Friday, May 28, 2010

Vegan Adventures in Montreal - Part Three: Crudessence



While Chuchai and Aux Vivres were amazing, the restaurant called Crudessence on Rachel Street in Montreal holds a special place in my heart, because it is there that I realized the power of raw/living cuisine.

I've noted my apprehension toward raw vegetables in the past, regardless of my firm belief that a diet consisting mostly of that which is considered "living" is optimal for health and longevity.

When I first went vegan I was pretty ignorant with regard to the raw lifestyle. I pictured a whole lot of salads and handfuls of nuts. I never dreamed that such things as pizza, hamburgers and pasta were within the raw realm. Creeping around the interwebs made me quickly aware of how misguided I was, yet I was still nervous to try my hand at preparing it myself.

Lucky for me, in Montreal I had the opportunity to have someone prepare it for me.

While we were having dinner at Chuchai the woman at the table over got wind that we were from out of town, so she recommended that we try Crudessence. We weren't sure we would get the opportunity to head out that way, but after several people confirmed that it was one of the best eateries in Montreal (and vegan and raw), we knew we would regret missing it.

We started off with smoothies (it feels like we had a million smoothies this past weekend):



I went for the Loco-Local (elderberry, strawbery, raspberry, apple and maple syrup) and Paul tried La Gallant (cacao, strawberry, raspberry, banana and hemp milk).


For the main course I gave the cheese pizza plate a try:



The "cheese" is made of a mixture of cashew and macademia nuts and the pizza is topped with capers, black olives and crumesean. The "crumesean" is made of brazil nuts. It's served with two sides: a zucchini ribbon pasta with a delicious tomato sauce topping and a caesar-esque salad.


Paul got the Om burger plate:



The burger itself is made of mushrooms, flax, sundried tomatoes and a host of other veggies topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, onion and healthy doses of homemade ketchup and mustard. It also has their famous caper aoili as a topping.


We were completely blown away by Crudessence. Like I said, we were pretty ignorant about the raw lifestyle and had previously never had the opportunity to interact with it. We really had no idea what to expect, but we loved everything! If we have to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be the Om burger - look at it, it's amazing!



I was stuffed beyond all belief by the time I was done eating, but I couldn't resist trying a raw dessert. And they had my all time favourite cake variety available - living carrot cake!



It goes without saying that Crudessence gets the This is Vegan: Seal of Approval along with the other two restos we tried. They are not only fabulous eateries, but those working behind the counter are tireless crusaders for all that is vegan and ethical. Their vested interest in that which is organic, local and animal-free is truly inspiring, check out the values section of their website for more info, and if you're in the Montreal area, make your way to Rachel Street to try this incredibly innovative restaurant. You won't be disappointed.

I just wish I lived closer so that I could participate in one of the "uncooking" classes that they offer!

Crudessence
105 Rachel W Street
Montreal, Quebec
H2W 1G4
(514) 510-9299


We had the opportunity to try three vegan-friendly restaurants while in Quebec and not one of them disappointed us. Because I don't often get the opportunity to interact with vegans in an all-vegan environment here at home, it was a truly invigourating experience to see the cause so alive and well out there in the world.

Thanks, Montreal!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Vegan Adventures in Montreal - Part Two: Aux Vivres



We went out for a drink or two (or six) in old Montreal on Saturday night so we woke up a smidge hungover. Everyone knows that the cure to a hangover is a hefty breakfast - just ask the busy waitresses hustling and bustling around diners every Sunday morning.

The thing is, when you're vegan, it's not really a matter of falling out of bed and finding whichever diner is closest. It may not be a matter of finding a restaurant at all, as vegan breakfasts are not exactly a mainstream specialty. It's instead usually a matter of waiting until noon, when restaurants start serving lunch meals in conjunction with all day breakfasts. Then and only then you may be able to sneak by with a plate of fries while dreaming about tofu scrambles and fak'n bacon.

