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Sweet Memories: Mom’s Egg Custard Pie…Veganized!

11/26/2010

My mom has always been known for her desserts.  Half the city would line up at our door for a slice of her Lemonade Cake.  When it comes to a baked good, the woman is a miracle in the kitchen.  I don’t think I ever remember seeing a boxed cake mix or store-bought frosting at home – ever.  (That is, until my sister tried to make brownies on her own.  Let’s just say she didn’t get the baking gene.)

As a kid, I remember sitting at the kitchen table, watching her as she mixed up some magnificent confection or other for the holidays, or her church’s Sunday meeting.  Being the good little angel I was ;-), she always let me lick the beaters.  Thank goodness I knew nothing about salmonella in those days!

One of my personal favorites from Mom’s repertoire is Egg Custard Pie.  In fact, it’s the only incarnation in which I ever actually enjoyed them.  I’d beg her to make one whenever I came home from college. She’d oblige, and I’d go back to campus a happy camper.

Once I made the decision to become vegan, I thought that surely my annual Egg Custard indulgence was a thing of the past.  I mean, how was I supposed to make an Egg Custard Pie without eggs?

Making it a bit more difficult is my recent decision to remove refined white sugar from my diet as well.  After reading up on vegan baking online, I figured I’d try my hand at it using tofu in the place of the eggs.

A bit concerned, I hoped I’d end up with something at least edible.  Drawing on my experience with soy-based quiche, I’m happy to say it ended up pretty tasty.  It stood in for my old favorite on Thanksgiving, and I’m a happy camper once again.

Vegan Egg-Free! Custard Pie
Refined Sugar, Dairy, & Egg Free

What You Need:

1 9in pie crust (buy a vegan one or make your own)

12 oz soft tofu, rinsed & drained (I didn’t have silken, so I used regular soft.  I’ll be trying silken next time & report back.)
1.25c plain almond milk
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3 medjool dates, pitted & chopped
1/4c plus 2Tbsp agave nectar
1.5 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional; for color)

What to Do:

Pre-bake your pie crust according to package directions.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the almond milk & chopped dates in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Scald the mixture (if you’ve never scalded milk before, just leave it over the heat until you see steam rising from the pot.  Do not boil the milk.)

Combine 1/2 the mixture with half the tofu & blend until smooth. Blend in the remaining ingredients.

Pour into pie shell and bake for 45 minutes, or until firm.

Cool before cutting.

Serves 6-10.

What’s your favorite holiday dessert?  Did you enjoy it on this year’s Thanksgiving table?

An Ode to Cheesesteaks Past

11/24/2010

 

When I started college a few years ago, here was a spot around the way from my dorm that was famous for its "New York style" cheesesteaks.  Now, before you Philly folks protest, know that it’s pointless here.  I’m a New York girl at heart, always have been.  We know; you guys have the cheesesteak, Chicago’s got the deep dish and…we’ve got everything else. ;-) 

Seriously though, our version of the sandwich (which I didn’t discover until college, incidentally) boasts a great deal more veggies than the original, and comes as either beef or chicken.

Anyway, the place where I had my first encountered that ridiculous monstrosity [they were huge!] was so well-known for two reasons:

1.  The sandwiches were good…damn good.
2.  The smell.  Those of us in the know caught on quickly. You didn’t go to Mr. Everything in "good clothes."  The smell of the place clung to you like a bad suit.

Funky, but delicious. 

I guess, since I returned to the neighborhood this winter, memories of Mr. Everything resurfaced in my mind.  Today, I did my best to recreate that memory.  The only things missing were the Kaiser roll & green bell peppers. (I used Ezekiel bread instead, and I’m not the world’s biggest bell pepper fan.)

That said, I guess I can’t say I recreated the "World Famous Mr. Everything" sandwich exactly, but I think I came up with a pretty good approximation.  And, though I never opted for the chicken version, I used Quorn here because there were no "beefless tips" in sight. 

For the cheese, I mixed up a quick herb cheese sauce.  This version was okay, but it’s not great yet, so try it if you choose & adjust to your tastes. Feel free to add in the peppers & use a Kaiser/Amoroso roll. I hope you enjoy!

