Monday, April 30, 2012

The Hogtown Vegan, Toronto

This past Saturday, Paul and I made the pilgrimage to The Hogtown Vegan in Toronto. The restaurant is just a little over an hour away from our front door, so it shouldn't have taken us as long as it did to make the trek out and try some of their famous diner-style vegan grub. But, we do have a special needs dog at home and leaving her for extended periods of time is something we don't like to do. As such, our visit kept getting postponed.

All of our Toronto dining is done in the company of my vegan cousins, one of which is moving overseas next month, so we wanted to make sure our first Hogtown visit happened while she was still here. We made sure the pup was okay for a couple hours and headed to Toronto on the only free weekend we've had in months.

Located at 834 Bloor Street West, The Hogtown Vegan is Toronto's answer to the traditional "down home" comfort food diner, with the added twist of completely animal-free food. We visited a similar establishment called Doomie's in Los Angeles last year and have been dying for something like it closer to home.

I love how many vegan-friendly restaurants have been popping up in southwestern Ontario in the last few years. I get so giddy every time I hear about a new one. The more the merrier, I say. They're serving up their wheatgrass shots and collard wraps and tempeh sandwiches and we love them so very much. But what's missing from the landscape is an army of greasy spoon-esque establishments that cater to those of us vegans who love a little junk food now and again.

Hogtown is one such place. A place to stay vegan but indulge in a bit of that brown, fried, homestyle cooking that you grew up on.

Driving from Kitchener to Toronto takes about an hour, which means that we had about an hour to establish a game plan for Hogtown. What we were going to do. What ordering mistakes we didn't want to make. We don't get out to the city much, people. This is serious business. When we were planning our Montreal and L.A. trips in years past we would literally spend hours pouring over menus weeks before our trips were even set to begin. We like to eat and we take vegan dining very, very seriously.

Luckily, our party was down for sampling a couple appetizers as a group, so even though I scrapped appetizers so I could "save room" for the main course, I got to try a couple anyway!

We started with the Mac'N'Cheese.

From the menu: Best vegan mac'n'cheese ever, baked and topped with breadcrumbs.

You can't go wrong with mac'n'cheese. Ever. The blogosphere has had mixed reviews about Hogtown's take on it, but I am happy to announce that we loved it and would definitely order it again. It even leaves some of that gooey orangey residue on your plate - just like when you were a kid!

We also got a basket of Chili "Cheese" Fries.

From the menu: Fresh-cut fries with black beans, nacho "cheese" sauce, guacamole, scallions and sunflower sour cream.

So good!

For his entree, Paul got the Pulled Unpork Sandwich.

From the menu: Pulled TVP unpork cooked in our house-made BBQ sauce, topped with creamy coleslaw on a sesame seed bun.

This is a terrible picture that does the sandwich no justice! I hate messing around with a camera in restaurants so I always end up with the worst photos. My apologies!

My original game plan involved ordering something totally different than what I ended up with. But then I saw the Phish and Chips option and I proceeded to freak out a little bit/a lot of bit. There's not much I miss as a vegan, because it's fairly easy to find vegan versions of just about everything. Not restaurant-style fish and chips, though. Before Saturday, I had yet to come across any. It was once my favourite menu option, and I hadn't had anything like it in well over five years.

From the menu: Beer-battered tempeh "fish" sticks served with house-made tartar sauce and fresh cut fries.

First of all, I can't believe they even have vegan fish and chips and second of all I can't believe how freaking authentic they are! Complete with tartar sauce, they remind me of many a beer-battered fish on many a pub night.

And finally, Paul and I shared an order of the Unchicken and Waffles because they are what Hogtown is most famous for and I've drooled over way too many blog posts about them to not try them. Even though the buttons on my jean skirt were already dangerously close to popping off when I was but halfway through the Phish and Chips, I eagerly packed away my half!

From the menu: Breaded, deep-fried soy chicken on fluffy waffles, smothered in maple butter, served with collard greens and sweet potato mash.

It was absolutely amazing. Worth the wait and deserving of all the blog praise it has received. It will make a believer out of your favourite omni!

Our visit to Toronto was very brief because we needed to get home to our little Dora, but it was well worth the drive. I'm simultaneously excited and relieved that Hogtown is an hour away from us - I'm excited because, unlike Doomie's, some of the best vegan food I've had is only an hour away from me and I'm relieved because it is not any closer than that. I have control issues when it comes to food. In that I have none.

