Monthly Archives: February 2011

Good Morning, Southern Fried Tofu with Biscuits and Gravy

So, if the concept of Meatless Mondays are to cut down on overall meat-consumption by dedicating one day to meatlessness, then I am right there with it. Much of my week is dedicated to meatlessness, in fact. But if the concept of Meatless Mondays are to invent and prepare meals that are meatless and healthier than we may normally eat… well, I may have missed the mark.

Vegan soul food exists. Anyone who tells you differently has never been down to the freaky little college towns of the South, like Athens, GA, where soul food and vegan cuisine commingle in ecstatic proportions. Then there are terrific vegan cookbooks like Alicia Simpson’s Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food, a book that while not strictly soul food-oriented, has more than a majority’s share of veganized Southern dishes. I have tried many of them (including a take on her pasta salad recipe) and they have all satisfied that soul food craving while being delightfully animal-free.

Today’s recipe does not come from Simpson’s cookbook. It’s a blending of a variation of recipes from different sources, VegWeb, a biscuit recipe in La Dolce Vegan, and some of my own kitchen noodling. It’s not heart-healthy, really, but it’s damn tasty. I make when I need a soul food fix, when I need something special, or when I want to make my partner smile.

Southern Fried Tofu with Biscuits and Gravy

Tofu and Gravy Ingredients
– 1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into eight equal sized slices
– 1 cup all purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but recommended)
– 2 tsp poultry seasoning
– 1 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy)
– Pinch black pepper
– 1/2 tsp onion powder
– 8 ounces soft silken tofu
– 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
– Oil
– 2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk (for gravy)

– Mix together the flour, baking powder, and seasonings and set aside. Mix together the silken tofu and 1/2 cup “milk” in large, shallow bowl.

– To prepare the tofu slices: Dip each slice first in the flour mixture, then coat in the silken tofu mixture, then coat in the flour once more. Fry each slice until both sides are golden brown.

– To prepare the gravy: Save at least two tablespoons of the cooking oil. Add two to three tablespoons of the leftover flour/seasoning mixture and stir in up to 2 cups “milk” (more if you like it thinner, less if you want thicker). Keep stirring until gravy is thickened.

Biscuit Ingredients
– 2 cups flour
– 3 tsp baking powder
– 3/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 cup vegan margarine
– 3/4 cup “milk”
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

– Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt. Stir in the vegan margarine, “milk,” and vinegar until well blended. Knead dough for about a minute, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out biscuits using a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or do what I do: Lightly flour the edge of a glass and use that to cut out the biscuits.

– Bake the biscuits on a lightly greased sheet for 12 to 15 minutes.

(Recipes adapted from this recipe on VegWeb and “Basic Baking Powder Biscuits” from La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer)

Sugar Cafe Article Posted!

On the Dormont-Brookline Patch:
The Local Table: Kelly James and the Sugar Cafe Add a Little Extra Sweetness to Dormont

Sababa Middle Eastern Grill

When it comes to online coupon deals like Groupon, Townhog, etc, I’ve become a bit of an obsessive. For someone who relishes the chance to try new places to eat, these sites offer daily slices of opportunity. Now, most of the time, the opportunity isn’t something I’m particularly interested in. Many mornings I have rushed to my email to see what is in store for me and my appetite (and my wallet) today, and many mornings I have immediately dismissed the 50% off of manicures, or hot air balloon rides, or new carpeting.

Other mornings, I’ve come across a restaurant deal that sounded pretty appealing, but I hesitated too long, coming back to sign up for it only to find that it had sold out. Groupon, especially, seems to take a sadistic pleasure in disappointing people who are silly enough to pussyfoot around a good deal. (Good deal or not, sometimes it takes a lot of thought before I’m just willing to spend twenty bucks. I don’t have the kind of income level that affords me flippancy with that amount of money. Sorry, Groupon.)

It’s those ten-dollar deals that always get me. Ten for twenty. Not a lot of initial investment, especially when the deal is for a place you’ve been dying to try. Hence, when Townhog was offering a ten for twenty on Sababa Middle Eastern Grill, I jumped so immediately on the deal, my computer shook with fear.

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This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Sugar, Sugar!

