14 Favorite Bites of 2014

Vegan puffy flour taco - chorizo & black beanAfter a wild New Year’s Eve on the couch eating salad with roasted chickpeas and watching The One I Love with the one I love, 2014 has come to a close. (Happy New Year!) But before we forge ahead, let’s look back on my 14 favorite foods of 2014.  There are some simple things and some complicated.  Some of the meals are my own creation and others are from restaurants and cookbooks.  (They’re posted in no particular order.)

Donut Friend - Los AngelesDonut Friend in Highland Park, California

I am a long-time donut fan, but as we all know, fried yeast donuts that are vegan can be elusive. What used to be a once a month trek for glazed or chocolate covered cream filled donuts before I was vegan has become a vacation-only kind of thing. I’ve had vegan donuts at Ronald’s in Vegas, Fritz Pastry in Chicago, Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, and Dun-Well Doughnuts in Brooklyn. However, no donut, vegan or otherwise, compares to those that I had at Donut Friend in Highland Park, California.

The donuts are served deli-sandwich style. They slice them open, and you get to choose your own fillings and toppings from a wide array of options. I have another trip planned to Los Angeles later this year, and Donut Friend will absolutely be on the must-visit list.

Rahel in Los Angeles, California

Injera splattered with greens, lentils, potatoes, and carrots is my dream dinner, and no one does it better than Rahel in Little Ethiopia in Southern California. I was able to have a dinner there with friends early in 2014, and there was no way it wouldn’t be up there as one of my favorite meals of the year.

(The other vegan Ethiopian restaurant I visited this year, Bunna in Brooklyn, is also up there for memorable meals of the year. Their inclusion of kale salad with avocado on the injera platter is the kind of out of the box idea that I love.)

Stuff I Eat in Inglewood, California

Yes, more from California. Even though Stuff I Eat has been around since 2008, I didn’t visit their restaurant until January of 2014. I am a big fan of soul food, and their platters of greens, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, and barbecued tofu take me to my happy place.

Eggy Tofu & ToastEggy Tofu & Toast

Eggy tofu and toast has become one of my standard breakfasts. I love it that I can buy a large 20-ounce block of vacuum-packed tofu that doesn’t need pressing. Then every morning I just cut off a couple of slices, lightly fry it, and add kala namak (black salt) and pepper. The tofu is ready in the same amount of time that it takes to make toast. It tastes like the fried eggs and toast that I used to eat before I went vegan, and it makes a terrific sandwich with seitan bacon and eggless mayonnaise.

Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad - Salad SamuraiBackyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad from Salad Samurai

The Backyard Buffalo Ranch Caesar Salad was in very regular rotation this summer. Salad Samurai came out in 2014, and this salad took the blogosphere by storm. With tofu that’s been lightly fried and tossed in buffalo sauce over crisp greens, it’s a wonderful combination of spicy, cool, and crunchy.

Modern Love Omaha - squash blossom appetizerModern Love in Omaha, Nebraska

Living in the middle of the country, very often it takes months or longer before the cool new vegan specialty products hit my area, and awesome new vegan restaurants generally require airfare. However, this time around the Midwest lucked out in a major way when vegan cookbook author extraordinaire, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, opened a hot new vegan restaurant in Omaha. Mind you, Omaha is still a road-trip away, but it’s a doable drive.

For my birthday this year, David and I went to Modern Love for one of their menu tastings, and it was one of the best restaurant meals ever. Everything was absolutely fabulous, but if I had to pick a favorite from the night I’d either say the seitan marsala or the stuffed squash blossom (above). However, all of it was worth repeating. I don’t know when I’ll make it back to Modern Love in Omaha, but it’s almost guaranteed to happen sometime in 2015.

Buttery noodles with Red Wine MushroomsGarlicky Butter Noodles with Red Wine Infused Mushrooms

These garlicky noodles with mushrooms are such a simple dish, but we’ve gotten hooked on them this year. The key is having really great ingredients – fresh oyster mushrooms from a local grower, papparadelle that’s made by hand at a nearby pasta shop, and loads and loads of chopped garlic. When I was a kid, my favorite way to have noodles was simply tossed with butter, salt, and pepper, and this veganized adult version takes me back and then improves on the memory.

Vegan chorizo & black bean fried puffy tacosSeitan Chorizo & Black Bean Puffy Tacos

This puffy taco was another blast from the past from Vegan MoFo this year. It’s inspired by the puffy tacos that were served at one of my high school haunts. The fried shells are such a fun indulgence, and they are filled with spicy seitan, lettuce, tomato, and non-dairy cheese.

Central Park - New York CityBagel in Central Park, New York City, New York

When I think about our fall trip to New York City, the first food memory that stands out is from the morning that David and I rolled out of bed, walked to a nearby bagel place, and grabbed coffee and bagels with tofu cream cheese. We headed to Central Park, climbed up on one of the large rock formations and dove into the chewy, fresh bagels. It wasn’t a glamorous meal by any stretch, especially in a food mecca like Manhattan, but it was one of those picture perfect New York moments.

Blossom on Columbus, New York City

New Yorkers have seitan mastered. Time and again while I was there, they had me wondering how they make it so piecey and juicy. An excellent example of masterful seitan was in the gyro at Blossom on Columbus. The saucy, spicy dish was a filling lunch that packed a wallop of flavor.