The "Ode to Mr. Everything" Cheesesteak-esque Sandwich

Chick’n Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
1 8oz pack of mushrooms, sliced
1.5c broccoli, chopped
3c fresh spinach, chopped

1 pkg Quorn chick’n nuggets
1/2-3/4c vegetable or chicken-style stock (in a squirt bottle)
Salt & pepper, to taste
Red chili flakes, to taste (I like really spicy food, so leave this out if you’re spice shy.)

 

Creamy Philly Cheesesteak Sauce

Ingredients:

    * 4 oz soy sour cream
    * 1/2 tsp garlic salt
    * 1/4 tsp dried parsley
    * 1/4 tsp dried oregano
    * Pinch dried basil
    * 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (taste & adjust as needed)
    * Pinch salt
    * 1/4 tsp fresh lime juice (optional)
    * 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (approximately)

Directions:

   Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Whisk the sour cream into the milk to thoroughly incorporate. Simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat & set aside until ready to use.

 

What to Do:

1.  If you’re making your own cheese sauce, start now.

2.  Add the olive oil & garlic to a sauté pan over very high heat.  [Be careful!  To saute the veggies the way we want, you’re going to need heat as high as you can get it.]  Add in the onion & cook until translucent.  Whenever your pan’s cooking too hot, give it a squirt of vegetable stock.  Add in the mushrooms, followed by the broccoli & spinach. 

3.  As the veggies cook down, add in your spices.  Sauté another minute & set aside.

4.  In the same pan, toss in your chick’n & squeeze some stock into the pan (for flavor & to keep it from sticking). Add in spices that you like. Sauté over medium-high heat until thoroughly warmed through.  Add the veggies back into the pan over low heat while you prep your roll.

5.  Top the bread with your cheesesteak-esque fixin’s (cheese sauce on top, of course) & have a huge bite! 

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I’ve had a long-standing love affair with vegetables, so I try to add them to everything I can.  Even though it’s not true to tradition, I added avocado & tomatoes to my sammie. (Yes, I know tomatoes are a fruit, people.) 

Did you like cheesesteaks before you went veg?  Have you veganized any of your favorite recipes?  Tell us about it!

Fun with (Vegan) Sushi!

11/22/2010

So, last Friday after the Christmas tree lighting in the Station (who lights a tree before Thanksgiving?), my winter roomie & I were supposed to go have sushi.  After a frustrating debacle while trying to get out of an over-packed parking lot, plans changed.

Me being me, I immediately started working out my new dinner menu in my mind.  I wanted sushi…badly.  I hadn’t had any since going vegan, which is a problem because I used to eat sushi at least once a week.

Then it hit me:

  • I had nori in the cabinet.
  • I had rice, Japanese eggplant I could roast quickly, and a few stray lobster mushrooms lying around.
  • There’s always soy sauce, sesame oil, and (surprisingly) wasabi powder at our place. 

 

I could make my own sushi!

And so my friends, I proceeded to cook up a batch of rice, toast off some sesame seeds, salt/roast the Japanese eggplant, mix up my wasabi, sauté the mushrooms & a few stir-fry veggies.  So about 45 minutes later, I was ready to roll!

That’s when the trouble started. 

I didn’t have a bamboo mat handy, but I figured I could do a decent approximation plastic wrap & parchment paper. The edges refused to hold together with water like the instructions said.  On top of that, I couldn’t seem to cut through it to save my life.  The result was that ginormous “floppy maki” in the background of my plate.  Yeah…FAIL.  😦

The good news is that my second roll came out much better (that’s why I put it in front of course). 

In the end, the flavor was delicious, and I got to try out a batch of homemade Piri Piri sauce as well.  [in my best sports announcer voice] It’s good!  Needless to say, it’s gonna take a little practice, but I’m thinking I could get used to satisfying my own sushi cravings at home.

Have you ever rolled your own vegan sushi?  Do you even like sushi?  What are your favorite combinations?

