Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ethiopian For The Masses

Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows that Ethiopian is my favorite cuisine. I first tried it in New Jersey when we were living there. We tried it at three or four different places in Jersey, then three places in DC, places in Connecticut, and many in New York City. Though there are a few that were delicious, Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey remains the undisputed champion. Being inspired to make some at home, I now know how very painstaking and timely the process is, and how each component of each dish is very complex. That's why it's so good! I recently got my copy of Teff Love by Kittee Berns and plan to stock up on staple spices of the cuisine as soon as my tax money comes back! Reading that book makes me so hungry. I can't wait to cook from it!

As I've discussed in previous posts, my fiancé Alex and I have been celebrating all of our special occasions with Ethiopian food for years, be it birthdays, anniversaries, New Years Eve, new jobs, big accomplishments, Valentines day, and even the Ethiopian New Year! We love it so much! I've even heard Alex describing it to others by saying, "It puts every other cuisine to shame." Where we grew up there aren't really any Ethiopian restaurants, so none of our friends or family had ever tried it. In the past few years, we took my parents there a few times, my best friend (and now Maid of Honor), my sister (to be) and some new friends to Mesob, and every single one of them loved it! Even my dad, who is a pretty traditional American Dad eater, really liked it. So that's saying something.
Wouldn't it make sense to serve this food at my wedding? I mean, it's the best. And it's our favorite.
I think we'd be doing our guests a disservice if we didn't serve them Ethiopian at our wedding!
I'd like to give this food a proper introduction to all who aren't familiar with it. If you are familiar, you can just look at the pretty pictures, because this will all be old news to you.

When we go out for Ethiopian, we like to get at least one appetizer. Lately, we are all about sambusas, a spicy lentil-stuffed pastry triangle. But we've been known to get Ingudai Tibbs (spicy mushrooms), Kategna (injera bread with spiced oil), and Azifa (spiced lentil salad), too. The food is served with Injera, a sourdough flatbread, and is used as your utensil. Eating with your hands is somehow incredibly gratifying! The injera compliments each bite. You just tear off a piece, and grab a bit of food, but be sure to grab with your right hand if you are dining with true Ethiopian food enthusiasts.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church observes lent and fasts during these months. For them, fasting really just means eating vegan. They fast for a number of other holidays throughout the year too, and totals almost six full months a year of fasted days. This works out great for us, because it means the vegetarian options are almost always vegan. We always order the vegetarian sampler or combination plate. It is usually around the same price as just picking one dish, and really, you are going to want to taste all of the dishes. I could never pick just one! Not even Misir Wat! They could never make me choose! The dishes are brought out on a very large platter with a very large injera on top of it. The stews are then poured in little piles on top of the injera. You usually share one big plate with your fellow diners. You could definitely ask for separate plates, but I think sharing is part of the fun! It makes you interact with your dinner partners more and have more fun! There is also a custom where you tear off a piece of injera and grab a bite for your friend or family member that is dining with you, and pop it into their mouth for them! It's called "gorsha" and gorshas always taste better <3. 

Some of our favorite dishes are pictured below, starting clockwise at the top: Tikil Gomen (cabbage and potatoes), Butecha (fluffy spiced chickpeas/my personal fave), Misir Wat (spicy lentils), Atkilt Alicha (green beans and carrots), Dinich Wat (spicy potatoes), and Shiro (spicy ground chickpea dip) in the center. These are staples at most Ethiopian restaurants, but they are done best by Mesob!

Alongside you are served extra injera to grab every last bit of food from the platter! Towards the end, I like to grab the injera off the plate that the food was placed on. The flavors of the stews had seeped into it and made it the best injera ever!

I love ending the meal with Bunna, Ethiopian coffee. It's amazing coffee made using a special process. The beans are roasted on the stovetop, then passed around for everyone to smell the freshly roasted beans, then ground with a mortar and pestle. The grounds are then mixed with spices and placed inside a jebena, a clay coffee pot with a strainer. It is the most fragant, fresh, delicious coffee I have ever tasted and a perfect way to end an Ethiopian meal. At Mesob, they offer vegan chocolates infused with Ethiopian spices, and how exactly could you pass those up? 

I hope that helps any skeptics understand not only how important Ethiopian cuisine is to us, but also how delicious and exciting it is! It will make our wedding dinner unique, but also very special and personal! I'm sure I won't need to convince anyone after they have tried it. Maybe after having it they will be making trips to Jersey just for the food, like we often do! We're so excited to share it with everyone we love.