So normally, I am about five steps behind the happenings around town. Recently, I’ve become more in the know about newly opening restaurants, the buzzed about places, the comings and goings of the food life in Pittsburgh. Yet, I’m never on top of a story.

Well, when you live down the street from a hotly anticipated, soon-to-open cafe, you keep your eyes peeled for signs of life. But how I found out that the Sugar Cafe was going to open on Friday morning wasn’t good scouting, but some terrific luck. My pal, Jackie, who lives right down the street from me on West Liberty Avenue, was walking back from my apartment on Broadway sometime after midnight on Thursday, when she spied that the slowly deteriorating paper shrouding the big windows of Sugar Cafe had finally been torn down. I received a text and that was that.

What a little blurb on the blog doesn’t tell you is that I have become borderline obsessed with this place. Okay, that’s a bit of a hyperbole. But for someone who has trouble working at home, it’s become a minor godsend. I get off the T a stop early at Potomac, stroll down to the cafe, have a cup of coffee, pastry (I’m just pretending that everything in the cafe is magic and doesn’t have calories), and sit down to write for a while. I know the whole thing of going to a cafe to write is seen as sort of pretentious, and maybe it is. You know what else it is? FRIGGIN SWEET.

For my first weekday evening in the cafe, I got to sit down with the owner, Kelly James, to discuss her fantastic opening weekend. I definitely suggest reading the article, but more importantly, I highly recommend the Sugar Cafe. Come by any weekday between 5:30 and 6:00, and you’ll likely me see there, typing and sipping away.

(Note: Article is not live on the site as of yet. I will update post when it is active.)

Sugar Cafe on Urbanspoon

Chaya Japanese Cuisine


I lived in Squirrel Hill for years and never visited Chaya Japanese Cuisine. When I finally made my first visit last summer – to their new location in what used to be Sweet Basil – I felt a deep, deep remorse for all the times I could have eaten there and did not. Better, in the long run, for my wallet, certainly, but my appetite was left feeling like it had finally found the missing piece.

Chaya is that good. The food is fresh and delicious. The atmosphere is cozy and warm. Stepping into the doors on a freezing, wind-blasting evening was like taking shelter in the storm. There is even a curtain over the front entrance to protect inside of the restaurant from the furious vengeance of the outside winter.

Chaya’s interior is a softly glowing meditation on Japanese iconic images and decor. And despite how small the dining area is, the seating never seems packed. Diners are at a seemingly comfortable distance from one another, yet the restaurant manages to have enough seating to accommodate a large amount of visitors. This is artful, intelligent interior design and perhaps a little chance on my part, because I have never been to Chaya on a really, really busy night. But I have been there at six in the evening on Saturday, and around eight on a Wednesday, and neither hours seemed in want of customers or in want of seating.

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Good Morning, Spinach Pie!


I love pie. Particularly savory pies. Upon discovering that a decent pie crust is fairly easy to make (after a little personal trial and error, that is) I set about to make as many pies as I could. I made pie after pie after pie. Quiches and pot pies, tarts and tortes. I went a little pie crazy.

Savory pies are great because they require so little work. Make the crust, press it into the pie plate, then add your filling. Bake, cool, cut, eat. They take a little time, especially if you don’t use a food processor to mix your crust dough, but they’re not something you have to watch every second in the oven. Set the time and relax.

What I really want to get is a set of mini pie plates. Because, as we discussed with the almond tarts, everything seems a little better when it’s miniaturized. But big, small, savory, sweet, doesn’t matter. I’m a pie addict. Now you know.

This recipe is an adaptation, of sorts, of a great recipe in The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. I really need to do a feature on this incredible collection, and I will at some point, but suffice to say, if you don’t own this book and you enjoy spending even occasional time in the kitchen, but it ASAP. It’s vegetarian cuisine for people who like to eat well, regardless of dietary preferences. The only problem is that it’s a little butter and egg heavy in spots, so it’s not always adaptable for a vegan diet.

