All posts by Satelliterobot

An Imperial Feast

By Erin

Sorry for the dorky post title but I an in bit of a food coma. A food slash beer slash Cocoa Camino almond butter chocolate bar that I ill-advisedly bought when I popped into Herb and Spice afterwards for eye makeup remover coma.

You see, I have just come from my office Christmas party.

It was actually a bit of a nail-biter for me at first, since I suggested the restaurant. I picked the Imperial because I knew that, while it caters to a mostly omni crowd, it has at least one vegan entrée. I admit that I was mildly concerned that the food and/or service would stink and that the two dozen public servants with whom I work would react by blaming the vegan.

My fears were assuaged pretty quickly, however, as polite and efficient servers fed us alcohol. Those fears evaporated completely when our food arrived.

Neil and I had the Southwest Vegan Black Bean Burger. It was simply presented – Neil’s with fries and mine with salad. I know you’re already thinking that I probably ate his fries and yes I did and so what? I do apologise, however, for also sharing his fries with an adjacent female colleague who also ordered the salad in a moment of self-delusion. That was a bit much even for me.

Vegan Southwest Black Bean Burgers

And as it happens, the fries were the best part of the meal. Seriously – they were awesome. I will pause for a moment to remember their crispy fabulousness…

Now what…um, the salad dressing was really nice – some sort of Asian inspired concoction. Unfortunately, the salad itself was profoundly bitter – I only wound up eating a quarter of it.

The burger itself was only pretty good. It was a little on the mushy side. The bun was a tad crunchy (over-toasted, I think, rather than stale). Still, good enough to attract me back for a second go. Especially given just how totally charming the Imperial is, with its vintage posters advertising ultraviolent 70’s B-movies and the weird Ms. Pac Man sign above the bar.

Of course, I can’t speak to the omni options. I didn’t taste them and didn’t make inquiries of those who did – being somewhat disinclined to hear about how tender or nicely spiced the cows and pigs and fish were. Still, the general air of satisfaction that emanated from my colleagues suggests that The Imperial is a safe place to bring your omni pals.

So thumbs up to the Imperial. I should also note that they have a 3-option Sunday brunch and that one of said options is vegan. I’ve had it several times now and, as clichéd as it sounds, each time was better than the last. The vegan meal includes pancakes, beans baked in a tomato, toast and pan fried potatoes. Not cheap but, well, god hates a tightwad, doesn’t he?

Vegan Brunch

Another Awesome NCVA Potluck!

By Erin

Thanks to everyone who came out to tonight’s potluck and cookie exchange.

We got off to a bit of a slow start. The potluck officially began at 6:30, but by that time there were only about 10 people there. More slowly trickled in, however, and by 7 or so, I’d say we had a good 40 people.

Highlights of the evening? Hmmm….I got to try vegan mac and cheese for the first time. Well, the homemade stuff anyway. I made a boxed version once and Neil was so traumatized with revulsion that I’ve never attempted to make it again. Neil, of course, wouldn’t try it – even when I told him that Salad in a Steakhouse had made it (sorry, David, I started calling you that and now I can’t stop).

Neil’s faux steak and stout pie, of course, was a big hit. It’s even better now he’s making it with the Nelakee mushroom beef instead of the rather gelatinous PC fake beef strips.

Oh, and of course Pamela’s awesome curry was, well, awesome. It earned more than one delighted exclamation of “fake shrimp!”

There was a dramatic late run on the buffet table when it was discovered that late arrival Harpreet had clandestinely added some homemade potato pancakes to the buffet table. A big shout out to Harpreet for bringing something so awesome on her first time out, by the way!

On the weird side, the dessert table this time out was filled entirely with apples. Seriously, there were something like five separate bags of apples, and no other desserts.

Weird!

Well, there was also a bag of oranges and a couple of things that straddled the line between sweet dessert and savoury side dish, but mostly it was apples. Very weird how that can happen sometimes. At the September potluck, for example, it was all desserts. There were maybe two savoury dishes and the rest was cakes, cookies, pies…

That was pretty great actually.

Of course, it was quite providential that the dessert pickings were slim, since today was the day of the cookie exchange. We sold quite a few 6-cookie bags to our dessert deprived attendees.

Cookie Exchange

Who made that fabulous shortbread, by the way – these little squares with the fork holes?

World’s best shortbread

Because they may well be the most fabulous things I have ever eaten in my life.

Anyway, thanks again all. Hope to see you at the East Africa Meetup!

Vegan Cookies Take Over Jack Purcell Recreation Centre on December 11th!