Forbidden Planet in Iowa City, Iowa

I am so psyched that Eastern Iowa has gotten some top notch pizza. In a town that is dominated by college dorm-style pizza, Forbidden Planet offers something really unique. They have toppings like roasted Brussels sprouts, potatoes, truffles, truffle oil, four different vegan sauces, and three different vegan crusts, including a deep dish. Plus, afterwards you get to play Doctor Who pinball. It’s the kind of thing I didn’t know I needed in my life until it was here.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

This creamy, velvety dip reminds me of nights when spinach and artichoke dip along with a pile of hot tortilla chips was a standard meal at T.G.I. Friday’s. You’d never believe that the base of my version is made with cashews and carrots. With big chunks of artichokes, this dip is perfect for parties or even just all on your own.

Dukka from Vegan Eats World

Vegan Eats World didn’t come out this year; however, the paperback version did. With its paperback release, I revisited it and became entranced with this recipe for dukka. Dukka is made by roasting whole hazelnuts, removing their skins, toasting spices like cumin, fennel, coriander, and caraway, and then grinding them with smoked salt.  It adds a salty and savory crunch when dipping fresh baguette into oil and then dukka. A little goes a long way, and so a full batch in the fridge can be used again and again. I need to make another batch as it makes a dinner of salad and bread exponentially more exciting.

Ethiopian style mac & cheese from Papa Tofu Loves EthiopianMac & Cheese and Gomen from Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian was one of the most-used cookbooks in our house this year. It’s actually a zine, and it is no longer in print. However, the author, Kittee Berns, has a full vegan Ethiopian cookbook that will be coming out in two weeks called Teff Love. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m on the blog tour for the cookbook, and so you’ll definitely be seeing a full write-up early this year.

I have loved everything I’ve made from Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian, but the combination that has become our number one favorite is the Ethiopian-inspired mac and cheese and gomen made with collard greens. They are the comfort food power couple. I actually made them this year for Christmas, because what could be better than having one of your favorite meals on one of the best days of the year?

What have been your stand-out vegan meals of 2014?

Disclaimer: Post contains Amazon affiliate links

Upton’s Naturals Seitan Giveaway

Upton's Naturals Seitan GiveawayThe month of giveaways continues! While I will be having my usual variety of posts this month as well, I have a number of giveaways up my sleeve. I always love winning prizes and getting mail, and I hope that you do too!

Today’s giveaway comes from the folks at Upton’s Naturals.  It is no secret that I have it bad for Upton’s Naturals seitan. In fact, if there was some kind of weird desert island scenario, in which I could only have one kind of seitan for now and forever, you’d probably find me drinking out of a coconut, wearing a lei, and settling in to another Upton’s seitan BLT.

Upton's Naturals Seitan BaconUpton’s Naturals is a vegan-owned business based out of Chicago, Illinois. (If you’re ever in the area, they also have a small eatery called Upton’s Breakroom. I visited last year, and you can read that post here.) Their seitan line-up includes traditional, ground, chorizo, Italian, and the aforementioned bacon.  Depending on your area, they also offer a variety of pre-made sandwiches and meals.

The thing that I like about their seitan, in addition to the taste obviously, is the fact that the ingredients are the same as if I was making seitan at home. For example, the ingredients in the Italian seitan are water, vital wheat gluten, soy sauce, whole wheat flour, garlic, oregano, sea salt, onion, fennel, black pepper, and red pepper.  While I’m no stranger to making my own seitan, it’s super handy to just grab a package at the grocery store for a quick and convenient pizza topping, sandwich, or whatnot.

Upton's Naturals Seitan Bacon + a giveawayThe seitan bacon makes an excellent addition to a platter of tofu scramble and hashbrowns. Plus, my garlicky collard greens are taken up a notch by first sautéing diced bacon seitan with minced garlic and then letting the collards cook down in vegetable broth.

But the bacon isn’t the only product getting some love. The Italian seitan sausage is a tasty and toothsome layer in lasagna and makes regular appearances on pizza with red bell pepper and onions. The chorizo seitan is a wonderful addition to tacos or taco pizza.

I also use their seitan for:

Bacon Wrapped Cashew Cheese Stuffed DatesSeitan Bacon Wrapped Cashew Cheese Stuffed Dates

Breakfast Burrito with Roasted PotatoesBreakfast Burrito with Roasted Potatoes

Vegan chorizo & black bean fried puffy tacosSeitan Chorizo & Black Bean Puffy Tacos

Mashed Potato Ghosts with Seitan Bacon GravyMashed Potato Ghosts with Seitan Bacon Gravy

Upton's Naturals Seitan GiveawayI was psyched when the folks at Upton’s Naturals contacted me about doing a giveaway, and this one is crazy awesome.

It includes:

5 Free Upton’s Naturals Seitan Coupons

5 $1 off Upton’s Naturals Seitan Coupons

5 Recipe cards

1 T-shirt

& a swag bag of buttons, moustaches, and temporary tattoos

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only. A winner will be chosen at random. Please make sure I have a way to contact you by email or by blog, or I will have to pick a different winner.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I received the same prize package above from Upton’s Naturals at no cost in addition to the prizes for the giveaway.  The thoughts and opinions expressed are totally my own.