Friday, January 30, 2015

January is the New June

How has your January been? My January has been awesome. I have seen some awesome shows, cooked some great food, got some new exciting cookbooks, and have been sporting the most badass winter gear. Like, my winter gear game is at an all time high. One of my favorite parts about winter is the clothes I get to wear. I bought 7 new pairs of socks, 2 pairs of new vegan boots, and a few new vegan sweaters to keep super warm. And oh, what a collection of scarves and hats. On point, friends.

I know it's January but I have been making salads like it's June. I have been making all the salads from Salad Samurai, aiming to make all the ones from the Winter chapter by the time the season leaves us. This one is actually from the Fall chapter, and it's called the Collard Sweet Potato Crunch Bowl. It called for cubed sweet potato but I had roasted mine whole and it was too soft to cube. So I just scooped it on top and it was none the worse for it. Those Sriracha and Smoke Pecans are really addictive. I had extra from this salad and I totally ate them all at work the next day. I shared. Swear.

I got Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen for Christmas and have made a few things from it already. This is the White Lasagna with Butternut Squash. It was really good. It has tofu ricotta, an alfredo sauce and pureed roasted butternut squash. Alex is really not into any of those things so I had this all to myself the whole week. I shared with my coworker, who as of late has had vegan aspirations!

Alex does, however, really like Mexican food and he helped me make burritos the other night. I made spicy lentils with some taco spices and tomato sauce, some sauteéd diced onions and peppers and rolled them inside along with some avocado slices. Some brown rice and black beans on the side, and other than the large quantity of food, there's not too much to be ashamed of, healthwise. Not that it has ever really stopped us before, but I have been aiming for healthier alternatives.

 Speaking of appropriate winter gear, I received some new winter boots today! They are from Native Shoes, a Canadian company based out of Vancouver, and all of their products are vegan! I was in search of a vegan "bean boot" and these looked to be a good fit. They are similar in style but without the leather and shearling. They had a bunch of colors but hardly any that were left in my size. This color combo seemed acceptable enough, and after trying them on I love them!!

The first thing I noticed was how lightweight they were. I was concerned that they weren't going to be good for walking through slush and snow and rain and all the stuff that I walk through, so to test them out and see if they worked before cutting the tags off, I filled the bathtub with about 3 inches of water and walked around in them. I even ran the water all over the my boots up and over where the laces are and my feet still stayed dry! So I'd say run to their site and pick out a pair! Hopefully they restock soon and more colors will be available in normal sizes. 

More from Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen, these are the most amazing vegan meatballs I've ever had. They are embarrassingly simple with only mushrooms, onion, breadcrumbs, and brown rice. I think that's it. I added Italian spices but that's not really extra work.. They definitely are fried, though. I haven't tried baking them yet, but I definitely will. They are only pan-fried, but a little too fried for my weeknight comfort. I have made them at least 3 times and haven't had the heart to bake them yet because they are so good fried. Usually with vegan meatballs, you have to make them small, lest they fall apart. With these I made big giant Italian-sized meatballs and they were amazing. 

While in curry-mode I made this sweet potato curry with adzuki beans and cauliflower from
Isa Does It. It was a thai-inspired curry with red curry paste and lots of lime. It was very seasonal and delicious.

I made this salad from Salad Samurai but this is actually from the Spring chapter. It's the Green Curry Lentil Salad. It was super spicy but good. It was sweet from the pineapple and crunchy from the toasted coconut. I added Lemongrass Tofu to the salad even though it didn't call for it because it was dinner. Everybody wants a little tofu in there when they eat a dinner salad. If they don't then tell them I said Yes they do.

Okay this one is definitely from the Winter chapter of Salad Samurai. It is called Sesame Noodles In The Dojo. I have been to Dojo in the West Village on Terry's recommendation and was not a fan, but then after reading the intro to this salad recipe learned that they overhauled their entire menu and the restaurant sort of fell flat. The Dojo she once so highly recommended is now just a really generic pan-asian sort of place. These sesame noodles are a tribute to a dish once prepared so well by the restaurant back when. Plus noodles? In a salad? I'm there. I added Beyond Meat but this really didn't need it.