Photo by Wenday 😀

By Erin

The NCVA has decided to host an impromptu vegan cookie exchange. It will be at the December potluck (Saturday, December 11 at 6:30pm).

Here’s the basic idea: You bring a batch of vegan cookies (at least 12). Then you get to take home 12 cookies that you mixed and matched from the batches other people brought. 12 cookies in, 12 cookies out, but now you have lots of different kinds instead of just one kind.

It’s a fun way to try out lots of different kinds of cookies and to get an instant cookie assortment to serve at holiday gatherings.

Some important details:

1) The cookie exchange is a totally separate thing from the potluck, so please don’t forget your potluck dish in your haze of cookie-induced excitement.

2) Each contributor gets to take home 12 assorted cookies, so must contribute a minimum of 12. If you can bring more, that’s great. If supplies allow, we’ll let non-contributors fill a bag with 6 cookies for a $2 donation to the NCVA. As a means of generating social pressure, I will note that I am bringing no fewer than one dozen each of 4 varieties of cookie. Bringing 12 cookies for the exchange and using the remainder as your potluck contribution will be noticed and commented upon derisively behind your back.

3) In addition to cookies, we welcome bite-sized vegan baked goods of any geometric shape (balls, bars, squares, etc.). Just be sure your offering can be transported in a paper bag without getting squished or oozing onto its neighbours.

4) I guess I don’t have to mention again that all contributions must be vegan, right?

5) Paper bags will be provided, but bring your own rigid container if you can. Better for the environment and the cookies.

So get your cookie on and come out to Jack Purcell this Saturday!

And while you’re in the Christmas spirit, don’t forget that the NCVA will have gift memberships available at the potluck, and “Eat Like You Give A Damn” t-shirts for the ethical eaters on your Christmas list.

Another Great Green Earth Meetup

By Erin:

For those of you who don’t know, we host a Meetup at Green Earth on the first Sunday of every month. By “we” I actually mean Vaalea (from Ireland). But since Neil and I bring an NCVA sign, the NCVA gets the credit and Neil and I get endless accolades (well, mostly from Greg) for our tireless organizing.

Anyway, we had another one today. It was the usual fare. Brown and white rice (which I don’t touch), a couple of salads (which I hear are good but which I also don’t bother with), and about eighty pounds of fake meat at varying levels of fried-ness. This stuff and those heavenly little squares of cheesecake are where I focus my attention.

It was a complete madhouse in there today – Very few empty tables and at least one other large group. A bit loud, but I was so pleased to see Green Earth doing such cracking business despite its unfortunate eschewal of alcohol. Plus the proprietors kept the food coming fast and furious so we certainly didn’t suffer from the business.

There were many familiar faces, including local celebrities Joe Vegan and Alex the Carrot. Several lovely first-timers as well, who I hope to see at our next potluck.

Anyway, just a note to thank those who came out and to encourage those who didn’t to try to make the next one…East Africa Restaurant on Sunday December 19th at noon. The fake waterfalls alone are worth the trip!

Unscrambling the Mystery of the Perfect Tofu Scramble

I have eaten many tofu scrambles in my life. From Sadie’s Diner in Toronto, Joseph’s in Woodstock, New York, Veg Out in London, Café My House here in Ottawa, The Cornerstone in Guelph….

Ingredient-wise, they are all pretty much the same. A bit of oil for frying, various kinds of veggies, tofu, tumeric to make it yellow. And yet, they range in palatability from divine to vomitous.

Successful tofu scrambling, you see, is all in the technique. I am going to share it with you all today so that you can a) create your own marvellous vegan scrambles at home and b) share the info with those foolish restaurants that continue to charge for the masses of tasteless slop they have the nerve to call tofu scramble.

So here’s your ingredient list:

1. 1 block of extra firm tofu. Not lite, not “silken.”
2. ¼ cup olive oil (or less if you’re all skinny and boring)
3. 2 large onions, diced
4. ¼ cup diced celery
5. ½ cup carrot matchsticks
6. ½ cup red pepper matchsticks
7. ¼ cup sliced mushrooms
8. 1 cup canned or fresh diced tomatoes
9. 1 bouillon cube (a crumbly one)
10. 1 tsp tumeric (optional, for colour)
11. ½ cup crumbled faux sausage or ham (slices of Yves breakfast links or tufurky sausages work too)
12. salt and pepper to taste

Now, this is the veggie mix I like….you can really use whatever you want. Though if you don’t use the tomatoes, you might want to throw in a tsp of vinegar for the acidity.

Now the important part: technique.

