Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cabin, Hiking, and Recipe Planning

We took a few days off to go hiking a few weeks back, and I was quite proud of my recipe planning.  I looked up all the spices for each recipe, at what point they got added to the recipe (to keep those separate), and put them in teeny tiny adorable tupperwares, which I then labeled.  I also measured out the olive oil we'd need and put that in a small jar.  Later, I'll get to all the critical items I forgot.  But for now - let's just admire the cabin.

Below is the cabin we stayed in.  Jon googled and googled until he found a dog friendly place with a fireplace AND a hot tub.  We adored that hot tub.  Perhaps a bit too much, more on that later.

View of cabin from front

On our very first day, we decided to take the short way on forest service roads to a hike.  At first there was occasional patches of snow, then more snow, then deeper snow, until we got totally stuck.   It took us a good 45 minutes of shoveling, dragging our boots across the snow like tiny snow plows, stomping it down with our feet, breaking up twigs and putting them in the path of the wheels, but eventually we made a three point turn on a one lane road in 5 inches of snow with a Dodge Neon.  And we are still married.  In fact, we didn't fight ONE BIT about that!  No, instead we fought over getting the last beans out of a can which were stuck to the bottom while preparing dinner.  Yes, that is what we fought about.  Pro marriage tip: feel free to drive up any narrow snowy mountain roads with a wildly inadequate vehicle.  But avoid westbrae chili beans, they stick to the bottom of the can.

Most of the hikes were on the snowy side, which is harder than normal hiking, because you slide around more on slopes, and it's a little more challenging to walk when your boots are sinking in with each footstep.  The dog agreed, even she walked in the existing bootprints!

One great thing about hiking in the snow was the place was deserted.  We saw no sign of anyone, except for the boot prints of some long gone hiker and many animal tracks (we are so not Teal'c*, we had no idea what made any of the tracks except for the deer and rabbit tracks).

Sarah & Leeta on High falls trail

Note the impending stream crossing, where I will winge and wobble and frantically grasp for Jon's hand.  It's really not a feminist moment.  I actually bought a balance board, which is a device you use to practice balance on, in response to my less than admirable behavior during stream crossings.

Another great bonus of hiking in early March: frozen waterfalls.

"Ice beard" frozen waterfall

These were plentiful on the Otter creek trail.  So were sketchy icy scary parts, and hand holding.  Jon was very accommodating.

Another hike, High Falls trail, had amazing views.  Here's a picture of a majestic, many-hued, stunning landscape that looks like utter crap in the photo.  I can't stress enough how this landscape could bring a tear of joy to your eye, make you believe in a higher power, and make a mental note to learn watercolor painting so you can return and capture it's true essence.  Yet once translated into pixels...well, you see what I mean.

High falls trail

Here's the kitchen, where we cooked like gangbusters:
Kitchen and gas fireplace / heater

Now, onto lessons learned.  One of the meals I'd planned was tacos.  We had recently purchased a bag of Beyond Meat's new burger crumbles, feisty flavor.  (Who was in the focus group for that name?)  Anyhow, I totally forgot to bring them, tacos.  I also planned a thai coconut vegetable curry...and forgot rice.  I'd planned to make biscuits but forgot ground flax seeds for the egg.  However, despite my screw ups, we actually still ended up having too much food somehow.

In a non-food related lesson, 7 hot tub trips in 4 days is one too many.  My skin became really raw and red and dry.  I had no lotion, but we did have warming massage oil, so I tried that instead.  Don't ever put warming massage oil on red irritated skin.  It's a bad, bad mistake that will result in an immediate desperate shower, which will hurt also.

Finally, hiking in the snow is awesome, and I totally want to do it again.  It's gorgeous, peaceful, relaxing, and it you have a dog, especially nice, because they love snow so much, and you get to watch them bound around happily.

*Sci-fi reference

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

24-Course vegan dinner at Rogue 24

Last night I had a 24 course dinner. It took about 4 hours. It was fancy. It was incredible. Here's how it went down. You can see the full size pics at

Before bringing out the food, we were seated right next to the open kitchen. We were the first people to arrive, so we had 9 people entirely working for us, which was pretty cool.