Speaking of noodles in salads, here is the Pad Thai Salad with Asparagus and Tofu from the Spring chapter. I know, I can't stick to the right season! What gives? This salad was pretty good but the asparagus didn't shred into ribbons the way I thought they would and were a barely noticeable addition to the salad for a pretty good amount of work. It took forever to shave the asparagus spears, and most of the asparagus was left behind once they couldn't be shred anymore. Maybe the really big husky stalks would have worked better for this, but I always find the skinny ones in the store. The salad overall was good, but benefitted from some Golden Mountain Sauce drizzled on top!

I've been doing my best to keep making smoothies, which is really no problem, aside from the time it takes to peel chop, blend and drink. I have been kind of in a protein-shake-mood lately. I have finally been able to work out again after my shoulder injury healed. Well -- it didn't exactly heal. I got shot up with some concoction of steroids at the doctor and was put on a high dose of anti-inflammatory drugs. It feels pretty good most days by now. I am hoping by the time I go back I will not need any further treatment. In the meantime I have been cranking out the Chaturangas and planking until I drop. I made Alex do a 45 minute Nike Training Club workout with me this morning. It was fun to work out together yet funny. Do couples work out together? Or is that supposed be separate?

In conclusion I have been keeping busy this winter with my favorite activities, like cooking, yoga, seeing shows, and playing bass. And making ravioli. These have a lentil & ricotta filling. Putting my ravioli pan to use!

Enjoy the rest of the season! There's much more fun to be had before it's over <33

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

3 Brothers Pizza Cafe in Long Island

3 Brothers is a pizza place in Long Island that is a normal Italian joint with pizza and regular Italian food, but also has an entirely different huge vegan menu. I have been to their old location in Rockville Center twice, but hadn't been since they moved to their Farmingdale location until now. We've been having ongoing car troubles over the past year and it's inspection time. We keep trying to get our car to pass and every time our mechanic does one of his "tricks" it involves us having to drive the car 60 miles until he can try again or pass the car forgodssake. Even though we just want to be done with the repairs, we have however been enjoying a couple of road trips to far away restaurants during the process, and it became literally our only reason to drive to Long Island last night. For vegan food, of course. 

I got these mozzarella sticks the first time I went to the Rockville Center one and loved them so much. The second time I went, they said they were all out, and I almost cried. This time I ordered them the second my butt touched the chair, so as not to waste any time. As soon as they arrived I ate three of the five back to back and my will to live was slowly restored. They are just daiya, but they just do it really right. Also how do you guys pronounce daiya? I always thought it was  "DIE-ya" but I heard a few people say "DAY-ya" and I was like, how silly, but then someone told me they got corrected by someone from daiya when they pronounced it "DIE-ya" and that the true way is "DAY-ya." What gives?

 Mozzarella Stick bound for Hollywood

 A perfect reproduction of a frozen food childhood fave.

The bottles of water for the tables were so fancy, they looked like they could hold angels' tears.

I ordered the seitan scarpariello, which is like a sausage-and-peppers-with-setian thing. It was okay. the pasta was undercooked and the seitan had a really weird texture. And I filled up on the bread and salad and mozzarella sticks by the time this came, so shame on me. #sorrynotsorry.

I will say that the entrees came on Italian-sized plates. That is to say that the plates the entrees were served on were the size of Italy. That was great for us, except that we forgot to bring our extended families with us to help us eat all of it. Alex ordered the seitan parmesan, which ruled. It was so good and everything you want from seitan parmesan. I wish I had ordered it -- or not ordered mine and just ate a KZ-sized portion of his. There would still be leftovers for both of us. Anyway, A+ on the seitan parm. Oh, and I love that "GO VEGAN" is painted multiple times on the front windows, and that all of the waiters' shirts have "Go Vegan!" written underneath their "3 Brothers" logo. It warmed my progressive vegan heart.

For dessert we shared the PB Bomb, which like all their desserts, comes from Vegan Treats bakery. It was a clear choice, because peanut butter, but they had lots of great options like keylime cheesecake and white chocolate raspberry cheesecake and PB brownie cake and lots of other stuff too.