1. Cook onions in oil on medium heat until soft and carmelized, about 15 minutes.
2. Add veggies and stirfry on medium-high heat for a 3-4 minutes until just beginning to soften (you may want to add the harder veggies like carrots first and the softer ones a couple minutes later)
3. Add crumbled tofu (not diced – diced won’t absorb the flavours), crumbled bouillon cube, faux sausage and tumeric. Cook on medium high using the “smash and scrape” technique. You scrape the browning stuff of the bottom of the pan, and smoosh it into the scramble…Repeat this for 3-5 minutes until the scramble is pretty dry. This is really the key part – incorporating the yummy scortchy stuff from the bottom of the pan and evaporating the flavour-killing liquid from the veggies and tofu.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Might as well throw on some Daiya too, while you’re at it.

A side note – if you leave out the faux sausage and replace the tomatoes with salsa, you can make pretty darn good faux huevos rancheros…just serve wrap the scramble in a tortilla and serve with avocadoes, salsa and vegan sour cream.

So there you are…happy scrambling to all!

Tales of Cake and Frosting

By Erin

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but the NCVA is developing a restaurant outreach program whereby we try to encourage and teach local omni restaurants to be more vegan friendly.

As part of our restaurant outreach package, I wanted to include a really easy and delicious dessert recipe since, even at the veg-friendliest restaurants, vegan desserts are rare.

I settled on chocolate cake since there are so many great vegan ones out there. Specifically, I opted for one of the recipes that helped Chloe Coscarelli win on the Food Networks “Cupcake Wars.”

Check out an article on her win at http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/tasty-vegan-food-cupcakes-show-it-can-be-done/.

She was also interviewed recently on “Animal Voices” a Toronto-based radio show. Check that out at: http://animalvoices.ca/2010/10/05/vegan-fitness-nutrition-ultramarathoner-brendan-brazier-dr-occhipinti-chef-chloe-coscarelli/

Anyway, I’d already tweaked the recipe a bit…a little less sugar, instant coffee because I never have espresso powder…but now I wanted to do a test run with the recipe as a two-layer cake. No big changes required, just needed to find the right baking time. Looking at other layer cake recipes, 350 for somewhere between 28 and 36 minutes seemed the norm.

I figured since this was an experimental cake, I’d run another experiment while verifying the bake time. Have you ever noticed how adamant vegan bakers are about not overmixing cake batter? Apparently it leads to tough cakes, fallen cakes, cakes that don’t rise at all, and various other types of badness.

But if that’s the case, why do all boxed cake mix instructions tell you to beat the hell out of their batter for two minutes?

I don’t get it.

So I decided to put it to the test. Layer number one was “mixed lightly until just incorporated” while layer number two was beaten violently à la a boxed mix.

I baked layer number one for 33 minutes. It fell a little bit, making me think I should do layer number two for 35 minutes. Which I did, and, when it came out of the oven, I honestly thought that it was the winner. It was big and poofy and had a smooth, glossy surface. I envisioned myself calling out all the know-it-all vegan chefs and telling them to stick their light incorporation and accept that fact that, evil omni or not, Duncan Hines has been doing cakes since they were in short pants so if he says beat, dammit, beat!

But then layer number two deflated. Here’s a shot of the two layers side by side. The one on the left is the beaten one. Quite the difference in looks!

Now on to the icing.

I recently found a recipe for great fluffy vegan icing. Turns out the secret is a pound of fat. Ever notice how often the secret ingredient is a pound of fat?

That recipe is below:

4 cups confectioners’ sugar (Wholesome Sweeteners does one using unrefined sugar, for a mere thousand dollars a bag)
½ cup Earth Balance buttery spread
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat until fluffy (about 5-7 minutes). For a chocolate version, add ½ cup of cocoa.

I was planning to go with that recipe. But then I discovered Mimicreme Healthy Top whipped topping. While this stuff is healthy only in comparison to sucking on the tailpipe of an idling car, it is very delicious. Plus, it boasts a level of fluffiness that simply cannot be achieved using traditional ingredients.

So I decided to try mixing some sugar, coffee and cocoa into the Mimicreme to create a fluffy mocha icing.

I began by pulverizing some sugar and instant coffee in my partner’s coffee grinder (I’m sure he didn’t mind), then tossed that and a few tablespoons of cocoa into the unmixed Mimicreme. The stuff looks terrifying just out of the box, by the way. Remember when Tyler Durden retrieved the bag of fat from the liposuction clinic dumpster? Like that, only square.

Then I whipped and beheld the miracle that I had created.

The stuff was yummy, but seriously weird. First, even though I’d added a good half cup of dry ingredients to the cream, it was runnier than the stuff I’d made on a previous occasion with no additives. How does that work?

