Urban Vegan Kitchen, an all-vegan eatery billed as semi-sophisticated comfort food, has taken over Blossom On Carmine’s space. The management is the same but the new menu was designed in partnership with chef Timothy “Mississippi Vegan.” Thank goodness. New York needs a lot more restaurants not using frozen and packaged food products. I was excited to head over there after peeping the menu. There seemed to be no mysterious cheese or patties, nothing that hinted to use of packaged garbage… the whip was coconut, the bacon was shiitake, the sausage was housemade, the burger patty (which I’ll have to include in my current burger battle) was mushroom barley. Such things are music to this 20-year vegan’s ear. I endured enough of that garbage on menus long enough. A menu like this is very exciting, so exciting that the prices of these dishes don’t even register. Also: Vegan “scenester’ Mississippi Vegan has a beautiful aesthetic; and this was not beautiful.

Here’s my review of their most popular dish: Chick-un & Waffles. Firstly, this is one of those dishes, like The Benedict, that I must order if a menu offers it. But when I am ordering, I am idealistic and hopeful.  I am ordering the Chicken & Waffles that I create in my head, a fantasy. More often what gets placed in front of me, waking me from my dream, is a packaged chicken patty thing. At Urban Vegan Kitchen, I get the Chicken & Waffles of my dreams.

The Southern fried seitan is light and moist and in smallish chunks so you are getting maximum crispy texture. The mound of salty, sautéed garlic kale underneath the seitan helps break up the starchiness of the dish. The thick Belgian waffle is a sweet vehicle for delivery to your mouth. And the maple mustard aioli was delicious. I didn’t opt for the $2 addition of maple syrup but would next time. The sweetness from the waffle and aioli sometimes needed support, especially with a bite of the kale. 

I was so pleased with this first visit to Urban Vegan Kitchen… and there are so many other dishes, small and large, that I need to try. I will definitely be back. My one complaint, however, is price. My dish and some coffee, with tip, was like $30. That is a bit much. I know that Blossom was charging similar prices for lesser quality food, but that was kind of insanely ridiculous. Urban Vegan Kitchen’s prices are just slightly ridiculous, especially given the ambiance and vibe is laid back and casual. And I do ridiculous things occasionally, but not all the time. 

Overall, Urban Vegan Kitchen’s food is fantastic. I’ll be back for more soon, despite the price!

Did you know that Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are “accidentally” vegan? This I learned after realizing I didn’t have enough time to make vegan puff pastry dough from scratch to make Pigs in a Blanket with the Field Roast breakfast links we picked up. So I took the shortcut for an easy New Years appetizer. 

They blew up all golden and flakey, as they are engineered to do. I had several but mostly let The Electrician eat most of them. I like when he enjoys vegan options!

Served with mustard and maple syrup. 

Meanwhile, I made Isa’s enchilada recipe from Isa Does It. It was one of the Sunday Night dinner recipes that are more labor-intensive and not so isa-y. And wowzer, looks like my tortillas are also have hydrogenated ingredients! Let’s call it a theme. I loved the recipe’s sauces but thought I could have varied the fillings a bit more. Maybe add some greens. But this is delish! And I have enough to last me into the first work week of 2017. 

None of my pictures came out nice on New Years Eve. It must have been that glass of wine in my dominant hand the whole night. 

Happy 2017!!

Of all the vegan cupcakes I have tried all over the country, my favorite comes not from a vegan bakery but Sprinkles–the world’s first cupcake bakery!

During a recent visit to a book store I perused their long-awaited cookbook, excited to see that my beloved vegan red velvet cupcake and vegan cream cheese frosting was in there!  And because I wasn’t about to buy the book for just one vegan recipe, I snuck a picture of the recipe with my phone. Slightly naughty, I know. But I’ll share it with you (below)–because I know you love that cupcake too.

So now I can trying making my favorite vegan cupcakes myself. But before I give the cupcake recipe a try, I first headed to the new Sprinkles window outside of New York’s Penn Station. I needed a few for comparison.

The window, next to Penn Station’s entrance on 7th avenue near 32nd street, only takes credit card, which you will have to carefully take out inside of your bag as there are always a slew of day mayors and creepsters preying about the station. And you’re basically on the street in a cupcake daze. 

Of course I intended to bring them home… but I ate one on the train. My gosh, they are good! Will mine be as good? Let’s find out! The recipe and my notes are below. 

Sprinkles amazing vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes: 

Bowl 1: (medium) Dry stuff
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Bowl 2: (small) Wet stuff
2/3 cup plain soy milk
1 and 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon red gel food coloring

Bowl 3: Stand-up mixer bowl
2/3 coconut oil
1 and 1/4 cups coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

1.) Preheat oven to 350 and get the pan filled with liners. Set up mixer with paddle attachment.
2.) Whisk dry stuff together in bowl and set aside.
3.) Mix all wet ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. [I used unsweetened soy milk though recipe called for sweetener soy milk. I used 1/2 teaspoon of red gel food coloring.]
4.) Beat the sugar and coconut oil in mixer medium-high until “light and fluffy,” about 2-3 minutes. [I wasn’t sure what consistency or temperature of coconut oil needed to go into mixer bowl so I opted for a half-melted. My mixture never really go light and fluffy, so perhaps it was solid.]
5.) Add the applesauce and beat medium-low until creamy, 1-2 minutes.
6.) Slowly add half the flour mixture, beating until just blended.
7.) Add the soy milk mixture, beating until just blended.
8.) Add the remaining flour, beating until just blended.
9.) Divide evenly in cupcake pan. [My batter was pretty thick. I may have lost some of the soy milk mixture in a sloppy pour into the mixer.]
10.] Bake for 16-18 minutes until tops are just dry to the touch.