We could barely fit this inside our bodies. But we did. We did it. In the name of peanut butter and vegan food.
Overall I had a great meal and a great evening. It was a hefty bill -- $80 for two. We shared an appetizer and a large salad, each got an entree (that will feed us maybe two more times each) and split a dessert. So for Italian food, I'd say that's a little overpriced. But I have no real complaints, besides my entree not being my favorite. I'm sure most other things I could have ordered would have been great. We did skip the alcohol, which is what usually drives up the bill, but we did get and appetizer and a dessert, so that ain't cheap either. But I'm a young adult and it's possible one day we won't be young adults anymore, and maybe we'll have a mortgage and a million blonde vegan baby brats to feed, and we won't be able to drive 60 miles on a Tuesday night for Italian food. So I think we should get apps and zerts now. We're young. Right?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Holiday in New England and Other Events

It's already post-Christmas and New Years and I am behind on my documentation of it. We celebrated Christmas with our families in New England, as usual. I did lots, perhaps too much, cooking in preparation for Wigilia on Christmas Eve and for our meal on Christmas day. I got lazy and only took a few pictures, but at least I remembered to take some. Enjoy this photo montage of all the stuff I made. 

These are golabkis, little Polish burritos, with a cabbage tortilla and lentil filling.

After you roll them up, you cover them in a tomato sauce and bake them. They were pretty easy to make. They were the first thing I made, so maybe I just had more steam and they felt easy. Who's to say.

Every year for the past several, my mom and I have been making our own pierogis to bring with us to Wilgilia. My dad took a few action shots for us demonstrating the process.

I wish I had taken pictures of the final ones. We had a ton. Also my crimping skills are on point.

I made my mother-in-law these gluten-free carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting! I am no expert at gluten-free baking and I definitely had some trouble with these cupcakes, but she still enjoyed them anyway. I will perfect my recipe for next time. Anybody have a solid gluten-free carrot cake recipe they swear by?

My mom requested my pumpkin and cranberry risotto this year. I love making risotto but I feel like I never make it anymore. I have a special designated risotto pan and it's in a hard-to-grab spot in my kitchen. Perhaps this is the reason. Anyhow, this was my favorite risotto I've made yet with lots of pumpkin, cranberries and fresh rosemary. I also added a lot of fresh sage and thyme. It's always Alex's job to pick the thyme leaves off the stem. It's backbreaking but it's necessary.

This is my plate at Wigilia. Pierogis, potato pancakes, risotto, golabkis, roasted veggies, and this really good kale salad my cousin Sarah made. Oh, and Wisniowka. I threw a few of those back quick. I had been cooking for 40 hours, so I figured it was in order. 

I made some stuffing for Christmas Day, along with some mashed potatoes and gravy. Also some chickpea cutlets and roasted veggies, all unfortunately not pictured.

Last, I made this cake. It's an "eggnog" cake, but I always use silk nog and it tastes great and no one has any clue or cares that it's vegan because it's so good. It's also so easy.

Our Christmas morning spread: leftover eggnog cake (I made 3...) gingerbread cookies, chopped pineapple and assorted pears. Pears are key.

 This is my sis modeling her new Boston Terrier socks I got her. Totally got myself a pair too. That always happens when I buy her gifts.

A couple days after Christmas we drove back to New York with Alex's dad and his girlfriend. They usually visit annually so it was nice to walk around with them. His Dad likes to visit the Times Square Area, especially after or around the holidays. Most New Yorkers would never be caught dead there, and I am inclined to agree with them, but in the spirit of the holidays and for the sake of my family wanting to see it all, we stepped slowly in a mob of people waiting to see the tree and ice rink.

There it is -- the quintessential Ice Skating Rink that is the reason so many people come to visit this city at all. But if only they knew about Roberta's Pizza...

Come on, you're not going to go all the way out there and take baby steps in foot traffic for 5 hours and NOT take any pictures. Here's us being cute without privacy.

The next day we got Roberta's with our friend Lauren from Cake Thieves and enjoyed life once more.

After pizza, we stopped at Dr. Cow and picked up some fancy cheese. I have been meaning to try their cheese for a while now, and I'm glad I did because it is great.

The kind I picked was cashew, kale, chili and tomato flavored. I chose this wedge from the case after painstakingly staring at all of the cheeses desperate for a decision. I impulsively landed on this one once it was my turn to order. There were smaller wedges and many different flavors but I had a gift card, and what better way to spend it than splurge on vegan fancy cheese?

