Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Falafel Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA - Eating Out Vegan

I do not usually eat out as much as I have lately. The school break has been the catalyst for this. The door will be closing on this fun shortly; however, I am determined to keep a crack open for Fun to sneak in as much as possible, when school resumes.

Yesterday, on my way to the historical town of Windsor, CT, I had a two-hour lay over in Springfield, MA. It is a relatively short commute on the Amtrak train from Boston. I have to also mention how excited I was to hear Amtrak offers a vegan burger as one of its dining options. Rock on!

In case you end up in Springfield, MA, be sure to check out the town's most famous attraction: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Yes boys and girls, basketball was invented in the town of Springfield. If you are as big of a basketball fan as I am - did I convince you of being a fan? - then this is a must see place for YOU.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is about 15-20 minute walk from the train station. 
Once you are done learning about the history of basketball, be sure to be on the look out for The Simpsons family. I did since they live in Springfield, the state is unspecified.

I beg to differ. I really enjoyed hanging out in Springfield. 
But alas, I was not able to chat with any Simpson family member. I did manage to get this photo of Bart though…

You could not be more wrong Bart! I think tofu would complete this sentence beautifully. 
On my way back to the the train station, I stopped by Nadim's Mediterranean Restaurant and Grill located in Springfield, MA, for an early dinner.

They start you off with pita bread and an oil infused dipping sauce.

It was quite good. 
I had a falafel plate served with rice and lentils, topped with fried onions. It comes with a side of hummus and tahini sauce. The tahini sauce is usually infused with yogurt. They will accomodate non-yougurt preference, and the sauce tastes great without!

It was excellent! I had it with pita bread, not pictured. 
There are other vegan options in this restaurant. You can also have a hummus wrap with french fries.

I did not have it, but it received excellent reviews by its consumer. 
Cheers Springfield!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Eating Out Vegan in Brooklyn Yo!

I went to NYC recently to visit peeps and to soak up the City's energy for my upcoming final school semester. Yikes!

I took the Megabus from Boston to NYC, about 4.5 hours each way, and made an amazing 24-hour trip out of it. You can get a lot done while traveling in a Megabus, but sleeping is most likely not one of these activities.

When I got to NYC, I walked around a bit, visited the Chelsea Market - I used to work there many moons ago. It is a great place to hang out and taste good food.

They offer vegan options in most of the eateries located inside the Chelsea Market. While hanging out, I purchased a souvenir at one of the Italian specialty stores found inside the market. Are you curious to find out what it is?

What? No good? 
Near the Chelsea Market, you will find the High Line Park. It is a park built on old rail tracks. I have visited the High Line Park often when I lived in NYC.

High Line Park.
The hotel, depicted to the right, has a reputation of tourists exuding their nakedness in front of its large, uncovered windows. New Yorkers are up to speed with this inside information. Consider yourself warned.

After a few hours in the City, catching up with good friends from the olden days, I headed to Brooklyn, to meet up with another lovely friend. There she is and there we are….

Then I ended up at the Thistle Hill Tavern in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The tavern is frequented by hipster and non-hipster humans alike. No matter where your allegiance lies, you will fit right in. I had the vegan burger. It was fantastic! I could tell they make it onsite and put some creativity into making this dish.

My picture does not do it justice - I took it with my phone. And yes, I am trying to be "artsy fartsy" about it.
Here is the vegan burger in color and increased in size. Cheers!

White bean, cracked wheat and mushroom vegan burger served on a potato roll with salt and pepper french fries. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eating Vegan at Boston's North End

I enjoy cooking, and trying out new recipes - don't look so astonished. Conversely, eating out is also fun and enjoyable. There are a lot of vegan options out there. Even in the most unexpected places, you can find something vegan from the menu. This may require using some trickery and borrowing ingredients from one course and transferring those to another. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate you, just be sure to be polite when you choose this route. Go out there and explore. Go on, I will wait. 

Last night after an intense tour of the Harpoon brewery in Boston, MA, on the way back home, I stumbled upon Gennaro's Restaurant at the North End. Before I delve into the description of the restaurant, I would like to mention that Harpoon brewery is great destination for a Bostonian or a traveler alike.

