Monthly Archives

June 2012

Brunch, recipes

Vegan Sunday Brunch, Episode 2: Hashbrown Casserole

Ever since last week’s very first Sunday brunch episode, there have been ideas flying around like crazy for what to make next.  Mike had a vision in his head of some casserole his brother made once, with layers of hashbrowns and cheese, and we determined to create a vegan version of it that also had some exciting additions like spinach (greens felt like a very necessary part of today’s brunch).

What resulted was a beautiful melangee of crisp hashbrowns (homemade!), onions and garlic, creamy vegan eggs and cheese, spinach, pickled jalapenos, and some veggie sausage.  When we were assembling this casserole, we knew it would be good, but we really had no idea how intensely delicious it was destined to be.  And if you use pre-made hashbrowns, this recipe would come together very quickly.

Vegan Hashbrown Casserole
Makes 1 9×13 casserole

Ingredients:

8-10 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (or enough frozen hashbrowns to line the bottom of a 9×13 dish)
Several spoonfuls vegan margarine (ignore if using frozen hashbrowns)

1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. shredded vegan cheddar cheese (1 bag of Daiya)
3 cups spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup soft tofu, blended
1/4 cup pickled jalapenos (or to taste)
1 cup diced vegan sausage
4 large green onions, chopped, green and light green parts only

Directions:

1. For the homemade hashbrowns: Shred potatoes with a box grater (no need to peel them).  Grab small handfuls of the shredded potatoes and squeeze them really hard over a sink to get as much moisture out of them as possible.  Place the drained potatoes in a medium bowl and repeat until you’ve squeezed the liquid from all of the potatoes.  Prevail through the physically arduous nature of this task – it’s worth it!

In a large frying pan, heat a spoonful of vegan margarine over medium-high heat.  When melted, add some of the shredded potatoes, cooking in batches so that they crisp up nicely.  Each batch will take around 7 or 8 minutes, and we did about 4 batches.  Happily, it’s an easy and non-fussy task.

2. To assemble the casserole: Preheat the oven to 400F.  Line the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish with all of the hashbrowns (homemade or frozen).  Evenly sprinkle the onions and garlic on top.  Sprinkle on a little less than half of the vegan cheese, followed by the spinach.  Spoon on the blended tofu and carefully spread – it’ll just coat the whole thing.  Prettily arrange the pickled jalapenos on top of that, sprinkle on the remainder of the cheese, and then top with the sausage.  Place in the oven, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, adding the green onions in the final 10 minutes of the cooking time.  The sausage will start to crisp and the cheese will be bubbly.

Let it cool for several minutes, slice, and serve!

We served it up with some fresh fruit and homemade cinnamon buns.  The bun part of the recipe was perfect, but the sauce needs some work so we’ll have to re-try baking these in the future.  A shame, I know, re-testing cinnamon buns. πŸ™‚

Start the magic with a happy layer of hashbrowns.

Add the onions, garlic and a little less than half of the vegan cheese (coffee is mandatory for the brunch cooking experience).

Add a layer of spinach.  Greens in a breakfast casserole never hurt anybody!

Spoon on the blended tofu and add some lovely slices of pickled jalapeno.  When the tofu cooks, it develops an egg-like texture so realistic you could totally fool tofu skeptics.

Complete it all with the rest of the cheese and vegan sausage.  Prepare for awesomeness.

Exhibit A: Awesomeness.

In between mouthfuls, we emphatically agreed that all Sundays should be this perfect.  I can’t wait to concoct another great brunch, complete with lazy lounging and great music.

Brunch-making tunes:  Mother Mother’s album “Eureka” and Crash Kings’ self-titled album.  Good vibes everywhere.

Hope you all had an excellent Sunday! πŸ™‚

mains, recipes

Channa Masala

All through high school, my friends had mad cooking skills, whereas I was just a big space-case who didn’t know the first thing about food, other than that I liked it.  I’d get invited over for meals (Claire, I still remember the day you fed me sauteed swiss chard), and the occasional dinner party, one of which was Indian-themed.  The meal was completely vegan (there were some vegans and vegetarians among us) and completely incredible.  I’ve already posted a recipe that I fell in love with at that dinner party (Aloo Gobi – potatoes and cauliflower), but the real star of that evening was the Channa Masala, a stewed tomato-chickpea dish.

