31 December 2012

Minneapolis: The Tea Garden

MATT:  What do you want to do for dessert?
ALLI:  Whatever you like!  We could stay here... or maybe go to The Tea Garden.
MATT:  Well what would you rather do?
ALLI:  I don't even eat dessert.  You have to choose.
MATT:  I'm up for anything!
ALLI:  Here or Tea Garden?
MATT:  I could go either way.
ALLI:  ... Fine, Tea Garden.
MATT:  Let's never fight again.

Image from a time when the sun actually shone.  Also from nelso.com

2601 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 377-1700

This place has a huge menu, literally and figuratively.  You can ask the staff what's vegan or look here for a little info.  Basically, the easiest thing to do is pick out what you like - a tea latte, bubble tea, loose leaf tea, shake, whatever - then tell your friendly Tea Garden employee that you'd like it vegan, please.  Chances are the response will be, "Would you like to replace the dairy in that with soy creamer, soy milk, or almond milk?"  Sometimes it gets a little more complicated - for example, you could unwittingly pick a bubble tea jelly flavor that's not vegan.  In this case, be flexible.  The staff'll still help you figure it out.

This time I ordered a cup of loose-leaf tisane - that's a tea-free herbal infusion.  My blend?  Rooibos, with almond milk, for $2.80.

Unlike at Starbucks, this stuff is really freaking hot when you grab it off the counter.  I let mine cool for about 20 minutes before drinking it.  And when I finally started to sip, I tasted hints of the sweet and mellow tastes described in the menu.  It has like a grillion health benefits - antioxidants, protein, natural minerals, vitamins, and it apparently even does wonders for the digestive system.  Which all sounded pretty good to me, having just eaten a couple crispy deep fried hufflepuffs.  I mean, hush puppies.  But when I got home, I admit, I felt that I had to add a little of my unsweetened vanilla almond milk to it because it tasted a bit boring and bitter.  The small addition of vanilla markedly improved the flavor.

A lot of the other drinks at Tea Garden are fun, too.  The Thai Tea is super yummy but far too sweet for any normal human being to consume in a single sitting.  The jellies and pearls rock - they're made from scratch right there behind the counter.  Ordering a bubble tea can be a little overwhelming, though, because there are so many choices.  If you're in doubt, go with a fun-sounding tea and classic tapioca pearls.  Or, seriously, ask the staff.

The ambiance is stellar.  I don't know what music they played, but it was 10,000 times better than Fiona Apple.  Their music is always 10,000 times better than Fiona Apple.

Minneapolis: Gigi's Cafe

Friends: you too can have vegan hufflepuffs.  What the hell is a hufflepuff, you say?  Well.  It's a deep fried ball of cornmeal batter, of course.

Oh, you know what?  I meant hush puppies.  Still not entirely sure what a Hufflepuff is, though.  Maybe also made of cornmeal.

Image from Carag Neighborhood Tour

Gigi's Cafe
822 W 36th St
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 825-0818

Gigi's is a classy little counter-service joint with both a coffee shop and nice restaurant feel.  The chalked-up menu has a handful of options for vegans and the staff can help you figure out what to order.  The new owner (who also happens to be in charge of - maybe you've heard of these - Bryant Lake Bowl, Barbette, and Red Stag Supperclub) is bringing in more sustainable and local ingredients for the cafe.  Uh, yes please.

One problem: Fiona Apple was playing throughout our meal.  And, okay.  Look.  I loved Fiona Apple when I was 15 and thought I had problems.  Buuuutttt.

Anyway, I ordered the Vegetable Hush Puppies, sans feta, for $11.  The sauce they come with is some kind of crazy non-vegan sauce, so if you go for these make sure you request that they use their vegan romesco sauce instead.  The romesco's made from red peppers - nice and creamy with a little bit of heat.  Probably slightly boozy.  You'll love it.

Sweet potatoes, just LOOK at that beautiful golden-brown chunk of fried cornmeal.  It's got bonus veggies in there, too.  The sauce peeks out from under the patties and sauteed vegetables, which were stellar, by the way.  Onion, bell pepper, carrot, kale, almonds, and raisins.  Yum!  The hush puppies were crispy and wonderful, although a little bitter on their own.  I made sure I loaded each bite with veggies and sauce to balance that flavor out.  The overall effect was quite excellent.

Maybe, if somebody fed this to Fiona Apple, her music wouldn't be so depressing.

Where's my psychology degree?