   I ordered a vegan friendly sampler. 

The tour is $5, but don't frown if you don't get a chance to participate, in case it is sold out, during the time frame you are there. You can drink all the beer you want at the brewery's Beer Hall. The Beer Hall is fantastic because you can choose to either sit at the bar or share a table with a bunch of strangers - both equally fantastic options!


Now onto Gennaro's Restaurant at Boston's North End. The have a VEGAN MENU! Say what? While the restaurant does not advertise the vegan menu option on their web site, be sure to ask for it. The only reason I knew about it was through reviews on Yelp.

Check it out! There are no veggie burgers involved. I love a good veggie burger, but I want more out of my dinning experience. Don't you? 

Rigatoni with fingerling potatoes, peas, and pesto. I am going to try replicating this dish one of these days. 
The restaurant is a little fancy pants, but the prices are decent and you don't have to wear fancy pants to dine there. Ok, I am out! Cheers!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Borscht/Beverage - To Your Health!

I was talking to my mom the other day. She lives in a land far away, also known as Polandia.

We were discussing serious stuff, mainly how we both love a beet beverage that is often served during Christmas time along with tiny mushroom dumplings.

After much deliberation, both of us have decided to make it. So here it is peeps. Enjoy! 

Even though it looks like a soup, this is what happens when you add dumplings to the beverage. If you are looking to make beet soup, the recipe for it lives here. Cheers!

Christmas borscht/beverage with mushroom dumplings.  Artwork by Andy Warhol. 

Christmas Borscht/Beverage 
Please note this recipe requires 2 days to make. On the bright side, cooking is not necessary!

6-8 medium sized beets, peeled and sliced (thin slices are not mandatory, so slice as you please)
8 cups of hot water, not boiling
2-3 cloves of garlic, whole
2 teaspoons raw cane sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I used about half a teaspoon of each)
1 piece of whole wheat bread crust
Dried dill weed for garnish (add at the end)

Additional: large glass jar to accommodate 8 glasses of water, cheese cloth, and twine.

First, fill your tea kettle all the way, and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, turn off, and wait about 10 minutes before using it for this recipes.

Use a large glass jar for this recipe - I used a glass container which I store my flour in. Do not use plastic! Place the beets in the jar along with the garlic cloves. Pour 8 cups of hot water that you have prepared in the kettle. Add sugar, salt and pepper. Mix, and add the whole wheat bread crust.

Cover with cheese cloth, use twine to secure the jar, and leave it on the counter (do not refrigerate!) for two days. Like this.

Waiting and waiting...
Once the beverage is ready to consume, season with additional salt and pepper, and add dill weed. Use a mesh sieve to separate the beets, garlic and crust. Be sure to heat the beverage first before drinking or serving it with the mushroom dumplings.

Store in a container in the refrigerator for up to one week. I would not recommend making this recipe in the summer.

Do not throw away the beets. Bake them in the oven with a bit of olive oil, and spices of choice.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mushroom Dumplings (aka "little ears") and…

Mushroom dumplings, pan-fried! 
...and what? So, what did you get from Santa? I got an awesome food dehydrator which I have been wanting for quite some time. I am planning on making tofu jerky soon. Look out for that recipe in theaters or VKP blog near you!

In case Santa was not generous this year, sometimes that happens, please accept a personal gift from me - this recipe. Sorry, that's all I can do on such short notice.

Mushroom dumplings, also known as "little ears" or "uszka" in Polandia. 
This morning, I have decided to make these dumplings on a whim since my low maintenance borscht (no cooking involved!) is almost ready to consume - recipe coming soon.

These little dumplings are traditionally served with borscht during Christmas, but you can fry them and eat them as they are. Either way, you will not be disappointed. Just be sure to have a dumpling making companion to keep you on track.