The cool thing about being hungover in Montreal is that a vegan breakfast/brunch is not just some vodka-cranberry induced dream - it is reality on Saturday and Sunday mornings!

When our eyes opened on Sunday morning and our bodies were a bit reluctant to move, what got us out of bed was the prospect of vegan brunch at Aux Vivres.



We started off with a couple of smoothies: Tropicalia is on the left and Le Creamsicle is on the right


And then came the food.



This is the Le Complet meal - tofu scramble, tempeh bacon, jalapeno cornbread, sweet potato, fresh fruit and a wonderful salad of carrots, lettuce and beets in a creamy dressing.


I still can't believe I was able to eat a real breakfast (i.e. not just a fruit cup) in a restaurant. That hasn't happened to me in well over three years. It was all so delicious, but the cornbread really stood out as the best part of the meal.

Paul followed Le Complet up with another brunch item:



Gaufre Dorees (golden waffles)! Two organic waffles topped with cashew cream, fruit and an organic maple syrup.


I decided to order off the dessert menu:



gateau fauxmage (uncheesecake!)


We were so impressed with Aux Vivres that we returned for a second meal, on our last day in Montreal.



I got the all dressed tempeh burger plate (tempeh burger with caramelized onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickle and chipotle mayo along with sides of creamy coleslaw and potato wedges with chipotle ketchup).




Paul got chili fries (roasted potatoes topped with house chili and sour cream) and



The Aux Vivres BLT made famous via the blogosphere - the "B" is actually coconut! I have no idea how they manage to make coconut taste like bacon but they do and it's positively incredible.


We loved absolutely everything we tried at Aux Vivres and the staff were among the friendliest people we encountered in Montreal. If we had to pick a favourite, the "WIN" goes to the B.L.T. It has to be - the bacon is freaking coconut! How does that even happen!

It goes without saying that this restaurant gets the This is Vegan: Seal of Approval. I almost need to invent something even higher than the Seal to give to Aux Vivres. It is the best food I've had in a restaurant in a long, long time.

Aux Vivres
4631 boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec, Canada
(514) 842-3479

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vegan Adventures in Montreal - Part One: Chuchai/Chuch Express



This past weekend we made the six hour trek east to Montreal, Quebec. It was a long weekend and Paul's birthday, and neither of us had ever been before. We grabbed some friends and headed up for a few days of drinks on patios, sightseeing and eating. Oh, the eating.

Montreal is a vegan paradise. I say this, because the city in which I live is not. Veg businesses tend to struggle under the weight of roadhouses and fast food restaurants around these parts.

Montreal does pose some issues for vegans. Most of the mainstream restos and gathering spots we encountered had nothing vegan-friendly, aside from the odd salad. My typical go-to of french fries was even off limits at several places because they could not guarantee that they were beef tallow-free. It could have just been the places we attempted, of course. To be honest I'm not great with navigating cities I've never been to (or cities I have been to, for that matter) and my French is positively abysmal. So, it is highly likely that I just didn't know what the hell I was asking for. Although, some kind locals that I met on the patio at Chuchai taught me to say "Je suis végétalienne" ("I am vegan") and that helped for the remainder of our visit.

Montreal makes up for the questionable state of their mainstream french fries by offering up several all-veg, all-the-time options that have resulted in the greatest meals I have ever had in my life. Because of this, I grant the city Vegan-Friendly status (and subsequently the This is Vegan: Seal of Approval).

We arrived late Saturday afternoon, positively famished after having eaten nothing more than a tofurky sandwich on the side of the road somewhere in Gananoque. We checked in to our hotel quickly, freshened up a bit and walked on over to Chuchai on Saint-Denis. After The Busy (Happy!) Vegan's post about this restaurant, I knew it had to be on the list for must-sees on our trip.

The restaurant features the fancier Chuchai next door to Chuch Express, which has the same menu but is a bit more informal and you're allowed to bring your own wine (apparently it is the mother ship calling me home). We had intended to dine at Chuchai but got confused once we got there and ended up on the Chuch patio, which in the end was more than fine with us.

