Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stuff I Ate

Random meal round-up time! Here's what I've been eating this week that didn't warrant a blog post all its own.

The Lemon Poppyseed FitQuick Protein Waffles are quickly becoming my new fave FitQuick flavor. I had this one Tuesday morning after a run — with maple syrup, tahini, and chopped nectarine. 22 grams of protein!

I feel like every "Stuff I Ate" post ever contains at least one ramen pic, so here ya go. Rice Noodle Ramen with Baked Tofu, Corn, and Carrots. Since I couldn't run last Saturday (due to my stupid cold), I slept in and ate ramen in my PJs while watching Empire.

My office has catered staff meetings on the last Wednesday of each month, and the options are always vegan-friendly (yay! love this job!). This week, we had Veggie Sushi and Spring Rolls. I loved the thinly sliced avocado in those rice paper rolls. So good. I also scooped out some wasabi peas on the side.

I'm back on my "eating at Imagine Vegan Cafe once a week" plan. Last Friday, I ordered the BBQ Wrap as takeout (because I was still too sick to sit around people). It's a new menu item, and it was super-yummy! Here's an outside shot, served with salad and vegan ranch.

And an inside shot — chopped seitan BBQ, coleslaw, tomato, and mixed greens.

I was back at Imagine last night with my friend Nathan. He was in town from Jonesboro for his birthday, and I suggested we grab dinner. He is not vegan (not even close), but when I asked where he wanted to eat, he said, "I think I'd like to try this Imagine place you're always talking about!" Yay!! He got the vegan buffalo chicken sandwich and loved it.

I was craving something a little healthier, so I went with the Veggie Plate and chose some Southern faves — Blackeyed Peas, Collard Greens, Potato Salad, and Cornbread. I got some garlic aioli on the side for drizzling over the peas and greens. Hit the spot!

I wasn't planning to get dessert, but my friend Pam was working and she informed me that Stephanie had just dropped off a fresh batch of desserts. Stephanie bakes all of the cakes, pies, cinnamon rolls, and other treats for Imagine. I spied her Banana PB Caramel Pie and knew I'd probably need to grab a slice for a snack today. It got a little melty in my car while Nathan and our friends Kevin and Wes dropped by a nearby bar for margaritas (yesterday was National Margarita Day!), but it survived. Not the prettiest slice anymore but made for an awesome afternoon snack today at tea time! Graham cracker crust, banana layer, peanut butter cream layer, caramel layer. Amazing!

Finally, Tuesday was Vegan Drinks, and we had it at Deja Vu Creole Soul Food & Vegetarian Restaurant, a super vegan-friendly Creole joint, in honor of Fat Tuesday, which actually happens NEXT Tuesday. But we figured the restaurant would be slammed on the actual holiday. I got a not-so-Creole order of Curry Tofu (they make the best fried tofu and serve it in a variety of sauces, like BBQ, teriyaki, and curry).

But I chose a spicy and appropriately themed bowl of Smothered Okra as my side dish! And of course, I washed it all down with NOLA-based Abita beer (Big Easy IPA).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Grilled Veggie Melt with Kam's Chili Sauce

I have a confession. I wasn't sure what chili sauce was before Kam's Kettle Cooked sent me a few jars of their kettle-cooked chili sauce to review. Is it salsa? Is it ketchup? Is it something you add to chili? Is it like sriracha? Isn't that what you simmer cocktail wieners in?

Growing up in Arkansas, I was exposed to a lot of home-cooked, country condiments — chow chow, homemade salsa, all manner of jams and jellies, pickled okra, etc. But somehow chili sauce escaped me. After trying Kam's though, I'm not sure how I ever lived without it. They sent me samples of their HOT chili sauce and their Sweet & Spicy.

Chili sauce is simply a chunky blend of vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh chiles. It's got a touch of sweetness and a touch of heat, and it's used in everything from sloppy joes to baked beans (and yes, even cocktail wieners — vegan ones, of course!). Plus, it's great as a condiment on burgers and hot dogs, and I've discovered that it's even excellent with tortilla chips and crackers.