However, looking over the recipe for “Spinach Ricotta Pie” got me thinking, however: Silken tofu and ricotta, aside from what they actually are and what they taste like, are very similar. Texturally, they’re identical. This dish requires both the ricotta and 2-3 eggs, and tofu can more than make up for both. The end result of the substitute was pretty satisfying. On the whole, it was lighter than the Katzen recipe, with maybe a tiny bit less flavor, but I can more than make up for that the next time around. And there will be a next time.

Spinach Tofu Pie

Ingredients
For crust
– 6 tbsp vegan margarine
– 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 4 tbsp water, non-dairy milk, oil (I went with the water, because the only non-dairy milk I have is vanilla soymilk – delicious, but not appropriate for this.)

For filling
– 8 ounces silken tofu, firm
– 3/4 lb fresh spinach (I stress the use of fresh spinach in this recipe – the frozen stuff gets too soggy too quickly)
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 2 tbsp vegan margarine or oil
– 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
– 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
– Salt and pepper to taste

– To make the crust: In a food processor (or using a pastry cutter or two forks) cut the margarine into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal. Slowly add the water to form a dough. (The recipe works with 4 tbsps, but feel free to add an extra tbsp or two if the dough is proving too dry to work with.) Roll out your dough and press it into a pie tin.

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saucepan, saute the onions in the margarine or oil until translucent. Add spinach and spices. Continue to saute for about three minutes, then crumble the tofu in. Using a fork, combine until the mixture is fairly smooth and the spinach is wilted.

– Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Add extra paprika or vegan sour cream on top, if you like, then place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. The top should be lightly golden brown and slightly crisp. Serve warm or cool.

Sugar Cafe Opens Today!

The much buzzed about, highly anticipated bakery-coffee shop, Sugar Cafe, opens today. I will definitely be making a stop in to sample the goods, take a look around, and enjoy the taste of something brand spanking new in our humble little borough of Dormont.

For more info on Sugar and its owner, Kelly James, check out the following links. And of course, check out the cafe itself, located right by the Potomac T Station on Potomac Avenue.

– “New Cafe Coming to Dormont” on the Dormont-Brookline Patch
– “Sugar Café will make Dormont’s Potomac Avenue even sweeter” on PopCity
– “On the Table: Unique Pittsburgh bakeries flourish with special dessert treats” on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Kellypastry: Kelly James Twitter

Also, apologies for my relative quietness this week. First it was too busy, then it was too nice outside to concentrate on typing. Rest assured, I have a ton of new posts coming up, including trips to Chaya and Sababa in Squirrel Hill. I’ve also been working on a few new features to debut, hopefully by the middle of next week, to run in addition to the general chatter that goes on around here. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that I can get down to some serious writing business this weekend.

But seriously, how freaking gorgeous was it out there today? After work, I walked home, so that I could soak up the unseasonably warm weather and take a few shots of my beloved neighborhood. It seemed like the entire borough was out to enjoy the few precious days of respite from the cold. My favorite shot:


Enjoy it while it lasts, kids. The temperature is going to drop drop drop come Sunday.

Good Morning, Potomac Bakery!

I have yet to have anything from that was less than delicious from Potomac Bakery, but a mix of at-odds schedules and my workplace’s proximity to Graham’s Bakery in Mt. Lebanon has kept me from becoming a frequent customer. I should probably be thankful for this: The last thing I need is more food obsessions to empty my wallet and expand my waistband.

But the occasional  treat is alright by me. I used photographing the Valentine’s displays at Potomac as an excuse to try two delectable little tarts, a cherry pastry tart and a blueberry tart with Linzer torte pastry for the dough. They were the perfect pre-V-Day sweet treat, and at a $1.50 for the pair, well worth the money. Heart-shaped cakes and cookies and cupcakes with mountains of frosting and sprinkles are all well and good, but I like to keep my baked goods simply and classy. (Cause Classy is my middle name…. Immediately following “Not Remotely,” of course…)

In regards to the picture, tea and pastries has become my absolute favorite thing to come home to after a long workday. I’ve always been a fan of the British scheduled tea-time, as it helps break up the day without making too much of an interruption in the middle of a work flow. Not to mention it’s a great excuse to drink a hot beverage and snack on something tasty.