Courses 1-5:

Clockwise from right:
Compressed cucumber w/ lime & mini pickles, rice puff with carrot tops and carrot gel, fried beet tangle, celery root raw ravioli with sunflower seed "cream" and celery powder, and vegan mozzarella balls with tomato powder.

The balls were very good, they had an odd texture (almost like a donut hole on the outside) but great flavor. The ravioli were delicate and pleasant, the beet tangle was rich and crunchy and delicious, the rice puffs were tasty in a fun and odd way, and the cucumber was good but unsurprising.

Course 6:
Globe artichoke w/ Meyer lemon, eggplant puree,fermented garlic, dried kale and vegan parmesan.

This was an incredible dish, a flawlessly executed take on a classic combo (artichoke / lemon) with a few nice twists (the eggplant / fermented garlic / kale).

Course 7:
"Peas and carrots:" Fried thinly shaved carrots, carrot powder, carrot tops, peas, pea puree, and blood orange truffle gel.

This was a very creative reinterpretation of another classic pairing, I liked it (especially the texture of the fried carrots) but not my favorite.

Course 8:

Avocado cream w/ three seaweeds, lime, espelette, and chili powder.

The avocado cream was just amazing, and although I generally don't like the texture or flavor of seaweed, these had a relatively muted flavor and the avocado complemented them perfectly. This was probably the dish that most surprised me in terms of how much I liked it relative to what I was expecting.

Course 9:
Aerated cauliflower soup w/ seared cauliflower, almond "crouton", compressed granny smith apple, pumpkin seed, and pink peppercorn.

The texture of the soup and crumble were very strange and I found this dish a bit on the bizarre and jarring side. Out of the entire dish, I got one bite near the end that happened to include the right balance of all components and it was great. The chef suggested that I should play with my food more before eating other dishes to address this.

Course 10:
Vegan ricotta w/ roasted peppers, honeycrisp, honeycomb, and smoked applewood powder.

The chef had mistakenly listed the avocado dish twice, so he had to make this one up on the spot, but it was just incredible (one of my favorites). He used Tofutti ricotta as a base (which is usually gross), somehow overcame that, and the balance of the ricotta, chile, smoke, and honey was divine. The textural diversity of the crispy / crumbly / creamy / chewy components was another major plus. He asked when I made the reservation if I ate honey or not, and checked again before serving it.

Course 11:
 Alliums w/ New Zealand spinach

This was another favorite dish of mine despite being relatively simple. It was roasted shallots, onion crisps (super thin crispy flakes made from powdered onion), grilled spring onions, and charred onion powder, accompanies by small dollops of vegan creamed spinach.

Course 12:
Roasted salsify in ash with beach herbs

I'd never had salsify before, so it was hard to tell how much of the complex flavor was innate to the root and how much came from flavors he added. But this seemed like the simplest dish of the night: a roasted salted root with a nice light fresh herb. Tasty and interesting, but not amazing.

Course 13:
I forgot to photograph this one, but it was one of my favorites: sunchokes with roasted onion over a pine nut crumble (similar to a shortbread cookie or biscotti) with red watercress and sea grass.

Course 14:

 La ratte potato sphere with olive oil & tarragon

This was the only dish that was surprising enough to actually startle me. He told us to eat it in one bite, and in my mouth it "popped" in a way I wasn't expecting (it seems like the interior was pressurized). The flavor was good, but I couldn't totally get behind the texture which I found a bit gelatinous.

Course 15:
I can't quite recall what the crumble underneath the broccoli was, but it was an excellent combo. This was about the best broccoli I've ever had.

Course 16:
Buckwheat gnocchi w/ ginger-black miso broth, charred onion shoots, and date jam.

This was a magnificent dish. It felt relatively simple like comfort food, but again just perfectly executed. The broth was flavorful and somewhat sweet, the gnocchi had a lovely texture and gentle nutty flavor, and the jam and onion provided a nice counterpoint to the rest of the rich base flavors

Course 17:
Lightly seared squash w/ kumquat jelly and curry

This was another dish that surprised me with how well balanced it was. There was just a hint of char which faded into background notes when you ate it with the rest of the roasted squash and jelly. It didn't taste "burned" at all, and made me realize I need to step up my game when winter squash season hits next time!

