Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Vegan Bacon Grease! OMG!

Down South, people save their bacon grease. And they cook with it over and over and over. I even know a few vegans down here who use their leftover vegetable grease to flavor food. But I haven't saved grease in my life, since I've never cooked bacon (I went vegetarian at age 14). Instead, I've always used a combination of liquid smoke and olive oil to add bacon-y flavor.

And then I discovered this.

What?! Magic Vegan Bacon Grease!

That's right. And it's pretty healthy! It's made from coconut oil, soy protein, spices, and hickory and maple flavors. I was sent a sample to review, and the day it arrived might have been the best day of my life. I'm not ashamed to say that I ate some with a spoon right away. It's quite amazing that way actually. There are little bacony bits tucked inside the solidified coconut oil, and they're delicious.

But then I mixed with Magic Vegan Bacon Grease with a little flour, soymilk, and pepper for a delicious vegan gravy to pour atop this Match Stuffed Mushroom Burger. Perfection! Just like the bacon grease gravy old Southern ladies have been making since the beginning of time.

Next, I melted some Magic Vegan Bacon Grease in a skillet and added raw, torn kale leaves. I sauteed until wilted and then added a splash of soy sauce and garlic powder. Best kale ever! Until this jar runs out (and I have to order more), I will always cook kale this way.

I'm pretty sure Magic Vegan Bacon Grease is new pantry staple. I love most all products I review, but it's rare that I come across one that I cannot live without. This is one of those. It will stay stocked at all times.

There's a short list of stores that carry Magic Vegan Bacon Grease on their website. And you can also order it online when it's in stock (as of this posting, they are out, but check back often). 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Vegan Drinks at Young Avenue Deli

It's Vegan Drinks time again! Tonight, we met for our monthly Memphis Vegan Drinks at the Young Avenue Deli.

We had a bigger crowd than we've had for awhile! Yay! And we finally had patio weather. Truth be told, I'd planned for us to sit inside since there's more room inside this popular Cooper-Young bar. But there was some kind of private event happening until 5:30 p.m., which is when we met up. And when we tried to find a large table inside, the special event crowd was still lingering. So we opted for patio. Thankfully, the weather was perfect but the sun was a little too bright.

Young Avenue Deli had a Dogfish Head Ale tasting today, so it was "buy the beer, keep the glass night." We all scanned the Dogfish Head menu, and I opted for the Indian Brown Ale (7% ABV). Unfortunately, the "keep the glass" thing only applied for draft beers, and the Indian Brown was in a bottle. Sigh.

But that was okay because I picked the Dogfish Head Ale Midas Touch (9% ABV) for my next beer. I got to keep this glass!

But as you all know, I'm a "drink (or eat) first, ask questions later" kind of girl. A quick search of Barnivore when I got home shows that Midas Touch, a high-gravity beer made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas, is NOT VEGAN. That's because it's brewed with honey. I'm not upset about it, but I wouldn't order it again. The Indian Brown Ale, however, is TOTALLY VEGAN!

Most everyone else at the table ordered Dogfish Head beers as well, so I didn't shoot many drink pics tonight. I did snap this one of Paul with his Victory Golden Monkey (yes, it's vegan). We were apparently all about the high-gravity beers tonight.

weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
As for the food, the Young Avenue Deli offers a number of vegan options. I usually go with what Cassi ordered — Marinated Tofu Pita with Fried Tofu (tofu, lettuce, tomato, sprouts) and the Deli's famous French Fries.

But tonight, I wanted to mix things up. I've never tried the Hummus Pita, and I was in a hummus mood (when am I not?!) — hummus, tomato cucumber. It was good. They were generous with the hummus.

Sheila was also in a hummus mood, so she ordered the Hummus Plate. Look at her stylin'.

Here's a Hummus Plate close-up.

And Nicole ordered the Vegetarian Chili.

There were a few other dishes ordered, but it seemed that most people opted for sandwiches. So I didn't snap any more pics. We had a great time, and even though I had one non-vegan drink, at least I learned something in the process. And I got a free glass!