It's not that I need to be having wine and cheese parties -- It's that I can. I shared this cheese with my lovely vegan friends and would love to try some other kinds too, though this one was great. When I one day host a vegan wine and cheese party I will find that sommelier who told me I "just could never understand the finer things in life" and tell him he's particularly not invited to my special party with artisan cheese. And wine from the corner store. Because I can't understand the finer things in life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Vegan Cookies = The Gift Of Awesome

This is my obligatory Christmas Cookie post. I spent a very long time this weekend baking Christmas cookies for my friends, family, and coworkers. I leave town tomorrow after work and I wanted the cookies to be as fresh as possible for Christmas, so I knew it had to happen all at once on this weekend. It was mostly great, with just a few bumps along the way. I am forever indebted to my stand mixer. She's been hooking me up since my high school graduation, and churned out many a christmas cookie -- this year more than ever. I went all out this year and made SEVEN different kinds of cookies, a variety I carefully selected. Observe:

The first ones I made were Cranberry Bliss Bars. Once upon a time when I worked at the mall before I went vegan, I would always go up to Starbucks and get one of these on my short breaks during the Christmas season. Sadly it's been at least seven years since I've had one, and this is THE YEAR. I made a cookie base like I would for a chocolate chip cookie and instead of chocolate chips, I put in vegan white chocolate chips (totally ordered 4 bags online) and dried cranberries. 

If I were the only person eating them I would have thrown in some walnuts too, but someone always gives you kickback about nuts in cookies, so I left them out. Then I made a white chocolate frosting to go over the baked cookie bars, then sprinkled with some more cranberries, and then drizzled some leftover white chocolate frosting over the top of that, cut them into little authentic triangles, and that's it. Definitely the most labor-intensive cookie of the bunch, but worth the nostalgic blast.

Next, I made these shortbread cookies with chocolate fudge and cherries. I have made these cookies a few times before, and I somehow always forget that they suck to make, because the dough is too thick and too hard to push out of a pastry bag. I broke my first piping bag, then transferred all my dough to another one hoping for a new result. Broke again, then I transferred the dough back to the mixer and added more almond milk, then to a new pastry bag and they came out a lot easier. I made some ganache to put in the middle and stuck a cherry on top because I couldn't decide if I wanted cherry or chocolate. Let them have both. They are so pretty and taste really good, that's probably why I always forget how annoying the piping part is.

I made these cookies special for my Dad! He loves gingerbread stuff, and he loves biscotti, and so I knew these gingerbread biscotti from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar that are dipped in white chocolate would be perfect. I didn't have any candied ginger so I left that off and sprinkled cinnamon sugar instead. Biscotti is easy, it just takes a little longer to bake. Also, I did not cut them into the correct number of cookies. It's okay, I'm pretty.

My mom likes the snowball cookies the best, so I made some of those too, also from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, but used the almond variation because she hates pecans. These are messy and get a little sticky so I put them at the bottom of the box to keep them from rolling around sticking up the other cookies. I think they are also called Russian Tea Cakes too. I can see that. I can see them with some tea.

So I've been wanting to make NYC cookies for a while, and in theory they sound great. It's a big cakey sugar cookie with some frosting and you're done. This was not the case. It is just a cake batter that you pour onto your cookie sheet in puddles and they just came out really misshapen and too crunchy on the sides, also way too big. I baked these too close to when I needed to leave, you know, because shop-up, and I just let the cookies sit on a cooling rack, a little over-lapping, to wait until I got home to finish them, and when I got home they had all gotten too crispy or stuck together. So I decided to make a cookie ball! I processed the cookies into crumbs, made a batch of frosting, mixed it together, made balls, froze them, melted black and white chocolate and dipped! Best save ever!

I asked Alex to pick one kind of cookie he really likes and he picked the peanut butter cookies that you stick a Hershey's kiss into the middle while they're still warm. No Hershey Kisses are vegan, so I just stuck three regular vegan chocolate chips into the middle, waited for them to melt, then pressed another one on top! These are my fave. And Alex's fave. Meant to be. 

Okay I guess he requested two kinds -- the peanut butter kisses and the snickerdoodle cookies from Isa Does It. I always use a pumpkin pie spice blend instead of the chai spice blend because... you know boys. They are scared of new things infecting their cookies with new flavors or opportunities. He thinks cardamom is weird. But they are always good, nonetheless. 

I made up a box for a bunch of friends, coworkers, and some customers who are really good to me. My customer who brings me all the tomatoes, basil and arugula is obviously getting one, because he is the best. My friends are the best. My family is the best. So they all get cookies. It's only fair.

Merry Christmas to all the vegans out there! Keep on giving the gift of awesomeness to everyone who hasn't figured out that vegans are the coolest. 


KZ <33