Cashew Goat Cheese: A Love Letter

11/21/2010

Dear Cashew Goat Cheese,

My darling…how can I express what I’ve come to feel for you so quickly?  It seems only yesterday that I knew nothing of your deliciousness, you simple concoction which borders on alchemy.  Your creaminess had escaped my tastebuds, and I, being ignorant of you charms, knew no better.  My world was unfulfilled without my even realizing.

The complexity of flavors that you develop given the slightest encouragement from me is beyond astounding, and I am grateful for your devotion to my gastronomic pleasure.  I’ve been so enthralled by you that I’ve only experienced your magic on the humblest of crackers, but I envision you in salads, dressing up sauces, and adding your seductive flavor to some of my favorite soups.  The possibilities for our culinary exploration are indeed endless. How could you be more versatile?

You have secured your place as my staple cheese, so we’ll be spending lots of time together.  Being the generous soul that I am, however, I want to share you with the world…you sing your praises from the rooftops – and so I shall.

Until we meet again (when I hit publish),

All my cheesy love,

Lena

In all seriousness though, people, if you’ve never made this before, get thee down to your nearest market (or your kitchen cupboard) and grab some raw cashews, tahini, lemon and olive oil!  This recipe is really simple, but it does take a while if you want to ‘culture’ the cheese to get the full flavor.  No worries, though – your patience will be rewarded!

Pepper-Crusted Cashew Goat Cheese

Recipe source: here.
Makes 10 oz log

  • 3/4 cup raw cashews
  • 6 Tbs canola oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (Please use fresh lemon juice! I made my second batch with bottled b/c I was out, and it made me shed tears.  The flavor was off.)
  • 1 Tbs. tahini
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • parchment paper
  • cheese cloth
  • 1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns or coarsely ground black pepper

1. Place cashews in large bowl; cover with 3 inches water.  Soak overnight.

2. Drain liquid, rinse cashews under cold water and drain again.  Puree cashews, oil, lemon juice, tahini, salt, and 2 Tbs. water in food processor 6 minutes, or until smooth and creamy.

3. Place large strainer over bowl, and line with triple layer of cheesecloth.  Spoon cashew mixture into cheesecloth.  Fold sides of cloth over cheese, and form into 6-inch-long oval loaf.  Twist ends of cloth and secure with rubber bands.  Set in strainer over bowl, and let stand 12 hours at room temperature.  Discard excess liquid.  Chill.

4. Preheat over to 200 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Unwrap cheese, and scrape into 7-inch-long log on cheesecloth.  Rewrap, and twist ends to secure.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Bake 35 minutes, or until cheese becomes set on outside but still soft, turning occasionally.  Cool, and chill.

5. Unwrap cheese.  Sprinkle with peppercorns, pressing to adhere.

Ever made homemade vegan cheese?  What’s your favorite kind?  Feel free to share your recipes!

Quick Fix: The Beloved Buddha Bowl, Soul Food Style

11/19/2010

Okay yall, I’m gonna let you in on a secret “discovery” I made earlier this week.  Apparently, there’s a really popular meal called a Buddha Bowl that’s been well known in the vegan community for years now. 

How could I not have known this?

Seriously – where have I been?

Well, when I heard about this quick fix & found out how ridiculously simple it is to make, I had to experience it for myself.

 VegNSoul Buddha Bowl

 

It is indeed a bowl of deliciousness.

The basic components of a Buddha Bowl are so simple, anybody can put one together in less that ten minutes & have a healthy meal.

The ingredients are:

  • A small serving of grain (I’ve been using like 1/3 cup)
  • A protein of your choice
  • A bunch a greens & veggies you like (as many as you can handle)
  • A few spices you dig, and a light sauce/dressing of some kind
  • Throw on a few nuts/seeds for good measure while you’re at it

When I made this bowl I was flying by the seat of my pantyhose, mixing flavors that I liked & hoping it came out okay.  At first bite, my whole body got the giggles! The more I ate, the harder it was to believe that I’d never thought of this.  Dinner & lunch the next day were repeats!

I’m telling you, if you’ve only got a tiny sliver of time to fit lunch or dinner prep into your busy schedule, do yourself a favor & make one of these instead grabbing some bag o’crap from your office vending machine.