The Cream Cheese frosting:
8 oz container of vegan cream cheese
3 and 3/4 cups Confectionary sugar, sifted
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted but not warm
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 fine sea salt

1.) Beat vegan cream cheese in mixer with paddle attachment until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. [I was excited to try Kite Hill‘s cream cheese in this recipe and was very pleased with the outcome!]
2.) Reduce speed to low. Add 1 cup of confectionary sugar and mix till incorporated. Repeat until all sugar in incorporated.
3.) Slowly add liquid coconut oil; mix until creamy.
4.) Add vanilla & salt; increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly blended, 1-2 minutes.

The batter. Very creamy and yummy, despite my adding the half-melted coconut oil in the beginning. It could have been a tad sweeter. Next time I will add a bit more sugar to make up for it that sweetened soy milk, though the recipe has almost a 1:1 ration of flour:sugar. That’s pretty high already. 

They looked beautiful, albeit a bit more like brown velvet give my reduction of gel food coloring.

And there they are. To the left, Sprinkles. To the right, the Vegan Victuals.

Ok, this is where the wine affected my picture taking abilities. The innards were quite similar. The Electrician did the taste taste and he believed them to taste very much alike, though he pointed out the loose-ness of my frosting. This may have been the result of using non-hydrogenated Tofutti-ish vegan cream cheese. 

I must say that the frosting was absolutely amazing. A wonderful tang. I will use it again, no doubt.

Overall, this was a good first try at this recipe. I will try it again soon with some small tweaks. Thank you, Sprinkles, for an amazing vegan option and for sharing the recipe of that amazing vegan option.

Momofuku Nishi vs.
Sugar Cafe

In the near absence of real and affordable opportunity, New York City’s development in the last decades has shifted towards big box store chains. The same character-less stores that appear in suburban shopping Lego sets are now in New York City as patrons relish in convenience above all–unfortunately.  Though I rant often about how chains have castrated my dear New York City and hacked off its unicorn horn and made it relatable to masses, there is another kind of chain rearing in New York City. The new New York food chain.

Though these new chains can be rooted in foodie values, they still irk me a great deal. Most irksome is the ‘world domination’ mindframe. (Do you need 13 restaurants?) It’s also branding. It’s the fowl odor of marketing, public relations, and social media professionals in my food. It’s the guise of choice. It’s the popular kid. It’s missed opportunities and the perpetuance of a new kind of rigged game.

But there I was–on the line at Momofuku Nishi. “Haha, isn’t this a New York moment.” Yes. I was on line to pay to eat somewhere. And on top of that, it was a ‘soy science patty’ I was waiting to try. But not just any soy science patty: The Impossible Burger, the Queen B of soy science food manufacturing and engineering.

Created by Stanford biologist and backed by millions of dollars of interests, the Impossible Burger is only served in at four locations in the entire world. Three are in California. And as of several months ago, one is in New York City: Momofuku Nishi. And the burger was why so many had lined up. Because of it, the place’s buzz is reaching sky-high levels; its Instagram is on fire with cross section shots of this Impossible Burger.  Despite how dismissive Momofuku creator Chef David Chang had previously been towards vegetarian options, I’m sure he is feeling the plant-based power now.

Once we were seated we had the best seats in the house. With the natural light of the window behind me, no one to our left, I looked back towards the kitchen where cramped rows of communal tables lined into the darkness with relief. As the waitress placed the water at our table we ordered immediately. No futzing around here. The restaurant was at full capacity now, just a few minutes after opening their doors for lunch. The line outside the window remained, but they had a system to text patrons as their tables opened up. I ordered the Impossible Burger-Nishi style on the vegan bun (add a $1). It also came with French fries. “Nishi-style” referred to the sauce on the burger, I imagine. Or the minimalist nod to Americana (say with pretentious intonation) as it was simply the patty, lettuce, tomato and sauce. Whichever, this is more a feat in capitalizing on limited availability than in any culinary measure. So really, I suppose this burger battle should be named Impossible Burger, not Momofuku Nishi.

It came relatively quickly. And it was quite striking, though I was glad the patty was on the thin side. It looked liked meat. So much that, upon spying its pink innards on social media, I had a nagging worry that eating it would make me feel… ill. But I was Ok. In fact, I enjoyed it. The texture made it–its moisture, how easily my teeth penetrated it while that moist texture touched my tongue. That is the meat-likeness: a juiciness… a fleshness.  Impossible Foods credits “heme,” which is basically hemoglobin. It’s just one of the plant-based proteins inside the patty. It also has wheat protein, potato protein, and soy protein. I tried not to think of how weird it was that some scientist created this. But it is weird, like Twinkies are weird. Like a ton of other processed foods are weird. This one is just in a high-end eatery owned by a highly accoladed chef.