The menu was divided according to main features: "chicken", "duck", "beef", etc. It was kind of a trip, to be honest - we may have panicked a little and thought we were in the wrong restaurant for a minute. But alas, we were comforted by the gentleman behind us telling stories about his vegan travel adventures and knew we were safe.

We implemented our restaurant trial rule of thumb: we each order an appetizer and a meal. They must be four different items and we must share them with each other regardless of how good they may be. Then we have a little taste-test competition to determine who made the best choice.

Unfortunately, Chuchai doesn't have an online menu and I didn't think ahead to write down what exactly we ordered, so bear with my descriptions.

ROUND ONE: APPETIZERS


I ordered what turned out to be delicious samosa-style bites, stuffed with potatoes, veggies and yellow curry:



Paul ordered these spicy fried mushrooms with basil:



And the Round One Winner is..................
Paul, with his deep-fried mushroom selection


So, I basically thought he was nuts when he selected this app. I was kind of disappointed too because I generally hate mushrooms, unless they are chopped into the tiniest little bits and I can't actually taste them. I don't know what they did to these particular mushrooms because they were not only the better of the two apps, they were probably one of the best things we've eaten. Ever. Not that there was anything wrong with the samosas, they were positively incredible, but these mushrooms were so delicious that I am still salivating over them.

ROUND TWO: MAINS


I ordered one of Chuchai's "chicken" dishes. I have no idea what the base of the "meat" was. I am leaning toward seitan, just based on the texture, but I can't be certain that it wasn't a soy-based product. Perhaps a Montrealer can help me out. Regardless of what it was, it was vegan and full of flavour, tossed together with pineapples, cashews and crunchy vegetables in a sweet sauce:




Paul ordered a "duck" dish - red curry duck with vegetables, to be exact. They got the texture right on (we are positive this one was a grain meat), and the creamy coconut flavour of the sauce was amazing:



And the Round Two Winner is..................
Mary, with her "chicken" selection


This was an extremely tough call. We love them both and would order them both again in a heartbeat. We gave the win to the "chicken" dish just because the contrast between the spongey "chicken", the sweet pineapple and the crunchy cashews made for a really unique taste experience. I'm the one who implemented the "must share" rule, but I definitely ate quicker than normal and in the end probably got more of it. It was just too good.

Dinner was a bit pricey. It came to $65.00 for all the food pictured above (not including tip), but we didn't mind because we never get to indulge like that around here. And indulge we did - the 1.5 mile hike back to the hotel was a bit painful on that kind of a full stomach. Paul definitely had to lay down for a bit before heading out for drinks with our friends:



Chuchai/Chuch Express
4092, rue Saint-Denis
Montreal, QC H2W 2M5
(514) 843-4194

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fusili with Artichoke Hearts in a Yellow Pepper Rouille



I love really bright colours.

I may take it too far, sometimes. I got hot pink bed sheets for one of our spare beds, even though no one ever uses it, just because they made my heart happy. If I ever have a child, boy or girl, that nursery is going to be painted lime green. My lucky socks are rainbow-striped. My kitchen is an alarming shade of yellow and the living room that is connected to it is orange (after we finished painting Paul announced that looking at the kitchen was "like staring directly into the sun").

Maybe it's all in my head, but there is something psychologically liberating about being surrounded by vibrancy. Come on - it's hard to be in a bad mood while staring directly into the sun.

Knowing this about me and seeing the picture posted above, it's not too difficult to understand why I absolutely loved this pasta dish. It tasted great, don't get me wrong, but it's the gorgeous yellow of that rouille that drew me in.