Now, in case you want an idea to get you started, here’s what I put in my “Soul Buddha” Bowl.  Feel free to try it out.

 

What to use:

  • 1/3c leftover rice
  • 2Tbs cheesy bean sauce (I’ll share the recipe once I tweak it); use brown That's Chocolate chip banana bread in the background.gravy, mushroom sauce, whatevs
  • A slice of my leftover (vegan) meatloaf
  • One monster handful of spinach
  • 1 green onion, sliced (both the green & white parts)
  • 2Tbs cilantro
  • 1/2 of a large tomato
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2Tbs flax seed, ground
  • Seasonings:  Coarse sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, red chili flakes/Tabasco
  • “Dressing”: Soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, apple cider vinegar…all to taste

 

What to do:

Layer your bowl contents in the order listed above.  (Warm any leftovers you’re using to layer on the bottom first).  Sit down with a nice, healthy drink, mix your bowl contents together, & enjoy.  Have a feeling of peace and tranquility, knowing that you’ve done something wonderful for your body.

 

I can’t wait to make one with marinated kale/collard salad & polenta (in place of the cornbread).  There are so many possibilities!

Have you ever had a Buddha Bowl?  What are your favorite ingredients? 

The Mind-Mouth Connection: How Ignoring Your Emotions can Lead to Crappy Food Choices

11/18/2010

When I opened LiveWriter today, I had plans to take this post in a totally different direction.  It’s T-1 week ‘til Thanksgiving, and I was going to do a Holiday recipe series that will (likely) keep both vegheads and omnis happy.  Then, a funny thing happened…

 

…After I’d polished off the Cashew Goat Cheese I baked up this morning; as I was dipping my fingers into the bowl of leftover buttercream from last week’s muffin-turned-cupcake fiasco and planning to grab a handful of raw almonds on my way out, I realized something.

November is a very emotional month for me.  During the course of this 30 days, just about every milestone in my romantic life took place. And every year, I spend November trying to muddle through & forget my time with the person I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with.

 

Today is especially hard.  When I was popping that handful of chocolate chips (I conveniently neglected to mention above), a light bulb went off.  When we bury emotional pain, it bubbles beneath the surface until it boils over. As the pressure built up in my life over the past week, my diet got progressively worse.  More sweets, less greens…until I disintegrated into a pool of vegan goat cheese & semi-sweet chocolate.

 

Now that I realize what’s going on, I have the power to make better choices.  How?

I can address the trauma that’s causing me to reach for sugar & fat (as a pain reliving mechanism) by journaling [or blogging ;-)], talking it out with a fiend, whatever.

I can be more mindful of my food choices until I regain my equilibrium, and re-establish my workout regimen (remember my still painful quad tear?) to get my endorphins flowing again.

I can whip up a green smoothie to jumpstart my detox from the overage of ‘less than optimal’ nutrient-deficient food I’ve been taking in over the last few days.

 

The Moral of the Story

 

When we refuse to deal with our emotions, symptoms of the repression tend to show up in other areas.  If food has any emotional context for you, your diet is likely to be affected.  Listen to your body & be mindful of its signals.  Sometimes that sugar craving is a symptom of something much deeper. Deal with it – when you can, as best you can.  Get help if you need to.  You’re worth it!

 

Have you ever found yourself emotionally eating?  How did/do you deal with it?  Please share your tips!

Quick Fixes: Long Live the Sandwich!

11/17/2010

It’s so beautifully simple…

Since its humble beginnings when the Earl himself told a maid to slap some meat between two pieces of bread so he wouldn’t have to stop playing cards to eat, the sandwich has come a long way.

Think about it –

  • If done right, this culinary masterpiece can be an entire meal in one hand.
  • If done well, its hearty, healthy, and delicious.
  • For new vegans (especially those of you who haven’t yet learned to make more complex veg. meals), it can keep you from starving to death while you’re learning.