Side note: After receiving my jars of Kam's back in the fall, one of my co-workers gifted every one in the office jars of his home-canned, homemade chili sauce. And this is apparently a thing people do when they end up with too many tomatoes. Not sure how my Granny never got on the chili sauce bandwagon, but I have lots of her jars of home-canned salsa and stewed tomatoes.

Anyway, back to Kam's. Both flavors have the same base of fresh tomato and chiles, so they taste very similar, something like a cross between salsa and ketchup. The Sweet & Spicy is slightly milder and sweeter than the HOT sauce. The hot one contains ghost peppers, but it's not burn-your-face-off hot. It's got just the right amount of heat that slowly builds in the back of your throat.

Kam's is 100% natural, low in sugar (only 2 grams per serving), and non-gmo. I've been eating these (and my co-worker Tom's homemade sauce!) now for a couple months on just about everything you can imagine — veggie burgers, with chips, on vegan pudla pancakes, stirred into in soup beans, with vegan cheese and crackers, you name it.

One of my favorite uses so far is as a side condiment for roasted potatoes. My mama often eats chow chow with her fried potatoes, so that use popped to mind immediately when I tasted the sweet-spicy condiment. It's very similar to chow chow. Last weekend, I roasted some potatoes and carrots in the air fryer (20 minutes on 350 degrees) and served with Kam's Sweet & Spicy.

But so far, I think my very FAVORITE use has been on vegan grilled cheeses! I created this delicous Grilled Veggie Chili Melt (with vegan cheese, chili sauce, sauteed veggies, and hummus) last week, and I'll be eating it several more times this week since I have plenty of ingredients left. And since I recently discovered my neighborhood Kroger store carries Kam's (found it in the natural foods section), I'll be restocking when I run out!

Here's the recipe!

Grilled Veggie Chili Melt

Yields 1 sandwich

1/4 white onion, thinly sliced
1/3 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/3 zucchini, thinly sliced
1/3 summer squash, thinly sliced
Soy sauce, to taste
2 slices whole wheat bread
1 slice vegan cheese (I used Daiya cheddar slices)
1 Tbsp. hummus, any flavor
1 Tbsp. chili sauce (I used Kam's Sweet & Spicy)
2 tsp. olive oil or vegan margarine

Pour a little water in the bottom of a small skillet, just enough to cover the bottom. Heat to medium and add onions, peppers, zucchini, and squash. Water-saute until tender, adding splashes of extra water as needed to prevent veggies from sticking or burning. (You can also just use oil to saute the veggies! Up to you!). While you're cooking, add a couple splashes of soy sauce to taste.

Once the veggies are done, remove them from the skillet and wipe it out. Spray olive oil or spread vegan margarine on one side of each piece of bread. Heat the skillet to medium-low. 

Place one slice of bread, oil-side-down, on a plate. Spread the hummus on the other side. Top that with veggies and top them with chili sauce. Then put the cheese slice on top of the veggies and top with the remaining bread, oil-side-up.

Place the sandwich in the warm skillet and press down with a spatula. Grill on one side for about 3-5 minutes or until lightly toasted. Flip and toast on the other side. Eat!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Yves Vegan Bites & Balls

I've long been a fan of Yves Veggie Cuisine vegan products. They make all kinds of stuff — ground veggie burger, veggie dogs, burger patties, breakfast patties, vegan bacon, deli slices — and they've been around forever. Back in my pre-vegan days (pre-2004), I remember Yves vegetarian products being the only game in town around here. They've been in the plant-based meat business for more than 20 years!

Yves offered to send me two of their products that I'd never tried. I'd seen these Falafel Balls and Kale & Quinoa Bites in stores, but for some reason, I'd never picked them up.