To be honest, I don't really know what a rouille is. Wikipedia says it is a French sauce that consists of olive oil, breadcrumbs and chili peppers. Robin Robertson, the author of Vegan Planet (the book where you can find this recipe) notes that it's often a roasted red pepper rouille that accompanies pasta. However, her use of yellow peppers that are sauteed on the stove rather than roasted lend a more subtle and light taste to this pasta. And she includes the ingredient that makes all pastas great - artichoke hearts. It's the perfect summertime pasta dish.

And speaking of summertime, I have discovered a new treat for the upcoming heatwaves that I have subsequently given the This is Vegan: Seal of Approval:



Coconut milk popsicles that are quite reminiscent of the Popsicle Pete popsicles I devoured as a kid (remember saving the sticks/collecting popsicle pete points and sending away for a prize?!).


Unlike Pete's creations, these are 100% cruelty-free, vegan, organic, soy-free, gluten-free and made with fair-trade cocoa. Check out the Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss website for more information. They are a bit pricy - I picked up a box of four popsicles for $6.00 but they are so good and are guaranteed vegan, plus you can slurp away without worrying about the wages paid to workers during the production process. They are a special treat and not a daily consumption item, so go ahead and splurge a little now and again.

Not going to lie, we already ate all four and it was only yesterday that we bought the box. What is better than eating a chocolately popsicle in your pajamas?



Luckily I am surprisingly more cheap than I am gluttonous, so I did show some restraint with regard to buying a second box. Ooh and look, you can catch a glimpse of one of my crazy yellow walls!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mock Boxed Cake Mix



My beloved husband is celebrating a birthday this week. Since we have other things going in the coming days, I threw a little party for him on Saturday night. Nothing fancy, just a few of our favourite people, a considerable amount of alcohol and our unfinished basement (where I can be sure nothing will get ruined).

Paul is not a fancy guy. Particularly when it comes to food. His all-time favourite cake is boxed Betty Crocker yellow cake mix with chocolate icing. This was great in pregan days, because I was a horrible baker and the opportunity for screw-ups is greatly minimized when the cake comes in a box.

(Note that I said minimized and not eliminated. I did screw it up more than once. Actually, I can't remember a time that it wasn't completely mangled, or burnt on the bottom, or a gooey mess on the inside.)

I've never actually read the box to see if it is vegan-friendly so I can't guarantee that it's not, but odds are that "modified milk ingredients" are somewhere on that list. Even if, by some miracle, it was vegan-friendly, I'd imagine there's some pretty funky chemicals and preservatives strewn about within that box that make baking the cake from scratch all the more appealing.

I was kind of nervous about embarking on this adventure, because it is his favourite kind of cake and I am not the greatest baker to begin with, let alone in situations where I am trying to copycat something without using any of the same ingredients.

I recruited my copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I made a double batch of golden vanilla cupcakes and split the batter between two 9" spring form pans. Isa's secret to making really golden vanilla cupcakes is sprinkling turmeric into very warm soy milk and allowing it to boil until the milk turns a lovely shade of yellow. While I don't see this as necessary when making golden vanilla cupcakes just for the sake of making golden vanilla cupcakes, I was trying to mimic Betty's lovely yellow hue and the turmeric definitely did the trick.

I baked them at 350F as per usual, but it took about double the time to bake (approximately 40 minutes until a knife came out of the centre clean). I topped it off with chocolate buttercream frosting and then made a half batch of vanilla buttercream, just so I could do a little writing on the cake.



As you can tell by the above pictures, the cake was an eyesore. There is not a creative bone in my body and when it comes to artistic endeavours I have the patience of a five-year-old. The good news is that it tasted really, really good and the birthday boy was very pleased with it.



[As an aside, does anyone know where I can get soy-based birthday candles like the numbered ones pictured above? They are paraffin so technically they are vegan-friendly in the traditional sense of the term, but I would hardly consider anything petrol-based vegan-appropriate, particularly in light of all of the animals massacred in the Gulf oil spill.]


So, it was a good night. Although I did learn one thing on Saturday: leave mixology to the professionals. We decided to try our hand at inventing drinks and ended up something we affectionately named "battery acid", because it was the only term we could think of to describe its flavour (and appearance).

