Tag Archives: lunch

Cheeky Chickpea Falafel

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One way that I knew I was becoming an adult was that my method of making falafel evolved past using the boxed, pre-made falafel mix produced by Manischewitz. Upon producing my first batch of from-scratch, homemade falafel, I felt something akin to what people must feel when they make their first batch of homemade chicken noodle soup or their first non-frozen, non-Stouffer’s lasagna. Heck, I felt that way when I made my first from-scratch pancakes, and pancakes are one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to produce from scratch.

Why do we rely on pre-made goods to deliver the foods we enjoy? I think it’s a combination of the following things: Over-reliance on the food experiences we are used to, fear of screwing up our favorites, and limited time, patience, energy, and equipment. Also, for years I prepared food mainly for myself and most recipes, whether it’s a pot of soup or a plate of falafel, produce too much for one person to consume in a short period of time. Short of dinner parties and potlucks, a can of soup made more sense for my lifestyle.

I cook for two (sometimes three, if our roommate is home) now, so the amount of food is no question. But I have a long commute to and from work, so when I come home to prepare dinner, fast and simple is usually the rule. One of the defining factors of my adult life is when I decided fast and simple did not have to mean pre-made or processed.

Thanks, adulthood!

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Good Morning, Vegan Southwest Quiche!

Are you a quiche eater?

A 1982 bestselling book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, firmly defined the egg, cream and cheese savory pastry as feminine and therefore beneath the standards of masculinity for any man who didn’t want to been seen as some namby-pamby New Age sort. The book goes on to describe this man as the sort who refers to his significant other as “life partner,” and who likely make the quiche, serve it to his partner, and wash up afterward. Needless to say, this man is not to be aped but to be despised and dismissed.

Due to the book’s 55 weeks on the bestsellers chart, “quiche eater” became briefly synonymous with a person too fancy to get his hands dirty. Having made more than a few quiche crusts, I find the insult to be a little ironic, considering how quickly the hands get floured, crummy, and sticky while forming the dough. But maybe the idea is that the quiche eater doesn’t make the crust.

Actually, going even further on this line of thought, the book admits that it’s perfectly masculine for a man to eat an egg and bacon pie that his spouse might offer him, but to make it himself would be deemed less than masculine. So it’s somehow less dainty to be waited on? Bruce Feirstein, you’ve got me thoroughly confused.

Anyhoo, there are many good vegan quiche recipes among my collected cookbooks, but for Sunday morning’s pie, I used what I had on hand and made a sort of Tex-Mex, Southwest pie with red onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and some of the field garlic we received in our CSA this week. Filling in for the egg and cream, I mashed in a pound of extra firm tofu. You can take or leave the turmeric in the recipe, but I think it gives the overall look a nice, rich color.

Word to the wise on tofu-based quiches: I don’t mind mine being a little loose and crumbly, but if you want a tighter, more gelled pie, use a food processor to blend the tofu smooth before adding it to the sautéed veggies.

Southwestern Quiche

Ingredients
– 1 9″ vegan pie crust
– 1 medium red onion, chopped
– 1 small red bell pepper, diced
– 5 or 6 fresh mushrooms, chopped
– 1 stalk field garlic, finely chopped (optional – but tasty)
– 1 pound extra firm tofu
– 2 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
– 1 1/2 tsp cumin
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– Turmeric (optional)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

– Saute the onions in oil until translucent. Add the bell pepper and continue cooking for three minutes. Add mushrooms and seasonings and saute until everything is tender.

– Crumble in tofu and turmeric, then stir briskly with a fork until everything is well combined and fairly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed. Pour into pie crust.

– Bake the quiche for 40 minutes in the oven, until the edges are browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before eating.

Notes on a New Place: Le Brew House


Le Brew House on Urbanspoon

I’m not sure at what point in Le Brew House’s existence me and my mother happened to chance upon it one rainy Friday night. We had intended on going to Emiliano’s across the street, found it too noisy and crowded for our tastes, checked into one of our favorites Caffe Davio, only to be turned away because of a large party coming in, and what happened to be next to Davio but a big, bright, empty, yet very open new restaurant.

Le Brew House was so new, it had only just gotten its liquor license. Our hostess seemed relieved that the news that they were licensed to sell, but empty of anything to sell did not turn us away. We’re pretty easy to please, admittedly. At that point, we were just happy to get in out of the rain.