Course 18:

Winter mushrooms w/ forest moss, "snow", and pine oil

This dish didn't really come together for me. The mushrooms were a bit on the bland and rubbery side, and while the other textures and flavors were interesting this was just OK to me overall.

Course 19:
Black lentils w/ roasted turnip and pear, carrots, etc.

I don't know what all of the flavors in this dish were, but it was another favorite. One of the big chunks shown is pear, the other is turnip. The lentils had a marvelous creamy texture and intensely rich and complex flavor I couldn't identify but really enjoyed.

Course 20:

Vermicelli with toasted grains (oats / farro) in toasted grain broth

The sweet potato / starch noodles had a good flavor, but I found the broth to be too salty and I didn't really like the flavor that much either. This was my least favorite dish, although it was tough to follow the black lentils.

Course 21:
Coconut-yuzu sorbet w coconut "snow," black sesame paste, and yuzu gel

I think the coconut "sorbet" (much thicker / firmer than sorbet usually is but I don't know what else to call it) also had yuzu (a kind of citrus) in it along with the side of yuzu gel. The coconut / yuzu / black sesame was a great flavor combo, and this was also a fun mix of textures.

Course 22:
Chocolate "rocks" filled with sorbet and chocolate mousse, w/ dark chocolate threads and strawberry balsamic reduction

One of the rocks had a strawberry balsamic sorbet, the other two had a very light and fluffy chocolate mousse. The reduction paired perfectly with the dark chocolate (~75-80% cacao). All of the desserts were excellent but this was my favorite.

Course 23:
Peanut butter "sandwich"

This was peanut sorbet served with thin peanut brittle, brown sugar crumble, and concord jam. It was very good, although I felt more emphasis was placed on texture as the flavors were relatively straightforward (just peanut / grape / brown sugar).

Course 24:
"Happy endings" aka "little things" or "small bites."

All wonderful, although the chocolate ones were a bit on the oily side so they quickly melted in my fingers. From bottom/right to top/left: jellied passion fruit, chocolate orange truffle, white chocolate w/ something I forget (but I loved it despite not usually liking white chocolate), complex crisp of huckleberry and blackberry, and chocolate peppermint meltaway. A delicious cap to a 24 course meal (this box counts as one course)!

I was surprised that in over a year of offering a vegan meal, only 7 people had actually ordered one (it does take a week's advance notice, but still).Overall, I would recommend Rogue 24 without hesitation to anyone. Of 24 dishes 10 really impressed and delighted me, 3 I didn't like much (but none were bad and I ate them all), and the other 11 were still very good. I would not go for the wine / beer pairing again (it cost almost as much as the food and was not nearly as enjoyable), and it's pricey enough ($125) that it's certainly not something I'd do often, but I certainly enjoyed the meal a lot more than a night at a decent hotel somewhere!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Homemade Cinnamon-Pecan Praline Vegan Ice Cream

It turns out good vegan ice cream isn't terribly hard to make at home if you have a Vitamix. We came up with this recipe by tweaking one that comes with the Vitamix cookbook. Their version is also based on nuts, but they use water instead of soy milk, and their version is good fresh but freezes into solid ice if you don't finish it right away. Our version can be eaten fresh (~soft serve texture) or frozen and just set out for a few minutes before serving. Here's the recipe, with pics of each step along the way:

Pecan praline coating:
¾ cup pecans, chopped
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp margarine
1 Tbsp brown sugar

Ice cream:
1 cup pecans, chopped
3 cup vanilla soy milk, frozen into cubes
½ cup vanilla soy milk, chilled
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp dark rum
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt

At least 4 hours before making your ice cream, freeze 3 cups of the vanilla soy milk (I do it the night before). Also, dry roast all of the pecans in a skillet until fragrant and golden (be careful not to let them burn). Set aside 1 cup of the pecans and freeze them. Put the rest of the pecans in a bowl, and keeping the skillet hot, melt the margarine. Add the salt, cinnamon, and brown sugar and mix well, followed by the pecans. Keep stirring until the pecans are coated, and the coating has mostly dried and crystallized onto the pecans. Set aside (separately from the 1 cup of plain pecans).