24 December 2012

recipe: orange sweet potato salad

A Middle-Eastern themed salad is TOTALLY perfect to serve at family Christmas functions.  Baby spinach, scallions, dates, candied walnuts, roasted sweet potato...  What.  WHAT.

Okay.  Truth is, I made this because it's quick, easily doubled, Sister-approved, and filling.  These traits are necessary, as they prevent me from spiraling into a Christmas melt-down.  YAY CHRISTMAS IS FUN or whatever people who like Christmas say

Orange Sweet Potato Salad
GF - 45 minutes - serves 4

Olive oil
1 large sweet potato (I used jeweled yams)
1t cumin
1/2t coriander
1/2t cinnamon
1/4t cloves
1c quinoa
1/2c walnuts, chopped
2T maple syrup
Zest and juice from 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1T balsamic vinegar
4 scallions, chopped
1/4c fresh parsley, chopped
1/2c dates, chopped
6oz baby spinach

Turn your oven up to 400F and slap down some parchment paper on your baking sheet.  Chop your sweet potato up into 1-inch cubes or smaller and spread them out in a single layer across the sheet.  Spray with olive oil, then sprinkle on your salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves.  It's not important to be exact with the amounts, but if you want to make it easier, you can combine the spices beforehand and sprinkle the mixture over the sweet potatoes.

Throw those in the oven for 30 minutes, or until they're nice and mushy when squished.

... Matt definitely changed the color filter on the camera between those two pictures.  It was a good change. This was before he started eating all the candied nuts.

Right after you stick the sweet potatoes in the oven, put your quinoa on to boil with 2 cups of water, a sprinkling of salt, and about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Fun part: now you get to candy your walnuts!  Toss those babies into a skillet and toast them over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

They'll start to smell amazing.  Then add about a teaspoon of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Stir that into the nuts and let them keep cooking for 30 more seconds.

Add your maple syrup.

This part is the best!  The syrup will start bubbling right away.

And you need to be stirring constantly to coat the walnuts with the rapidly-caramelizing syrup.  After about 30 more seconds have passed, and your nuts look like this:

You're done.  See how they're all shiny and delicious-looking?  Scoot them out of the pan and onto a sheet of parchment paper to cool.  Try not to eat them all before you throw them in the salad.  Also don't let your husband eat them all.  It's hard to keep track of him when your kitchen has two doors.

Once everything isn't scalding hot - which means your quinoa should be about done steaming and you should be able to pick your sweet potatoes up with your fingers - assemble everybody in your salad bowl!

Pour the orange juice, zest, lemon juice, and balsamic in first.  Stir to let the quinoa soak that up evenly.  After that, all the other ingredients except the baby spinach can dive in - that'll be your sweet potatoes, dates, scallions, parsley, and nuts.  Once that's fully integrated, add the spinach and mix one last time.

If you don't mind warm salad, you can serve it immediately.  Me, I'm keeping it in the fridge for a few hours first.  But only because I have people to impress.

Hopefully Matt doesn't pry into it and eat all the nuts.

14 December 2012

Minneapolis: Broders'

Mom and I couldn't figure out where to eat.  We love Sister, but without her anti-gluten and etc. dietary restrictions to factor into our decision, the possibilities were endless.  Who knows.  Maybe we went mad with power.  After, seriously, 20 minutes of talking through this decision, Mom's eyes brightened.  "Oh!  I know!  Broders'!"

I, barely this side of politically correct and terribly excited about the promise of pasta, exclaimed, "GLUTEN!  Delicious gluten!"

Then I took this picture.

With my imagination.

From the Broders' website.

5000 Penn Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55410
(612) 925-9202

First, bread was had.  I was all over that.

You need to know a few things before you order your entree.  Vegans, chill.  The only pasta you can have is stringozzi.  Broders' handmakes all their pastas, but the stringozzi is the only one without egg.  Upon looking at the menu itself, you'll see the stringozzi is included in only one (or possibly two, depending on the day) pasta dishes.  One will be 2. Stringozzi alla Spoletina for $10, with tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic, Umbrian style.  It's a perfectly lovely dish - I'll tell you all about it in a second.

Yet perhaps you're more adventurous?  Why, intrepid explorer, simply choose the menu description from another item that you'd like to pair with stringozzi pasta.  The kitchen will happily accommodate you.  And if you're not interested in pasta at all, see if you can get them to leave the dairy out of whatever risotto dish they're making that day.  I can't even imagine how stellar that would be.