Given my very painful fitness injury earlier this week, I’ve pulled this sucker out of my repertoire twice & it’s only Wednesday.  First up was a double burger patty rendition (see it up there ^?), followed yesterday by an open faced ‘meatloaf’ version. [Dude seriously, I HATED meatloaf as a kid, but I have got to share this vegan version I’ve come up with. I think you’ll really like it!]

Here are a couple of tips for healthy vegan sandies for you newbis out there:

1.  Easy on the sauces, heavy on the veg. Yeah, Vegenaise is good, but too much of a good thing can suck for your health.  Since you’re new to this, take some time to experience the flavors of the new food you’re trying in your sandwiches before you drown them out with mayo.  Not only that, but there are plenty of other tasty sauces you can use to dress up your eats.  Try mixing a little balsamic vinaigrette into your mayo, or forgetting it all together & adding some guacamole or pesto instead.

2.  White bread is so 90s. Seriously, most of us are well past our WonderBread days.  Plus, we’ve all heard about the lack of nutritional value in super-processed foods.  Bring your sandwich to an adult level by adding some sophisticated whole grains to the party.  My choice? Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain bread. I promise you, this stuff makes me wanna sing hallelujah…like, seriously.

3.  Shake it up! If you’re eating the same sandwich toppings all the time (while you polish your cooking skills, of course), it’s going to get boring fast!  Try different tastes/flavors to vary your tastebudinal (yeah, I know) experience. Think about your favorite foods…how can you incorporate those flavors and textures into your next one-hand meal?  Experiment with different proteins…tofu & deli slices aren’t all there is to the sandwich world!  One of my personal faves is a vegan ‘tuna’ salad made from chickpeas.  Variety is the spice of life, and a key to sticking to your new way of eating!

Are you a sandwich fan?  What’s your favorite?  What tips would you offer new vegans in the art of sandwich-making?

Edible Essentials: How to Start Stocking Your Vegan Pantry

11/17/2010

EdibleEss

This post started as a guide for new veg*ns to use as a starting point when learning to shop for this lifestyle.  When I really thought about it though, I realized that it can be used by anyone hoping to improve their health and vitality by eating real, whole foods.  So, whether you’re changing your dietary lifestyle, or just trying to get your sexy back, the basics included on this list can help you achieve your goals. 

 

Everything on this list makes a frequent appearance in my kitchen.  I practice what I preach.  Feel free to take what you find here and build on it as you learn about your own body & what makes you feel most vibrant (but let’s be real now…white sugar & Crisco will not make anybody in this world feel vibrant.  Don’t cheat yourself.).

 

This list is pretty extensive.  For my top 25 kitchen essentials for a new vegan, look out for The Hit List (coming next week).

 

All that being said, here goes:

 

In the Cabinets:

Beans – both canned & dry
I use mostly dried beans (soaked overnight).  Always keep a few cans around for days when you’re tired, or didn’t have time to plan ahead.

I use these (most frequently) – black, kidney, white, lentils & chickpeas.  Find some you like & always have them in your cabinet.

Pasta – PLEASE try to use whole wheat/grain pastas. Most of the time, they only costs a few cents more.  Buy a lot when it’s on sale, it keeps for a while.

Brown rice, organic jasmine rice (if you can budget it in)

Couscous

Canned, diced tomatoes (when tomatoes are out of season, these REALLY come in handy)

Whole grains (as many as I can. I use millet, amaranth, quinoa, and kamut.  They’re all ancient grains you can easily find at a Whole Foods type store.  Start with quinoa.)

Almost whole grains – Like pearled barley, bulgur, & rolled oats.  All cheap, versatile, and nutritious.

Whole grain flour – I use whole wheat & spelt the most. 

Vital wheat gluten – to make homemade seitan (we’re not there yet).

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) – a meat substitute for tacos, manwich, etc.

Garlic, Potatoes – Seriously, what CAN’T you do with these?

 

For Cooking:

Seriously, if I left oils, sauces & spices off this list, what would be the point?  Spices bring all food (vegan or not) to life.  Here’s a glimpse of what I use most:

Extra Virgin Olive & Coconut oil – For real, buy the good stuff.

Balsamic & Apple Cider vinegar – I use ACV almost every day.