Were I able to, I would have a private ten-minute tea time every day, just around four, when my energy was getting supremely low and I needed something to push me through the last hour. Instead, I’ve taken to coming home from work, making a pot of coffee in the French Press or warming up a mug water in the microwave for tea, finding something on the sweet side to indulge in and just sitting down at my kitchen table to enjoy a few minutes of solitude, quiet, and light snacking.

Perhaps with that post-work dream state in mind, I will be making more stops in at Potomac Bakery in the future. I’ve already got a plan for a few preserves-stuffed, sugar-dusted cookies I spied the other day while in the shop.

Good Morning, Strawberry-Banana Hotcakes

Something cute and sweet for a Valentine’s breakfast treat.

This is a speed post, mostly because I stayed up too late watching The Social Network, thus waking up late and preventing a pre-work good morning post of any substantial length. (By and by, definitely catch the movie if you have the time. It’s well worth several paragraphs of discussion, none of which I have the time to provide this morning, but trust me, it’s very, very good.)

Basically, I’ve decided that pancakes, for as delicious as they can be, are a pain in the butt to make. They are strictly a weekend breakfast for me, as they have neither the quick-cooking time to properly make them on a workday morning, and they’re also not a thing you can just gobble down, not if you don’t want syrup all over yourself. As for microwave pancakes and pancake-esque products (“A sausage wrapped in pancake… for the microwave… shudder….”), thanks, but no thanks.

Still, can’t argue with these little sweeties. Make ’em this morning for your Valentine, provided that you both get to sleep in a little.

Vegan Strawberry-Banana Hotcakes

Ingredients
– 1 1/2 cup flour
– 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
– A generous pinch of salt
– 1 cup vanilla non-dairy milk
– 3 tbsp oil
– 1 banana
– 5 to 6 whole strawberries, chopped up fine
– 3 tbsp sugar

– In medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Blend or mix together the oil, milk, banana, sugar, and strawberries until completely combined. Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the wet and stir until just mixed.

– Drop by 1/4 cups onto a heated, non-stick pan. Flip when bubbles start forming on the top.

– Serve with strawberries, syrup, strawberry syrup. If you want to a) forget the whole “breakfast” part of your breakfast and b) get totally decadent, add chocolate chips to the equation.

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Neighborhood Options for Local Sweethearts on Valentine’s Day

I really need to get out of the habit of writing event or holiday – specific posts, but this week’s article on the Dormont-Brookline Patch focuses on neighborhood establishments that are offering a little something special for Valentine’s Day. If you live in the South Hills area and need a place to take your loved one on February 14th, definitely check out my article. It could be the difference between life AND death. Or, you know, it could just steer you to my favorite gyro restaurant in town, It’s Greek to Me on Brookline Boulevard. Either way…

As for my V-Day plans, I’ll be hanging with my partner and all will be swell. I don’t really go in for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a single-person bitterness thing, cause I’ve had plenty of relationships during the “holiday,” it’s just a sense of pointlessness that is too overpowering for me to enjoy the manufactured nature of the celebrations. Say what you will about the “commercialism” of Christmas, that time of year still seems to mean something more than what is given and received. That time of year has so much meaning to so many different people of the world, it seems ridiculous to dismiss it based off of American capitalist tendencies.

Whereas Valentine’s Day, although it is sweet that we have a day dedicated to the celebration of courtly love, is not even a traditional Christian holiday anymore. Why? Cause in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church presented the question: Who was St. Valentine, and why do we have a big ass holiday to honor him? And when they couldn’t come up with a good enough response (“…. he was… a martyr…?”), they decided that while it was all well and good that people were going to continue to celebrate the holiday, they would no longer honor it as an official church-sanctioned occasion. Good riddance, I say.

Still, I find the holiday a little unsettling in how it encourages people to save open expressions of love for a specific day of the year. Not that all who celebrate V-Day do that. As a matter of fact, most of the couples I know who do something special on February 14th are the kind of couples who are openly and expressively in love with one another. They don’t need the day to tell them to appreciate and celebrate their love, but they take it anyway, cause why the hell not?

But a holiday that at best is unnecessary and at worst a commercial waste of time, money, and intellect is not a holiday for me. Maybe I’m completely missing the full picture.

Anyone out there doing something special for Valentine’s Day?