The Kale & Quinoa Bites are made with potatoes, chickpea flour, kale, carrots, quinoa, onions, oil, vinegar, and spices. They're like little meatballs, and they have a very savory almost burger-like flavor. The texture is toothsome, and they hold together well. In fact, these would be fantastic atop some spaghetti with marinara.

But I opted to eat them by solo, dipped in Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic Sriracha BBQ Sauce (seriously the best BBQ sauce I've ever had, y'all). These made for a great meaty main with some boxed Annie's Naturals Vegan Shells & Cheese (this has a pumpkin/sweet potato cheese base) and steamed kale. Perfect for those rushed nights when you don't have time to make something from scratch. The bites baked in the oven for about 13 minutes, the same amount of time needed to make the macaroni and prep and steam the kale.

I was tempted to stuff the Falafel Balls into pita and call it a day, but then I got inspired to whip up a Falafel Salad!

This was soooooo good. The falafel balls have an amazing flavor that's totally restaurant-worthy. But since they're baked (not fried), they're not greasy like falafel usually is. I placed these atop a bed of romaine and fresh veggies tossed with a homemade lemon-tahini sauce and served with air-fried sourdough croutons, Roots Oil-Free Hummus, and chili-garlic sauce.

Here's the recipe!

Falafel Salad

Yields 3 salads

1 package Yves Falafel Balls, baked according to package instructions
12 romaine leaves, roughly chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1/4 white onion, thinly sliced
18 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 Tbsp. hummus
1 1/2 cups croutons (or skip the croutons and serve salad with warm pita)
Chili sauce for serving (optional)

3 Tbsp. tahini
3 Tbsp. water
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp. dried chives
1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. salt

Bake the falafel according to package instructions.

To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients in a small bowl.

To assemble, divide the lettuce, bell pepper, cucumber, onion, and tomatoes between three bowls. Toss each bowl with a couple tablespoons of dressing. Top each bowl with four falafel balls, 2 Tbsp. hummus, and a 1/2 cup croutons. Top with a little chili sauce if desired.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Goddess Provisions Tucson Gem Show Box!

We interrupt this food blog for a post about rocks. Yes, sorry. If you came for food, this post isn't for you. But hey, the rocks are shiny!

Each month, I do an unpacking post of my Goddess Provisions subscription box, which features crystals, teas, chocolates, vegan beauty products, candles, and more. But occasionally, the folks at Goddess Provisions offer special limited edition boxes, and I love them so much that, so far, I've purchased every one of those. In fact, I've never missed any Goddess Provisions box; I've been a subscriber since day one. Basically, I'm a number-one fan.

Of course, I signed up for the limited edition Tucson Gem Show Collection box this month. Last year was the first time Goddess Provisions founders Jill and John (also of Vegan Cuts) offered a grab bag of crystals from their annual pilgrimage to the legendary Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, and I was super stoked with the crystals they selected (you can see those in this post). When they offered the box again this year, I signed up immediately.

The box was $44, and what crystals you ended up with were a mystery! I took my chances, and I'm very pleased with what I got.

Look at all those pretty crystals! My very fave is this Flourite/Amethyst combo. I love the craggy surfaces of rough crystals like this, and the layering of green flourite and purple amethyst is gorgeous. This stone is supposed to help connect with spirit and creates protective and tranquil space.

I'm also a sucker for anything rainbow, so this Chalcopyrite (peacock ore) is also a fave. This is said to help clear energy blockages and realign the chakras. Since I was sick all week last week, I could really use some realignment. My energy and routines were all off, and though I'm feeling much better now, I'll probably spend lots of time with this stone this week.

I don't know why I didn't yet have a Desert Rose in my collection, but this is my first. It's a variety of selenite, which helps to enhance big-picture awareness, boost confidence, and turn dreams into reality.

Isn't this Pink Opal pretty? It's the perfect size stone for holding in the palm, which is great since it's used for soothing the heart. Also used for letting go of negative patterns.