Second, it was neither liquid not solid. I actually put it in the fridge before putting it on the cake, hoping it would firm up a bit. When it hadn’t changed much after half an hour, I decided to go ahead. I dumped it all on top of the cake, then began spreading it carefully over the edges. I fully expected it to pour over, making unappealing puddles around the base of the cake.

But it didn’t. The semi-liquid cream sort of clung to the sides of the cake. I was amazed! Then I decided to tempt fate by trying to smooth out the clinging cream. No way was I getting away with this, I thought. It’ll peel away from the sides of the cake, or start running down, or something.

Nope. It was amazingly malleable. I spread, I swirled, I smoothed, and the modified Mimicreme just sort of went with it. It was kind of like the bowling ball mattress – touching any given bit of icing only moved that bit – the stuff around it stayed put.

Very weird.

Anyway, here are a couple of pics of the finished cake, with and without espresso chocolate shavings. I’ve got a couple of taste testers coming by later to see if hey can tell the difference between layers one and two.

Oh, and here is the final cake recipe:

3 cups flour
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp salt
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup vegetable oil
4 tbsp vinegar
4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp instant coffee

Preheat oven to 350
Line the bottoms of 2 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper

Mix wet ingredients
Mix dry ingredients
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and “mix lightly until just incorporated”

Divide batter between cake pans and spread it around (it’s a thick batter)

Bake for 32-35 minutes.

The additions to the Mimicreme were 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp instant coffee and 4 tbsp cocoa.

The Goods on Green Earth

By Erin

I suspect that a lot of Ottawa vegans have already tried Green Earth. I’ve decided to review it anyway, however, each time I try a new item. I figure this might be helpful since their menu is so large that it’s certain there are things on it that even frequent visitors haven’t tried.

A few general comments. First, I’ve just got to say that the food is damn good. I haven’t had a bad or even mediocre meal there yet. Second, all-you-can-eat-buffet Green Earth and order-off-the-menu Green Earth are almost like two different restaurants. The latter is dominated by an almost obscene profusion of fake meat that will have you floating home like a buoyant ball of wheat protein on a sea of sodium. Deserving of a shouted “Nom!” followed by a week of only raw kale.

The regular menu is quite a different story. Once I, a veteran of the glutton’s utopia that is the buffet, got over the shock and disappointment of the sensible portion sizes, I was very impressed by its diversity. It not only combines east Asian and Indian, but offers a number of Italian and several Mexican dishes as well.

Last Thursday, my partner and I got the “Harmonic Veggie Delite,” which is your standard combo of fake meat and veggies in an east Asian-type sauce. It was very good though the portion was, as I mentioned, of an annoyingly sensible size. We also got “Conchiglie Ripiene,” which is large pasta shells stuffed with a ricotta-type mixture and served with marinara sauce. Green Earth often serves a very delicious lasagna at their buffet, so I had pretty high hopes for the stuffed shells. Upon reflection, I suppose it might strike me as disappointing that I didn’t actually try anything new, since the shells really turned out to be the lasagna, differently shaped. But then the bloody things were just so good, how can one really complain? The faux ricotta had no tofu-y aftertaste and their marinara is rich and flavourful (and plentiful! God loves those who are not cheap with sauce).

We also had an order of “Paradise Sushi” to start. I’m incensed by the obscene markup on sushi and since the stuff we make at home has it all over most restaurants, I rarely have it when I go out. On the rare occasions when I do have restaurant sushi, I tend to critique it pretty harshly. I will grudgingly admit that Green Earth’s sushi is good…and since it’s a small, inexpensive appetizer, my anti-markup madness doesn’t get too out of hand. If I want to be picky, I’ll note that the pieces are a bit too large for a single mouthful…that’s a problem for sushi since it’s pretty much impossible to bite a piece in half without spilling the innards all over yourself.

We ended our meal with the chocolate cheesecake. Now I must say, I have had many a gross vegan chocolate cheesecake in my time. Grainy, beany, soupy, I have tried them all. But I honestly defy even the most seasoned cheesecake connoisseur to distinguish Green Earth’s chocolate cheesecake from a regular dairy cheesecake. It is dense and chocolately, with that amazing tang for which cheesecake is known. As good as it was, though, I’ll try the almond chocolate cake next time. Two our our supper-mates got it and it looked amazing. All chocolate layers and fluffy mocha frosting – mocha looking anyway, as I gazed longingly at it from afar.

So another marvelous meal at Green Earth – and all for $28, I should add. Needless to say, if you haven’t been, go. Until next time (when I think I’ll try one of the Mexican dishes), happy vegan eating.