Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vegan Things I'm Loving

Life's craziness and my relative absence from the blog-scene does not mean I'm not still experiencing awesome vegan-related things on a near daily basis.

I am continually overwhelmed by how much incredible vegan stuff and amazing vegan people exist in our world.

As much as I love sharing my own personal cooking adventures, I want to give some props to some of the super vegan things I have encountered in the last couple weeks.

First stop - this beautiful dish that was crafted for me by the chef at Chow in Bend, OR.

I had heard great things about Chow and convinced my mom to go there with me during our recent mini-vacation to Bend. When we got there, I noticed several vegan or vegan-friendly options on the menu, but I really wanted something, I don't know, inspired. So I asked our waitress to have the chef make something raw (which their menu specifically stated they specialized in) and vegan, more in the savory realm, and to take as much creative license as they wished. When my waitress brought out this avocado, walnut, mushroom stack over greens with blueberries and vinaigrette, paired with markedly fresh avocado and tomatoes, I wanted to hug her. It was so perfectly suited to the moment (and my appetite - I was starving after a full day of cycling) and oozed care and creativity.

In the vein of care and creativity, Chef Gregory Gourdet of Departure has put forth some pretty epic vegan offerings in recent weeks. Aside from being a bad-ass ultra runner, Greg has been strikingly influential in bridging the gap between the culinary/foodie world and the vegan one (worlds which, at times, seem mutually exclusive). Aside from creating bomb vegan and gluten free menus at Departure, Greg continually pushes the vegan edge in a variety of otherwise traditionally gourmet contexts, from events like his Electric Summer Bash (which was one of the more fun events I've ever been privileged enough to attend), to his coconut milk-based, chef-inspired flavor created for Portland Ice Cream behemoth Salt & Straw, to his frequent collaboration with vegan trendsetters like Blossoming Lotus and Sizzle Pie Pizza, Greg is doing some pretty cool stuff.
Aside from eating an entire pint of his ice cream over the course of two nights, I am blindly chasing after (stalking? ...maybe) yet another of Greg's creations - his Summer's End Vegan Dinner. For the third year in a row, Greg is teaming up with Blossoming Lotus to host this incredible vegan + paleo five-course meal at Departure. It's September 25th (at the tail-end of Portland's more meat-based Feast festival) so no insight yet to this food experience, but I can almost guarantee it will be magical.

 And on a completely different note, vegan bars are probably my favorite scene. This Sriracha filled love fest was photographed at NE Portland's totally vegan bar, Bye and Bye. This bar is always such a blast. We always end up chatting with some really interesting people, and although the lines can be long and the place can get super crowded, it's a quintessential Portland place to hang out with food good and strong drinks. Oh and the bar tenders are attractive - always a plus ;)

Jumping back to myself for a minute (sorry, couldn't resist posting this picture), I have been LOVING buying up the most random and unique looking produce I can find at the Farmer's Market (produce so beautiful it almost seems like artwork I could never create/grow) and finding the simplest ways to enhance the flavors for my own consumption. That being said, I had to post this picture of a seriously incredibly heirloom tomato paired with a steam purple carrot over market greens, topped with flake salt (of course).

Next in the line-up, I have to give a shout to to Sizzle Pie. With nine vegan pizzas on the menu, I always assumed the owners and staff of this super hip pizza joint cared about animal issues, but I really had no idea how incredibly awesome and caring they were until I emailed them about an event that my group, the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, was putting on. I emailed them asking if we could potentially get a discount on purchasing a fairly large order of vegan pizzas from them and they almost immediately emailed me back and said they love supporting animal rights groups and would donate 12 pizzas, no problem. I mean, seriously! How awesome is the world we live in sometimes? It's that kind of generosity that makes you appreciate life a little bit more :) AND these pizzas are good. It is so nice to have such a variety of different vegan pizzas (not that they lasted long). How awesome, Sizzle Pie. If you are in the Portland area, go support them.

I've also been doing some vegan entertaining at my house which is always a total blast. Last weekend I had a potluck at my place for SALDF where I baked peanut butter cookies, made veggie gyoza, a spicy purple-cabbage slaw and put together a veggie tray. People showed up with a whole myriad of fresh fruits, veggies, hummus, salads and tons and tons of desserts. Plus lots of beer, wine, and good company. I love leading such a motivated, dynamic and compassionate group of people. Again, another one of those "so grateful" moments :)

Ignore the law school text books in the background :)
Speaking of wine and hummus. A couple girlfriends texted me last weekend and asked if I wanted to go out. I had literally been out with college friends all day (there was body paint and beer pong involved - yikes!) and so I suggested that they come over and bring wine and I would cook them dinner instead. It was beautiful - we all hung around in comfy clothes and talked and drank wine (they brought 4 bottles and we had 4 kinds of hummus - that's how I party) and had a super perfect evening. I made a kale and Beyond Meat chicken hash over sprouted brown rice and quinoa paired with roasted delicata squash and olive ciabatta bread from Pearl Bakery. They loved it - neither of them had eaten Beyond Meat before and it was fun cooking with it. Speaking of which, in other vegan news, Alton Brown wrote a review of Beyond Meat for Wired Science which is pretty badass. I like seeing stuff like Beyond Meat gaining popularity and edging its way a little bit more into mainstream society. 

So those are a few of the vegan things I'm loving lately. In general, I'm just trying really hard to stay balanced and appreciate the small things in life. When you work two jobs, go to school full time, run an awesome group and have a dog-child, life can feel overwhelming. But everyone has their battles and at the end of the day, the more we can appreciate the beauty in the world and follow the things that make us happy, the better of this planet of ours will be.