I’ve made so many versions of channa masala it’s almost embarassing, and none of them struck me as stellar or even remotely as awesome as the one I had at that dinner party years ago.  Finally I said, “screw following a recipe”, and created my own.  I considered how I wanted the texture (thick and not soupy) and the flavor (bold and punchy but not abrasive or bitter).  I also was determined to get the tomato flavor just right – not an overwhelming amount of tomato, but not so little that you can hardly tell it’s there.

Well sometimes awesome things happen when you take matters into your own hands, and now I have a channa masala recipe I can make over and over again.  Cue victory music!

Channa Masala

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups cooked chickpeas
2 cups canned diced tomatoes, unsalted*
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon amchoor powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

*if using salted tomatoes, you probably won’t need to add any additional salt at the end.

Directions:

1.  Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large pot.  Add the onions, garlic and ginger and saute for several minutes, until the onions turn translucent and everything smells nice.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook another minute.  Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne and turmeric, stir, and cook for yet another minute.  Add the chickpeas and diced tomatoes, turn up the heat and cook until hot, about 10 minutes.  Finally, stir in the garam masala, amchoor powder, salt and lemon juice and remove from heat.  Taste to adjust seasonings (but don’t burn your tongue!)

This tastes very good even when it’s freshly made, and it’s even better if it’s had a bit of time to sit.  You know, so the flavors can mingle and chat and exchange phone numbers.

 I served my channa masala over rice and sauteed kale, topped with mango chutney.  I highly recommend chutney-izing your Indian food meal.  I even have a super-easy raw mango chutney recipe, so no excuses.

Enjoy!

bowls, recipes

Sushi Bowl

Hello blogland!

Today I’ve got a few things to share, including a rice bowl modeled after the one from my favorite restaurant in the city, 13th Ave Coffee House.  But first, I want to share a few brag-worthy photos from my Saturday at Saskatoon’s comic convention.  And finally, I have some news-type stuff to talk to you guys about, which I’d love your input on.  So let’s get to it!

First of all, when one is at a comic convention full of people cosplaying it up, decked out to the nines in their awesome nerdiness, there’s bound to be some awesomely nerdy vendors too.  If you can tell me what my pin is from (the black pig), I will be your best friend.

But the best part is that nyan cat scarf.  A scarf!  With nyan cat!  I’m sad his cute face gets cut off, but you get the idea.  This actually gives me a reason to look forward to winter this year.

And even more awesomely, check out the guy in the middle (framed by two super-cool people):

That’s right, dudes – Billy West.  You know, the guy who does voices for Futurama characters like Fry, the professor, Zoidberg (not a word I’ve ever had to spell) and Zap Brannigan.  And lots of other cool stuff like Ren and Stimpy, too.  The random guy in the back photo-bombing is also a nice touch.  Billy’s a really down-to-earth guy, actually, and made fun of me for my heavy purse because it attacked him.  I wish I could say that I engaged him with clever witticisms, but mostly I just went “hee hee”, being star-struck and all.

So my weekend was pretty much perfect.  And then I had a kitchen disaster which I’m too ashamed to talk about, so instead, I’ll share my kitchen success instead – a sushi bowl.

You know me, I love them bowls.  Rice, fresh and crunchy veggies, tofu (in this one, anyway), and a creamy dressing?  Hard to go wrong there.  This particular bowl is reminiscent of a sushi roll – the wasabi dressing packs a punch (but not a painful one – promise), and the bowl is topped with cut-up nori and pickled ginger. And you know you’ve made something hella tasty when you’re daydreaming about leftovers.

Sushi Bowl
Serves 2


Ingredients:

2 cups cooked brown rice (sushi rice would be yum, too)
1/2 block firm tofu, cubed and cooked the way you like it (I pan-fried them with soy sauce)
1 heaping cup cucumber, sliced in semi-circles
1 cup shredded carrot
1 small red bell pepper
1-2 sheets nori, cut in skinny strips (if you lurve nori like me, use 2)
Pickled ginger, for serving (about 1 tablespoon each)
Gomasio or toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (optional but worth it)

Wasabi Dressing:

6 oz soft silken tofu (1/2 a tetra pack)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon prepared wasabi paste (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon agave or sugar
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Prepare the dressing: combine all the ingredients in a little blender and blend.  That’s it!  Taste it to adjust the wasabi potency, because the strength varies from brand to brand.