The Hogtown Vegan
834 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seitan Ham with Herb-Scalloped Potatoes and Roasted Baby Carrots

I finally got around to making that Easter feast that didn't happen. And now I'm finally getting around to blogging about it! Believe me, I've attempted to write this post about ten times between last Monday and today and got interrupted or side-tracked each time. Life has not been this busy in a very long time, so bear with me as I blog (poorly) very sporadically until things settle down for me.

I may be really busy, but this meal was so super yum that I don't want to delay posting about it any longer! I'm disappointed that, in my extreme hungover-ness, I couldn't handle putting it together on Easter proper. But there is always next year! And I officially can't wait!

The glue that holds this entire meal together is the seitan ham. At the very least, it's what makes it an Easter feast. It is very, very easy to make and is done in a similar fashion to the seitan roast I make every Thanksgiving. Wheat gluten steamed in a cheesecloth until it reaches the right springy texture! Easy peasy!

What the hell is going on in that second picture, you ask? Well, I'm a consummate idiot and burnt the element off of my double steamer, because a couple weeks ago I was too busy to notice that I placed a basket of broccoli in the steamer and set it over high heat, without bothering to put any water in the pot. I'm searching for a new one that satisfies all of my obscene criteria with regard to what a double steamer should look and act like. In the meantime, my mom has since kindly given me her double steamer so that we can stop playing Macgyver with a metal colander and aluminum foil until I find a new one.

The recipe for this ham comes from Caribbean Vegan. I don't have the cookbook, but the author has graciously provided the recipe online, here and now that I've tried it, Caribbean Vegan has skyrocketed to the top half of my "Cookbooks to Buy" List. Instead of the glaze she has provided, I whisked together a teaspoon of mustard with a 1/4 cup of maple syrup to make it a little more Easter-traditional.

We loved it! I've never had real maple-glazed ham before so I liked it just because it was delicious and not because I've particularly missed the taste of ham. The husband has ingested a fair bit of ham in his life and also gives it the seal of approval. The liquid smoke is what makes the magic happen, I think! We've bought premade vegan hams before and it's what we used in the TIV Breakfast Special. Unfortunately, they can be quite hard to come by. Further, while visually they look more like ham than the recipe I tried here (very pink and smooth), it's usually at the cost of added chemicals and processing. And for me, it's always about taste and quality over appearance (especially since fake meats often freak me out!) For these and many other reasons, I'm especially excited to have found myself a recipe for homemade vegan ham, and I'm looking forward feeling out some other glazes and then trying it in our breakfast special. I will let you know how it goes!

We are gluttons though, so one ham wasn't big enough for us. I think I'll double it next time. If you're a normal person who doesn't need three servings of everything, this size will be perfect for you.

Scalloped potatoes are another Easter favourite. There are many, many, many recipes for vegan scalloped potatoes to choose from. This one comes from Veganomicon and we quite liked it. I do need to work on my potato slicing skills if I'm going to keep making it. Or perhaps invest in a mandolin! Gently roasted baby carrots round out this springtime feast, courtesy of Everyday Happy Herbivore!

Easter may be over, but spring sure isn't, and this would make a lovely Sunday night dinner. In the meantime, I'm going to try and stay up on my blogging. And my cooking, actually - another reason I haven't been blogging much is because we've been relying on old (quick) favourites to get us through this busy patch! What delicious vegan things have you been cooking while I've been MIA?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pear & Arugula Salad

My whole life, both vegan and pre-vegan, salads have not been meals. They've always been something to pick at before a meal arrived. Or something to put on the side of pasta so I didn't feel bad about just how many noodles I was consuming. I've really and truly struggled, my whole entire life, to eat salad just for the sake of eating salad.

Worst vegan ever, I know.

In winter there is absolutely no chance, so I don't even bother. But now that spring is here, I'm trying to be mature about it and incoroprate some meal-size salad lunches. Because salads are, really and truly, the ideal lunch food. They come together quickly. They can be prepared pretty much entirely in advance so they are perfect for us Monday-to-Fridayers needing to pack lunches and then eat them at our desks. They feature vegetables that are raw and thus in their most nutritionally optimal form.

The recipe for this salad comes from Everyday Happy Herbivore and it's a really good "learn to eat salad" option for me because it's not just cold vegetables in a dressing. There's a grain! And I love grains so much. More than I probably should. I swear, I'd be okay sustaining myself on bowls of rice for years at a time. In fact, I believe I did that once. When I was eleven.

Rice is great, but nutritionally speaking, quinoa is better. More protein, more fiber, more folate, more calcium and more iron. So while I will never give up my beloved rice, I'm cool with letting quinoa play a round or two in its place. For this salad, I bought some multicoloured quinoa for some visual appeal.