I want to shrink into a tiny fairy and flit around this Fairy Quartz. Doesn't it look like a tiny fairy mountain? Or like some magical land that belongs in the Neverending Story? This is said to bring calming energy and carefree, happy feelings. No wonder I love it! Also great for meditation and opening the crown chakra.

This Brandberg Quartz is the highest valued stone in the box, and it was a new one to me. This crystal is supposed to help transform challenges into spiritual growth and encourages empathy for all creation. Some Brandberg Quartz contains a little amethyst, and some has smoky quartz. As you can see, mine has a touch of amethyst.

I also got this teensy bit of Blue Calcite, known as "the stone of the mind." This is great for reducing anxiety and calming the mind. I'm a fan of all calcite, and blue is new to my collection. I do wish it was a tad bigger though!

Finally, the box's "crystal menu" card said I was also supposed to have a piece of citrine. But the last stone looks more like a solid Quartz Crystal to me. Is citrine ever clear? I have no idea! But I do believe that the right stones come to you when you need them most, so if I didn't get a citrine, I didn't really need another right now. I have a good amount of citrine in my collection anyway. I also have a ton of clear quartz, but one can never have too much clear quartz. All-purpose stone!

Overall, I'm pleased with this box! Would have liked a larger chunk of calcite, but other than that, I think they did a great job selecting some fun (and new to me!) stones.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gumbo Contest for Equality!

This afternoon, I competed in the Tennessee Equality Project's annual gumbo competition at the Hilton. It's my fourth year competing. But I skipped last year since Fat Tuesday fell so early that the contest was held during my yearly January reset eating plan! Plus, I just kind of needed a break last year. Making three gallons of gumbo is HARD WORK.

The event is a fundraiser for TEP, a non-profit dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ Tennesseans. They do great work fighting against homophobic bills (like the dreaded bathroom bill), and they push for pro-equality legislation (like Memphis' non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT city employees).

My team name for years has been Who Dat Crunk Vegan. I just keep reusing the same sign!

Each year, I try something different. And this year, I went the simple route with a classic Gumbo Z'herbes. Also known as greens gumbo, z'herbes was traditionally consumed on Good Friday, which was a day of abstinence from meat for some Catholics. I used Isa's recipe from the The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook, but I spiced it up with my own touches — basil, marjoram, thyme, cayenne, Liquid Smoke, and some Slap Yo Mama Cajun seasoning that I picked up in New Orleans last time I was down. For the greens, I went with collards, kale, and turnip greens.

I really loved this gumbo! It had a complex roux with a heat that builds. And even though I've typically added some sort of protein — tempeh, tofu, vegan seitan sausage, even beans — in past years, I think this was best as a stand-alone veggie-based stew.

For the first time in TEP gumbo contest history, there was a vegetarian/vegan category! It was judged in a blind taste test by my bud Justin Fox Burks from The Chubby Vegetarian. And there was some stiff competition with four vegan gumbos! My friends Stephanie, Don, and Kenzie also had a team, and they took home the vegetarian award! Bitches. Haha. For real though, their gumbo was amazing.

They made a gumbo with tofu and mushroom scallops, and their roux was on point. Just the right level of heat with lots of flavor going on.

I wandered around a bit during the contest and tried this yummy vegetable gumbo with crispy tofu. LOVED that tofu on top. I also loved that they used scallions as a garnish. I may try and step up my garnish game for the judges next year.

There was also this very veggie-heavy gumbo that had lots of okra. You can never go wrong with okra.

It was exciting to have so many vegan options! So many people stopped by the table and told me they were vegetarian and were so happy to be able to try more than one gumbo this year. In years past, it was always just me or Cassi (who competed last year when I sat out).

Anyway, here were my helpful teammates, Andy and Wes. I wouldn't let them help me in the kitchen since I like to cook alone, but they helped carry stuff and dish out gumbo.

And Andy handed out beads!

There was a brass band.

Random crowd shot!