If you're local and would like to come to a Vegan Drinks meet-up, join the Facebook group here.

Also, if you're local, please, please, please come by our Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale event on Friday night! We'll be selling vegan baked goods outside Grawemeyer's restaurant (520 S. Main) downtown during the South Main Art Trolley Tour from 6 to 9 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Memphis & Shelby County Humane Society. Check out our super successful sale last year and the year before.

Monday, April 21, 2014

UB Super

A few years ago, if you'd asked me how I felt about smoothies, I'd have said "Meh, they're okay for a snack. Smoothies are not a meal." Silly me! At the time, I hadn't discovered all the amazing vegan protein powders on the market. I'd occasionally add a scoop of plain, unsweetened hemp powder to smoothies, but that stuff tasted like dirt. And I'd always get hungry an hour (or less) after drinking a fruit smoothie.

Thankfully, either smoothie powders have gotten better or I've finally discovered the good stuff. But I have smoothies for breakfast every day that I run, which right now, since I'm still coming back from my injury is limited to three days a week. Most days, those smoothies are made with my first smoothie love, Vega. But I'm always willing to try new powders. A couple weeks back, a new start-up vegan protein shake company sent me samples.

These are UB Super Protein Nutritional Shake powders in chocolate and vanilla. They're made with a special blend of superfoods — acai, maqui berry, camu camu and acerola cherry — that UB Super founder Scott Kanyok claim saved his life when he was recovering from a life-threatening bicycle wreck in 2008.

Now, I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to superfoods. But I definitely believe they're is great for you (just that other not-so-exotic foods might be pretty super too). But if Scott believes this stuff helped his recovery from an injury, I'm willing to give it a try for my post-workout recovery. Can't hurt, right? Plus, this stuff is packed with 22 grams of protein made from a blend of yellow pea, rice, chia, hemp, and quinoa. It also contains B vitamins (including a LOT of B-12), prebiotics, probiotics, and antioxidants.

But how does it taste? I put both flavors to the test last week. First I used the vanilla in a Banana Matcha Smoothie (almond milk, frozen banana, two teaspoons matcha green tea powder, vanilla UB Super).

Perfect. The UB Super powder is stevia-sweetened, so it tastes like dessert without being unhealthy. And the vanilla flavor was spot-on.

Next up — chocolate. I blended a package into this Chocolate-Coconut Smoothie (coconut milk, shredded coconut, cacao powder, ice, and chocolate UB Super).

You know, usually I pick vanilla over chocolate. But I think the chocolate flavor of UB Super is my fave. It was just amazing with the coconut. And look how thick?! Without even using a banana!

This stuff is good, and even though it's new, I think it has potential to compete with the big guy vegan smoothie powders. Scott and his brother Brent have launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fund their distribution strategy. Check it out.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Paul-aroo Backyard Camping Party!

My partner Paul turned 34 yesterday. And since he just bought an RV on Craigslist that we've not yet had a chance to camp in, I decided that we should "camp" in the backyard for his birthday. Most years, our only big camping trip is at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. So I figured I'd name Paul's camping party "Paul-aroo."

Before the party, I decorated the back yard and set up some chairs. But we asked guests to BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) to make sure there were enough seats.

We fired up the grill, and I threw on some Tofu & Veggie Kabobs. Sadly, I forgot to photograph them, but they looked something like the kabobs in this old pic from a Labor Day grill-out in 2012.

I wanted to grill hot dogs too, but veggie dogs are expensive, and we were expecting about 15 to 20 people. So instead, I cut veggie dogs into quarters and wrapped them in Pillsbury crescent rolls (yes, they're vegan) for Pigs in Blankets.

I made Black Bean Dip by processing black beans, habanero Ro-Tel, onion powder, and smoked paprika in the food processor.

