Monthly Archives: April 2010


Tonight I threw together a version of the Italian Bean Soup I made a few weeks back. This top I topped it with a little Parma! vegan parmesan cheese.

I always see this stuff at Holiday Market and had seen them at VegFests past, but never picked any up. I got some at this year’s VegFest (yesterday) and decided it to put it to good use. It was great.

Its ingredients are simple: raw walnuts, salt, yeast, and love (according to the company’s Web site), which explains the nutty flavor when you sample it plain. If you don’t like walnuts, don’t worry though. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

The company recommends putting it on pizza, popcorn, rice, etc. and I think I will. Samples do work! I will definitely pick some of this up when my samples run out.

A Delicious Weekend in the Windy City: Part 1

My squeeze and I headed to Chicago for a quick trip to visit friends and check out Thom Yorke’s new project, Atoms for Peace.  In my five years living there, I had the good fortune to encounter some amazing restaurants, big and small. We always hit up a couple of my old favorites when we come to town. This trip we even tried some that became instant NEW favorites.

Here’s a quick peek into our whirlwind weekend in Chicago, that kicked off with one of our favorites.

We pulled into the city around 6:30 p.m. Central Time and headed straight to Handlebar on North Avenue in Wicker Park. I had eaten there a handful of times during my time living there, including once for brunch with Daniel. Then on my last night in town, we went there for dinner. Until this weekend, neither of us has ordered anything different than we did that night, just over two years ago.

Handlebar, a restaurant and bar with a great back patio, has a menu full of vegetarian, vegan and seafood items, a great selection of interesting foreign and domestic beer, and one of the friendliest waitstaff’s I’ve ever encountered. Its name refers to the city’s bicycle messengers and cyclists it caters to.

Daniel’s standard is the Ground Nut Stew, which he said was a little off this time for some reason, but still delicious. It comes in a large bowl with brown rice and includes sweet potatoes, kale, peanuts, toasted coconut and zucchini.

Daniel so graciously allows me to sneak bites every time without stabbing me with his fork. See how happy he is waiting for its arrival? (And notice the beer in the left corner? That’s a ginger-infused beer from Left Hand Brewing Company. It was amazing.)

My standard is the Black Beans Maduro, a ridiculous mess of crispy plantains, rice, hot sauce, spicy black beans and deliciousness. I love, love, love it. BUT, considering the massive quantities of beans, rice and plantains I’ve consumed in the last few weeks, I decided to stray.

I ordered a special. I’m not sure exactly what was in it, because the waiter never came back to ask us if we wanted dessert. I was going to ask to see the menu, so I could spy on the back where the specials were. What I do know was that it was lemon risotto with asparagus, grilled tofu, a vinegary/pickly salad on top and an herb sauce/vinaigrette around the outside (I just couldn’t remember or figure out what herb was in it).

It was good, and definitely grew on me as the meal went on — but do we really want food to grow on us? It was good, but I just wouldn’t order it again. I can’t beat the Black Beans Maduro I guess!

I realize I never have pictures of myself on my blog (A: I’m always taking the pictures. B) Clearly I don’t belong on the other side of the camera. Can you sense the awkwardness?), but here I am about to dive in.

If you live there or are in town, check them out. Meat-eater or not, the food is GOOD and there are lots of choices. (And if you’re vegan/veg – you’re in luck! So many choices!) Take a look at their menu here.

By the time it was all said and done we were stuffed to the gills and ready to make it down to our friend’s new amazing pad in the South Loop and later to some hilarity that is Improv Olympic’s The Cupid Players. So, as often is the case, there was no room for dessert!

