Archive for September, 2011

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Restaurant Review: Rawlicious (Spoiler: It’s AMAZING)

September 21, 2011

Welp, looks like I’ve got a new favorite Toronto restaurant.

This is really embarrassing to admit, actually. I’ve lived in this city for over two years now, and only last week did I finally make it out to Rawlicious, Toronto’s only 100% raw vegan resto. They have a few different locations scattered around the GTA; I visited their Yorkville spot for lunch, along with three of my friends. And boy howdy, was I blown away. Rawlicious is not only serving up the best raw food in the city, I dare say that they’re serving up the best vegan food as well, and maybe even just the city’s best food full stop (though of course, I have nothing to base this last comparison on). But don’t just take my word for it: rather, marvel at all the wonderful food I got to try…

First up, the Rawlicious fall lasagna, one of the items on their special seasonal menu. Though this plate did not have any of the melty-cheesiness or warmth of a traditional lasagna, the flavors were right on, making it totally irresistible. Its taste was largely propelled by the smart and liberal use of tomatoes, which are at their tastiest right now. Add a tasteful amount of nut cheese and some other vegetables, and you’ve got yourself one astounding dish!

Next up we have the raw ravioli, which at Rawlicious means sliced beets with cashew ricotta stuffed in between. I had no idea what to expect from just seeing this dish’s name, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see this when it came out from the kitchen. Yet whatever initial scepticism I may have had was quickly put to rest by my first taste of this delectable plate. Of course, I’m a sucker for beets, so maybe this was an easy sell for me. But the cashew ricotta was perfect, too, which I know from first-hand experience is not the easiest thing to pull off. Superb job, Rawlicious!

This is the raw pizza, and it was definitely the star of the meal for me. Piled high with wonderfully seasoned veggies, covered with a flavorful tomato sauce, and sprinkled with a little nut cheese, this pizza slice gets high marks for both flavor and texture. The best part for me, though, was the crust, which Rawlicious totally nailed. I’d never tasted a raw crust that was so thick, soft, and chewy before! I don’t know how they did it (though from what little I know about dehydrator breads, I suspect that juice pulp was somehow involved), but I don’t really care: this pizza is too good to mull over; all you want to do is eat it.

Finally, we have the dish I ordered: the raw pad thai. Now this may be an instance of the grass always being greener, but I have to say that this was my least favorite dish of our lunch. It was still good, but I would’ve liked it more if the peanut sauce had stood out better, and if there were more kelp noodles mixed in, rather than the preponderance of spiralized zucchini you see here. Nonetheless, I happily ate this whole bowl up.

Of course, Rawlicious has a lot more on their menu than these four dishes, and a lot of it sure looked enticing. Plus, they have plenty of raw desserts options as well, which I can only guess are fantastic. The atmosphere is also very nice (if a tad small), and for a raw vegan restaurant, it’s surprisingly affordable, with lunch mains ranging between $10 and $14. Yet probably the best thing for me about eating at Rawlicious was seeing how much my friends loved it—friends, mind you, none of whom are vegan, and only one of whom is vegetarian. It’s not typically easy for vegan restaurants to win over the non-vegan crowd, but Rawlicious makes it looks effortless, and in my book, that’s the best sort of activism there is. So what are you waiting for? Go to Rawlicious now. And when you do, invite me along, because I already want to go back.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Vegan Baked Goods Galore!

September 20, 2011

Oh, what a Sunday it was.

No, that’s not quite right. This is what a Sunday it was.

Why all the vegan baked goods, you ask? What, you mean I need more reason than I was hungry? Okay, I’ll admit: even my stomach isn’t that bottomless. As it turns out, this was all done in preparation for a vegan baking workshop I’m leading at UofT this Friday, where I’ll be teaching some eager students how to bake vegan cookies and cupcakes. As a newly hired philosophy TA, I’m used to teaching people things that I’m not actually qualified to be teaching them, so this workshop should be a snap for me—nonetheless, I wanted to make sure I’d be prepared and somewhat familiar with the recipes myself before teaching them to others.