At this point in the post, I will be straightforward: If I was going to give this place a regular review, comparable to the reviews I give more established restaurants, I’d probably be saying largely negative things. This, however, is not what you do with a new restaurant. There were many positives to be found in the early stages of Le Brew House. The friendly staff and bright decor, the clean layout that nonetheless made a fairly empty restaurant still seem populated. The lovely and simple strings of lights hanging from one lofted  I even liked the one-sheet menu, as limited options tend to imply a certain amount of quality to what is featured.


It’s the little wrong notes that show you a restaurant is still growing. A one page, two-sided menu is just fine. But one as plainly laid out and cheaply laminated as this is obviously the product of a place rushing to get things together before the doors are opened. Chances are, a few months from now those tacky plastic menus will be a thing long forgotten.


Then there are the little things a new restaurant does right. A bar food staple, like fried zucchini, done in fairly classic style, but with all the right flavors. Not too greasy, not too heavy, with the definite presence of zucchini underneath a fine crispy layer of breading. It had a crunch where many of its contemporaries offer only a soggy bite.


My mother ordered a burger with fried shoestring onions and mushrooms, smothered by a thick layer of provolone cheese. We were both pleasantly surprised by the tenderness of the homemade beef patty. It was medium well, with just a light tint of pink to the inside, and very juicy. The shoestring onions also acquitted themselves well, lending the mild provolone a necessary bite. The one disappointment were the mushrooms, which seemed to all but disappear among more dominant flavors. While the tanginess of the onion could not be denied even underneath a thick coating of cheese, the mushrooms would have been better served on top of the concoction.


I was hungry for greens, and the three salad options Le Brew House was offering sounded decent enough. I opted for another bar and grill regular feature, the crispy chicken salad. This one left off the French fries and featured a nice bed of crispy mixed greens. The veggies on the salad were fresh and abundant, and I especially liked the use of complete rounds of green bell pepper. It lacked the croutons promised on the menu, but I don’t think it was much of a loss, especially since the crispy chicken breading was already providing a salty counterpoint.

The crispy chicken proved to be the only problem with the salad. While you get a nice sized fillet of breaded chicken, it’s so thin that the breading eclipses any of the white meat within. If you’re going to get meat on a salad, it’s got to be more than just an excuse to have something fried on top of your vegetables. Mixing a protein into the dish can be delicious and actually very healthy. When the chicken is served like this, I can’t help but wonder if the salad would be better with more vegetables in place of the fillet.

Le Brew House is one of those rare independent restaurants attempting to capitalize on all the major eating hours of the day, serving breakfast until 2 pm, then lunch and dinner till 10 pm. In addition to the expansive hours, the restaurant also promises to have a wide range of beer and alcohol for sale, another great feature which is sure to attract South Side residents and roving visitors alike.

Overall, I think it’s got a lot of promise. That spot’s not the easiest real estate. It will be surrounded by several restaurants that already have themselves well established niches. Caffe Davio, just next door, even serves breakfast. If Le Brew House suffers from any immediate faults, it’s a lack of a specific quality that makes the place memorable. The environment was attractive and the staff really were very nice, but the food was just okay and the minimal menu held little curiosity or intriguing factors.

But it says something about the right notes a new restaurant hits that I am looking forward to where Le Brew House might go from here. While South Side has no deficit of dining establishments, a new eatery at that end of East Carson is always a welcome addition to what can quickly become a well trod culinary ground. I hope that Lew Brew House makes the most of its first few months and uses the novelty of its opening as a motivating factor to really standout from its neighbors and build its own distinctive reputation.

Chicago: Day Three

In which reach heaven via homemade tostadas... and then we go home.

Our third day in Chicago was really more of a half day, since we had to drive home in the afternoon. Despite having a whole lot left on our respective to-do lists, we couldn’t shake ourselves out of bed early enough to get in anything besides a decent breakfast. We hopped a train and a bus over to our final eating destination, Handlebar.

I may not be a bicyclist, but I seem to be endlessly fond of their dining establishments. Handlebar shares a lot in common with OTB Bicycle Cafe in South Side, a place I used to frequent when working in the South Side Works a few years ago. The focus of both bars is squarely on the cycling lifestyle, whether it be for intensive sport or for everyday getting around town. Unlike OTB’s biking-themed menu, however, the Handlebar leaves the theme to the decor and general philosophy of the establishment.