When I threw the V word into my order, our server suggested I try the extra vegetable with my Stringozzi alla Spoletina - which brings the total cost to $12.50.  Then he mentioned he could have the chef use an assortment of veggies.  If I were so inclined.  "Sure!" I said with feeling.  "I can has vegetables!"

The dish is good, but here's where it gets complicated.  It needed a little salt, for starters, which is no problem.  Even though we were sitting at the bar, we had easy access to a salt shaker.  The stringozzi itself is divine.  The chewy texture makes me wish I had the patience to make my own pasta and then sit there eating it while wishing it was as good as this stuff.  The tomatoes were warm and delicious, spread across the dish with garlic and a little heat.  Most of the extra veggies gelled well with this flavor profile.  The romanesco broccoli, however, tasted a little too broccolicious, and might have been better left out.  Romanesco broc's pretty, though, and not really a bad thing to spend your time eating.  Overall, a lovely meal, but next time I'm ordering my spoletina without the extra veg.

Sitting at the bar and watching the magic in the open kitchen throughout our meal turned out to be quite a treat.  That chef had some serious flow.  Sometimes he had pans on each of the 8 burners on his stove going at the same time.  I thought to myself, self?  I WANT THAT FLOW.  I will install 4 more burners in my kitchen.  And a bigger sink.  And a sous chef.

12 December 2012

Minneapolis: Roat Osha

Last night:

ALLI:  Want to go to a movie?
MATT:  I don't know what's out.
ALLI:  We could see Red Dawn or Life of Pi.  I read Life of Pi, it's really good.
MATT:  I'm not really in the mood for those.
ALLI:  ... Frankenweenie's playing at New Hope.
MATT:  OOH, want to go see that?
ALLI:  ... Sure.
MATT:  What about food?
ALLI:  Let's go to this cheap Middle-Eastern place.  I'll blog it.
We drove to the cheap Middle-Eastern place and sat in the car staring at it.
MATT:  Ummm
ALLI:  You want to go to Roat Osha.
MATT:  Ummmmmmm
ALLI:  If we can skip Frankenweenie we can go to Roat Osha.

Roat Osha
2650 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55408
(612) 377-4418

Other than the fact that Minneapolis should probably get all that dangerously slippery sludge off the streets, we had a great experience here.  Sometimes it's nice to just sit down and share a lovely meal with the love of your life.

The menu at Roat Osha doesn't exactly make it easy to know what's vegan.  Your server can help you figure it out, but it helps to know that none of the curries'll work.  You have the sense to stay away from dishes with meat in the descriptions.  Otherwise, ask your server about your order before you place it.  This is Uptown, after all.  They know what vegan means around here almost better than I do.

Because Matt and I stood outside in the cold taking pictures of the face of Roat Osha for 5 minutes, I ordered hot Jasmine Tea for $3.  At first it tasted like your average boring tea.  Then it got bitter.  Then it got bitter-er.  Then I couldn't finish it.  Oh well.  You win some, you lose some.  And by lose, I mean push to the edge of the table hoping your server will take it out of your range of vision.

Our Fresh Salad Rolls, which you can order vegan, were $6 - even though the ones with 2 types of meat in them cost the same and the veg versions have no meat replacement.  Nor do they have the peanuts promised in the menu.  That's a little silly.  But alas.  The rolls were yummy in spite of themselves!  I didn't even miss the tofu other restaurants cram into their spring rolls.  These ones come jam-packed with noodles, lettuce, carrot, cilantro, and mint, and you can dip them into a cucumber sauce and a sweet and sour-tasting sauce.  The crunchy, cold roll holds together well enough that you could use your chopsticks to gobble it up in 3 separate bites.

The Sweet Cashews Delight with mock duck set us back $11.95.  They let you chose your spice level from 1-5 on every dish, and we went with a 3.  The heat was there, but barely.  If you have the gumption to try more, I'd suggest a 4 or 5.  It comes with hot, crunchy, perfectly cooked bell peppers, celery, onions, snow peas, carrots and scallions, smothered in peanuts and a chili cashew sauce.  The dish was good, but not great.  I found the mock duck a little too TVP for my tastes, and the sauce wasn't too exciting.

Much better was the Pad Thai with tofu for $12.25.  We ordered this one at a 3 too and felt the same way about its spice level.  Next time I'm gettin' fours.  BUT.  You guys.  I don't usually get Pad Thai because of the eggs, you know.  But this - vegan, obvies.  And SO TASTY.  It's got rice noodles, soy sauce, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, crushed peanuts, carrots, and lime, and every single one of those unique flavors and textures gel like Magellan.  The tofu is alright - better consumed in a bite with other accouterments than alone.  Plus?  The noodles are PRE-CUT.  Yes.  You read that right.  The chef actually makes the noodles short for your eating convenience.  No slurping or dropping food here!  Genius.