I got a copy of Tami Noyes and Celine Steen's new Vegan Finger Foods book in the mail last week. So I picked one recipe from that book that I new Paul would like — Portabella BLTs! Guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and portabella bacon on baguette slices. These were really fantastic, and I'll do a full review of the book soon.

I lucked out this year and didn't have to bake a cake! My professional vegan baker friend Stephanie (Swell Baked Goods) offered to make Paul a cake, but he requested her creamy and tangy Key Lime Pie instead. I was so happy there were two leftover slices this morning, so we could have seconds.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Easter Basket!

I don't really celebrate Easter from a religious standpoint, but who doesn't love chocolate bunnies? Especially when your awesome daddy, who doesn't believe one can be too old for an Easter basket, orders that bunny for you.

Yep, I still get an Easter basket. This year, my daddy asked me to pick out a few items from Vegan Essentials for my "basket." Here's what I picked.

There's Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Kettle Chips (they were out of the new sour cream 'n' onion ones!), Wayfare Pig Out Whole Grain Bacony Bits (these are the BEST bacon bits out there), Heritage Southwest Ranch Seasoning Mix (mix with Vegenaise or sour cream), Tofutti Better Than Ricotta Cheese (lasagna time!), a Coconut-Lime Dillo from Cakewalk Baking Company (like a vegan Twinkie!), Smofu Tofu Jerky, Parmela Creamery Kalamata Creamy Treenut Cheese, a little Sjaak's "Milk" Chocolate Easter Bunny, Neat nut meat mix in Mexican and Original, and Follow Your Heart Vegan Bleu Cheese Dressing.

Whew! Daddy went all out this year! Here's what I've tried so far.

Of course, I already opened my little Sjaak's basket. It's teensy, which is perfect because my hips do not need a gigantic chocolate Easter bunny.

The poor little bunny came in upside down!

Inside, there's a little bunny and three vegan rice milk chocolate eggs. I'm actually eating the bunny as I type. It's so yummy. I guess I've really missed that creamy milk chocolate taste. Quality dark chocolate is great and all, but this tastes like the Easter bunnies of my childhood. Much better than fancy dark chocolate!

I opened the Smofu Tofy Jerky right away. This was different from other jerkies I've tried. The seitan-based jerkies tend to be soft and chewy. But this was more tough and chewy, like the homemade meat jerky my daddy used to make in our dehydrator when I was a kid. Good stuff.

I've been enjoying the Parmela Creamery Kalamata Creamy Treenut Cheese on Wasa crackers all week. This is a smooth and creamy cashew cheese with little flecks of olive. Very tasty, but I think they were a tad skimpy with the olives. I would have included three times as much if I made this at home. As for taste, it really tastes like fancy aged dairy cheese. And since it contains coconut milk, it's creamier than most cashew cheeses I've had.

The Coconut-Lime Dillo was the stuff dreams are made of — seriously. It was moist and light and it tasted like the tropics. It's the kind of thing you eat and immediately get sad because it's all gone. Vegan Essentials sells several flavors of these, and it will now be my mission to try them all.

I had a salad with the bleu cheese dressing and bacony bits, but I forgot to photograph it. I've never actually tried dairy bleu cheese dressing because the mold always freaked me out. So I've no idea how spot-on this vegan version is, but it's really delicious. I think of it as a cheesy ranch dressing. Also, those bacony bits are my fave! There were samples in our swag bags from Vida Vegan Con, and I've been dreaming about them ever since. They're actually made from whole grain cereal, so they're healthy!

Finally, I used the Neat Mexican burger mix this week to make nachos! I tried Neat at Seattle VegFest and just had to have some! It's a powdered mix made from ground pecans, garbanzo beans, oats, and spices. You mix with a vegan egg replacer (I used Vegg Baking Mix), and brown in a skillet. I made patties, and then broke those into crumbles for nachos.

Happy (Vegan) Chocolate Bunny Day!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vegan Lo Mein Noodles!