Mushroom Dumplings - "Little Ears" or "Uszka"(Makes about 25 to 30 dumplings)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup hot water, not boiling

1 medium sized onion, finely diced
1 (10-oz package) baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

Prepare the filling first. In a large pan, sauté the onion and mushrooms in olive oil over a medium heat. Non-stick cooking spray works well here too. Add salt and pepper to taste and continue sautéing for about 15-20 minutes until the onion becomes translucent and the mushrooms have shrunk quite a bit. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

Now make the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add one cup of hot water. I boiled the water in a kettle and waited about 10 minutes for it to cool off prior to adding it to the dough. Knead for a few minutes until all the flour has incorporated. The dough will feel a bit hot to the touch, so be careful. Set the dough aside and let it rest for a few minutes.

Divide the dough into two "equal" pieces and roll it out as thin as you can. Meanwhile, keep the remaining part of the dough moist by covering it with a wet towel.

Use a small glass (about 1.5 to 2 inches in circumference) to make the shapes. See below.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Yup, Sam Adams is the king of beer here in MA.

Now, place a little bit of the filling in the center of the dough and fold it to a moon shape.

Like this...

I keep a cup of warm water when making dumplings, and dip my fingers in case the dough gets too dry and won't adhere. 
Now take the edges of the dumplings and stick them together, see below. Once the water is ready, drop 5 to 8 dumpling at a time to the boiling water, and wait for them to float to the top. This should take about a minute or so.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the dumplings and continue until all the dumplings are done. Serve with borscht, or fry them in olive oil, garlic and bread crumbs. Enjoy!

See why they call them "little ears'? 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sauerkraut with Mushrooms and Figs Stew - Bigos. Can you dig it?

Sauerkraut with Mushrooms and Figs Stew, also known as Bigos
This year I celebrate the holidays without a Christmas tree. It was not intentional, it just happened that way. Don't feel badly for me. I have this little green wonder to keep me happy - see below.

I am green and...real - that's most important,
said the tiny Christmas tree. 
Now onto the recipe. I have been thinking about making my own version of a popular Polish dish called Bigos or Hunter's Stew.

Most traditional recipes call for uncanny ingredients to us vegans, while others are even vegetarian or accidentally vegan. Typically, dried fruits such as prunes  - [did they change the name back to dried plums recently?] - are also used. I have decided to go with dried figs instead.

Cheers to being salty!

Sauerkraut with Mushrooms and Figs Stew
Please note this recipe requires 4-5 hours of cooking time. Yikes!

2 (32-oz bags) sauerkraut, do not drain ( I used this brand)
1 large carrot (about 1 cup), peeled and shredded
1 large bay leaf
1/2 cup to 1 cup dried mushrooms, reconstituted ( I used Bay Bolete dried mushrooms)
1/2 to 3/4 cup dried figs, stems removed and chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (add at the end)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In large pot, add the sauerkraut with juices, along with the shredded carrot and bay leaf. Cover, and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, lower the heat to simmer and cook for about 4-5 hours (I am not kidding!), stir occasionally.

In the meantime, prepare the mushrooms. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, and cover them completely with boiling water. I used about 1 cup if not more. Allow to sit and reconstitute for at least 2 hours. Do not drain! You will need the mushroom liquid later.

One to two hours before the stew is ready, add the mushrooms along with their liquid, chopped figs and freshly ground pepper to the pot with the sauerkraut. Stir and continue cooking until the water has almost completely evaporated and the sauerkraut has turned brown/orange color.

In case the liquid is not evaporating quickly enough, uncover the pot and increase the heat to medium-low. Conversely, if there is no liquid remaining before the stew is ready, add water gradually as needed.

Turn off the heat and add olive oil. Stir, and add more pepper if necessary. Do not add salt unless you want to. The stew should be salty enough.

Serve with favorite crusty bread or mashed potatoes. You can add vegan sour cream as well. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week. The stew tastes better the next day.

To decrease the sodium content, replace the sauerkraut liquid with equal amounts of water or low-sodium vegetable broth. The stew gets most of its flavor from the sauerkraut liquid and the mushrooms. However, if you choose to take the alternate route, be sure to let me know how it turns out. Much obliged. Peace out!

Salty ;) 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Baked Tofu and New Year's Resolutions

I used to take part in the popular tradition of making New Year's Resolutions each year without fail. Why did I do that? For one, I thought New Year had magical powers that would transform my way of thinking as well as the way I interpreted situations as the clock was striking midnight.

