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

Vegan Food Gifts Giveaway

Grooming Avon & JezebelAnd just like that, the holidays are over! Christmas was a low-key affair at our house. Avon, our 6-month-old kitten, is prone to getting into things that he shouldn’t. So we knew that a tree would quickly be climbed, the lights would be chewed on, and the ornament hooks would be swallowed. Instead, we put up a wreath, and that was it.

I usually get into making Christmas cards and sending them out, but this year I took a pass on Christmas, and you know what? It was wonderful. When Christmas was over, there were no ornaments to pack up or boxes to put away. I simply found room in my cupboards and closets for gifts, and that was that.

Sleepy AvonSleepy Avon 2Since Avon is endlessly interested in ribbons and string, I put off wrapping presents until Christmas Eve when I could just transport wrapped gifts to our car outside. David and I filled the day making food for Christmas, so that we wouldn’t have to spend any of the holiday in the kitchen. David baked a few pies, and I worked on some handmade Christmas gifts.

Vegan Food Gifts by Joni Marie NewmanThis year I gave two handmade gifts, both from ideas/recipes in Vegan Food Gifts by Joni Marie Newman. Vegan Food Gifts came out in 2012, and it’s been on my wish list ever since. It’s filled with the best kind of presents – thoughtful, usable, and made with love.

The book opens with pretty ways to package gifts like making your own envelopes, bags, and boxes. There are printable recipe cards, hang tags, and labels with illustrations by vegan artist, Kurt Halsey.

The recipes include sweet things to give that are fully prepared like Cool Lemon Cookies, Orange Chocolate Linzers, and S’more Brownies. Then there are gifts that the recipient can make with compiled ingredients. That chapter is called “Just Add Water.” In that chapter there are recipes like Sweet Lemon Iced Tea, Double Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Southwestern Three Bean Soup. Each recipe includes ideas on the best way to gift it (i.e. in a box, bag, or jar).

Pasta Basket - Vegan Food GiftsOne of the gifts I made for my cousin was from the chapter on themed gift baskets. I was inspired by the Pasta Party-themed basket. I put together a basket of my favorite polenta, the pasta from a local pasta maker that has been my obsession this year, and a shiny new colander. I included one of the infused olive oils from the book, using a jar I found at TJ Maxx and a chalkboard label from Kidecals.

Infused Olive Oil - Vegan Food GiftsThe infused olive oil I chose was Sun-Dried Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Olive Oil. It’s so simple to make. Just pour olive oil into a bottle along with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh cloves of garlic, and dried basil. I didn’t get to taste it for myself, but it smelled wonderful. It can be served over pasta or salad, used as a dip for bread, or sautéed with vegetables.

Bloody Mary Mix - Vegan Food GiftsThe other gift I made was for my dad, and it was from the chapter on homemade liqueurs, infusions, and mixers. I made the recipe for Bloody Mary Mix. Bloody Mary’s were one of my favorite drinks before I was vegetarian. It’s like a drink and a snack all in one – an adult version of tomato soup with celery, pickles, and olives. Unfortunately, most Bloody Mary’s include non-vegan Worcestershire sauce, which is made with anchovies. This version, though, uses vegan Worcestershire sauce. It also includes fresh lemon and lime juice, which made it taste bright and flavorful. It was one delicious Bloody Mary! (Yes, I did get a chance to try it before giving it away. Priorities.)

The recipe includes a printable recipe card, so that the recipient knows how much vodka to add when making the drink. I took the book to a local print shop and had them print it out on cardstock, along with printing a gift tag for the Pasta Party basket.

Celery Salt - Vegan Food GiftsAlong with the Bloody Mary Mix, I included jalapeño stuffed olives for garnish and celery salt for salting the rim of the glass. I like to use and repurpose my jars.  So for the celery salt, I just used a clean jar that had formerly been used for saffron, got celery salt from the bulk bins, and added a chalkboard label to the outside.

There are so many more gifts that I can’t wait to give from Vegan Food Gifts. It’s loaded with ideas that would be perfect for birthdays, holidays, host/hostess gifts, and presents for people who have a new baby in the house or on the way.

Joni has offered a copy of Vegan Food Gifts for a giveaway! You can start planning now for birthdays and Valentine’s Day. The giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada. A winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

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I received a complimentary copy of Vegan Food Gifts and complimentary labels from Kidecals. The thoughts and opinions are totally my own.  Post contains Amazon affiliate links.