I think one of the contributing factors to my dislike of salad is my dislike of lettuce. Sure, I like it on a veggie burger, in a wrap, or in my caesar salad (the only salad I never turn away), but anywhere else and you might start to lose me.

This salad is great because instead of lettuce or spinach (which is okay, I guess...definitely better than lettuce) the base is beautiful, peppery arugula! I've learned that arugula is also commonly referred to as "salad rocket" and this makes it even cooler than I thought it was. I love arugula slightly wilted in pasta, with nothing more than garlic, avocado, a little bit of lime juice and freshly ground black pepper.

But I'm supposed to be talking about salad right now. Not pasta. Typical Mary, swaying back to the dense carbs!

All joking aside, arugula is really great in salads. I feel like lettuce tastes like nothing, so when the bulk of a salad is made up of lettuce I find myself smothering it in whatever dressing I can get my hands on, adding too much excess oil and thus too much excess fat to the salad. Arugula has a peppery flavour all on its own, so you can go easy on the sauces.

There is no online version of the recipe, so you'll have to pick up Everyday Happy Herbivore. In the meantime check out some of the great HH recipes that are available online, at the Happy Herbivore blog!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter 2012 Round-Up

I was pretty excited about making an Easter feast at some point this weekend, just for the two of us. But then at 3pm on Friday instead of cracking a cookbook I cracked a bottle of vodka and opened the front door to friends. And rather than cooking we ordered in Thai food and drank and played games with our buddies until 2am. Which meant that while I was technically around to cook on Saturday, I was not really in any condition to be doing so, so the good people at Thrive fed us instead.

It's back to work today. That means the feast will have to wait until next weekend sometime. That's really okay, though, because we have plenty of leftovers from family Easter events so even if I had gotten ambitious, at least some of that food would have gone to waste. There are only two of us, afterall, and only so many leftovers two people can eat.

So stay tuned for an Easter feast turned Spring feast sometime in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here is what we did get to eat this weekend.

Bean salad

Gnocchi and red sauce

Rice with broccoli and asparagus

Seitan scaloppini

Grilled veggie and tofu skewers

Hope you had a very Happy Easter. What delicious plant-based foods did you get to eat?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lemony Asparagus Risotto + Citrus-Roasted Tofu

I can't believe that Easter is this weekend. Wasn't I just blogging about Christmas Vegg Nog?

Easter is always such a fun holiday to cook for, because spring-themed foods are always so bright and pretty. Don't get me wrong, I do love the comfort foods that are born of fall and winter. Those pastas and breads and thick soups set my heart a flutter. But by the time spring rolls around and the sun is shining, I've had enough of the comfort foods for awhile and am ready for the bright greens and the crisp bites of vegetables freshly plucked out of the ground.

Of course, it's still way too early for most Ontario produce. All the same, I'm busy building my arsenal of spring meals so that I'm ready when they do finally arrive and I encourage you to do the same! That local asparagus and spinach window can be so small. You want to make sure you make the best of it when it is here.

Also, Easter is this Sunday, but you may still be planning your menu. Holidays can be challenging for minority eaters, especially if said eating is not happening in the comfort of your own home. You need something that is not only delicious, but also easily transported. Bonus points if it is enticing to the non-vegans, too. I present you with such an Easter meal option, courtesy of the Easter section in Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas.

Rice is one of the great vegan ambassadors present on holiday tables. Almost everyone eats it, so few people will be scared off by a vegan version of it. In fact, they probably won't even notice that it is vegan. It's just rice. Not that anyone should be scared off by anything vegan, but the truth is that we live in a world where people are, once a food item is labeled as such.

This was my very first time buying Arborio (Italian) rice and making risotto. Arborio rice is shorter and rounder than your standard rice. It's kind of like a cross between rice and barley. This particular risotto is made in a casserole dish in the oven, rather than than the traditional stovetop method.

Sometimes I watch Hell's Kitchen even though I haven't liked it since Gordon Ramsey ran his mouth about vegetarians a million years ago, and I know how to hold a grudge. All the same, I have not seen a single episode of the show in which Ramsey does not scream at somebody for screwing up a risotto. He is always so freaking mad about the risotto. And I always wonder why all these chefs are somehow messing up rice. Rice is kind of the easiest thing in the world to cook, no?

So, it turns out that risotto is actually quite easy to screw up. First of all, it cooks for what feels like forever. For the first half hour it seems like it is never, in a million years, going to absorb all the water you're cooking it in and that after all that effort you're just going end up with a pot of rice soup.