2. Assemble the bowl: in each bowl, layer 1 cup of rice, 1/2 of the tofu, and 4 tablespoons of the sauce, followed by half the cucumber, carrot and red bell pepper.  Garnish with the nori, pickled ginger and gomasio, if using.  And don’t fear the nori being all crunchy – once it gets mixed in with everything, it softens right up.

That’s it!

The wasabi punch of this bowl is definitely prominent but not crazy.  Every now and then I’d take a bite that cleared out my sinuses, but for the most part it’s pretty non-offensive, and has a great flavor to boot.  Oh yeah, and because of the tofu usage in both the sauce and the layering, this is a protein-heavy meal.  If you’re not into that, substitute the tofu cubes with something else or omit them entirely…but come on.  Tofu cubes are freakin’ delicious.

And now I need your help!

For the last several months, I’ve been working on a cooking project – specifically, I’ve been compiling a cute little cookbook about bowls.  You know, those rice bowls I’m in love with.  And noodle bowls, too!  I intend to keep it fairly short and will probably have no more than 25 recipes, many of which are already in development.  To keep costs to a minimum, I plan on releasing the book in electronic formats, like as an e-book and for e-readers.  And I plan on completing this project by the end of September.

What would be awesome is if you could let me know what you’d really like to see in a book about bowls – is there a rice or noodle bowl that you’re head-over-heels for and would really like to see?  Are you looking for soy-free, gluten-free, etc kind of recipes?  What about recipes for preparing important bowl components like tofu, seitan and beans?  Do you prefer recipes that serve 4, or 2?  I have about a million questions and I’d love any and all input you have to offer, and in the coming months I’ll keep you posted on the happenings and we can talk about it more.

Thank you!  I’m super excited about this project – there are a lot of gems (like this sushi bowl!) that I can’t wait to share. πŸ™‚

recipes, salad

Power Salad with Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette

ο»ΏSalads.  I have plenty of blogging friends who do up the salad thing on a regular basis and I really want to be one of those people, I do.  And I like salads well enough, but they don’t usually shout at me to make ’em. 
ο»Ώ

I can think of a couple reasons why – one of them is not spending the few extra bucks it takes to get a tasty salad mix, and fun stuff like sunflower sprouts or pea shoots.  You know, things that really make a salad exciting.  Another reason is that they need to have lots of different components to interest me, so that each bite of food is like a crazy adventure party.
So I took matters into my own hands and made a crazy adventure party salad – but I’m just calling it a power salad because it’s got lots of heft and staying power what with the tofu, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.  I know that ‘power salad’ isn’t quite as exciting, but it is slightly more descriptive.  So we’ll go with it.

Don’t feel like you need to use tofu – use whatever.  Chickpeas or tempeh would be awesome here, especially if they’re seasoned/marinated.  Same goes for the sunflower seeds – I toasted them on a skillet in a little soy sauce to pack in a bit of extra flavor which I highly recommend, but plain seeds would be cool too.  Just not as cool.

And please – when making a crazy adventure party salad, use high quality ingredients.  Nothing like a salad to make you notice if anything’s sub-par.     

(I know 3 servings is kind of a weird number, but it’s also possible that what I deem 3 servings someone else would call 4 servings.  What can I say, I have a big appetite.)
For the Salad:

1 container mixed greens (somewhere around 2 cups per serving)
3 large carrots, shredded
2 medium beets, shredded
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 big handful of sunflower sprouts (or pea shoots)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1-2 avocados, sliced (depending on appetite)
6 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds
1 block tofu, cut into slabs and marinated (I just do a soy sauce/lemon juice mixture)

For the dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced

Directions:

1. Arrange all of the salad ingredients in an aesthetically appealing way, because if you’re going to eat salad, why not make it beautiful?  Also, it’s not worth worrying about specific portions with this – I seldom if ever measure salad ingredients.  Do what’cha want!
2.  Make the dressing: combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, sugar, mustard and salt in a small blender and blend until emulsified.  Alternately, you can give the ingredients a good shake in a small jar, or whisk ’em with a fork.  Stir in the minced oregano.  This dressing has some definite oomph so a little goes a long way – 2 tablespoons was enough for me and my giant salad.

You can also make the salad pretty when it’s to-go style, too!  I just held off adding the tofu (to let it marinate longer), avocado (it browns) and tomato (it gets mushy), but they can be easily sliced up at work or wherever you’re taking it. 