And it’s a good thing I did, because these practice batches did not go completely smoothly. Take the first batch of cookies I attempted: these Salt-Kissed Peanut Butter Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies from Oh She Glows

These were, unfortunately, the pretty ones of the bunch. Now, I don’t know what I did wrong (perhaps a little too much spelt flour?), but for whatever reason I couldn’t get these cookies to hold together. The result was still deliciously edible, yet embarrassingly crumbly—in other words, not something I’d want to demo to others.

So it was back to the drawing board, where I decided to try out another recipe: Oh She Glows’s plain Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies!

I had actually made these cookies a few nights before, with great success; however, the original recipe has you creaming butter, and we simply don’t have the time or the equipment to have all our workshop participants cream butter at the same time for their cookies on Friday. So I tried a simple substitution: 1/3 cup canola oil for the called-for 1/2 cup of vegan butter. Thankfully, it worked like a charm, and although I definitely prefer the butter variety, the oil variation is plenty good. As you can see, these cookies came out nicely flat, and they’re wonderfully soft and chewy on the inside. Success!

Last but not least, I wanted to try out our workshop cupcakes. We’re using the basic vanilla cupcake recipe found in the excellent Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (and also available online here), which is as easy as it is tasty. In addition, I topped mine off with Macadamia Maple Butter Cream frosting, as found in Dreena Burton’s Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, like so:

We probably won’t be using this frosting recipe at the workshop, given its pricey ingredients; I was just trying it out for my own sake. In particular, I wanted an excuse to finally taste maple butter, a creamy spread made by heating, then cooling, then heating, and then stirring maple syrup. And let me tell you: it’s delightful, though I wish its flavor came out more strongly in this frosting, which unfortunately ended up tasting a little too much like the silken tofu that was its base. (Not that that’s gonna deter me from eating these cupcakes in the least.)

So there you go—three stellar vegan desserts, all irresistible and all easy to make. Try them out for yourself. And wish me luck at Friday’s workshop!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Oh It Wows: Roasted Tomato Pesto (from Oh She Glows)

September 19, 2011

Hey hey!

There are some recipes that stop you dead in your tracks right from the first bite. When you do a lot of cooking like I do, you cherish these moments, as they remind you of why you spend so much time in the kitchen in the first place. And today, ladies and gents, I have one such knockout recipe to pass on to you all: Roasted Tomato Basil Pesto from Oh She Glows.

It is simply fantastic: fresh, bold, and bursting with flavor with every bite. Part of the reason for this is that now is the perfect time of year for this recipe: tomatoes are filling up the farmers’ markets, and roasting them just brings out more of their incredible natural flavors. Paired with some fresh farmers’ market basil, this pesto is unbeatable.

Perhaps the only thing more astonishing than this pesto’s stellar taste is its ease to create. Simply roast your tomatoes for a little over an hour, and then whip them up in a food processor along with some basil, garlic, toasted almonds, olive oil, and (optional) nutritional yeast. It couldn’t get much simpler, yet it’s hard to imagine anything more delicious.

This pesto could elevate any accompaniment to unforeseen heights, but for my preparation I chose to pair it with some freshly spiralized zucchini pasta, topped with some roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted red pepper slices, and toasted almonds. It was divine. And it’s not just me who felt this way; this pesto also knocked the socks off some recent (and I might add, non-vegan) dinner guests, who loved it so much that they took to liberally piling it onto bread when their zucchini pasta ran out.

Two days after making this pesto for the first time, I am already making it again. It is just that good. So try it for yourself before the tomato season passes by, and happy eating!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: Linux Caffe

September 18, 2011

Hey-o! It’s been a little while since my last post in my Toronto Café Tour series, but I’m back again from a new location: Linux Caffe at Harbord and Grace! Here’s what I thought…

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Latte: This decently sized drink is perhaps most notable for its price tag: at only $2.75, it is the cheapest single soy latte I’ve seen in the city. However, it does taste like a $2.75 latte as well, lacking any real creaminess or strong espresso flavor. Disappointing, to be sure, but not enough to totally turn me off, especially still Linux Caffe scores so well in all other departments…

Wifi: Yes, and very strong.

Atmosphere: Comfortable and unpretentious, with plenty of seating and tables available for chilling out or doing some work. Also a friendly community vibe going through the place, or at least on the morning I spent there. At any rate, Linux Caffe has pretty much exactly what I look for in a café atmosphere.