Then... dessert.  Okay, no, I don't eat sugar or dessert anymore.  But this happens to qualify for things I'm okay with: Fried Thai Bananas, five bucks.  Vegan!  Can you even believe it?  They come with ice cream, but that's easily left off if you tell your server you don't want it.  They're not really sweetened, and that's what I love about them.  They let the sweetness of the bananas carry the flavor.  In fact, it didn't even really taste like a dessert.  It tasted like a warm, creamy, gooey mess of nature's candy.  Warning, though: see the syrupy liquid drizzled over the bananas?  That's honey.  So when I said Uptown knows vegan better than I do, I was lying a little.  Just let your server know to send the honey the same way as the ice cream.  Orrr watch your husband meticulously spoon every last drop off the plate after the bananas are gone.  Either's good.

I do know what they look like, in case you were wondering.  Fingers!

11 December 2012

Recipe: Fajita Taco Dip

When it looks like this outside:

You don't want no salad.  I made this stick-to-your-ribs gooey hot comfort food because Matt and I had been staring out the windows at THAT all Sunday.  Ahh, Minnesota.  One day I hope to understand how the Lakota and Ojibwe lived here without heaters or melted Daiya.  Seriously, how badass is that?

My pictures will be slightly different from the text of the recipe because - ha - no way was I going out in THAT to buy the lime, black beans, and bell pepper I could easily replace with lemon, garbanzos, and broccoli.  Also, this recipe may seem long, cruel, and/or unusual, but don't worry about it.  You can modify the dickens out of this thing.  If you're pressed for time, use white rice (or even faster: couscous), skip the roasted squash and fajitas, and you've got a dish that takes 40 minutes or less.

Fajita Taco Dip
GF with the right chips - 70 minutes (mostly inactive) - serves 6

Olive oil
1c uncooked brown rice
Chili powder
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (one green, one red), chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black beans
3/4 bag Daiya pepperjack or cheddar
1c salsa
1/2c fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Juice from 1 lime
Bag of corn chips (I LOVE these)

Oven: 400F.  In the immortal words of Kathryn Janeway, DO IT.

First part's super easy.  Set your rice up: 2 cups of water, 1 cup of rice, a dash of salt, 1t chili powder, 1t cumin, 1/2t coriander, 1/2t marjoram, and 1/4t cayenne.  Do a little squirt of olive oil - one tablespoon or less - then bring it to a boil, followed by a 50-minute simmer.

Next, jazz up your squash.  Throw the pieces onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spray 'em with oil or cooking spray, then sprinkle a small dash of each spice across them.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and leave it there for 30 minutes, or until the squash is easily smushed.

Hot potato one of those up to your mouth and don't close your lips so the steam can escape as you overenthusiastically try to savor one.  Trust me, it's worth it.

Only when your rice and squash are both done must you continue.  While they're cooking you could watch an episode of 30 Rock.  (Look, I know about TV other than Star Trek, each episode of which is too long to watch during this interim!  I'm so hip or something!)  Don't turn your oven off.  Grab a 9x9-ish baking dish and mix your cooked rice, Daiya, beans, and salsa up in there.  Slide that sucker in your oven for 15 minutes.

Preheat a skillet with oil over medium-high heat.  Grab your fajita veggies and throw them in to party.

Fajitas are super fun.  You get to cook them really hot and really fast, and they always always always wind up smelling amazing.  That sentence had a total M. Night Shenanigan twist ending.  So once the onions have been going for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and bell peppers.  Just fajita them up for 2-3 more minutes and savor that extreme fajita sound.  Stop when everything looks beautiful.  Crisp yet steaming.

Pull your rice mixture from the oven.  It should look like this, with a browned and firmed-up surface:

Throw your cilantro and lime juice into the baking dish and mix it into the rice.  Spread the squash and fajitas on top and you have yourself some taco dip!

You can mix it up if you have room in your baking dish.  I mixed mine up in a bowl.  Dig into it with your chips.  Marvel at your own cleverness.  Watch an episode of Deep Space 9 for some reason.

Want to see something super cute?  Super cute plant time?

AWW.  Right?  Food is so beautiful.  Unlike DS9.