When I eat salads like this, I’m in love.  The dressing is really nice too – tangy with that earthy oregano flavor.  I love this time of year, where fresh herbs become abundant!

And now, folks, I’m off to jam and then drive off to Saskatoon for a comic/anime convention.  Apparently the voice actor for Fry (Futurama) will be speaking there, so I’m pretty stoked!  So I’ll catch up with you guys on the flip side, and have a great weekend! πŸ™‚

travel and restaurants

Vegan in Las Vegas, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I documented the first half of my trip to Vegas, and all of the glorious eats that were had.

The morning started innocently enough, with the intention to trek to a vegan restaurant called Pura Vida for brunch.  As the only all-vegan restaurant in the vicinity of the strip (and not terribly close, at that), it was my mission to get there no matter what.  Which is good, because getting there was an ordeal and a half.

We bused down to the very northern tip of the strip and set off on our journey, surrounded by a fairly unpopulated terrain of pawn shops and the occasional restaurant.  There was a problem with the map I had printed off Google – I, uh, failed to include an address – but I hadn’t needed the address of any of the other restaurants, so I figured with a bit of walking we’d find our way.

And then a bit of walking turned into nearly an hour of walking, getting absolutely nowhere under the hot Vegas sun.  Finally we decided to stop inside one of the pawn shops and borrow a phone book in hopes that the address would be contained within.  It wasn’t, but there was a phone number.  Mike’s phone was out of commission and mine was on its last bar of life, so we gave the number a ring – disconnected.  Great.

So Mike called his little sister back home and asked her to Google the place and get the address and phone number.  Success was had – we now had information! – but when he was telling his sister where we were located and asking her the route to the restaurant, she wasn’t able to help us.  Oh well, I thought, I’d just call the restaurant and ask them for directions.  But as luck would have it, there was no answer.

By this point my bladder was at bursting capacity so we stopped at a Mexican restaurant.  Mike asked one of the workers how to get to the address we had written down, and to our absolute joy, we were given directions.  Rejuvenated by problem solving, we happily headed on our way.  Only, the way was long.  Really long.  And part of the trip was down a road with no sidewalks and nothing in the way of buildings or people – not the kind of place you’d want to be wandering at night.  And then, about half an hour from the time we were given directions, we arrived at Pura Vida.  I could’ve kissed the ground.

I went to open the door of the restaurant but was met with a hurricane of resistance.  No, literally.  There was a huge wind tunnel that I somehow summoned (magic powers?) and I had to fight my way into the restaurant.  A huge gust of wind followed Mike and I inside, and all of the customers and workers turned and stared at us, some cracking jokes about making a big entrance.  Did I mention it was a calm, relatively windless day?

So there we were, sweaty and hardened from the harsh elements, but happy as all hell to have actually made it to Pura Vida alive.  I should mention that if I’d bothered to study a real map in advance, it would have been a 15 minute walk from the original bus stop.  But hey, adventures!

This, my friends, was the breakfast pastry to end all breakfast pastries.  Filled with vegan sausage, tofu scramble and veggies and topped in a delicious cheesy sauce with a side of guacamole, my stomach cheered victoriously.  It was on special, so it wasn’t a part of the regular menu, which is sad because next time I’m in Vegas I’d like to eat this 1,000 times more.  On the plus side, there’s a bunch of other beautiful food items on the menu (like waffles!).

We also got a breakfast burrito called “The Latin ‘Tude”, which was a beautiful assortment of refried beans, soyrizo, tofu scramble, cheese, avocado, veggies, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes, roasted potatoes and poblano peppers.  Need I say how glorious this was?

The wild burrito was captured and masticated by the terrifying molars of Allysia.

…Mike chose a gentler approach.

And cookies!  I really wanted to go back to this place again, but since it was a bit out of the way, it just didn’t happen.  Next time.  One of the best parts about this restaurant (aside from how freakin’ incredible the food was) is that everything is made in-house.  Meals take about 20 minutes to come to the table, but they don’t use a microwave and everything is fresh.  That’s my kind of restaurant!

Oh, and I should probably mention that the dozen or so people who walked in the restaurant after us arrived calmly, with no crazy windstorm following them in.  I’m taking that as a sign…of our awesomeness.