Well, things do not work that way. The clock has no magical powers, however YOU do. Only YOU can decide what things you would like to improve upon or work towards. A particular time of year will not necessarily propel you towards your goals, although it may give you an incentive.

You know what I think? I think that we do not need a specific time of year to change. Any day and anytime should work. So, there is no need to wait for a Monday or for the first of the month, to start being good to ourselves. We can do it now!

I have decided that I will become more socially open - whatever that means - and I am not waiting for New Year's to start. Yesterday, I went out with some peeps, played pool, and enjoyed getting to know people. I did not wait for New Year's to make this change, I just went for it. It was FUN! Your turn - go!


Baked tofu rocks!
Baked Tofu

1 (16-oz) package high protein organic tofu, super firm (extra firm or firm tofu may be substituted)

1/3 cup soy sauce (substitute with tamari to make it gluten free)
2 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground lemon pepper to taste (black pepper may be substituted)

Prepare the marinade first by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl. Drain the tofu, dry it with a towel, and slice into 8 large "equal" pieces. Now cut these into triangles - only if you dare to be fancy pants about it. I dared.

I don't usually press the tofu, you can go either way. You don't need to press it for this recipe. Place the sliced tofu in a large container and pour the marinade over it. Cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 300 F. Coat a large baking pan with non-stick cooking spray, add the tofu, and pour the remaining marinade over it. Bake at 300 F for about 20-25 minutes. Flip over, and bake for another 10-15 minutes, depending on the texture you desire.

Serve in sandwiches, on pizza, or eat it as a snack. I keep mine in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It never lasts that long because I tend to eat it right away.

Instead of the spices suggested, use other spices of choice. This recipe is good for the times when you want to try new spices or get rid of old spices taking up space in your pantry.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Feeling Down - I Need a Remedy for That? Anyone?

I am always honest in my posts! Conversely, I do not often indulge in digging deeper into themes/issues at hand. This is on purpose…so that you can make up your mind about things without me swaying you towards one way or the other. I try to open up each and very time I post - it is not easy!

I also encourage being positive in spite of what is presented before me. However, I do admit that being positive is hard work. Today, I will not EVEN try. I am "trained" to be positive, but sometimes, one needs a break. So, I will take it - i.e. the break - and just BE.

For some uncertain reason, I am feeling way down, and I have been crying for a while now. Ugh! This really sucks. Sometimes I simply cannot do what is recommended to feel better…even CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is not working. Maybe I was meant to go through this. I am pushing through the dark forest…looking for a light to get me out of this funk.

Such is life…

I leave you with a picture of my feline roommate Dewey aka DUDE. He has a way about him which always makes me feel better. Animals ROCK!!!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fava Beans and End of School Semester

Snack attack!
Yet another school semester has come to end, and I can't believe that by May 2014, I will have a Master's Degree! I won't be deceitful and tell you the path to get here has been easy for me. It hasn't. I had many obstacles to conquer along the way - mainly my own self-doubts - but here I am.

I have learned that in order to release the shackles that are my self-doubts, I had to start being good to myself, even if the steps to get there appeared trivial and unnecessary. While in graduate school, I often had thoughts of giving up - I felt I was not as being as social as everyone else - and it was tough for me to find a place of my own among the crowds of all the students. I stuck with it, and even met wonderful people along the way. I would not have been able to do that if I gave up. 

Now, onto the fava beans. What is presented before you is not necessarily a recipe, but a suggestion for a healthy, iron, calcium, and protein-packed snack. I adore fava beans and remember eating them this way since a little kid. My mom used to make them for me all the time, and now whenever I see fava beans in the supermarket, I get very excited - nerd alert!

Fava beans with sea salt. 
Fava Beans with Sea Salt

1 pound (16-oz) dry fava beans
Sea salt to taste

Before preparing the beans, you must soak them first. Place the fava beans in a large container, cover with plenty of water, cover tightly, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

To prepare, rinse the beans, and place in a medium to large pot with plenty of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to low, and cook until the beans are fork tender, for about 40-50 minutes or longer (see package directions).

Drain, and sprinkle with sea salt. I eat the entire bean including the skin, you can choose to eat with or without. Enjoy!