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?

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My birthday weekend: The food edition

Salad with edible flowers, coconut bacon & roasted chickpeasMy birthday was last weekend, and it was pitch perfect. Usually we go out of town for my birthday, but this year we stayed closer to home. (More details on the whys of that later!) However, there were still many highlights.

On the day before my birthday, a package arrived from Los Angeles from my friend, Kristy. She shipped me some vegan treats – coconut bacon, Cocomels, and best of all, injera from my all-time favorite restaurant, Rahel.

Farmers market haulSalad with roasted chickpeas, coconut bacon & edible flowersAt the farmers market the next day, I couldn’t resist these edible flowers, and I had a big salad with roasted chickpeas, cashew dressing, and handfuls of coconut bacon. (FYI: The flowers don’t have much of a flavor, but they sure are pretty!) I’d been out of coconut bacon for months, and I was happy for it to reunite with my tongue once again. We broke into the injera a day or two later for a homemade Ethiopian feast. Rahel’s injera is noticeably tangier and more pronounced in flavor than other injera I’ve tried. David and I were mmm-ing a little extra with every bite. It was so terrifically sweet of Kristy and Chris to think of me on my birthday.

Our friends, Ashley and Adam, came over for a bit, and I was talking about how before I went vegan, I’d always get pink champagne cake on my birthday. In Des Moines, Barbara’s Bake Shop specialized in it, and it was something I looked forward to having every year. The champagne flavor adds a really lovely background to the lightly sweet cake. But since I went vegan 7 years ago, I hadn’t had it.

Pink Champagne CupcakeThe next day (on my actual birthday) we had a surprise visitor – Ashley with homemade pink champagne cupcakes! She looked up this recipe on Vegan Fling.   The cupcakes were frosted with a delicious strawberry buttercream frosting and had those wonderful undertones of champagne that I have missed all these years. Plus, the next morning I got to have coffee & champagne cake for breakfast! It doesn’t get much better than that.

For my birthday dinner, we ventured to Davenport to eat at Exotic Thai. I’ve written about Exotic Thai before in my post on my favorite Vegan Options in the Quad Cities. The weather was pleasant, and the patio was open. So we sat outside next to their miniature herb garden, which they use for their dishes. (It doesn’t get much more local than that!)

Tsing Tao BeerDavid ordered a beer.

Strawberry Basil MojitoI had a strawberry basil mojito.

Spicy Basil Noodles - Exotic Thai - Davenport, IowaFor dinner, I almost always get the exact same thing – Spicy Basil Noodles with veggie chicken. (You have to ask them to omit the egg to make it vegan.) The portions are really generous, and so this was 2 ½ meals. It was particularly spicy this night, and so I wasn’t able to use the hot sauce tray. I really should start asking them to make it mild, just so that I can pile on lots of crunchy, house-made jalapeno slices once it arrives.

Curry - Exotic Thai - Davenport, IowaDavid had their curry special with coconut milk, summer squash, zucchini, and eggplant made with tofu instead of chicken.

After dinner, we walked along the Mississippi River and relaxed on a bench while the sun went down. A lovely end to the day!