In the afternoon, we took a meander through the Wynn hotel, one of the most expensive on the strip.  And as some of you may know, Steve Wynn himself is a vegan, so every restaurant in his hotel has a small, separate vegan menu, including the fancy restaurants.

Food choices aside, The Wynn is the perfect hotel for me.  Look how bright and colorful it is!  The whole hotel is like that.  Yup, next time I go to Vegas, I’m going to A) be rich, and B) stay here.

So after Mike got over his whole dying thing (mild heat stroke), we drank champagne and dressed all fancy-like, ready for a night on the town.  We made reservations at one of the higher-end Wynn restaurants called La Cave, and didn’t want to show up looking like chumps.  Plus, dressing up is fun.

Those are two dapper-looking people right there, let me tell you.  Alas, all I have for you is one photo from La Cave, since my flash doesn’t work and it was so dark in there.  But I’ll have to tell you about the meal because it was THE BEST FOOD EVER.  Yes, it even warranted all caps.

Since this was our last night in Vegas, we wanted to go all out with the fine dining experience, so we started the meal with a wine sampler from Spain – two reds and two whites.  Dudes, you should all play the booze sampling game – it’s so much fun trying to identify the little subtleties and nuances in flavor.

The way the food at La Cave works is every dish comes out on a small plate, so you want to order multiple plates.  In our case, we decided to order 6 plates and share everything.  6 was a little intense, even for people with large appetites like us – 5 would have been a little more reasonable.  But then, the only dish I would have wanted to sacrifice from that meal was the tossed salad, because everything else was so ridiculous.

Okay.  It started with a pizza.  But not just any pizza – a pizza with a perfect crust (you know, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside), an incredible red sauce, and simple toppings like artichokes and olives.  This was my second favorite dish of the night, which sounds strange, I know – because you’re just thinking, “it’s pizza”.  But it wasn’t just pizza, I promise you.

Other plates soon started arriving – there was a lovely quinoa dish, one with roasted beets and a cashew feta (amazing), and then the champion of everything – the tortellini.  Tortellini in a cheesy, buttery cashew sauce with a generous amount of assorted sauteed mushrooms.  The stuffing in the tortellini was to die for, but those mushrooms, tossed in the rich cashew sauce, haunt my dreams.  If I can manage to recreate that dish, I’ll die happy.  And I know there was a 6th plate, but I have no idea what it was.  Which is sad, because everything we ate was over-the-top good.  Thanks for being vegan, Mr. Wynn.

We ended the meal with dessert, the only dessert any reasonable person would consume after such a belt-loosening meal – a glass of good port.  It was my first time ever trying the stuff but I fell in love – sweeter than wine and a little thicker, with spicy complexity.  I’d have that for dessert more often if it wasn’t for the price tag. πŸ™‚

After allowing our stomachs to settle some, we indulged in a night of clubbing.  Yup, loud music, huge crowds, and endless dancing.  Drinking Grey Goose vodka with soda water didn’t hurt the experience, either.  I know it’s probably not everyone’s thing, but I love dancing, and there’s so few good places to do it at home.  We had a blast, and ended our Vegas trip with lots of kaboom.

Of course, with a departure time in the early afternoon, we couldn’t in good conscience leave without visiting Red Velvet Cafe one more time.

We both opted for paninis, mine being the Chicken Spinach Artichoke, with vegan substitutions of course.  Great pre-flight food!

And who could leave without devouring a tiramisu cake?  Red Velvet Cafe, I’m quite sad that I didn’t have a chance to sample all of your many cakes.  But there will be a next time.

When we found out that our flight would be delayed at the airport, we stopped to grab a beer, because really, what else do you do when you’re waiting at an airport?

Little did we know, we’d be waiting a long time.  A really long time.  So long, in fact, that we missed our transfer flight and had to stay overnight in Minneapolis.  Though I would have much rather not have spent an extra four hours in an airport whilst in Vegas, we managed to make the most of it, like when we discovered sea salt chocolate:

The intrigue!  The suspense!  It was actually pretty good, though quite weird.  The first taste was salty which almost made the chocolate taste savory, but then the salt flavor faded away, back into normal chocolate. I’m still not sure how I feel about salty chocolate, but it was an experience.