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Food: Linux Caffe is also notable for having LOTS of vegan food options. Many of these come from outside sources like Sweets from the Earth (which they at least nicely unwrap and set up in their display case), but they make plenty of vegan dishes in-house as well, on both the sweet and the savory side of things. Theirs is probably one of the most extensive vegan menus I’ve seen at any Toronto café, which is all the more remarkable since they don’t even bill themselves as specifically vegan.

Final Verdict: Despite the disappointment of their latte, I really, really enjoyed Linux Caffe. It’s affordable, comfortable, and close by to school, and for these reasons I can definitely see myself coming back often throughout the year. Two thumbs up for Linux Caffe!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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How to Host a Vegan & Gluten-Free Dinner Party

September 16, 2011

Hi friends!

In the past month, I’ve thrown so many dinner parties that my arms are starting to hurt. But that’s not to say I don’t still love it: cooking for others is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable things in my life, and always much better than cooking just for myself. I also like it because it gives me extra motivation to challenge myself, and as you probably already know, I’m always in the mood for a new kitchen challenge.

Take this past weekend for example: I had offered to host and prepare a dinner for six, which needed to be vegan for me and gluten-free for my other friend. Sounds like that’d be severely restricting, right? Sure, I had dabbled in a bit of gluten-free vegan cooking in the past, but I had never attempted a full, three-course dinner. Thankfully, it all turned out very well and delicious, and largely due to three simple maxims I followed while coming up with the night’s menu, which I’m now here to share with you. I think these guidelines work well for any dinner party, really, but they are particularly useful when dealing with any dietary restrictions. So here you go! I hope y’all find these helpful.

1. Let nature be your guide

For any dinner party, I find the easiest way to narrow down your menu possibilities is by looking at what nature’s bounty has to offer and letting that shape the dishes you make. At this dinner, I made use of as much local farmers’ market produce as I could, which at this time of year had everything I needed for my signature colossal confetti salad, as well as some delicious fresh basil for quinoa pesto. Not only is this a practical guideline (since there are of course sooo many recipes to choose from), but the seasonal produce really elevates everything it goes into, making your dinner party that much more delicious.

2. Choose dishes than are vegan and gluten-free by default

Instead of attempting to veganize and gluten-liberate some non-vegan or glutenous dish you know, try to think of dishes that are vegan and gluten-free by design. As excellent as I know vegan and gluten-free cuisine can be, attempting an ersatz dish is always a risk, especially when some of your guests will be accustomed to the real thing. Imitation often tastes like imitation, unless it is done really well. The easier way to go, then, is just to forget about imitating. There are plenty of amazing dishes that do not use any animal products or glutenous ingredients at all, and these are the dishes you want to gravitate towards.

3. Wow them with banana soft serve.

I think this should be a rule for every vegan dinner party from now on, especially if you’re having non-vegans as guests: make them banana soft serve. Think of it as a form of baketivism. If there’s any single dish that can convince everyone out there that a vegan lifestyle is absolutely delicious (while still being super healthy), it’s this one. And you don’t even need to get fancy, either. Whipped up frozen bananas have enough sweetness and flavor all on their own to knock the socks off any diner—and to convince them that they can easily become vegan, too!

So those are my three simple pieces of advice. Perhaps they’re obvious, but they’re always good to remember. This was a really excellent dinner party for me, and as far as I could tell, my guests had fun, too. Thanks to them all for being such wonderful company. And look out next week for a post about the dinner party I’m throwing this weekend, which should be epic!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Red Quinoa Pesto, Reposted

September 15, 2011

Hi all!

Today I am going to cheat a little: I’m reposting a recipe I’ve already blogged. So, if you’re a long time reader of this blog—and when I say “long time reader”, I mean people who have been reading UWEA for over two years, a set which to the best of my knowledge includes only my mother—then you may remember once seeing me rave about a dish I (sort of) made up called Red Quinoa Pesto. It blew me away when I first came up with it, and it’s still just as good. Unfortunately, when I originally posted the recipe, I for some reason hid it away at the very bottom of a very long post featuring photos of Rivers Cuomo and Michael Cera playing soccer, among other things. I recently revisited this recipe this past weekend, and since I want to feature in an upcoming post, I figured it finally deserved a post of its own.