Overall, great event from TEP. I'm glad it's over for another year though. I spent about five hours working on my gumbo yesterday, a couple hours reheating it this morning, and several more at the event. It's definitely an all-weekend affair. But such fun!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stuff I Ate

It's random meal round-up time! We'll start with some really yummy scores from the Raw Girls food truck. This totally vegan truck has two locations — one in Midtown outside Midtown Yoga and another in East Memphis outside Hollywood Feed. I dropped by last Friday for some treats. I got this Pear with Maple Roasted Chickpeas Salad — kale, chickpeas, Bosc pear slices, pecans, and a Dijon dressing. This was the perfect light snack before an art opening on Friday night since I knew I'd also be snacking at the event.

Later that night, my salad and art show snacks had worn off, so Misti and I split a Greek Flatbread from Midtown Crossing Grill. This tasty pie has red bean hummus, arugula, kalamata olives, cucumber slices, and radish slices.

The next day, on Saturday morning, I had a long run planned — 14 miles. Usually, I follow those long runs with a protein smoothie made with Vega Sport powder. But I'd picked up the Raw Girls Cherry Crumble (made with gluten-free oats and sweetened with coconut nectar) on Friday, and their Facebook page suggested trying this warmed with a side of ice cream. So I made Protein Nice Cream using a banana and some PlantFusion vanilla protein powder. I heated the crumble in the microwave for a few seconds and served with nice cream on the side. Perfect combo of warm and cold and protein.

I also picked up a Merry Fabulous Juice from the Raw Girls, and I had that as an afternoon snack. This had beets, oranges, pineapple, apple, lemon, cucumber, ginger, and basil.

On Monday, my company — Crosstown Arts — had a staff retreat at a lovely lakehouse in Arkansas, about an hour away from our office in Memphis. It was a nice getaway and lots of fun (we all wore wigs!), and we had lots of delicious vegan food. When we first arrived, there was breakfast waiting on us — Vegan Biscuits with homemade cookie butter and strawberry and blackberry preserves.

Plus, homemade Vegan Sausage and Chocolate Banana Toast!

Lunch was Falafel in Homemade Pita, Potato Salad, and Cucumber Salad. That cucumber salad has the BEST sesame-vinegar marinade, and I absolutely loved the homemade pita bread.

And for dessert, there were Blueberry Crumble Bars! Needless to say, I left that event completely stuffed and happy. And we got some important work done too!

I had a Crosstown Memphis Community Development Corporation meeting on Monday night when I got back into town. We were meeting at Midtown Crossing, and I wanted to eat something light since I'd been stuffing my face all day. I settled on the Greek Salad with added chili tofu and minus the feta cheese. The tofu as an add-on isn't on the menu, but they were happy to add it! The addition of protein made this a complete (but still light) meal.

Sadly though, by the end of the day Tuesday, I was starting to come down with something. It seems like almost everyone in the office caught some sort of cold after our retreat. Some got it worse than others, and mine seems to be mostly a head cold (no chest stuff yet!). I've been medicating with lots of Leap smoothie bowls (full review on those coming soon)! And juice! Like this Ginger Greens Juice and Sniffle Stopper Shot from Juice Bar. The sniffle stopper shot (lemon, cayenne, ginger, and a protective essential oil blend) really helped!

Last night, I was supposed to go to yoga class and then to dinner with friends at Imagine Vegan Cafe. But I canceled all of those plans in favor of going home, putting on my PJs, and whipping up some hot soup. I made this very green ramen bowl with Lotus Foods Jade Pearl Rice Ramen, baked tofu, miso paste, broccoli, kale, garlic, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, corn, and peas. Just what I needed! Of course, I followed that with a hot toddy because that's the best part about being sick!