Both are exceeding vegetarian and vegan friendly, however, something that appealed to James, especially when Anna Sophia gave us a sterling recommendation of the place.

“Huevos Diablos,” she told us. I took it very, very seriously.

Handlebar on Urbanspoon
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Good Morning, Rabanada!


I’ve tried many of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbooks, but in the short amount of time I’ve owned Vegan Brunch, I’ve utilized it more than the nearly six months I’ve owned Veganomicon or the many years I’ve turned to Vegan with a Vengeance. Aside from the Sarah Kramer cookbooks, which I have turned to on a regular basis since 2008, Vegan Brunch has been the most prolific presence in my kitchen since I purchased it in early April.

Part of the reason is that it has a perfect blend of savory and sweet foods that work well for any meal. But the biggest reason by far is the simple fact that the recipes are damn good. They’re inventive but casual, not requiring a vast array of ingredients or a large prep time. There are some more advanced recipes, but for the most part, these are dishes that are easily prepared in an hour or less and that serve a whole host of functions, be it a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch with my partner or a potluck or even, on the rare occasion where I actually make something special for myself, a solo treat.

Because of my particular affection for pancakes and French toast, I’m always on the lookout for good vegan variations of these dishes. [Of course, the definitive list of pancake options appears in the fantastic Eat Me, a collection of recipes and general retrospective of Shopsins in New York, which features tremendous feats of pancakery such as the macaroni and cheese pancake. But more on Shopsins another time.] Browsing through the options in Vegan Brunch, one recipe caught my eye.

In Brazil, rabanadas is prepared to celebrate the birth of a child, as well Christmas, Easter, etc. The tradition of preparing rabanadas is so ingrained in the culture, bakeries sell special loaves around holiday time, called “Pao de Rabanada.” The prep includes soaking the bread in milk or water to soften, then dipping the slices into egg and frying in a small amount of oil. So, yeah, not much different from how French toast is prepared stateside.

Vegan Brunch‘s recipe offers a few very innovative (and tasty) vegan changes. Instead of egg, the stale bread slices are soaked for twenty minutes in a banana-almond milk custard. I made a few slight changes to the recipe, but basically prepared it as specified in the book. So, thanks in advance, to Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and this great recipe that made me and my partner pretty darn happy this past Sunday afternoon.

Brazilian Rabanadas

Ingredients
– 1 stale loaf of bread (she specifies baguette, but I used a stale Italian loaf and it worked fine)
– 2 ripe bananas
– 1 1/2 cup almond milk
– 3/4 tbsp Xanathan gum
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– Vegetable oil for frying
– 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– Strawberries (or other fruit) for garnish

– Slice stale loaf into eight thick slices. Lay out slices on a flat baking pan.
– In a food processor or blender, combine the bananas, almond milk, Xanathan gum, and extract. Process until mixture is smooth, then pour mixture over the slices. Allow to soak for ten minutes, then flip slices and let sit for ten minutes more.
– Once slices have soaked for twenty minutes, heat oil on a pan and prepare as normal, keeping the cooked slices in a warm stove or microwave until all are finished.
– Combine the cocoa powder and cinnamon in a sifter, if you have one, or if you’re like me, use a small measuring cup and hope for a steady hand. Lay out finished slices on plates and dust with the cocoa/cinnamon mixture. Top with berries and add syrup and vegan margarine.

Anatomy of a Sandwich: Tomato and Balsamic Tofu


A simple idea can often be undone by its own simplicity. You figure, it seems so obvious, why isn’t it just assumed that this already works? And then you think, well, duh, cause of course it doesn’t work, and everyone already knows that.

When I was at the terrific Osteria 2350, I enjoyed a sandwich fairly common to Italian cafes and delis alike: The tomato and mozzarella with roasted red peppers and balsamic vinegar. This sandwich knows no one cuisine, because although its roots are clearly in Italian staples, its appeal is widespread and its basic form – a warm and possibly grilled cheese sandwich with added ingredients – is a well worn food item among any number of cultural heritages.

Osteria’s version was very delicious, so delicious that I had to lament the fact that, for my vegan partner, there is no accessible way for him to enjoy this sandwich. The tomato, red pepper, and vinegar portions, yes. The cheese? No. Vegan cheese can be tasty, but it has its limits, and there is not a vegan cheese on the planet that can imitate faux mozzarella.