Once the cubes have frozen hard (they should be totally dry), add all of the ingredients listed under “ice cream” (except the frozen cubes of soy milk) to your Vitamix (please don’t try this in a normal blender; it will likely break). Chip the cubes out of the ice cube tray (mine always stick pretty badly) and add them to the Vitamix. Select variable 1, turn the machine on, and quickly increase to 10 and switch it to “high.” Use the tamper to press all of the ingredients down into the blades. Wait ~30-60 seconds for the sound of the motor to change and four mounds to form. Be sure not to overmix or it will melt extra. Pour into a bowl, fold in the praline pecans, and freeze.

Note that I made this recipe with the intent of freezing it after you make it and having it still be good. You could reduce the rum and liquid soy milk if you wanted to eat it right away, which will make it firmer up front.

Here are pics of each step:
I find that using a silicon ice cube tray (in this case, a gummi bear shaped one) prevents the frozen soy milk from sticking to the tray.

Note that the tray always ends up with some soy milk in it, and I have to use a knife to chip them out.

This shows the texture of the ice cream when it comes out of the Vitamix, it is definitely on the soft side due to the rum / salt / soy milk.

This is the cinnamon pecan praline awaiting being stirred into the ice cream prior to being frozen, and the finally eaten!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review of Beyond Meat @ Tropical Smoothie Cafe

I was curious to try the new "Beyond Meat" product at Tropical Smoothie Cafe. I'd had it a couple of times other places but it was always super bland and not that good. These looked better, but I was curious what non-vegetarians would think. Often I think fake meat is not that realistic, while other veg*ns think it's just like the real thing.

So I bought several sandwiches (Thai peanut, Jamaican jerk, and buffalo) for myself and 6 of my colleagues and we had a taste test. Here's the pile of sandwiches before opening:
Beyond meat sandwiches at tropical smoothie cafe

The ratings for "overall quality / deliciousness of the sandwich" on a scale of 1 to 100 came out at a mean of 80.8 (ranging from 70 - 90). The ratings for "chickenness" of the beyond meat (as compared to a similar sandwich from Cosi or something) had a mean of 79.4 (68-90). One participant noted that it wouldn't pass for a good roast chicken, but was virtually identical to the generic chicken you get in other sandwich shops.

Here are the tasting notes / reviews (I was #7):

  1. Tasty but I'd be interested to know more about it (nutritional info, environmental footprint, ingredients, etc).
  2. I found the texture to be fairly convincing. I only tried the chicken and not the sandwich so I'll   give it a 50.
  3. The buffalo "chicken" sandwich was great. I would likely order it in the future, especially because I love buffalo chicken sandwiches but the chicken skeeves me out at most places that serve them.
  4. Great taste, with firm texture (sightly more so than real chicken, with much less fat). 
  5. That's a good sandwich!  I was surprised a how chicken-like the beyond meat was, they almost nailed the texture!
  6. I like how the consistency is very consistent - no weird tendon parts or fat. The flavor is just as good if not slightly better than actual chicken. Curious how the stuff is made, shipped, prepped at the shop, and how it might hold a marinade
  7. The texture is less smooth / shiny than chicken, and the fibers don't align as well. However, the flavor is pretty similar, and once you're chewing it the texture is reasonably similar to real chicken as well. The sauces on the Jerk and Thai sandwiches were great, the "buffalo" was just hot sauce. The overall experience was crazy salty, I was chugging water all afternoon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What does a vegan butcher shop look like?!

Just so you're not in suspense, here's the short answer (a shot of the deli case):

Vegan meats and side salads

Gutenfleischer's is a vegan butcher shop located inside a vegan bakery (Dough) in Atlanta, GA. The basic setup is similar to a traditional deli. OK, it's not really a vegan "butcher shop" because you don't get to choose a particular "cut" of wheat or soy (e.g. "I'll take a radicle, two cotytledons, and a lean cut of endosperm"), but you do get to choose from an array of homemade fake meats (made from wheat gluten, or seitan) which are then sliced super-thin on a real meat slicer:

Vegan meat slicer at work

The end result looks like this, not terribly different from what you'd buy at a normal deli. Super-thin slices wrapped in plain brown wax paper (please ignore the old toaster oven tray they're sitting on): Vegan Roast Beef, Turkey Buffalo, and Genoa Salami from vegan butcher
Vegan Pepperoni, Turkey Herb, and Cajun Ham from vegan butcher

Being curious, I naturally had to try every one, and I knew that Sarah would want to as well. So I ordered a quarter-pound each of all nine flavors, which kept her slicing for quite a while. Those were ham, Cajun ham, Canadian bacon, roast beef, Genoa salami, pepperoni, pepper turkey, buffalo turkey, and herb turkey. I also got a hot sandwich (a roast beef "au jus" thing which was surprisingly tasty and satisfying), a vegan sausage biscuit with tofu scrambled egg, and some desserts.