That's it for now. Hoping to be on the mend by the weekend. I had my longest long run (20 miles) before the Little Rock Marathon planned for Saturday, but it looks like that's out. But I should be okay. I've still got two weeks before the race, so I hope to be back to 100% health by then.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Best Tofu Dishes in Memphis

When I went vegan in 2004, Memphis wasn't the most vegan-friendly city. I found a few things on menus here and there, but I did most of my cooking at home. And honestly, I still do, but not for lack of dining options. I cook at home to save money and eat a little healthier, but when I want to dine out these days, I have sooooo many options here. Those options range from classic comfort fare at Imagine Vegan Cafe to raw dishes at 2 Vegan Sistas to realistic mock meats from New Hong Kong to uber-healthy whole food-based meals at City Silo. 

But when I'm craving tofu specifically, I know just where to go! Here are my top eight picks for the Best Tofu Dishes in Memphis.

1) Blue Nile/Stick 'Em
The award for Very Best Tofu in Memphis jointly goes to Blue Nile and Stick 'Em. Blue Nile is an Ethiopian restaurant, and Stick 'Em is a kabob food truck, but both are owned by the same couple. And both serve the most amazing, chewy, seasoned fried tofu on a stick. I'm not sure what they use to season the tofu, but the flavor is unlike anything I've had before. It's a savory flavor that's very different from the taste of the traditional fried tofu you'd find in an Asian restaurant. In the restaurant, the Tofu Skewers come with white rice and sauteed veggies as an entree.

And on the truck, you get the option of a side of sauteed veggies, French fries, or a salad. I usually go with the latter. You can also order single kabobs in both places.

2) Pho Binh
This beloved Midtown Memphis institution has a legendary lunch buffet with several varieties of fried tofu — usually lemongrass tofu (THE BEST), green bean tofu, and curry tofu (but sometimes, they mix it up and include black bean tofu). Vegetarians and meat-eaters gather here for the tofu. It's the best thing there, no question. Pho Binh even sells tee-shirts that say "Memphis-style tofu." I have one! The best part? The all-you-can-eat buffet is under $9. The Mushroom Tofu is pictured here, but it's rarely on the buffet. Got to order off the menu for that! But real talk — the Lemongrass Tofu is greatest thing they serve.

3) Brother Juniper's
There are a handful of places offering tofu scramble for brunch, but Brother Juniper's has the best. The Fahim's Special (not on the menu, but ask for it) comes with roasted red peppers, portabella mushrooms, onions, and a special sauce. And you get a TON of it. Comes with amazing home fries and homemade toasted bread with made-in-house fruit preserves.

4) Zaka Bowl
Obviously, fried tofu is my favorite thing. But sometimes, you want something a little healthier, and Zaka Bowl has you covered. This totally vegan eatery serves chewy, savory baked tofu cubes in their build-your-own bowls. They're clearly marinated in a soy sauce base, but there are some other awesome flavors in there that I just can't put my finger on. You can't really see much tofu in this bowl because it's covered in vegetables. But trust me — it's there. Pro tip: Order your bowl with double tofu!

5) Deja Vu 
This downtown Cajun restaurant has a LOT of meat on the menu, but they also have a separate vegan menu. And they don't use any meat/dairy in their veggie sides. They also boast some of the yummiest, sauciest fried tofu. You can order the cubes with either curry sauce (pictured here), BBQ sauce, or teriyaki sauce. I love the curry!

6) RP Tracks
Home of BBQ Tofu Nachos! RP Tracks is locally famous for these nachos, and even non-vegans rave about them. The crispy fried tofu cubes are coated in a sweet BBQ sauce and served atop tortilla chips with black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and jalapenos.

7) Midtown Crossing Grill
This Crosstown pizza parlor has several vegan options, among them the Bianca Banh Mi (named after yours truly!). Thin slabs of tofu are marinated in a sweet chili sauce, and they perfectly complement the red bean hummus and homemade pickled veggies on the sandwich. I also like to order this tofu as an add-on to their Greek salad.

8) Evelyn & Olive
I don't really have a good picture of this Jamaican restaurant's Black Bean Tacos, but just trust me that, under all that slaw, is a yummy tofu and black bean mixture. The tofu is crumbled and sauteed with Jamaican spices. Topped with slaw and kiwi salsa and served with a side of pigeon peas and rice.