I didn't eat much worth writing about last week.  Lots of Gardein Crispy Tenders and noodle soup bowls.  But last night, we had tickets to see comedians JB Smoove and Richard Lewis in Boston.  The tickets were one of my Christmas gifts to John, so there was no way we were missing it.  Smoove & Lewis, who are cast members in the wonderfully ridiculous HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm," are two of the funniest people ever to both John and me.

Before the show, we decided to try grabbing some dinner.  We've tried a number of the places in & around Boston, but the relatively new Pulse Cafe in Somerville is a place we've missed so far.  I checked out the menu on their website beforehand, and it looked like a good place to fall off the healthy vegan food wagon for a night of indulging, so we went for it.  We were able to find free street parking a block or so away, which was both miraculous and probably illegal.  The restaurant is 100% vegan, which is also miraculous (and thankfully not illegal).  I do think it's a great thing to go out to not 100% vegan places to ask for vegan options so that vegan-ness becomes more mainstream, but I will also say, there is something so fantastic about not having to worry about whether or not I can trust the restaurant staff to understand what "no animal products" means.  Behold the easy way to be a fat vegan:

Vanilla & Chocolate Milkshakes

This coconut milk-based shake was definitely Georgia-approved.


Appetizer - Loaded Fries - French fries with cheezy sauce, sour "cream", and tempeh bacon

Bacon Cheeseburger - House made patty, cheeze, tempeh bacon, garlic aioli, & veggies on a multigrain bun

Philly Cheeze Steak - Peppers, onions, seitan "steak", and Daiya mozzarella on flatbread

I ordered the burger and John ordered the cheesesteak, but we ended up swapping, because his sandwich was too cheezy.  It was supposed to come on a sub roll, which would have balanced out the cheeze better, but they had run out.  I loved it, but the lack of bread did make it a bit rich.  The burger was very tasty, if a little small.  I would probably get a side salad with it next time to round out the meal.  The loaded fries were just as delicious as they look; in fact, I wish I had some now!  They had a number of dessert options, but since we were in a bit of a hurry at that point, we ended up grabbing two of their homemade glazed doughnuts to go.  They were made to order and warm.  I was totally in love!  They were very doughy and not very sweet, but that was okay to me, because I am a bread maniac, but John wasn't that impressed.  I think he would have gone for the apple crisp with ice cream if we hadn't already had milkshakes.  

With tip, it was $50, which is definitely on the pricey side for an appetizer, two sandwiches, a couple of milkshakes and a couple of small doughnuts, but it's about what should probably be expected for dinner in Boston.  The portion sizes were on the smaller side as well, but considering that the food is rich, that's probably a good thing.  We would check this place out again sometime when we are in the Boston area for a night out, and they do brunch on the weekends as well, which would be worth a try.

John's out on an acting job tonight so I'm flying solo.  I went to the movies once already (saw The Rite - it was okay - standard demon possession stuff with the added bonus of creeptastic Anthony Hopkins), and I might go again later after I work on our short film editing project for a while, if I can work up the nerve to go back out again in the cold & wind tonight.  Quite a few things to post this week, and I'm hoping I can get to them.  Right now, I think I'm going to head into the kitchen and find something to eat.  I ran out of Gardein, so I might be in trouble!  :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Slow Cooker Vegetable Stew

Hi, I'm back!  I want to apologize for disappearing for a week.  It wasn't necessarily because I wanted to, but more because I've been going non-stop since last week.  I almost always have quite a few irons in the fire, but this last week, it's all converged to make me a little nuts.  Besides the blog and the full time plus job, John & I have a film production company business as well, in addition to him being an actor (and me driving him to auditions so he doesn't have to pay to park in Boston or Providence -- and he got the Providence job by the way, hooray!).  We work in non-fiction and fiction both, and depending on the project we could be handling everything from writing to pre-production to packaging and selling an end product.  Right now, we are also interested in getting into some freelance video editing.  So over the last week, I've been on the road a lot while also working and trying to stick to my every day exercise program and eating halfway decently and maybe getting at least 6 hours of sleep.  So no big deal, right?

The good news is, I have plenty of things to post, so provided I have time and can shut up about my life long enough to talk about food, I should be able to jump on a few times this week to share some of the recipes I've had lately.  The most thematically appropriate for this post seems to be this one, which uses my most neglected kitchen appliance, the slow cooker.  I don't know what it is about me and the slow cooker, but it's just not something I think of using very often.  I know how easy and convenient it is, but I guess I tend to be more hands-on with cooking.  The only meal I tend to think of as a definite crock-pot dish is stew.  I used to make beef stew a few times each winter, so I decided to make it without the beef (or seitan or another meat substitute) this time and see what happened.  What happened?  A hearty, healthy and delicious vegetable stew!  It's also oil free, so I think it would fit in with Eat to Live and McDougall followers.