And of course, the 1am greasy food party at our hotel was a big spirit booster (and Futurama was on!):

The next morning, we arrived in the all-too-familiar airport, homogeneous as they are, and found us some breakfast eats.  I managed to find the French Meadow Bakery again, and they had a vegan apple-walnut muffin which I pounced on.

We decided to try a pre-made green juice (since I have a juicer, I admit to being a pre-made juice snob), and an iced soy latte, which had become a staple of our Vegas trip.  Breakfast of champions, though the green juice was far too sweet for my liking.  But I’m well aware that my palate is not average when it comes to sweet things.

And then, we were off.  Back home, to real life again.

Ahh, Vegas.  I am fond of your glitz and tackiness, your food and drinks, and all of your wacky people.  Can’t wait to go back again!

travel and restaurants

Vegan in Las Vegas, Part 1

Howdy!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I hopped a plane to Vegas, aka Sin City, aka Awesome City, where many great adventures were had and amazing food was consumed.

The story went as this – The parents of my drummer won a trip to Vegas but couldn’t use it, so they gifted it to him, and I got to tag along.  Sweet deal, eh?

The morning of our departure started on a crazy-good foot…

What you see there is a whackload of delicious crepes, with some good French press coffee and green juice.  Perfect pre-flight food!

We spent the better part of the day in airports and/or on planes, but luckily we managed to find plenty to eat along the way.  At the Minneapolis airport there’s a restaurant called French Meadow Bakery which carries a few vegan items.  There are two locations in the airport, a large one and small one, and we just found the small one, which carried a very respectable salad with tofu – good tofu! – and a house-made vegan chili.  Not half bad for airport food!

The salad got bonus points for having some heft in the form of toasted sunflower seeds and marinated tofu, and more bonus points for the inclusion of shredded beets!  The white balsamic vinaigrette was perfection – tangy and savoury.

More magical finds at the Minneapolis airport were a cute little carton of Silk soy milk, and dark chocolate peanut butter cups!  I can’t remember the brand, either, because we devoured them so quickly.  But I think with enough adventuring, vegans can find food and snacks at most airports.

By the time we arrived in Vegas it was already dark, and all I wanted to do was throw all my stuff in the hotel room and head out on the town for a meal.  However, surprises were lurking around the corner when we inserted the card key into our hotel room to find that it was, uh, occupado.  Is that a word?  Probably not.  An attractive lady who was half-dressed (with a loud, sparkly bra) was doing her hair in the room that was supposed to be ours.  So naturally we got all awkward and then headed back to the desk, politely asking, “what the f-?”  But we didn’t say that since we’re so polite and all.

Of course, sometimes it pays to walk into a room that’s already occupied – in our case, we were gifted with this as an apology:

A HUGE suite with a big Jacuzzi and everything.  I’d totally walk in on half-naked people every time I go to a hotel for this kind of apology gift.

When we went back downstairs, there was a lady dancing on a stage in the lounge area, wearing nothing but some glitzy undergarments…the same lady we walked in on.  It made a lot of sense, actually – she was very calm about strangers walking into her room while she was changing.  I suppose she’s used to people seeing her wearing very little.

Ravenously hungry by this point, we wandered over to the New York New York hotel, which is what it sounds like – a giant hotel that looks like the New York city skyline.  Contained within this ridiculous hotel (almost all of the hotels on the strip are lavish and ridiculous) was a restaurant I had read about beforehand called Chin Chin, an Asian-fusion restaurant that can sub tofu for any meat entree on the menu.  Choices!

We started off the evening eats with steamed vegetable dumplings which came with a simple soy-based dipping sauce.

They were intensely delicious, and as I was inhaling them, all I could think about was how good all future Vegas food would continue to be.

And the feast!  I had the vegetable lettuce cups, which is described in the menu as “Black mushrooms, bell peppers, water chestnuts, smoked tofu, pine nuts, and white crunchies served with four lettuce cups”.  First of all, the “white crunchies” were noodles, and secondly, there was more than 4 lettuce cups – that’s like a half head of iceburg lettuce!  There were at least 6.  The flavor was fantastic (maybe a touch salty), but the real star of the meal was Mike’s tofu dish, which is worthy of a close-up:



He got the “orange chicken”, but with tofu instead, which was a wise decision – it was probably the most perfect tofu I’ve ever tasted.  It was just the right balance of crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside – silken tofu at it’s finest.  And the sauce!  There was no radioactive globby orange sauce to be found here, happily.  It was a dark sauce with a citrus touch and orange undertones.  Brilliant. 


