Archive | June, 2011

Sweet Weekend

20 Jun

My little brother graduated from UCLA last weekend so I flew to Southern California to attend his two graduation ceremonies. My primary reason for visiting was to see my brother and celebrate his achievement, of course, but it was also an opportunity to explore the food scene and try new restaurants. I became vegan long after I moved to the Bay Area, so I’m not very familiar with the vegan scene there. Every trip down in the past few years though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of vegan businesses that have opened up and the diversity of the clientele that patronizes them.

In the past couple years, I enjoyed such vegan gems as VeggieGrill, a burger chain that uses Gardein-brand fake “chicken” and “beef” (processed, yes, but a satisfying occasional guilty pleasure) and has the best vegan chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever tasted, Vinh Loi Tofu, a super-delicious (and authenic!) Vietnamese restaurant and Shojin, an organic Japanese restaurant with an extensive menu. I’ve also tried Real Food Daily, a popular restaurant that was recommended me by multiple vegans and vegetarians, but my carnivorous family, my (vegan) partner and I all thought the food was severely lacking in flavor. Au Lac is a restaurant which used to offer authentic, tasty Vietnamese food but now serves Americanized Vietnamese and raw food to the hippie/New Age crowd. The food isn’t bad now, just not nearly as good.

This past weekend, my partner and I tried three new-to-us vegan places and were quite impressed: Native Foods, a chain featuring a raw and cooked menu and house-made drinks, freesoulcaffé, a coffeeshop/cafe offering salads, soups, sandwiches and a huge selection of pastries, and Sage Organic Vegan Bistro, a cute restaurant with reasonably-priced food and offering desserts featuring KindKreme ice cream. Not only was the food at each of these places delicious and for the most part, affordable, but we received great service all around. Seriously, after gorging on delicious vegan food all weekend, I considered the possibility of moving back to SoCal for a brief second. A very brief second.

Since this blog is about desserts though, here are the sweets!

PB&J Cheesecake from Native Foods

The first dessert I ate on this trip was the peanut butter and jelly “cheesecake” from Native Foods. I enjoyed the crumbly crust, but the peanut butter and jelly flavors were really lacking. And having tried samples at the San Francisco Fancy Foods Show in February, I recognized the flavor in the cheesecake as being Follow Your Heart “cream cheese,” which I’m not a fan of for its strong soy flavor. Overall, it was decent but not great.

Peanut butter torte at freesoulcaffe

The peanut butter torte is one of freesoulcaffé‘s most popular items and has been reviewed on Yelp multiple times. It has an Oreo crust and a very prominent peanut butter flavor. From what I can tell, I think the filling was made with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese.. It was tasty but really, really rich and my partner and I could barely finish it between the two of us. If  you loooove peanut butter, this is the dessert for you.

Mocha biscotti at freesoulcaffe

The mocha biscotti had a good texture and was perfect for dunking into my cappuccino (which was excellent, by the way). I would have liked a stronger chocolate flavor though, personally. I might try one of their other flavors next time.

Pastry display case at freesoulcaffé

Yep, you read the caption right. This is the pastry display case at freesoulcaffé! And like the rest of the food/drink options, everything is 100% vegan. In addition to the torte and biscotti, they offer muffins, cookies, cupcakes, brownies, blondies and mini cakes and cheesecakes. [Are you swooning yet!?] If I lived nearby, I’d be hanging out at this place all the time. All. The. Time.

Raw mocha cheesecake at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro

My dad says Sage is now his favorite vegan restaurant. For dessert, he chose the raw mocha cheesecake made by KindKreme. He loved it, but I felt the coconut (which you find in most raw desserts it seems) overwhelmed the mocha flavor. This dessert is very dense and rich.

Large waffle sundae at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro

Great minds think alike, no? Even though we were stuffed to the core, my partner and I knew we had to order the waffle ice cream sundae for dessert. Greedily, we ordered the large-sized version which comes with a hot waffle topped with maple syrup, three scoops of KindKreme “ice cream” –tropical chocolate, banana and cinnamon cookie–and fresh strawberries and banana, and made my mom and brother order their own. Turns out, the large dessert was way too much for two people to  finish (and we are a group of big eaters!). The waffle was airy and not too flavorful on its own, but very crispy and a good canvas for the ice cream. I was skeptical of the raw ice cream, but it was very flavorful and smooth; it’s probably my third favorite vegan ice cream I’ve ever tried after Genuto Gelato and Scream Sorbet. I would come to Sage/KindKreme just for the waffle sundae — yum!

Overall, it was a fantastic culinary weekend and I can’t wait to get back to SoCal to try more restaurants as there are literally hundreds of vegan/vegan-friendly places to choose from. For now, I need to cut back and detox from my weekend of overindulgence. Any interest in seeing kale-based desserts these next few weeks? Kidding, kidding…

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Still here

7 Jun

My my, it has been a long time since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? The past few months have been a fun and eye-opening culinary adventure and I just haven’t had the time or energy for personal baking but I’m baaaack! My adventure has included learning artisan bread baking as well as the opportunity to intern with chef extraordinaire Eric Tucker at Millennium Restaurant. If you ever dined there on a Wednesday night sometime between mid-January through April, you may have even seen me working on the line. Having gotten to witness a true master at work, all I can say is wow, wow, WOW!

Through Chef Tucker, I got a position at Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar (which he co-owns) and have been working there part-time since March. Though my work had mostly been focused on producing savory items before, I now produce the desserts on the days I do prep. Co-owner Chef Lacey Sher has been extremely receptive to my suggesting new dessert items for the menu, which, as you can imagine, is very exciting for me. One of the desserts I introduced to the menu recently is a raw, vegan strawberry “cheesecake”  that also happens to be gluten-free. The crust is made with almonds, dates and cocoa powder and the filling consists of pureed raw cashews, strawberries, lemon juice, agave nectar, lecithin and coconut oil. We top the cheesecake with agave-sweetened strawberry slices. It’s deeeeelicious, if I do say so myself! Sometimes I even come back to the restaurant after my shift just to share a slice with my honey.

Cheesecake used to be one of my favorite desserts when I was an omnivore, and while the raw, cashew-based version tastes nothing like baked, cream cheese-based version, I think it’s tasty in its own right. The cashews give the cheesecake a rich, creamy texture, the agave and ripe strawberries a light sweetness, and the lemon juice a slight tang reminiscent of cream cheese.

I got four, overflowing baskets of strawberries at a farm and a bag of lemons from a friend’s lemon tree over the weekend so I decided to make a strawberry cheesecake that I don’t have to share with coworkers or customers (all mine!!). This time, I made strawberry-pistachio cheesecake — still a strawberry filling, but with a pistachio crust and no cocoa. Also, instead of making one big cheesecake, I opted for individual-sized versions so I can freeze the extra portions and not tempt myself to eat everything in one sitting.

I’ve gotta say, I’m partial to the strawberry-pistachio flavor combo. The pistachio crust provides a buttery flavor that complements the strawberry filling well. I imagine a bit of cardamom in the crust would also be a delicious addition. Either way, I suggest you give raw cheesecake making a try; it’s truly amazing what you can do with cashews. If you need to satisfy your craving now or are too impatient to make one yourself, go grab a slice at Encuentro while it lasts!