Other than the horrible gut rot on Sunday morning, it was a good night.



Some of the girls (I'm on the far left)



Some of the boys



And this is a picture of Celebration dip, which I have posted about before, just because I wanted to show you the cute hot pepper dish my mom got for me in Florida.


P.S. I have no idea why pictures on old blog posts are not showing up. I'm inclined to blame Photobucket. Please sit tight, hopefully the technical glitch will be resolved shortly.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sesame Bok Choy and Carrot Stir-Fry



I can be a bit of a Picky Mickey when it comes to eating my leafy greens. Maturity is not one of my strong suits and I admit, I have been known to wrinkle my nose up at plates of steamed greens. But they are so good for you that it's pretty much irresponsible to not eat them at least a couple of times a week. As such, I've been slowly but surely learning to love my greens.

Leafy greens are an integral part of any diet because they are so high in calcium.

The majority of us were raised to believe that the only way to achieve strong bones for life was to consume cow's milk. I honestly thought cow's milk was the only way to get any sort of calcium, even up to a few years ago (my, how the school system has failed me).

Even as the public slowly but surely gets wise to this scam, the dairy industry continually threatens us and makes us second-guess what we know to be true - cow's milk and dairy are simply not necessary components of the human diet and calcium from vegetable sources is more easily absorbed by the human body than that which comes from animal sources. The amount of calcium you take in is far less important than the amount your body absorbs. Meaning you get more calcium-bang for your buck when you consume a vegetable-based source of it than that stinky old block of cheese (not to mention you're not getting the same daily dose of pus, antibiotics and negative energy that comes from the abuse and exploitation of millions of dairy cows in an effort to get that cheese to your table for less and less money). Further, it's pretty much common knowledge these days that Vitamin D is the magic bullet in bone density - not calcium (because it too aids in the absorption of the calcium that you do take in).

I've always been a straight-to-the-source kind of girl. While our culture assumes a permanent reliance on cow's milk and dairy products for calcium, I like to call attention to my favourite of the herbivorous creatures - that beautiful cow that we steal milk from. Where does she get her calcium? The answer - greens (although in these days of factory farms she is lucky if she gets fed anything green).

What makes the human race so special (arrogant?) that we think we need to take something from another animal to get what the earth freely provides us with? It really is baffling, when you stop and think about it. I'm not going to lie, it tends to keep me up at night.

I could go on for days, but I will leave that to the professionals who actually have the credentials necessary to report on this kind of thing.

I did have a point here, although it is escaping me now. So let's just tone down the controversial ranting and return to what we all agree on - deliciousness.

The recipe for this stir fry comes from the Calciyum cookbook. Bok choy is the star of the recipe, as a whopping 5 cups goes into the dish (pretty much the whole bunch you get at the supermarket). There is 140mg of calcium per one cup of bok choy, plus I served it over quinoa (rather than rice), which has a decent level of calcium as well (about 80mg per cup, not to mention the ridiculous amount of non-animal protein you are getting). I also sprinkled about two tablespoons worth of sesame seeds at the very end (an incredible 160mg of calcium).

Delicious support for your bones and body that doesn't rely on the mistreatment of animals. With more meals like this and continuous diligent research, we'll debunk the vegan = frail myth in no time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Snobby Joes



I'm always so stoked when I find not only a vegan-friendly alternative to a traditional omni favourite, but an isolated-soy-free-vegan-friendly alternative to a traditional omni favourite (what a mouthful).

Generally speaking, meals that feature isolated soy typically do the best job of mimicking non-vegan flavours and textures. Obviously - otherwise no one would bother including such a highly processed item in the typically healthy-oriented vegan foodstuff repertoire.