So that's it, lovers. Do what makes you happy. Surround yourself with people who contribute something to your life. Don't sweat the negatives and appreciate the positives. You only have one life so, as always, live long and prosper. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Savoring Summer

I cannot believe we are already into the first week of September!

Summer in Portland always seems to fly. I wait all year for this beautiful season and then it fades before I can even settle into it. On the bright-side, the fleeting nature of summer compels me maximize the incredible wealth of seasonal bounty that Oregon provides.

I don't think I've gone more than a meal or two without incorporating some kind of local or homegrown produce. From blueberries on my almond butter toast in the mornings to kale in my smoothies to huge salads made with fresh greens to spiralized zucchini and carrot pastas with fresh pesto and cherry tomatoes - I am literally in produce heaven. Makes me feel so fortunate to live in such an incredible community of farmers, growers and other locavore-foodies.

I was invited to some friends' house the other night and, with no real meal plan, we pillaged from their garden and used the goods in order to craft an extra-fresh dinner. We started with a melon-tomato gazpacho. And by "we" I mean my brilliant friend Kristina used the orange watermelon I brought over and vitamixed it with tomatoes, spices and magic to make this amazing cold soup.

I wish I had the recipe for you but I don't. She whipped it up so fast I barely even had a chance to ask what the general ingredients were, let alone take down the full recipe. 

But don't worry - while she was crafting her magic-soup, I was throwing together this bruschetta which is one of my go-to summer dished that always seems to be a crowd-pleaser

Backyard Bruschetta
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes or a pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 2 medium lemon cucumbers
  • 1 large handful of basil
  • White balsamic vinegar, to taste
  • High quality olive oil, to taste
  • High quality salt (like Jacobsen Salt), to taste
Chop tomatoes and cucumbers and combine in a medium sized bowl.

Chiffonade basil and toss with the veggies. 

Add olive oil, vinegar and salt and stir until combined. Continue to adjust until you get the right balance of acidity and smoothness.

Spoon on top of a toasted, locally baked baguette and enjoy.

In terms of the rest of our dinner, we simply picked veggies straight off the vine (tree, plant etc...), slathered them in various sauces and tossed them on the grill. Add a bottle of Rose' and it's difficult to imagine a more perfect summer night.


Another bounty-inspired summer meal that I made recently was this one of collard wraps and my take on a Catalonian Romesco sauce.

I adore greens in all forms, but there I especially love greens that can be used to make wraps. Between green wraps and spiralized-veggie noodles, I am getting more than my fair share of fresh summer vegetables. To make these wraps, I used Collars which I have found are the best in terms of shape and texture to make wraps out of. Any heartier green will work, however, so it's really up to you.

I stuffed these wraps with steamed sweet potato, black beans, pan fried padron peppers from Viridian Farms, spinach and carmelized onion. Like I said, though - you can put pretty much anything in them. Despite not being the prettiest or most photogenic topping, I spooned a romesco-type sauce over the top which I thought complimented the flavors of the wraps nicely :) I didn't use toasted or stale bread in my romesco as is traditionally done - I used roasted eggplant instead for a thicker texture. 

Collard Wraps(Serves 2)
  • 8-10 large collard green leaves
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2-3 sweet potatoes, chopped and steamed
  • 10-12 padron peppers, roughly chopped
  • Large bunch fresh spinach
  • 1 medium Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 large handful fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 large handful cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
Start by heating a tablespoon or so of coconut oil in a fry pan over medium heat. When the oil is heated, add the chopped padron peppers and pan fry until crispy (you can add more oil depending on the size of your pan). Remove the peppers from the pan and set aside.

Add the second tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan and bring up to medium heat. Add the chopped onion and begin to saute. After 5 or so minutes, add the balsamic vinegar and cotinue to caramelize for another 10-15 minutes. Add the black beans and steamed sweet potatoes and saute everything for another 3-5 minutes. Add spinach, fried peppers, fresh herbs and spices and saute until spinach is just wilted. Remove from heat immediately.

Next, fill up a large sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Chop the thickest part of the collard stems off. Using tongs, submerge an individual collard leaf in the water for 10-15 seconds or until pliable. Remove from water and set on a flat surface. Spoon filling into the center of the collard leaf and roll up like a burrito. Repeat until all leaves and filling are used up! 

Lightened-up Romesco
  •  1/4 cup raw hazelnuts (preferably from Freddy Guys)
  •  1 medium eggplant, roasted and skinned
  •  2-3 cloves of garlic, roasted
  •  1/2 red onion, roasted
  •  2 medium red peppers, roasted
  •  1 large heirloom tomato
  •  1-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (could also potentially use red wine)
  •  1 tsp red pepper flakes
  •  1 tsp smoked paprika
I roasted everything in my oven (the peppers I then broiled to scorch them to make it easier to remove the skin) but you could easily do it in the BBQ if you have that baby up and running. Once roasted, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until chunky and blended. If necessary, heat over the stove for a few minutes until warmed through.

Top collard wraps with sauce and enjoy! Pair with steamed broccoli and flake salt if it suits you.

In other news. I've also been baking pies. With blackberries from my back yard. I don't have a recipe for this guy either because I literally used what I found in a family friend's kitchen to make it. Hadn't made a pie in a while (let alone on a whim, without a recipe) but I will say it turned out pretty well. Add enough sugar and shortening to anything and it will turn out just dandy. Vegan, yes. Healthy? Not so much. But DELICIOUS.

Also sometimes I put wine on Wyatt's head. He loves to go wine tasting with us :)

What a trooper.

Live long and prosper, lovers. And enjoy the rest of this stunning summer.