And what better way to celebrate the beginning of Vegas than with a Manhattan?  That’s some good, strong booze right there, as seen by Mike’s awe face.  Mmm.  It would have been even better if I didn’t spill half of mine all over myself. 

After a night of wandering, boozing and then sleeping (traveling all day is tiring business!), we awoke late to a hot desert sun and decided to spend most of the afternoon indoors.  Which was fine because there was some crazy mall action to be had.  No place has malls like Vegas has malls, believe me.  Especially malls with $800 shoes and $2000 coats.  



We arrived at the Fashion Show Mall with one very specific purpose, however – food.  It just happened to be a nice bonus that there were fun stores to meander through as well.  Because contained within the Fashion Show Mall is the holy grail of awesome vegan food and desserts – The Red Velvet Cafe.



Like Chin Chin, most of the Cafe’s menu items can be veganized with vegan meat and/or cheese.  And 99% of their desserts are vegan!



They had all kinds of beautiful cakes, and some cookies that I never tried because I was too enamoured by the cakes.  But we’ll get to that.  However, I did spend quite a bit of time staring through this glass and drooling.

For my entree, I decided on the Mediterranean Grilled Vegetable Tartin, described as “Whole Wheat Pita topped with Hummus, Grilled Eggplant, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Red Onions, Heirloom Tomatoes and Feta Cheese.”  They subbed the feta for a Daiya-like concoction which they told me was not Daiya, but a cheese made specifically for their restaurant.

Mike got the Chipotle Turkey Avocado Wrap, because he could eat avocado on life itself (who couldn’t?).  He got it with the vegan cheese and turkey and said that, though he’s no vegan meat connoisseur, it was one of the best he’d ever had both in flavor and texture.  I tried some and had to agree – it was soft and not chewy, but still had some bite to it.



And dessert, of course.  Could you really eat at the Red Velvet Cafe and not have a red velvet cake?  I think not.  Especially because the cake was incredibly moist and not too sweet, allowing the icing on top to take the sugary role.  Both of us were enamoured by this cake, declaring that no one could think vegans eat sad food if they tried meals and desserts like this.  A+.


After wandering the mall and having adventures, we decided to venture away from the strip for two very deliberate reasons – 1) vegan Indian food, and 2) rare beer.  Luckily, finding Mint Indian Bistro was a breeze.

Rare beer!  Mike’s beer, the EKU 28, was a warming beer that would be great in the winter for how strong it was – with an 11% alcohol content, it definitely had some kick!  I also opted for a German beer, the Einbecher Ur-bock Dunkel, mainly because the description told me it was made according to the original recipe from 1378.  It was great – really bitter and hoppy, but smooth.

For our meal, we decided to order a dinner for 2, which meant a couple appetizers, a large sampling of mains, and a dessert.  For our first appetizer we got cracker-type things with delicious sauces – the green one being minty, and the brown one being quite sweet.

A kwati soup also showed up as an appetizer and it was hella tasty – the broth had a tomato-mushroom flavor which made it earthy and rich, and the soup had vegetables and lentils in it with just a little spice.

And then, the main course.  There was so much awesome here I hardly knew what to do with myself.  There was a dal, a masala, a chickpea and spinach dish, a coconut milk curry dish with veggies, a couple others that I’m forgetting, and some chapati and rice to go with it all.  I’m fairly confident we spent the duration of the meal saying little else but “this is delicious”.  Or maybe “I am so happy right now”.



They were out of their carrot pudding for dessert, which neither of us were too choked up about (though I’m sure it was good).  Instead, they brought us an iced dessert that tasted like icy coconut milk with shredded coconut, some sort of sweetener, and cinnamon.  It was actually quite good and made an excellent palate cleanser.

When we were wandering around in the evening, we stumbled upon this:
A busking string quartet!  How cool is that, right?  These lads were crazy good and I couldn’t help but stop and watch for a while.  We need some busking like this where I live!

As a final picture of the evening, I’m drinkin’ the booze in a giant E at the Revolution bar.  Yup, it’s a Beatles-themed bar at The Mirage, the same place where Love, the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show is held.  Which I may or may not have gone to. πŸ™‚

But we’ll leave part 1 at that for now, and I’ll be back tomorrow with part 2.  Toodles!