Chunky Vegetable Stew

3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut on the bias
6 small potatoes (Yukon gold), peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
1 cup cooked lima beans
1 can green beans, drained
1 large can diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
Garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except spices in slow cooker.  If necessary, add water to make sure vegetables are mostly covered.  Cook on low for 6 hours, stirring occasionally if possible.  In last 30 minutes, add spices, stir, and simmer.  A light touch with the salt is best.    

I almost never eat corn or lima beans but when I had them in this stew I remembered how much I love them.  They taste so good with tomato for some reason!  I almost always am saying in my recipes to adapt based on what you have on hand, and that is no different here, but I will also say that something about this combo is particularly tasty.  This would probably be pretty great with cornbread, but we just ate it as is.

We managed to make it through Tuesday without a full-on blizzard, which is more than I could have said for the last two weeks, and the sun was actually still out when I left work today, so that has me in a better frame of mind.  Hope the same holds true for the rest of you!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Almost Homemade Vegan Dinners

Tonight, central Massachusetts is experiencing a brief respite between massive snowstorms.  I am in a hotel room about a mile away from my office so that I could minimize my driving time.  My Hyundai Accent is a great little car, but it's not a snow plow, and I'm hoping that by the time my workday is over tomorrow, a lot of the 2 feet plus of snow will be fallen and pushed out of the way so that I can get home without too much trouble.

Needless to say, these are the times when being vegan can be really difficult.  I didn't know the extent of the snow we were getting until this morning, and when I saw that it could be in the 25 inches range, I threw together a suitcase hoping I would be able to spend the night closer to work.  (I'm only about a 20 minute drive away on a normal day, but that has stretched into over an hour when we get snow like this.)  I also threw two days worth of breakfast and lunch into a bag (English muffins with Smart Bacon and vegan "egg" for brekky sandwiches, a tofu "egg" salad sandwich, an apple, and some leftover pizza--yes, sad food, I know--I was in a big hurry), and grabbed a few dollars worth of quarters for vending machines in case of emergency.  Tonight, I got capellini pomodoro from Olive Garden right next to my hotel.  Vegan?  Yes.  Blog-worthy?  No.  But at least I got a hot meal and a big (dry) salad.  Plus John talked me into bringing my laptop so I can post a couple of the things I've been sitting on for a while.

Both of these meals are homemade except for one convenient ingredient each.  In both cases, it was something I had sitting around for a night when I was short on time but still wanted to make sure I got something healthful and veggie-packed.

Vegan Chorizo Potato Hash

5 medium potatoes (Yukon golds are good in this), uniformly diced, peeled if not organic
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium to large green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms (button or cremini)
1/2 tomato, diced
1 package soy chorizo (sold at Trader Joe's and other well-stocked supermarkets)

Parboil potatoes in a large saucepan over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until slightly yielding but still holding shape.  In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, saute onions and peppers in small amount of water until onions are beginning to soften.  Add drained potatoes and stir fry for a few minutes.  Add mushrooms and continue to stir fry until potatoes and mushrooms are beginning to brown.    Add chorizo and continue to stir fry.  When chorizo is heated through, add tomatoes and stir fry for several minutes until tomatoes begin to lose shape.  At this point, onions and pepper should be tender crisp, potatoes cooked through, mushrooms browned and chorizo starting to brown.  Makes about 5 servings.

It's not the most attractive meal, but it's tasty and filling, and it's one of the first vegan meals I ever thought up.  John is a "meat" and potatoes kind of guy, so it's something he really enjoys and always wants an extra serving of.  Interestingly, the package of soyrizo I used this time had a similar recipe printed right on the package.  

Cauliflower Chickpea Curry

1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1/2 head of cauliflower
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 jar of vegan curry simmer sauce (I used Trader Joe's brand, but Seeds of Change makes a few truly excellent varieties as well)
Cooked brown rice

Saute onions and peppers in water over medium heat until slightly softened.  Add cauliflower, chickpeas, and simmer sauce.  Mix well and lower heat to low.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower has softened to tender crisp.  If mixture becomes too thick, add water and stir.  Once cauliflower reaches desired texture, serve mixture over cooked brown rice.  Makes 4-5 servings.

John & I both love Indian food, and I got an Indian vegan cookbook for Christmas, but I haven't had a chance to really get involved with it yet.  Right now, with the amount of snow we have on the ground, even the simplest trip to the grocery store takes more than twice as long as it should  Maybe when all this snow finally subsides I'll be able to get to one of the nearby Indian groceries and pick up a few ingredients to experiment with.  For the time being though, with how busy I have been, and how little I care to leave the house, this will definitely do!