Except that, as I considered the giant pillows of fresh mozzarella stuffed into the sandwich, I found that it bore a striking similarity to something most, if not all, vegans heartily enjoy: Tofu. Specifically extra-firm, uncooked tofu. Both are white and soft. Both have neutral, almost watery-fresh flavors. Tofu can’t melt like mozzarella, but in this sandwich, the mozzarella stayed perfectly solid, so melting wasn’t an issue.

So, I’ve had this dish in mind for a while. After a short stop into Lotus Foods on Saturday, I decided it was high time that I tried out my theory.

Success? Well, you be the judge. But would I write about it if it were a total failure?

A few tips for this very easy recipe:
– A pound of tofu should yield four sandwiches worth, unless you really want to get heavy on each sandwich.
– Soak the tofu in balsamic vinegar for extra flavor
– Press your tofu, but don’t get rid of all the moisture. A little dampness inside helps to mimic the mozzarella.
– Use good crusty bread for this. Jackie, my friend and most fantastic cooking partner, brought over some homemade sandwich bread that worked fantastic. Make sure to use thick slices and toast for extra support.
– We slightly cooked our tomato slices, but if you want to leave them firm and crispy, go right ahead.

Tomato and Balsamic Tofu Sandwich

Ingredients
– 1 pound of firm tofu, sliced widthwise into four big slabs
– 2 small tomatoes, sliced
– 1 red bell pepper, sliced into small strips
– Salt and pepper (to taste)
– Balsamic vinegar – we weren’t precise on the measurements, so use your judgment. About a 1/4 cup overall should be fine.
– Eight slices of thick, crusty bread, toasted
– 3 tbs olive oil or grapeseed oil (use more as needed)
– Fresh spinach (as desired)
– Vegan mayo (optional)

– Heat the oil in a pan, then add the red pepper slices. Saute until soft, adding salt and pepper as desired. Add the tomatoes, cooking for about a minute. Remove from the peppers and tomatoes from heat, but keep the pan hot.

– Put a slab of tofu in the pan. Add balsamic vinegar, cook for a minute, then flip, adding more vinegar. Once slab has soaked up some of the flavor – a touch-and-taste test works – remove from heat. Repeat with each slab.

– Assemble your sandwich. Toast the bread, then layer tofu, tomato, red peppers, and spinach. Add vegan mayo if using. Enjoy!

Chicago: Day One

They could be playing "Stormy Weather" all night...

The weather on Friday was a dance between cold, wet, colder, and wetter. Every time we stepped outside the conditions seemed to have changed for the worse without somehow changing very much at all. We were colder with every new trip, or the rain struck us harder.

This did not make ideal weather conditions for taking photographs, but that’s alright with me. To tell the truth, I’m not much of a picture-taker when on vacation. I wish I was. I envy people who come back from long trips with a mile of photos glorifying their travels. They have pictures of everything they did, everywhere they went, everyone they saw. Drank a pint with friends? It’s in the pictures. Car got stuck in the mud? It’s in the pictures. Ate an amazing dinner at a famous four star restaurant?… Well, it would be in my pictures as well. But you get the idea.

As a result of the crappy weather and how it restrained us to our hosting neighborhood- Lincoln Park – and the surrounding territory, I don’t have much photographic record to share. The picture above was taken a few doors down from one of my favorite stores in Chicago, Shake Rattle and Read, on Broadway in Uptown. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Green Mill Jazz Club is a famous Chicago venue, opening in 1910 as a roadhouse complete with indoor and outdoor dining and dancing areas. In the twenties, Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, henchman of Al Capone, took over a large percentage of the club’s ownership, and the place became a favorite mob hangout. The story of McGurn’s takeover is best described in the historical summary on the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge website:

“Manager Danny Cohen had given McGurn the 25% stake to “persuade” comedian/singer Joe E. Lewis from moving his act south to the New Rendezvous Café at Clark and Diversey. McGurn managed to convince Lewis by slitting his throat and cutting off his tongue. Miraculously, Lewis recovered, but his songs never regained their lush sound.”

Ah, isn’t history wonderful, kids? I’d love to be a school child on a walking tour of jazz clubs in the city. Way more blood, booze, and broads than an average Pittsburgh field trip to the zoo.

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