So here you go: my recipe for Red Quinoa Pesto. The basic idea is simple: just make some pesto, mix it together with some quinoa, and then garnish (an idea I came up with based on a 101 Cookbooks recipe for Arugula Pesto Wheat Berries). The taste really is amazing, and of course it’s super healthy. White quinoa would work just as well here, too, and you can also use your own pesto recipe if you have one you really like (and in fact, this past weekend I chose to make it with Gena’s killer Pistachio Pesto, which was indeed killer). Have fun with it! That’s how recipes work.

Red Quinoa Pesto (serves 1, with extra pesto for further servings)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup red quinoa
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup nutritonal yeast
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • additional basil leaves, pine nuts and nutritional yeast for garnish

Preparation

  1. Cook quinoa according to package instructions, or just cook it in about 3/4 cup simmering water. When done, put in a mixing bowl.
  2. Combine basil leaves, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, salt, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until ingredients are well mixed.
  3. With the food processor still running, drizzle in the olive oil.
  4. Take out about a 1/2 cup of the pesto and mix it in with the cooked quinoa.
  5. Serve pesto quinoa mixture with an extra dollop of pesto with additional pine nuts and nutritional yeast sprinkled on top and a laurel wreath of the remaining basil surrounding.

Enjoy this one, friends. I’ll be back tomorrow to show you how I incorporated it into a fabulous vegan and gluten-free dinner party. Cheers!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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So Awesome: The Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival

September 13, 2011

Hey guys!

What a long weekend! If you follow me on Twitter (which you totally should), you’ll already know that this weekend was full of awesomeness and excitement at the 27th annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival. I really didn’t expect that I’d want to keep coming back day after day, but as things turned out I spent all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday enjoying all the festival had to offer. And man oh man, let me tell you about all it had to offer…

First off, the food—oh, the food. It was all delicious, all vegan, and all quickly in my tummy. From this APieCalypse Now s’more pie…

…to this APieCalypse Now dark chocolate espresso pie…

…to this creamie from Bunner’s Bakeshop

…to this lovely Indian lunch platter from Udupi Palace

…everything was incredible—and vegan, of course! And trust me, I ate much more than I managed to photograph, such as an awesome raw dinner from Nzyme, more cupcakes and sweets from Bunner’s, and an amazing mile-high brownie from Kindfood. Also super awesome were Sick On Sin, a vegan T-shirt and design company, whose buttons were absolutely adorable (I got three!):

There were many excellent presenters present, as well. I particularly enjoyed Melanie Joy‘s talk on carnism and vegan advocacy, and Nadia Masoudi and Terry Hope Romero were also a lot of fun. And there were cooking demos, too, including one showing you how to make this lovely trio of banana soft serve blizzards (from left to right): raw mint oreo cookie, raw cookie dough, and strawberry cheesecake!

The only thing better than getting to sample these knockout blizzards was getting to watch the lovely Lisa and Nicole show us how they’re all done. I just had such a blast watching them perform their culinary magic.

Seriously, I think I could watch a cooking show with Lisa and Nicole all day. And if there were always free samples, I’d probably become a permanent audience member. (Oh and did I mention that they demoed all three of those blizzards with all their fixings in just 45 minutes?? Insanity.)

Beyond the food, talks, and demos, though, the best thing about the festival was without a doubt all the people I got to meet and hang out with: not only other Toronto vegans and vegetarians, who were all wonderful, but also tons of other vegan bloggers! Shout outs to The Tofu Princess, Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs, Chris from This Little Vegan, Jess from Cupcakes and Kale, and then of course Lisa and Nicole, from Vegan Culinary Crusade and A Dash of Compassion, respectively.

Want to read even more about the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival? Well you’re in luck, because I was so behind the curve in getting this post written that now everyone else at the festival has already gotten their own posts out on the interwebs. Here are just the ones I’ve seen so far…

Thanks again to all the wonderful volunteers and organizers that made this festival so special for me and everyone else! And to all my non-Torontonian readers, who are surely sick at this point of hearing me go on and on about the Food Festival, I have a message for you: Regular posts will resume later this week. Also, come to the Vegetarian Food Festival next year!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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