Thursday, September 27, 2012

A windy city, a beautiful wedding, & amazing vegan food...

In case you can't tell, this says "Chicago Sept 20" No. I didn't do this, I just thought it ironic because Sept 20th is my birthday and we were in Chicago :)

I've never been one much for tagging or vandalism of any sort for that matter, so this picture is not my work, but I did think it was ironic when I saw this on a wall in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago on September 21st. 
We went to Chicago for the beautiful wedding of a good friend of ours. Last time we were in Chicago it was below freezing, and with the wind it was colder than anything I had ever experienced, but I still loved the magic of this city. 
This visit was even more magical as we had our sweet baby girl with us, it was my birthday, and of course, the wedding. However, being the responsible vegan that I am, I can't go to any city without first doing some research on vegan hot spots in the local area. Especially these days, I am proud to say that vegan options and vegan restaurants are so much more abundant than even a few years back when I made the plunge. Last time we were in Chicago, we did make it a point to make it to the Chicago Diner, but this year, I wanted to experience something new, and that we did. 

The first night we stayed in this awesome 3 bedroom apartment at an Urban B&B in Wicker Park. 

This is the beautiful tree-lined street of our apartment. I loved it here, I could have stayed forever (if it didn't get so cold in the winter). It is a gorgeous neighborhood, rich with history yet buzzing with contemporary shops, restaurants and people. This was a very vegan friendly neighborhood, and the cool owners of the B&B were hip to all the cool vegan stuff in the area to check out, so they gave me great recommendations. I was super happy to find out that a Native Foods had just gone in a couple of blocks away. Native Foods is in SoCal, but I had never tried it and always wanted to.  More on that in a bit. 

Our first night there was my birthday, and I had gotten us a reservation at Karyn's On Green. All it took was a hot second of looking at their menu online before I knew it was the perfect place to spend my birthday.  We went, and the decor was gorgeous, the people were uber friendly (due to lack of babysitting options, we brought our daughter, and were very nervous, but the staff made us feel right at home and welcomed her lovingly),  but most importantly the food was awesome. Absolutely awesome. We started with chorizo and crab cake style sliders, but unfortunately those disappeared before they could be photographed. You will have to excuse the fact that these pics are a little dim, the ambience was great, but not ideal for food blog photography. 

After that I had a Green Tomato Carpaccio and a Ethiopian Spiced Eggplant with Lentils and Squash Puree that was so packed with flavor, I sat there and savored every bite. It was perfect. 

My favorite part however was the dessert which was a selection of housemade nut based ice-creams with raw "cookies" and a drizzle of pure maple syrup, all of which was adorned with a single candle burning in honour of my 30th birthday. The evening was perfect. A beautiful vegan meal in a gorgeous restaurant with a view of Chicago's finest skyscrapers, enjoying the company of my wonderful husband and my beautiful daughter. Not the roaring party of my twenties, but the maturity felt right, I wouldn't have changed it for the world. 

The next day, we strolled amongst our Wicker Park/Bucktown neightborhood. We found a quaint italian coffee shop where we got espresso and a delicious breakfast sandwich of almond butter and jam on toasted ciabatta. Yum. It was warm and cozy for that un-seasonably drizzly September morning. 

After a lovely morning cruising our neighborhood, we stopped into Native Foods and got food to-go to take to the Cub's game that afternoon. I wanted to order 1 of everything on the Native Foods menu, it all sounded so good. In the end we got Quinoa bowls- my husband's was a Mediterranean themed, and mine was a Moroccan themed bowl. I took a picture, but honestly it did not photograph well in the to-go box. But it was fresh and very flavorful. We each got a dessert and shared both- a brownie, and a strawberry parfait. Both were delish. We noshed on our treats while taking in our very first Cubs game. It was awesome.  Later in our trip, I also enjoyed a visit to Karyn's Fresh Corner which was a grocery and cafe near Lincoln Park that was really nice. 

All-in-all I found Chicago to be not just vegan friendly but a thriving vegan city.  The Chicagoans are kind, down to earth and extremely friendly. It was a nice reminder that it's ok to slow down and enjoy the scenery a little. It's so easy to get caught up in the rat race, but when it's all said and done,  it will be about the little things, the small moments in life, and how we treat one another and our world. I think this city is getting it right. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bananas Foster with Cashew Peanut Butter Ice Cream

This dessert, it's bananas!  B-A-N-A-N-A-S! Okay dorky moment over. I made this dessert a couple of weeks ago, and I've been meaning to post it! It's really good, and not hard to do at all.
For those who have ever made homemade ice cream the "regular" way... meaning dairy, white sugar, etc, you know that it can be a long process of making custard on the stove and so forth, making it so much more appealing to just go to the store and buy ice cream.  Well, vegan ice cream is so quick and easy to make it's just silly to make any other kind of ice cream, or buy a $6 pint, in my opinion! All you really need is a good blender and an electric ice cream maker and you are in business.

For this dessert, I adapted a recipe that I learned when I was studying for my Natural Chef certificate. It's a super easy cashew based ice cream that can be taken in any direction one might like... Strawberry, Chocolate, Coconut, Green Tea, or even some fancy concoction using Berries and reduced Balsalmic Vinegar. In this particular case, I took it in a peanutty direction, laced with a coconut milk background. Yum.

I topped the ice cream with a quick saute similar to a Bananas Foster. Simply put, I sauteed banana slices in Earth Balance, unrefined brown sugar, and a tiny splash of vanilla. The Earth Balance and the brown sugar combine to make a delicious caramel sauce. If you are into a rum flavor you can also add a splash of rum as in the traditional bananas foster recipe. Personally I am not into the flavor of rum, so I omitted that element. The dessert is topped with candied peanuts to elevate the subtle peanut flavor in the ice cream.

Bananas Foster with Cashew Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Serves 4 (with leftover ice cream)

For the  Ice Cream:
2 cups cashews, soaked for 2 hours and drained
2 cups light coconut milk
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup peanut butter (I have also used PB2 powder as a lower calorie option)

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend well- approximately three minutes until very smooth. Transfer mixture to the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Pour the mixture into the cannister of the ice cream maker, and process according to the machine's manufacturer's instructions. Once the mixture has been processed into ice cream  you can serve immediately or freeze to serve later. If you do serve later, allow the ice cream to sit out for 15 minutes to soften up prior to serving.

For the Bananas:
3 tablespoons Earth Balance
3 tablespoons Brown Sugar ( I use an unrefined version)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 bananas, sliced

Add  Earth Balance, brown sugar, and vanilla to your saute pan over medium heat, and whisk until combined. Add in banana slices, and let cook without disturbing the slices too much, as you don't want them to break apart. Make sure you at least flip all the slices to get them coated in the caramel mixture. Cook approximately 3-5 minutes until slices are softened and caramel coated, then remove from heat.

Put 2-3 scoops of ice cream in each of four serving bowls. Divide the bananas foster and sauce evenly among the four bowls. Top with candied peanuts, or regular peanuts and serve immediately.