Cooking Club: Southwestern-Style Roasted Squash and Tomato Soup

This soup comes from Amy E., who started out intending to make some sort of tortilla soup. After a minor kitchen disaster, this is what she came up with, and it was delicious! Especially topped with the cilantro oil she made. (And some people also topped with some plain yogurt or sour cream).
From Amy:

1 can diced tomatoes
4-5 tomatillos (they just looked cool at the grocery store, I’m sure they are 100% nonessential)
1 red pepper
1 poblano pepper (I assume any kind of hot pepper would work here, depending on the flavor and spice level you want. When I made the second batch I was out of poblano, so I just added a regular old chopped up green pepper)
1 small butternut squash (I used about 2/3 of one squash)
1 medium yellow or white onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1-2 tbsp cumin
1-2 tbsp coriander
1/2 tbsp paprika
salts & peppers to taste
Olive oil
32 oz. vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

1. Get yourself a huge mixing bowl. Drain the diced tomatoes and put them in the mixing bowl. Chop up everything else and put it in the mixing bowl. You don’t have to be dainty; you’re using a food processor later. I saved the garlic for later on the first pass, since I hate burnt garlic. On the second pass, though, this caused me to forget the garlic.

2. Add olive oil (I NEVER measure olive oil, but I guess about 2-3 Tbsp.?) and spices. Mix everything together (I used a big spoon so as not to get hot pepper oil all over my hands) and throw it in a casserole dish or on a baking sheet. Pop it in the oven and roast 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables start to brown. If you use a casserole dish, stir halfway. If you saved the garlic for later, add it halfway, too.

3. When vegetables are bubbly and charred around the edges, remove from oven and spoon carefully into your food processor. You may need to do this in two batches – I did. Pulse to make a paste. I wanted mine to be a little “rustic” but you could easily make a puree, too.

4. Add roasted veggie slurry to a big soup pot and add the veggie broth. Stir, heat up and serve with whatever Southwestern-y toppings strike your fancy.

Cilantro oil
1 to 1.5 cups cilantro, roughly chopped or torn
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
Shake of garlic and cayenne
Put all of these things in your food processor and pulse to desired consistency. I read a recipe recently that included garlic to make a kind of cilantro pesto which also sounded intriguing.
Happy soup eating!!

Michelada: Salty Nicaraguan Refreshment

A few years ago, my friend Brooke moved to Nicaragua with her now husband, Jordan. Upon a visit back to the states, she brought me a bottle of Lizano salsa and our five-year (and ongoing) love affair began. The “salsa” is true salsa — a sauce. Not the salsa that first comes to mind when you hear the word.

It looks, smells — and tastes — a bit like A1 Steak Sauce to me. My favorite thing to put it on area potatoes, other veggies and especially when I make a breakfast tofu hash type of thing. On our recent trip to visit B & J in Nicaragua, I was introduced to a whole new use for it: the Michelada.

Some quick research tells me the Michelada is nothing specific to Nicaragua, nor does it usually involve Lizano salsa — normally just hot sauces of any kind. But here’s how you make the Nica version:

Lizano Salsa
Hot Sauce
Garlic (optional)

1. Start by salting the rim of your glass. An easy way to do this is to cut into one of the limes, make a slit, slide it around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass on a plate of Margarita or kosher salt. (Normal iodized table salt will work, but it’s just not the same…)

2. Load up your glass with ice and add the juice of 1-2 limes.

3. Add a dash or two of Lizano salsa. I add what probably amounts to about a teaspoon or two.

4. Add any other hot sauce you might want to spice it up a bit. Brooke says minced garlic can be pretty good in there, though Jordan disagrees.

5. Add beer. Since stores around here don’t carry the two beers of Nicaragua (Victoria and Toña), I grabbed Dos Equis and La Caguama, a Central American beer I never had heard of, but I figured, close enough! Since a whole 12-oz. beer doesn’t usually fit in the glass with all that other stuff in there, I take the rest of it and add after I’ve had about half of one. A lot of the spices, etc., have fallen to the bottom anyway, so it all balances out.

When I first tasted a Nica Michelada, I thought I would never need to drink anything else ever again. They reminded me of a bloody mary or a red eye, in a really distant way, but were totally refreshing when sitting in 90-degree temps in Central America.

Totally unique and flavorful, I’m glad I’ve added this to my cocktail repertoire, but really can only handle one at a time. The salted rim + the salty Lizano salsa means by the end of the pint you’ve long surpassed your daily sodium quota.