Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chicago: The Whole Package

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, if your coworkers leave without you for dinner during an out-of-town conference, wander into a nearby supermarket and happen upon vegan dinner entrees from a local restaurant you wanted to try but was too far to go during a work trip.

Yeah, that's right... I stumbled on a great selection of items from Chicago's Soul Vegan at Bockwinkel's grocery. After missing the coworker meet up, I thought I was doomed to a dinner of salad bar and prepackaged hummus. Instead, I had BBQ and macaroni and "cheese" and a brownie (luck of the vegan be with me apparently.)

For the price of a really subpar veggie burger and the most basic of french fries (last night's hotel food), I got to sample two dishes from Soul Vegan and satisfy my sweet tooth with a raw mocha brownie. By far, my favorite was the macaroni and cheese. Sometimes vegan mac and cheese has an earthy or strong pungent taste from the nutritional yeast or mustard that is sometimes added. Not this stuff, I don't know how they took olive oil, soy milk, nutritional yeast and paprika and made this super light, creamy almost souffle like cheese for their mac and cheese. I ate it cold and it still was great.

The BBQ Delights were seitan based with a sweet barbecue sauce. The seitan was toothsome without being rubbery which was nice, but the sauce was too sweet. I like spicy, vinegary barbecue sauce where this sauce was based on pineapple juice and molasses. Don't get me wrong. It was good. Just not as good as the macaroni and cheese. Again, I imagine if you heated this up in the microwave or oven you'd get that sticky crunch that barbecue sauce gets when it cooks, but cold it was still a better option than most would find in a prepackaged foods grocery case.

Thanks Soul Vegan for selling your tasting vegan vittles around town, and kudos to you, Chicago, for having clearly marked vegan options during all my dining excursions during my stay...it makes eating vegan easy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hot Dish or Chili Mac?

As you get older and exposed to more things, every once in awhile something that was just a given (a known thing) gets rattled. For me, it was the definition of hot dish. Growing up, when my parents said we were having hot dish I didn't need any more information to know exactly what I would be eating. Fast forward a decade or so and now I'm not so sure....what's the difference between hot dish and casserole? Or chili mac and my childhood hot dish?

If you're not from Minnesota or the Midwest, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, but Minnesotans are serious about hot dish and casserole. We have maps of the various dishes sold on dish towels and pan holders.

Hotdish in my family is a version of what others know as chili mac. Macaroni noodles (starch), protein (parents - ground beef and kidney beans; me - soy chorizo and kidney beans), vegetables (parents - canned/frozen peas, carrots, corn; me - onions, peppers, carrots); tomato sauce (juice or crushed tomatoes), and chili spices (cumin, chili peppers, garlic, salt and pepper.) It follows the basic hot dish recipe - cook a starch, protein, canned/frozen vegetables with a can of soup or tomatoes. Other relatively famous hot dishes: tater tot hotdish, wild rice hot dish, etc. Now, I've seen the common mistake where people think Minnesotans call all casseroles hot dish (this mistake was encouraged by our Minnesota Congressional Delegation at their annual hot dish competition...yeah, we take this stuff pretty serious.) This is not true. We have casseroles too, so what's the difference?

The biggest difference is casseroles are always baked. A hot dish can be baked or it can be cooked on the stove top. There's other differences that are summed up well here. For the layperson, there definitely are more similiarities than differences, and it's not too big of a deal if you mix the two up As long as you don't go wild and abandon both and call a hot dish.... chili mac.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Can I have Smore?

The leaves are changing and the mornings are brisk. Fall is here, and if you're like me you're already getting nostalgic for the perfect summer and fall days that help us Minnesotans survive the long winters ahead. This summer went by way too fast between road trips, wedding planning and the like, and I didn't go camping at all! Thankfully, we did enjoy a few bike rides and hikes that allowed us to bask in the beauty that is Minnesota's Great Outdoors (this does not include the State Fair which is fun, but not at all natural.) What we did not get to do was make SMORES!

That's right, friends, vegan smores are not only possible, but also delicious! In fact, they may even leave you or your friends asking "Can I have Smore?"

With a vegan smore, you just need to watch out for the following:

  • No dairy (milk or butter) in the chocolate - You'll have the best luck with dark chocolates.
  • No honey in the graham crackers - Nabisco originals is the only one I could find locally without honey.
  • No animal-based gelatin in the marshmallows - Dandies or Sweet & Sara
Don't worry if you're not going to be out in the woods or near a campfire soon. If you're itching for some ooey, gooey sweet goodness make them at home. First, if you have a gas stove and a skewer, you can toast your marshmallow on the stove (if not, no problem just skip this step.) Second, put half a graham and a square of chocolate on a microwavable plate, top the chocolate with the marshmallow and microwave for 10-15 seconds. Third, top with the remaining half a graham cracker and press for maximum oozing and mingling of sweetness. Finally, enjoy!