Shortly after I went vegan in 2004, somebody told me that lo mein noodles were egg-based. At the time, it seemed like everyday, some food item was being struck from my list of what I could still eat. I was crushed. Veggie lo mein was always one of my favorite dishes, especially back then because I was all about Chinese buffets. I soon realized that a Chinese buffet doesn't have much to offer vegans. Sadness. From then on, I've always stuck with veggie fried rice (hold the egg).

Well, turns out some lo mein noodles are vegan! I'd guess the kind served in most casual Chinese restaurants are the egg kind. But Explore Asian has a Lo Mein Noodle in its line of organic, wheat noodles, and they sent me some to try. The lo mein is there on the end.

I know I could never recreate the traditional oil-heavy, MSG-laden lo mein that you'd get in a restaurant without balking at the calories. So I didn't even really try to go there. I made a much healthier, low-calorie(ish) Veggie Lo Mein instead. It's basically noodles, a homemade brown sauce (vegan oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, etc.), and veggies (I used bok choy, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, and summer squash).

I'm planning to save the recipe for my next cookbook, which will be a look at veganized food trends through the past decades. The history of Chinese food in America is fascinating! Much of the stuff served in Chinese restaurants here isn't even Chinese.

Dishes like egg fu young and General Tso's chicken were invented here for American palettes when Chinese immigrants were opening restaurants to feed Americans in the post-World War II era. Thrillist has a great list with "10 Little Known Facts About American Chinese Food."

I ate my lo mein tonight with Fried Cream Cheese Wontons (made with vegan wrappers and Daiya chive & onion cream cheese). You can find that recipe here (just leave out the vegan crab for straight-up cheese ones). Here's an old pic of those since the ones I made tonight didn't turn out as pretty.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Phuong Long

Gosh, it's been ages since I've done a Bluff City Vegan Eats post. I only do these when I try a new vegan-friendly Memphis restaurant, and I guess I've been eating at the same places over and over lately. But a couple Fridays ago (yes, I'm quite behind in postings some things), I joined my co-workers Susan and Alexandra in checking out Phuong Long for lunch.

Susan, the managing editor of the Flyer, wanted us to eat there so she could blog about it for work (which she did here on Hungry Memphis), but I wanted to piggyback off her post so I could make sure to include it in my vegan-friendly Memphis restaurant guide.

Anyway, this is a newish Vietnamese place located just a block from my house, so I've no excuse for waiting around to try it. My neighborhood in Crosstown/Evergreen is just around the corner from Memphis' Little Vietnam, and I tend to stick to the Vietnamese joints I already know and love. Plus, the Vietnamese restaurant that previously occupied Phuong Long's space wasn't very vegan-friendly, which is strange for that cuisine. I guess that kept me from trying the restaurant under its new ownership for a bit.

Long story short, Phulong Long is very vegan-friendly! They have several veg dishes under the "Tofu & Vegetarian" section of the menu. Since I have a personal goal of trying every Lemongrass Tofu dish in town, that's what I ordered.

Since we were there for lunch, we ordered the lunch special, which comes with steamed rice and an eggroll. The eggrolls have meat unless you ask for a veggie one, but they're happy to sub. Also, I rarely inquire about the vegan-ness of eggroll wrappers because it seems that many Vietnamese places interchange the words "eggroll" and "spring roll," and many wrappers (especially the Asian brands) are made without eggs. I seriously doubt these guys are using the eggy Nasoya wraps. That being said, feel free to ask and let me know. I tend to shy away from asking too many questions when there's a language barrier.

Anyway, the lemongrass tofu was fantastic! It was saucier than I'm used to for lemongrass tofu, but I enjoyed that. And their tofu is fried to perfection. Pho Binh still makes the best lemongrass tofu in town, but Phuong Long isn't far off.

Susan ordered the Tofu with Bok Choy.

And Alexandra had the Curry Tofu.

Both agreed that the food was really yummy. Since I can walk to Phuong Long from my house, I'll definitely be going back soon.

Phuong Long is located at 306 N. Cleveland. Call 901-725-5079.