Then, in the second half hour, it fluffs up so quickly that one stir sends half of it out of the dish and onto the bottom of the oven.

Burning risotto smells great, by the way.

All that drama aside, when the risotto was complete it was positively delicious. In the end, the rice came out as thick and creamy as it should have, the asparagus and spinach spring-ified it, and the lemon made the whole thing bright and fresh and perfect for this time of year. It warms up nicely, so it's a great item to pack up and bring to Easter dinner.

Adding to that bright and fresh feel was the citrus-roasted tofu I made to go alongside the risotto, also found in the Easter section of Vegan Holiday Kitchen. And it tastes as lovely as it looks!

Marinated in the juice of lemon and orange and topped with baby carrots and almonds, this is another relatively simple Easter option for you. Much like the risotto, it's easily transported to the home of whichever relative is hosting Easter this year. The toppings can be prepared in advance and the tofu can be placed in the marinade ahead of time, to be tossed in the oven about a half hour before dinner is ready. This particular dish is a great way to introduce tofu to the masses, because once baked, it loses most of the squishy texture characteristic of tofu that sometimes sketches people out.

While both of these recipes are found in Vegan Holiday Kitchen, I was excited to see the tofu recipe also featured as Nava Atlas' Recipe of the Week last week! You can find it here.

Wishing those of you who celebrate a very Happy Easter. Might I interest you in some cardboard egg decorating?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Deep Forest Carob Cake with Fudge Frosting (Raw!)

Friends, I have a new favourite cake. And it's raw! And that also makes it sugar-free!

I will admit that even though I've been vegan for years and years and I should know better than to be all judgey wudgey about people's personal food choices, I seriously did not get the raw thing for the longest time. It probably has more to do with how I came to be vegan than anything else, which I discussed at length in my previous post. And much like health-motivated vegans likely look at my endless array of buttercream-frosted cupcakes with a raised eyebrow, a food-obsessed ethical vegan like myself was, once upon a time, mighty skeptical about raw food. Especially raw desserts. Because what's a dessert without sugar?!

I'll tell you what it is. It is incredible. Magnificant. Life-changing. Rolling around on the ground, rubbing your stomach, "mmmmmm"ing, awesome.

My perspective on raw food changed in May 2010, when we traveled to Montreal and had an amazing outdoor dinner at a raw restaurant called Crudessence. It wasn't originally on our itinerary, but while having dinner on the patio of another one of Montreal's amazing vegetarian restaurants, a woman a couple tables over heard that we were from out of town and all but demanded we stop by Crudessence. So we put it on our agenda and never looked at raw food the same way again.

The desserts were what especially won me over. There is something about raw desserts that I can't quite explain. It's like a complete flavour punch. You taste every single element of the dessert because there are no flours and no conventional sugars to mask them. I find raw desserts to be so much richer and bolder than traditional desserts.

This recipe comes from Ani Phyo's Ani's Raw Food Kitchen and it is so simple and involves so few ingredients and you will be positively amazed at the sophisticated cake that results!

The base of the cake is comprised of brazil nuts and coconut and the sweetness comes from pitted medjool dates. The fudge - carob! People are often put off by carob because they expect it to taste just like chocolate, which it does not. Chocolate definitely has a more powerful, rich flavour. They are very much two different things. But don't let that put you off. While carob is different from chocolate it is no less delicious and if you're not a believer, pick up this cookbook and try this cake. And then invite me over to have some. Further, unlike chocolate, carob is completely caffeine-free and it contains three times as much calcium as chocolate. Plus, while chocolate is extremely toxic to dogs, carob is puppy-safe. So if you're a mess in the kitchen like I am, and your canine buddy happens to lick up a little bit of the carob that you've dropped on the floor, she's going to be alright.

If you're a raw vegan (and if even if you're not!) this would make a great birthday cake. A cool, nutrient-dense answer to the standard supermarket chocolate birthday cake. And so filling. If given the chance, I could probably sit and eat an entire non-raw chocolate cake in one sitting. It's a fact I'm not proud of, but it's a fact nonetheless. This one? Not a chance. Seriously. It's one that you nibble on throughout the week, not devour in one or two sittings. I've known Paul for fourteen years and I have never once seen him not finish a slice of cake that's been cut for him. Until this one. The good news is that it keeps great in the fridge!

Easter is just around the corner. If you're still looking for a dessert, this would be a great way to end a cardboard egg hunt and a delicious animal-free meal. It gets bonus points because it can be made well in advance, cutting down on holiday stress. It will make a raw believer out of you and everyone else!

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