The further I get from my omnivorous days, the less I care about taste and texture accuracy. When I first went vegan I was pretty much obsessed with creating vegan alternatives to my favourite omni foods, fretting over the thought of living without a certain something for the rest of my life. My desperation ceased quickly, however, because within weeks I recognized that the vegan of the 2000s did not have to live without anything - believe it or not, they even have vegan-friendly faux foie gras these days.

However, the more time I spent as a vegan the more new things I tried, and suddenly all of my "pregan" favourites (the standard North American faire - cheese pizzas, hamburgers and fries, wings) began taking a backseat to my newfound love of curries, grilled eggplants and seitan wingz. There was no more concern about living without (if anything, I was concerned about how many perfectly good mealtimes I wasted on cheeseburgers). As the days/months/years went on there were less and less veggie burgers and mock chicken breasts in my refrigerator. Nowadays it takes some sort of time management emergency or strange craving to get me to head down the vegan convenience aisle at all.

That being said, I still like making vegan versions of down-home style North American favourites. Just as a reminder that I'm not really sacrificing anything and also as a sign to the omnivorous majority that veganism is easier than it is assumed to be.

Sloppy Joes fall in this down-home category. I've been known to make them with TVP (textured vegetable protein aka isolated soy protein) now and again. The TVP gives them that hamburger (ground beef) texture that sloppy joes are famous for, so they get points in that department. However, making them with lentils instead gives the added bonus of being a little easier on your insides.

The recipe for these comes from Veganomicon. They are called Snobby Joes because they know they are better than both meat-based sloppy joes AND TVP-based sloppy joes.

If I was that awesome I would also be that snobby.

Of course the same "meaty" texture isn't there (which is a bonus for me, since I am weirded out by anything that is too meat-like) but that just means that they taste lighter and more flavourful. To me, anyway.

Although not the exact same recipe that I used to make the open-faced style Snobby Joes pictured above, Vegan Dad recently posted his own version of lentil-based sloppy joes that you might want to try your hand at.

There is, however, one particular vegan convenience item I am dying to try (that is actually isolated soy free) - Daiya, a vegan cheese alternative. I've never been big on vegan cheeses, preferring to go without, but the feedback on Daiya has just been so phenomenal that there's no way I can pass up a sample. So if anyone out there works for Daiya, please find your way to a supplier in the Kitchener-Waterloo area!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sweets and Treats (and Peanut Butter)



Boy-o-boy, when I fall off the wagon, I sure make it count. After breaking my No Peanut Butter for Two Months pact to make this pasta dish last week I found myself staring longingly at the PB jar for days afterward. It is for this reason that I'm an all-or-nothing kind of gal when it comes to food stuffs. There is no halfway veganism for me. There is no "cheating". For me, all cheating would do is make it all that much more difficult to re-commit at a later date (the first few weeks off of something are always the worst - why on earth put yourself through that again and again?!).

Anyway, I had to do some baking for various events. I also had to get the remaining peanut butter out of the house for the sake of my sanity (and these god forsaken five pounds I am trying to drop), so it was the perfect opportunity to whip out Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and experiment a bit. Meaning I could sample one or two of my creations and pawn the rest off on my friends. Win-win.

Pictured above are Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows (page 147 of VCIYCJ), which I brought to a BBQ this past Saturday. They were really tasty (especially when nuked in the microwave for 10 seconds or so prior to eating), but the best part was sampling the peanut butter batter (obviously).



Also from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (page 129), I made these peanut butter blondies for a games night at a friend's place last weekend. Equally delicious (the blondies and the batter). About four hours after I finished baking them a lightbulb went off in my head and I realized they are called "blondies" because they are essentially light-coloured BROWNies. Um...duh?

I just wanted to call that fact to the attention of anyone who, like me, thought it was a EUREKA moment and then was stared at blankly by the other people in the room after announcing it. No one ever said I was the sharpest tool in the shed.



And while this is not peanut butter based (thank God), it still qualifies for the Sweets and Treats category - here is a picture of the walnut bread my grandma made me a couple weeks ago:

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