Unfortunately I visited about two months ago, so I don't have a perfect recollection of each of the meats. However, overall we enjoyed them quite a bit. Relative to their meaty cousins, these certainly tended to be significantly less juicy, although to be fair it took us a few days to get to all of them, which likely dried them out a bit. As you'd probably expect, they didn't taste just like meat, but they did have lots of flavor. The ham and bacon were the closest to tasting like the real thing, and might even fool someone not paying close attention. Most of them were very different, but good in their own way. For example, the Genoa salami didn't taste like salami much, but it did have a lovely peppery flavor. The turkey buffalo was nice and spicy, the pepperoni was complex and delicious, and while the roast beef had a mild flavor I still definitely enjoyed it.

If you find yourself visiting Atlanta it's definitely worth stopping by. Aside from the surreal experience of watching logs of vegan meats be sliced, and the unique culinary experience, you also may get ideas for changing up your diet at home.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Frankentoys: satisfying a destructive dog without constant new toys

We have a very playful dog who enjoys destroying toys. But it's not very "green" to keep buying new toys and throwing them out. Fortunately, Sarah has come up with an excellent solution which involved combining scraps of old toys together into new toys which the dog considers fun and exciting again. You will need the following:
1. A few old toys which your dog has extracted the stuffing from and grown bored with
2. An old chewed up rope toy (we used a rope lobster)
3. A happy dog

For our latest toy surgery, we began with a new large monkey toy Leeta got as an early Christmas present, which was extremely popular:
Leeta eating monkey brains

She loved the toy, and had great fun playing with it for a few days before we ended up in this situation:
Deconstructed Monkey

Note the shell of the monkey, as well as several other old toys in the area. To proceed, take the shell of the toy, and restuff it with other toy shells. Tennis balls, spare squeakers, and the old stuffing also make excellent things to restuff the toy with. The less ripped the shell is, the easier this will be. If only one end of a long tubular toy is ripped you can just restuff it and call it a day, but since this monkey was quite ripped up, I had to cut off several strands from the rope toy and use them to tie the new toy together so it would stay intact. And behold, a fun new frankentoy is ready to be rediscovered by your dog! Leeta enjoying frankenmonkey

We can generally get away with recombining old toys several times before she gets truly bored with them. Not every combination works, the most effective strategy seems to be a mix of a toy she still plays with regularly, and some old toys she has forgotten about (which may be interesting again). It's also key for her to have to work at it to be able to extract the new stuffing, although she still enjoys shaking them around and chasing them even before she settles down to redestroy them. There are some toys you can get that are designed to have parts removed and restuffed which we also like (, but this is a great way to reuse all of the normal toys you may get.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Garlic Extract

I get kind of crazy about high-quality hardneck garlic at the farmer's market. It has a strong, rich flavor, and a thick, oily texture that I find entirely different from normal garlic. Our local Whole Foods usually only has extra-gross garlic with that odd baloney smell old garlic often gets. To be able to taste quality garlic in the off season, I decided to start making my own garlic extract (which also makes cooking a lot more convenient).

First, while this picture isn't great, you can see the difference in how much garlic oil there is between the good garlic (at left) and the normal garlic (at right):

Garlic juice on knife

Anyway, to capture that goodness, just chop up a ton of good garlic, and let it soak in some decent vodka. No need for top-shelf, but please don't use gross super-cheap vodka which has off flavors. Svedka has the best quality: price ratio in my opinion, so it's what I used. Here's the vodka soaking up the garlic flavor:

Garlic vodka / extract

After it tastes sufficiently garlicky (I gave it 2 days in the fridge), strain through a cheesecloth. Now you can just add a splash of it to your stir fry, and it will taste like fresh garlic! Wayyy better that garlic powder.

Garlic vodka