Soy Sauce & Sesame oil – Don’t do Asian without them (actually, don’t even try).

Spices -  My absolute must-haves are: Sea salt, black pepper (whole – buy a grinder), red chili flakes, vegetable bouillon (cubes & paste), cumin, coriander, & fennel seed, nutritional yeast, turmeric, ground cinnamon, ginger, & nutmeg, onion & garlic powder, paprika, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary, cayenne, and bay leaf.  Oh, and need I even say pure vanilla extract?

Sweeteners – I’m still learning in this department.  For now, I use medjool dates, agave nectar, & maple syrup.

In the Fridge:

Fresh/frozen vegetables – Go for what’s in season…it’ll taste the best. 

Here are a few suggestions that I buy nearly every week:

Spinach, broccoli (fresh/frozen), cabbage, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, okra (usually frozen unless it’s summer), lettuce, kale, squash, greens, cucumbers, etc.

Fresh/frozen fruit – for snacks, smoothies, juices, dessert, whatever.

Stuff like blue/strawberries, cherries, grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, lemons, limes, etc.

PeppersJalapenos, serranos, bell, etc.

Proteinstofu, tempeh, seitan.  I usually buy only tofu.  Tempeh occasionally.  I make seitan at home.

Herbs – Essential to vegan cooking (IMHO).  Keep parsley, basil, & cilantro on hand.  Pick up others as needed.

Non-dairy milk – I prefer almond.  Try rice, hemp, soy, oat…there are all kinds!

Fruit juice – try to find all natural fruit juices with little to no added sugar.  I rarely drink pre-made juice.

Raw nuts & seeds – I keep these in the fridge because they can go bad quickly in heat/light.  I almost always have these in my kitchen: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin, sunflower, & flax seeds.  I buy them raw because they’re more versatile & I can snack or add them into my dishes.  

Vegenaise – I used to like mayonnaise…a lot.

Earth Balance – Because we vegans don’t use butter, you see…

Vegan sauces & salad dressings – I’m putting this here for those newbies not comfortable making dressings yet.  I prefer to make my own.  It’s easy, fast & economical (cheap).

BreadWhole grain or sprouted. I like Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain, but if you’re on a budget, go for a good whole grain.  Or, make your own (I’m getting there).

Convenience foods – Sometimes you just don’t have the time to make anything from scratch. Or, you’re too tired, sick, or just don’t want to be bothered.  When that time hits, it’s good to have a few deli slices, some Daiya cheese, or a chick’n patty on hand so you don’t starve to death or order crap.

Ice cream – Surprisingly, I almost NEVER buy or eat (vegan) ice cream anymore.  But, if you’re still into it for a snack, find a good brand you like and have some…occasionally.

 

Snacks!

The deeper into veganism I go, the less I buy pre-packaged snacks.  Here are few things to try:

Cookies & crackers -  These are so crucial for new vegans.  Find something as healthful as possible & keep it around for when you need a little nibble.

Dried fruitsCranberries, Raisins/Sultanas (golden raisins), Apricots, whatever else you like.  They’re delicious & definitely pack a power punch.  Be careful, though.  Look for dried fruits without added sugars & oils.

Popcorn – Not the kind you’re used to, though.  Buy the loose, dry kernels, put a 1/4c in a paper sandwich bag & pop it in the microwave.  A quick, healthy & completely customizable snack.  Add nutritional yeast & a little coconut oil for a cheesy treat.  Can you dig it?

 

Hopefully this list helps you find more heathful essential that suit your vegan lifestyle.  I’ll continue to update it, and please leave me a little note if I’ve missed something (as I’m sure I have).  Bon appetit!

Tastes of the City, ATL Edition: Healthful Essence

11/16/2010

Tastes of The City is VegNSoul’s restaurant review series.  Each venue is rated on merit in the categories of ambiance, service, food, value & overall experience.  These add up to a rating between one and five stars.  If you have specific questions about a reviewed venue, please leave a comment.