All of this weirdness aside, the fact is that I enjoyed the burger. A bit begrudgingly.

 


 

On the other side of the city, on the Lower East Side, is Impossible Burger’s opponent: Sugar Cafe. Under seemingly perpetual scaffolding, this 24-hour spot makes a homemade vegan patty with no help from a biologist. I went early because, well, you don’t have to sit amongst the drunken LES bar crowd if you don’t need to. In fact, I suspect this place is an entirely different entity after last call. But I’m only speculating. This is my first time here. And I was here for the vegan burger and had no other requirements. That homemade patty, it’s thick and potato-y–almost knish-like–with specks of green vegetables throughout. It’s got like a whole avocado on top of it. But it was pretty bland, like unsalted mashed potatoes that had been browned on the flap top… with the just the slightest texture variance where they made contact.

It wasn’t bad, but was definitely not good either. But it’s an option I’d tolerate, even appreciate, in a suburban strip mall. But this is New York City. The bustling activity outside on Houston raises expectations a bit. It would take more to beat the Impossible Burger.  In this round, the soy science meat trumped housemade. I know! I’m shocked, too. But I got to keep it real (real-ly engineered?)

I look forward to seeing how far this 2 hundred-million dolla soy science burger can go. Will it be Baron‘s in Bed-Stuy and their Mixed Beans and Mushrooms Vegan Burger as Impossible‘s next contender? Or will it be 5 Napkin‘s housemade patty of beet origin? Both are vegan option in omnivorous eateries. And V-Op battles are always a bit exciting for me. In fact, a good amount of the contenders in this Round are vegan options. They’re like little, exciting discoveries in a city with thousands of eateries. Bring it on.

✰Winner: Momofuku Nishi 

Vburger vs.

Go Zen

Vburger is an all-vegan vegan fast food eatery near Union Square in Manhattan. It shares space with the Hummus & Pita Co., a non-vegan franchise with several locations in New York City. Based on how many trademarks are on their website, I am going to presume Vburger an experimental venture of Hummus & Pita Co., jumping on the plant-based bandwagon. The website makes “veganwashed” (the new greenwash) claims:

Plant Based, Great Taste!™

At V Burger, a healthy vegan lifestyle is our passion. Using time-tested recipes and the freshest cruelty-free natural ingredients available, we have mastered the art of plant-based cuisine to create New York City’s first 100% vegan burger joint. We are your destination for delicious vegan fast food, all with your health in mind.

At VBurger, every burger is plunged with wholesome and natural, real flavor; every bite is not just a set of nutritional value numbers – it’s a step towards an environmentally sustainable diet; every meal is a contribution to a better world by reducing the discharge of greenhouse gases.

Our vision is to bring the burgers of the new generation to the table. Our focus has always been making a plant-based burger inspiring and exciting.

Yes, this is all very convincing… except… there are no “recipes”… there is no “freshest… ingredients”…  no “mastered art of plant-based cuisine.”   No inspiration. No excitement. Just that same old frozen grey soy protein patty that gets around all over New York City.

Sorry. I just have no more patience for these kinds of eateries. They are a waste of my time. And I am just going to tell it like it is in this Round of the Burger Showdown. There are too many eateries doing great things with vegan cuisine to put a place like this in the same category.

So let us move on.


This space, the space where Go Zen inhabits, used to be Vegetarian Paradise 2, a mock meat originator a few doors down from the still active mock meat icon, Red Bamboo. They are also affiliated with another defunct plant-based icon, Zen Palate, who I remember fondly from my youth–particularly the one that opened its doors on Long Island.

With that old skool cred, you might imagine the menu be stocked with all sorts of those soy science meats (May Wah central), and it is. But they have also got their own housemade veggie burger… and it’s pretty darn yummy.

So look! At first glance I would say that this bun, airy and enticing, looks an awful lot like the bun at Pickle Shack. And to my surprise, it tasted like it too! The soft bun made way for their soft patty. The patty was moist and subtle, a great vehicle for crispy fixings and tasty condiments: guacamole on the bottom bun, holding tight to some iceberg lettuce. On top, a sweet ketchup of sorts. All make a bite quite yummy. This is an easy win for Go Zen!

✰Winner: Go Zen 

Balsam Fir

Yule log/Tree

Torturing Franky

Catnip wine, just out of reach

L: Failed bundt cake; R: New York-style crumb cake

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Burning the morning oil at work. 

Getting ready for Santa.

Frank on cyber-security.

I am currently within a mild obsession: Chana Saag with mango chutney (here at Raagini)…

And my own batch for lunch this week. 

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1997 (top)

2016 (bottom)

1997 (top)

2016 (bottom)

2016 with 1997‘s shirt. Who would have thought I would ever get the chance to see J. Mascis & Lou Barlow (and the other guy) play together as Dinosaur Jr.?  Kind of surreal. 

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