 

Healthful HealthfulEssence

 

It pains me to do this…

For those who don’t know much about me yet, I’m part Bahamian (and Native American), so I take my Caribbean eats very seriously.  That’s why I was so excited when I found Healthful Eats after a Google search for Atlanta vegan restaurants. [Since I no longer live in Atlanta full-time, I check regularly to see if anything new has opened up since my last visit.]

After much excitement, I did a quick once over of the Yelp reviews (high marks!) and headed to my old college stomping grounds to grab a plate.  Here’s how it all turned out:

 

Ambiance: Upon walking in, my friend & I were greeted by the cashier.  There were no occupied tables [at lunchtime…red flag], but I noted immediately that the restaurant was very clean. No stray crumbs, clutter or un-cleared tops.  Score one for the Essence team.  The menu board is behind you when you reach the counter.  They have no printed copies, so I found that a little counterintuitive.  Who wants to turn around to check out what’s available?

Service: Since my lunch companion felt a bit uncomfortable (long story) & decided to eat elsewhere, I ordered takeout.  As a first timer, I had a few questions about the available options, and the cashier didn’t seem too inclined to go into much detail. She did offer a sample of their fare, and I opted to taste the sauce for the un-fish.


Food:
Healthful Essence offers 1-4 item combo plates ranging between $2 and $10.  I ordered the 3 item plate ($8), with brown stew un-fish, collard greens, and mac & un-cheese.  [I’m not certain why, but there’s a $1.99 upcharge for un-fish or un-chicken.]  Let’s breakdown the individual components:

Mac & Un-cheese – There’s one word to describe this pasta: bland.  The noodles were significantly overcooked (as in, we passed Al Dente a long time ago), and obviously boiled in under-salted water.  The “cheese sauce” was bright yellow, but lacked flavor – no nutritional yeast twang, cashew creaminess, nothing. Surprisingly, it left me craving those boxed macaroni dinners from childhood, despite the fact they usually taste like the box they’re packaged in.

Collard Greens – Can you tell from my posts that I’m a big collards fan?  I’ve ordered (and cooked) them dozens of different ways.  Unfortunately, these left much to be desired.  Greatly under-seasoned, I doused them in sea salt, pepper & Tabasco to make them palatable.  Strike two.

Brown Stew Un-Fish – The protein was this meal’s one redeeming quality.  The sauce was just salty enough, with a properly sour note & just a bit of spice.  Red bell peppers and vidalia onions were slow simmered in the gravy, rounding out its body.

NOTE:  The “un-fish” itself appears to be May Wah issue (which caused me some concern as I typed this, so I went to check out the ingredients here).  If so, they contain WHEY PROTEIN, making them vegetarian, not vegan!

I was not asked about my dietary status or informed of any ingredients upon ordering this dish.  I’ll be checking with the restaurant, and will update this review accordingly.

Value –  Healthful Essence offers sizable portions; however, they seem to miss the essence of this type of Caribbean restaurant. In most similar establishments, rice and peas come standard.  This vital part of the Caribbean diet counts as a side at Essence, however.  I’m still uncertain as to why there’s an upcharge for certain proteins as well.

Overall ExperienceGiven the cumulative value in all categories, I’d have to say I’m sorely underwhelmed. Perhaps it’s my Caribbean heritage, or the high bar set for this type of vegan spot back in Brooklyn, but I can’t recommend Healthful Essence.  Given the possibility of being served vegetarian fish (as opposed to vegan) without being informed, I will not return.

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My rating: 2 Stars, based solely on cleanliness & the un-fish sauce

My suggestion: Save the 12-15 bucks, and another five spot to it, & go grab lunch at Cafe Sunflower.

Pain, & a TINY Bit of Frustration

11/15/2010

Hey folks!
It’s rainy & bland today. Yay. *insert generic thumbs down photo here*

I was planning to post about my breakfast muffin experiment failure, but managed to tear a quad muscle during this morning’s workout.

So, I can’t stand up in the kitchen to take pics with my crap camera phone. Right this second, I’m laid out, leg elevated & typing with one hand. :sigh:

I’ve got a couple back-up posts in the wings, though…just waiting for graphics. I think I’ll do that today.

What the heck? I’m stuck in one spot; plenty of time. 😦

 

Back in a flash…